Velvet Revolver, Pumpkins rock Virgin Festival

August 06, 2007|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

Under threat of rain, about 32,000 fans reveled in the rock sounds of Velvet Revolver and the Smashing Pumpkins during Day 2 of the Virgin Festival. Yesterday came as a laid-back counterpoint to the nearly 42,000 concertgoers who flocked to Pimlico Race Course on Saturday, sweltering in near-100 degree temperatures to hear the Police.

About 500 overheated fans had sought medical attention Saturday, but only about 200 needed treatment by 6 p.m. yesterday, and then for various ailments, , officials said.

Initial estimates from promoters put Saturday's attendance at 70,000, but figures released yesterday were 42,000 for Saturday and 32,000 for Sunday, for a weekend total of 74,000. Single-day capacity is 60,000; last year's one-day, inaugural festival drew about 40,000 fans.

Festival publicist Bethany Vanderhoff did not comment on the promoters' expectations for attendance, whether they were met or what this might mean for next year. However, last night she recalled chatting this weekend with Richard Branson, CEO of festival sponsor Virgin Group.

"He told me, `See you next year.'"

After Saturday's heat, perhaps the festival's biggest problem was an abundance of riches - bands such as the Police, the Beastie Boys, the Smashing Pumpkins and Amy Winehouse spread, sometimes concurrently, over the north stage, south stage and dance tent.

"This was run a hundred times more conveniently than I thought it would be with a festival this big," said Jason Horowitz, 23, a financial underwriter from Queens, N.Y. He and friends drove down Friday night. "My only complaint, though, is that they should let people camp out. There were so many good acts, I couldn't see all I wanted to see."

The highlight of the second annual festival was clearly the Police. The reunited 1980s trio of Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers closed Saturday night with a succinct hourlong version of their 2 1/2 -hour stadium set.

Sting, in good voice, was strongly supported by his old bandmates. Copeland's cunning, frenetic work on the drums sparkled with jazzy improvisations as Summers' blazing guitar lines took smart, engrossing turns. Their work was finely anchored by Sting's elastic bass lines. All three are better, more relaxed musicians than they were 20 years ago.

The group has been on the road most of the summer, rewriting its history by reinvigorating the hits. During Saturday's show, the trio mostly stuck to the old arrangements, taking a few style liberties here and there.

"Walking on the Moon," for instance, was beefed up with an undulating, funk-suffused groove, and "Wrapped Around Your Finger" was textured with atmospheric, Middle Eastern-inspired percussion - timpani, chimes and a gong.

On "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic," Sting fell slightly out of sync as he rushed through the lyrics during the first verse. He eventually fell back into the groove, though, as he, Copeland and Stewart delivered a satisfying set.

Yesterday's lineup at the festival was heavy on noncommercial acts whose sounds and stage antics were bizarre but fun. Acts such as Brazilian electro-rock collective CSS, singer-songwriter Regina Spektor and Baltimore's Dan Deacon gave surreal performances that mingled disparate styles in quirky, inventive ways.

Early in the day, Deacon was king of the festival's dance tent, where the audience was just as much a part of the show as his quirky music. His 30-minute set felt like a strange kids' show where attendees were invited to form a circle and "dance sassy" as Deacon chanted over hyper, neon-colored music that pulsed with squishy synths and buzzing noises.

Spektor, the Russian-born, New York-raised singer-songwriter, garnered rave reviews this year with her latest album, Begin to Hope. Her performance, like the album, was not particularly moving. She accompanied herself on piano in a style that brought to mind Carole King and Laura Nyro. Although Spektor is a fine singer and pianist, her whimsical songs are too quirky for their own good.

Later on the south stage, Jewish reggae-rock star Matisyahu gave a less manic performance. His songs of political and spiritual uplift were emboldened by tight musicianship from his six-man band. Fuzzy, psychedelic guitar lines charged the lilting reggae rhythms and busy percussion. The keyboardist thickened the mix with distorted, synthesized noises. But Matisyahu's rapping grounded it all.

Having just released the album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, the indie-pop band Spoon gave a loose-limbed performance that felt more like a rehearsal than an actual show. The music, though, worked. The beats were tense, the guitar chords choppy. But the quartet needed to tighten up the act.

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