BALTIMORE – Gray skies didn’t ruin the mood for the 40,000 concert-goers who piled into the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore for Saturday’s Virgin Festival. The grounds were packed with college-aged youths, decked out in their finest Converse All-Stars, and quite a few people old enough to be their parents. And the Converse were indeed flying as countless crowd-surfers made their way over the audience and up to the main stage that boasted such acts as Gnarls Barkley, The Who and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, just to name a few.
However, unbeknownst to the audience, things did not seem to go well behind the scenes. The festival smacked of poor organization and communication, which made an impact on the bands, whose performances for the most part seemed to be a little lackluster.
There were cancellations of CD signings by artists like the Drive by Truckers, but more importantly to the audience, the problems affected the performances as a whole.
It seemed to be a major blunder to schedule heavy acts at the same time on two different stages. The audience found themselves forced to choose between The Raconteurs on the Grandstand Stage or Clap Your Hands Say Yeah on the Clubhouse Stage, The Who or the Scissor Sisters, the Chili Peppers or the Flaming Lips; a choice which, at close to $100 per ticket, they shouldn’t have had to make.
The main stage, which started promptly at noon (and to their credit, remained vaguely on schedule), saw Kasabian deliver a rather dry 45-minute set that resembled their album so closely that the audience no longer cared that they were actually seeing them, despite the lead singer’s Oasis-like delivery. Unfortunately for him, the Gallagher family is full, as his act fell flat on its face. The time slot was in direct competition with the Drive By Truckers on the second stage, who delivered perhaps the best performance of the day to a truly meager audience.
Wolfmother followed with a high-energy set, but proved that energy needs to be teamed with discipline to deliver a truly great show. Their jams were uncontrolled and didn’t go anywhere, played by a band that sounded like they need more practice. Yet, this “seat-of-their-pants” mentality seemed to work for the band, as the growing audience responded extremely well to the group. The conflicting act, the New Pornographers, were said to demonstrate very complex and original song structure, but watching them live was more of a chore than a joy.
The Raconteurs can thank Wolfmother for the energy of the crowd, who played right into Jack White’s hands as his new project took the stage. The group delivered quite the performance, showcasing their originality. The command of their instruments clearly wasn’t there, but it worked, as they’re not exactly based around instrumentation.
The skies that had once threatened rain began to steam up as Gnarls Barkley took the stage. In keeping with their live gimmick tradition, the group came out dressed as ancient Romans, calling themselves “Chariots of Fire” and Cee-Lo addressing himself as “Magnum.” With their original synthesis of funk, soul, hip-hop, R&B, rock and electronica, the 12-piece band headed by auteur Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo delivered a tight, high-energy show. Danger Mouse was truly impressive in his range of instrumental versatility, while Cee-Lo’s vocal range was also noteworthy. The audience came alive during “Crazy,” which was actually one of their worst numbers. In a daring move, they decided not to play their hit track last, but the songs that they ended with were in fact performed better, and the audience respected and responded well.
The Killers doled out a truly bland set that completely ruined the momentum that the previous acts had established. In keeping with his “rock-star persona” lead-singer Brandon Flowers seemed totally disinterested, as if he couldn’t wait for his part of the show to be over. The band seemed to forget that the audience was even there, and paid very little attention to each other on stage. As Flowers half-heartedly tinkered with a keyboard in hopes that some young, impressionable teenager might confuse him with a legitimate musician, the audience was forced to entertain themselves, only waking up for “Somebody Told Me,” “Mr. Brightside,” and “All These Things That I’ve Done.”
The Who then came on, with their arsenal of signature moves and classic tunes. While the set was far from remarkable, it was everything a Who concert should be, and gave thousands of youths an opportunity to tell their friends about the time they saw The Who before they died, which was exactly what most of them were looking to do.
It seemed odd to think that a band that is still growing and developing would close the festival after seasoned veterans like The Who. Yet, that’s precisely what the Red Hot Chili Peppers did, and they did it well. Jams were well-developed and well-timed, while demonstrating emotion and soul, which drove the audience crazy. If The Who’s set was everything a Who show “should have been,” RHCP delivered a performance that was everything their set could have been, and more.
While Virgin Festival does show promise for the future, the organizers have to work the kinks out if they hope to continue the festival. Despite some shining moments, the festival was simply okay. It was a good way to spend an overcast Saturday, but it was far from Woodstock.