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Virgin Fest Concert Review

West, Pilots give amped-up performances to close out the music festival

August 11, 2008|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun pop music critic

While the first day of Virgin Mobile Festival at Pimlico Race Course was heavy on buzz-worthy critical darlings favoring a retro sound, yesterday was all about star power - the hottest or most celebrated names in pop, rock and mainstream hip-hop.

Multi-Grammy-winning rapper-producer Kanye West capped the evening on the South Stage with the most elaborately staged performance of the two-day festival. But fans had to wait about 30 minutes for him to arrive.

Granted, it wasn't as extravagant as the space-age staging for his Glow in the Dark tour, which garnered generally good reviews this summer. But still, the thick clouds of dry ice and dazzling white and blue lighting gave an otherworldly effect.

FOR THE RECORD - A music review in Monday's Today section misidentified a Bob Dylan song. The correct name of the song is "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35."
THE SUN REGRETS THE ERROR

Backed by a propulsive eight-piece band, which was perched on two flashy white platforms, West commanded the stage. The music took on a decidedly thick, electro-rock feel, eschewing the sometimes crude soul elements heard on his first two smash albums. This edgier, synth-based direction, as heard on West's latest album, Graduation, was better fleshed out on stage.

Rock's poet laureate Bob Dylan, the celebrated name on yesterday's lineup, gave a straight-no-chaser performance that stayed comfortably within the realm of rockabilly. He was supported by an impressive rhythm section - five guys wearing dapper suits the color of wet sand. Never a conventionally good singer, Dylan, 67, sounds darkly sinister these days as he garbles his lyrics. He opened with "Everybody Must Get Stoned," giving it a decidedly bluesy bottom. For an hour, Dylan and the band more or less maintained a stripped-down blues-suffused vibe, which the predominantly college-age crowd seemed indifferent to.

The crowd's patience had been tested a few hours earlier with Lil' Wayne. After an unexplained 30-minute delay, the dreadlocked, heavily tattooed rapper, one of the hottest names on the pop charts these days, strolled onto the South Stage.

He was followed by his usual big posse, whose sole duty is to stand on stage and do nothing. The boos and jeers that rippled through the crowd during the delay quickly turned to cheers as the New Orleans rap star launched into numbers from his early Cash Money albums, including "The Block is Hot." He zipped in and out of his raps before performing full prime cuts from Tha Carter III, his latest CD that sold a million copies during its first week of release in June.

Near the end of Wayne's disjointed, slightly cheesy set, West joined the Southern hip-hop star during "Lollipop," Wayne's No. 1 hit. It was a bit surprising to see the notoriously egomaniacal West come on two hours before his own set and share the stage with another hugely popular hip-hop star. But the energy between the two seemed genuinely friendly as they hugged and slapped fives afterward.

But Lil' Wayne wasn't the only act who couldn't seem to get to the stage on time. Later on the north end of Pimlico, the Stone Temple Pilots were about 20 minutes late.

Once onstage, though, the '90s hard-rock group expertly delivered the grimy sound that catapulted the band to the top of the pop charts more than a decade ago. Lead singer Scott Weiland babbled incoherently between songs. But before he could completely embarrass himself, the band would cut to the next song, which seemed to immediately jerk Weiland back in the groove.

Closing the North Stage, a clean-cut Trent Reznor, the figurehead of the industrial-rock outfit Nine Inch Nails, delivered an intense set frantic with computer-generated beats.

At 43, Reznor has lost none of the rage that fueled his '90s hits. He and the group paired old singles such as "Closer" with newer tracks like "Vessel." But the set lulled halfway as Nine Inch Nails played a string of ambient instrumentals.

Still, given the star-power of the day, it all ended appropriately: plenty of flashing lights and throbbing music.

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Sam Sessa contributed to this article.

Scene

Notes on the off-beat happenings at Virgin Fest PG 2C

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