September 29, 2010

Virgin Mobile Freefest 2010 Followup

Virgin Mobile Freefest Review - Merriweather Post Pavilion - September 25, 2010

Way back when in 2006, HFSstival pulled up stakes and called it quits (well at least until 2010 when they resurrected Third Eye Blind to headline). Like Errol Flynn, Virgin swooped in to deliver the Baltimore/Washington region a summer festival it could really sink its teeth into. Virgin has been serving up a mediocre festival experience ever since, with the last two being "free". It's an interesting concept, one that pleases your inner communistic, blue collar feel-goodery, but ultimately one that leaves us scratching our heads. The lineup was pretty awesome, featuring the only area tour stops for Pavement and LCD Soundsystem and hip-hop heavy hitters MIA, Ludacris, and TI (well, he was supposed to be there anyway.) A lot of people would've paid their hard earned money to see this lineup. Instead, the tickets were free and rightly over-subscribed, selling out in mere seconds. So instead of getting fans of these bands, you got a lot of folks who wouldn't go otherwise, but since it was free, meh, I'll show up?  Gee, that's every band's dream audience. But wait, the promoters are smarter than that. They offered up pavilion seating and a "VIP" experience for the low, low cost of... $125? Now hang on, that seems high. "How much are other festival tickets," you might ask? Just to do a quick survey, you can do a Jazzfest weekend in NOLA for around $135, an Austin City Limits Festival weekend in Austin for $145, or Lollapalooza for $175. But as a long-time Pavement and LCD Soundsystem listener, I decided that the tickets were worth it to avoid free[fest]loaders and have a little extra breathing room.

Despite our skepticism, the perks were fairly good.  Because only 12 people actually paid for tickets, there were ample seats in the pavilion for most acts.  The VIP area of the West Stage was nearly empty, and there was a bar with no lines.  Clean bathrooms, a backstage "tour", and a free t-shirt were some other nice bonuses.  We were able to get some nice lanyards as well, putting us in the Jerrimiah Weed's Backyard Bar area, which had ping pong tables, free sweet-tea booze drinks, cornhole, and plastic floaty couches, not to mention the awesome backstage deck.  Not bad after all that bitching.

Other festival oddities included the teepee/hammock/bed area in the forest, a freaking ferris wheel, the Playstation tent (complete with rockband, dancing games, Madden, and NBA Live), a dusty dance floor in dance forest, and a decent food selection.  We snapped some photos to try and cover all the craziness, so be sure to flip through the slideshow below along with the festival's scorecard.  Additionally, we did a writeup of the bands we saw:

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

Is it not obvious that soundproof loves this band?  They get mention in our manifesto, a stellar review from their show in at the 9:30 Club this summer, an interview, and all around the measure of the indie-rock live set.  Love.  I was concerned that some of the bands' eccentricities might be lost in a larger scene - I was wrong.  Alex still spent half the show in the audience (taking all kinds of stuff, including the umbrella you see to the right); Jade danced happily around the stage; all ten touring members played masterfully; in sum, they brought to Merriweather every ounce of the hippie-lovefest vibe that we've come to appreciate.


I read a story once about how Stephen Malkmus refused to sing his set at Coachella during Pavement's final tour in 1999.  He was unhappy and unhealthy, and he just didn't want to do it.  Fans at freefest, however, missed the silent treatment, and got a indie-crooner brimming with energy and positivity.  The band sounded fantastic, Malkmus was in a great mood, and I got to hear a few of my all-time favorite songs live and in-person (including Date w/ IKEA!).  Their set was one of the longest of the day, with 20 career-spanning tracks, including (but not limited to) signatures Summer Babe, In the Mouth of a Desert, Two States, Cut Your Hair, Shady Lane, and on and on.  Wowee was noticeably absent, but man, who cares.  Most humorous element - Malkmus was convinced this show was for charity...  I mean convinced.  He must've said the word charity 20 times.  Sorry pal, I know they had a killer 'help the homeless' promo video with Marky Mark, but this festival is about two things - getting more customers to Virgin Mobile and a tax writeoff for Branson.  Don't worry sport, they probably did donate a few thousand bucks to a cause.

Jimmy Eat World

I'll admit: I love JEW.  Their music still resonates with the eighteen year old in me, and while I don't find their new stuff particularly relevant, they're a relic from the emo aughties that doesn't sound like nails on a chalkboard--probably because "Jimmy" doesn't sound like he's holding his nose while he's singing.  I enjoyed a lively FreeFest set of theirs with what was probably one of the biggest, and roughest, crowds of the day.  Lots of circle dancing, air punching, van-wearing boys tossing each other around.  Rowdy!  In all seriousness, though, the show was pretty great for what it was: pure fun.  I was on my feet, on the floor, and good to go, dancing to Praise Chorus, Pain, Big Casino... they pull together a setlist that keeps even the untrained ear attuned to the one or two songs they *think* they recognize.  Sure, some people missed the set because the bands no longer on the up-and-up, replaced on their rung by Kings of Leon (hey, at least they don't try to pump six tours out of a single album).  But you have to respect that they put on a fun show, have a loyal fanbase, and rock like you aren't making fun of them the whole time.  A + set, if you missed it you missed out.

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts

I kept thinking, really, Kristen Stewart played her in a movie?  Granted, I didn't see The Runaways, but I hate Kristen Stewart and didn't hate Joan Jett.  It was what you'd expect from an aging rockstar: scratchy voice, killer arms, shreds like crazy, relatively humble.  Got to hear a classic live ("I Love Rock and Roll") and see a guitar legend in person.  Her band might as well've been wax statues, though: sleepy looking old men, as talented as they may have sounded.  Blackhearts indeed.

LCD Soundsystem

This one was a doozy.  If you'll recall, soundproof predicted the appearance of LCD prior to the official announcement... simply wishful thinking because, simply put, they put on an incredible show.  Turns out Virgin did lock them up, and contrary to fears that they'd get a small slot on the West stage, gave them the headlining spot.  So after a crushing Pavement set, 15 minutes of blasting fireworks from the pavilion rooftop, and another 15 minutes of anticipation, LCD took the stage with the opening track from their last album, Dance Yrself Clean.  For anyone who knows the song, to say it starts slow is an understatement.  So slow in fact, that a friend on the lawn said people were leaving in droves.  What a loss because at 3 minutes and 5 seconds in, LCD absolutely blew the roof off the place.  Without exaggeration, the drop on DYC was one of the most fantastic moments of my concert-going career.  The entire pavilion (which the promoters filled with non-VIPs to avoid a wasteland of floorspace) jumped in unison and began dancing themselves, well, probably not clean, but at least they shook some dirt off.  It was epic.  They followed that up with a barrage of favorites including Drunk Girls, Daft Punk, Change, and All My Friends.  At that point, I didn't even care that I had effectively WASTED my money on these VIP tickets - I only wanted to dance.

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