On what was supposed to be a day of rain, Virgin Festival’s Sunday installment thankfully remained dry while offering up what was, overall, a better line-up than on sunny Saturday (best performance of the weekend still goes to Bjork, however).
The list of bands I’d hoped to catch was double that of the day before, so a relatively early trip to the Toronto Islands was needed. After sifting through the first security line, then the ferry entrance line, then the ferry exit line, then the ticket line, then the second security line, I quickly made my way to catch the final few minutes of a side-stage performance from DD/MM/YYYY (Day Month Year). Their sound is an explosive mash, and the band members play musical chairs with instruments, but it all comes together in a delightful mess. The Toronto boys also have a great time, at one point urging the crowd to take back the “raise the roof” motion. “I can’t believe you guys just did that,” quipped the drummer/singer after a disquieting number of watchers joined in.
Crossing the river onto Olympic Island, the site of the festival’s main stage, brought the reggae-influenced Britpop sounds of Jamie T. While not necessarily my taste in music, the singer charmed the crowd to no end, bringing the audience interaction to one of the festival’s requisite English performances after Arctic Monkeys failed abysmally on Saturday.
Next came a set from Toronto’s very own Tokyo Police Club, a band that has enjoyed a huge surge of success, sure to continue growing after their recently inked deal with Saddle Creek Records. They played a tight set, received amazingly well by the cheering crowd, many of whom flooded toward the stage in the minutes before their set time.
With a lull in main-stage action, I headed back over to one of the side-stages for an uninspired set from Blonde Redhead. Not being familiar with much more than their name, I found the music largely ignorable; the most interesting aspect of the performance was a fake, stuffed horse that front-woman Kazu Makino used for a keyboard bench. This band likely translates better in a smaller, darker club, but falls flat outdoors in the daylight.
Right after, however, came a rejuvenating yet all-too-short performance from The Constantines. The band is well known for their amazing club shows, but they have no problem commanding a festival stage. With two new songs (plus the announcement that their next album will be released on Broken Social Scene-populated label Arts & Crafts), they tore through half an hour of tracks from all three of their LPs, including opener “Draw Us Lines,” “Nighttime/Anytime,” and closing pick “Young Lions.” Sadly, they inexplicably ended their set 40 minutes before the following band was scheduled to play, the notice of “last song” coming from somewhere offstage and seemingly catching the band by surprise.
Crossing the river again, I maneuvered through the insanely packed crowd. Since last year, a number of fenced-in areas had been added to the side of the main stage, completely congesting all areas with a decent view, when many had room for blankets (and breathing) last time. Next up was the night’s most anticipated performance, judging from audience excitement, with the Killers taking the penultimate slot. The first (and only) time I’d previously seen this band was at a small Toronto club, opening for Stellastarr, who still plays small clubs. Things have changed. Brandon Flowers is obviously a gifted front-man, but there is a distinct air of entitled arrogance that envelops the group. From the victory parade-like music of their video montage opening to Flowers’ glittery gold jacket, the whole performance is rather pompously over-the-top. The crowd digs it, though, and “Somebody Told Me” gets a bigger sing-a-long going than any other song on either day of the festival.
I didn’t stay long, though, as British band Editors was set to headline one of the side-stages. After another battle through the over-packed crowd, I found a fairly small gathering for the Joy Division-inspired group. Despite the frequent comparisons to Interpol, this band is an entirely different experience live. Unlike Interpol singer Paul Banks, Editors front-man Tom Smith is energetic and engaging, prodding the crowd for cheers, throwing kicks in the air, and generally showing a demeanor that definitely doesn’t find its way through the band’s dark, deep sound. The group seemed genuinely appreciative of the rousing response from the crowd (which grew as they played), and rewarded with a strong, sharp set of material from both The Back Room and An End Has a Start. This is definitely a rising group worth catching on a return visit.
To close the night and this year’s installment of Virgin Festival came Billy Corgan and his mostly non-original pack of Smashing Pumpkins (the reformed group features only Corgan and drummer Jimmy Chamberlain from the band’s original lineup). The performance was the band’s second in Canada since regrouping (they played Montreal the night before), and rivaled the Killers in terms of anticipation. Opening with “United States” from their recent album Zeitgeist, the band sounded tight. Unfortunately, the song spun into an extended guitar solo featuring Hendrix-inspired renditions of both American and Canadian national anthems. It was a little much for early on in the set. Quickly adding to the disappointment was the lackluster performance of “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” that followed. Corgan sounded passionless compared with the song’s intense original version, despite the fact that it didn’t seem to be a slowed-down or otherwise reworked performance of the song. The band was quickly living up to the watered-down standards linked with so many reformed groups (though decades usually separate them from their heydays).
But the Pumpkins’ improved, and with a solid performance of “Tonight, Tonight,” plus blistering shots of “Zero” and current single “Tarantula,” the band proved that there is some grounds to justify their pseudo-reunion. Corgan’s interaction with the crowd was limited to the odd “thanks,” but he put a little more of himself out there for the audience with an acoustic, solo version of “1979″ that must’ve opened many a memory floodgate across the park. Closing their main set was another strong performance in “Heavy Metal Machine” from 2000′s Machina/The Machines of God, which Corgan amusingly transitioned into a cover of Canned Heat’s “On the Road Again.” Clever. After a short break, the band returned for a quick, one-song encore of “Today.” And while the second and final day of Toronto’s Virgin Festival 2007 may not have been the greatest ever, considering the crowds and the cloud-cover, it was pretty alright.