Virgin Festival Welcomes Smashing Pumpkins in 2007

Virgin Festival
Toronto Island
September 8-9 2007
After almost seven years of musical celibacy, The Smashing Pumpkins mashed it up to close the second annual Toronto Virgin Festival on Toronto Island. The two day fest featured a host of choice acts from Mute Math to our own beloved Tokyo Police Club to Iceland’s pop princess, Bjork. With 62 artists performing simultaneously on four stages, here’s what Soul Shine was able to pull out of the weekend.

Saturday September 8, 2007

Being its second year, you’d think Virgin would have anticipated a larger crowd and avoided the Ferry fiasco that plagued the fest last summer. Even the VIP elite (which included us media folk…nice) were not spared the woes of waiting for our so special “VIP Ferry”. It was due to the hot, lengthy hour and a half delay of the boat that had me miss out on Scottish cutie, Paulo Nutini. Sorry Paulo. I did hear from more than a few swooning girls that you were “hot”, although they couldn’t recall any of your song titles?

I made my way over to the main stage to catch the tail end of M.I.A’s set as she enticed about 100 people up on stage to her hump and grind fest. Not really my thing.

Kid Koala, an inspired DJ from Montreal, filled the gap that was to be Amy Winehouse, who finally said “yes, yes, yes” to much needed rehab. It was a tough spot to fill but KK did his thing with two turntables pounding out mixes of Radiohead, Beastie Boys and even Culture Club.

I was pondering who to see during the next three hours till I could be sure of some vivid entertainment with Mute Math, so the buzz was on the Arctic Monkeys. Knowing a few of their hits flooding the airwaves, I stuck around. The first couple songs were unrecognizable and truthfully their performance lacked luster even as they strummed out their biggest song to date “I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor”. Frontman, Alex Turner didn’t offer up so much as glance as fans surfed their way to the front of the stage.

Having enough of the crowd drawers on the main stage, I headed over to the Budweiser stage to see The Reason, who I’ve had on my radar as one alternative band to watch. Hailing from Hamilton, Ontario, this five piece pressed through the mechanical mishaps of poor sounding mics and speakers, prone to secondary stages, to still deliver their brand of punk tinged aggressive rock. Nothing could deter from the solid scorching vocals of Adam White as he blasted out “Is It Just Me”, dedicating it to “everyone who had to wait today…wait for a train, a bus, a ferry.” Check out their latest “All I Ever Wanted” on the Much Music video rotation, especially if you’re a yesteryear Cure fan.

As gear was swapped out, so did the audience. The tube topping, tattooed girls were replaced by couples and friends throwing down a blanket to sit a while and be serenaded by B.C’s little darling, Hayley Sales. Accompanied by her daddy, Richard Sales (guitar and harmonica), Darren Perris(bass) and T. Tacket Brown(drums) Hayley gave us a sampling of her latest disc Sunseed, which she penned and produced herself. Being all of twenty but having had many worldly experiences, including interviewing the Dali Lama, Sales crooned out with all the confidence of a seasoned performer. Her smooth young pipes and upbeat sunny disposition perfectly match her lyrics “dip your fingers in the paint; go skip up the street; just try to lighten up.” Truly, inspirational, I could have happily sat under that tree all evening soaking up all Sales’ positive energy but I couldn’t miss Mute Math at the Future Shop Stage so I had to bolt mid set. Sorry Hayley.

During my time in the Ferry line earlier, I had successfully convinced a few people to ditch Interpol and indulge in the opportunity to see one of the best live acts here. Having had the chance to see Mute Math in March, I know what I speak of. When primo percussionist, Darren King, readies himself using his trademark duct tape to hold his headphones in place, starts off with a kick’n drum solo soon accompanied by bassist Roy Mitchell-Cardenas slamming on the cymbals, all this before a single note is played, expect insanity. As Paul Meaney (vocals, keytar, piano) and Greg Hill(guitar) joined in, the energy soared and the magic of Mute Math commenced. Song order seems trivial as you are lured into the heavily focused instrumentation that is at the core of this New-Orleans based four piece, but hits “Chaos” and “Typical” were in the lineup. These guys are so tight on stage as they maneuver around over and hurl themselves onto and over things, you’d swear they have a choreographer or some serious acro background. It’s hard to fully capture a Mute Math set entirely in words but think of The Police’s intelligent lyrical, musical content meets the stage flare electro pop of Bjork, something you just have to experience.

Speaking of Bjork, I had to leave Mute Math’s set a bit early to meet photo call for Bjork, which actually took longer than expected as the Ice Princess had mucho gear to load, which means I could have easily saw the rest of MM, but I’m not bitter. Enter Bjork, clad in a gold lamé dress with a green headband, perhaps to remind us all that this was also a festival with a goal bringing environmental awareness. Accompanied by a vibrantly dressed trumpet section, the iconic pipes of Iceland’s best burst through fan favs “Hunter”, “All Is Full Of Love” and “Pagan Poetry”. She did include a few new tunes from her latest album Volta opening with the first single “Innocence”. Although some of her tunes can sound a little monotonous, props has to be given to her sheer talent in engaging theatrical highlights like shooting glowing white strands from her hands to the multi-coloured neon confetti that flowed down around her.

Sunday September 9, 2007

Either someone spoke to “the powers that be” at Virgin or I just had impeccable timing the second time around but day two of the festival went incredibly smoothly. Everything from the Ferry(no waiting today) to the artists being right on track, things just tick ticked by with little hassle or line up, except for the privies but that’s the norm.

Tokyo Police Club is one band I was glad to see on the bill this year. TPC are hailed as the next big thing to come out of Toronto or more specifically Newmarket as one fan consistently reminded us throughout their set. Their all too brief twenty-five minute set saw them mix it up between tracks from Lesson In Crime and their upcoming full-length Saddle Creek. Although they got best cheers for their hits “Cheer It On” and “Nature Of The Experiment”, the newer tracks demonstrate great promise as TPC being the best hopefuls to come out of Ontario in a while. Revving up their stage performance would help a lot too.

Montreal’s harmonious foursome, Stars, showcased some of their yet-to-be released songs from In The Bedroom After The War to mixed reactions. Although co-lead singers Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell blend beautifully together, something just seemed to be lacking. Tracks from their “Set Yourself On Fire” breakthrough faired much better in creating a connection with the audience and boosting up the energy.

Energy bound as Metric hit the stage to what had now grew to the largest crowd this weekend. Lead singer, Emily Haines, dressed in silvery leggings and T-shirt painted with Jerry Garcia’s face on it, thrust and leaped her way around as she belted out stellar versions of “Poster Of A Girl” and “Dead Disco”. Debuts seemed to be on the bill as Metric tested the waters with a few new tunes as well, which delivered a glimpse of where the band seems to be heading. These tracks although nice enough were a little more tepid and probably not what this crowd came to hear or expect from the usual danceable high-paced tunes. Haine’s got things back on track easily though with the smash hit “Monster Hospital”.

I was tempted to blow off The Killers’ set in protest of their imposed “no photos” rule laid upon us but curiosity overcame as I have yet been able to catch a live act from these Las Vegas pretty boys. Determined to be overly critical I searched for any deterring qualities in this performance but aside from Flowers over-the-top diva gold blazer and sorry attempt at facial hair, their set was solid. If you at all listen to pop rock then you couldn’t help and I hate to admit, dance along with arms waving in the air(if you can’t beat ‘m join ‘m) with all of the other oh 40 000 or so fans. Try I as I might to despise them, surrounded by the Christmas lights that adorned the stage, The Killers put on one of the best gigs of the weekend with Flower’s having little more to say but “Hello brothers and sisters, we are The Killers.” Their numerous radio hits “When We Were Young”, “Bones”, “Smile Like You Mean It”, “Read My Mind”, “Mr. Brightside” and “All These Things I’ve Done” did the rest.

The moment of truth arose as people started to file out after The Killers set. Would they be returning to catch the reunion of the Smashing Pumpkins? My answer came quickly as I was unable to maneuver my way out to see Dirty Vegas and make it back in time for the Pumpkins photo call. I decided to stay put not wanting to risk it. The now packed main stage roared as lead singer Billy Corgan opened up with the customary “United States” cutting half way through to a centre stage guitar solo of “Star Spangled Banner”, which led right into ‘Oh Canada”. And that was just the start. Corgan and Chamberlin haven’t lost a thing as they ripped through hits of yesteryear “Hummer”, “Tonight, Tonight”, “Zero” “Tarantula” and an exquisite acoustic rendition of “1979”. Billy seemed to be holding his tongue tonight as he greeted with a simple, “Thank you very much for coming to see us play.” Ending fittingly with “Today”, the tune that spoke to millions in 1993, Corgan left us with, “Thanks for keeping the faith, we’ll be back.” Let’s hope so.

Writer: Lisa Kerr

Photo:Lisa Kerr

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