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Aurally deflowered at Virgin Mobile Festival

Published: August 29, 2008
Section: Arts, Etc.


I do not normally go out to big music festivals. In fact, I usually don’t go out much period. But when a friend sent me a list of the Day Two acts of the Virgin Mobile Festival in Baltimore, which included Iggy Pop and Stone Temple Pilots and Nine Inch Nails, I decided to take the plunge– Ticketmaster service charges and all– and go to the show.

Thus it was on a hot mid-August afternoon that I pulled into the Pimlico Race Course parking lot, underneath a Marines recruitment advertisement and across the street from the sorriest-looking fried chicken joint I have ever seen. Joining me was my previously mentioned friend, Andy, and my not-so-little brother (height-wise) Adam, whom I invited partly out of brotherly love but mostly because we could explore on our own comfortably if need be.

Located at the Pimlico Race Course infield was easily one of the most eclectic festivals of the year. Two giant stages were set up at opposite ends of the field with a dance tent in the middle. The night before, concert goers could catch Cat Power, Wilco and Jack Johnson on the North Stage. KT Tunstall, Bloc Party, Chuck Barry and The Silver Beats – a Japanese Beatles cover band (hell of a marriage there) and Foo Fighters took over the South stage while techno and electronica fans caught acts like Soulwax and Underworld in the Dance tent.

On the second day of the festival, we arrived at Barbaro’s fatal race track barely missing the opening act, The Hollywood Undead, unfortunately, even though The Washington Post described the act as, “an offensively bad mask-wearing rap-rock band.” Having missed out on the low-rate version of Slipknot, our first show was the British sextet, The Go! Team. Andy and Adam were both excited to see them and I soon learned why. Fronted by the awesomely energetic rapper/singer Ninja, The Go! Team incorporates a wide variety of instruments and sounds with the help of two drummers.

Before long I was pogoing along in my awkward form to songs like “Huddle Formation” and “Doing It Right”. Thanks to a rather surprisingly small crowd that appeared for the beginning of the show, we were able to wind our way close to the barriers– behind them the rather bored looking guards provided by the 9:30 Club.

After The Go! Team wrapped up their set, we took the opportunity to explore the festival grounds, in search of a concert program. The trek took us from the South end to the North end and then back to the South to see chamber rock musician Andrew Bird. I personally found Bird and the following act, She & Him, to be completely forgettable with their hushed acoustic ditties interjected with Bird’s whistling.

My brother took off to see Paramore whom I didn’t see and have never heard of prior to the concert, even though just about everyone I overheard talking about Paramore commented on the singer’s “hotness.” Bored with “She & Him” and uninterested in seeing Taking Back Sunday, we used our down time to walk around and see the attractions.

Most of the tents were set up by various radio stations, all of whom were giving away pens and stickers. At an exhibit promoting environmental awareness, my Metro farecard got me a free useful tote bag, while my Washington Capitals shirt attracted the attention of a rather obnoxious Flyers fan.

The highlight of the exhibition was the oxygen bar. Nothing like ten minutes with rubber tubes in your nose, while inhaling “chocolate,” “passion fruit” and “lavender” scented oxygen, was actually quite refreshing.

At the Playstation truck, Andy and I tried our luck at the SingStar station picking one of our favorite Pixie’s songs, “Here Comes Your Man.” It’s rather hard to focus on the words when the machine keeps saying “bad” and you have the urge to yelp, “Hey!” It was all in good fun though and my score confirmed what I and others have always known, there are many things I might be able to do, but singing ain’t one of them.

We initially tried to catch some of Lil’ Wayne’s act but he was late coming onto the stage (half an hour late apparently) and after awhile, we decided to give up on the New Orleans rapper and head down to the North Stage where we saw someone we were both eager to see – the godfathers of punk rock, Iggy Pop and the Stooges.

Although in his sixties and showing a bit of flab, Iggy held up well for a man who has lived as hard a life as he has and he did not disappoint the raucous crowd packed in front of him. Twisting and slithering around on the stage, he showered himself with bottles of water, as the masses strained to touch him. He walked the concert pits belting out gems like “1969” and “Now I Wanna Be Your Dog” and hurled out expletives and discarded bottles between songs. Without a doubt, seeing this 61-year-old ball of Michigan hellfire was the high point of the festival for me– crowd surfers and moshers aside.

After The Stooges finished their set, we were faced with a rather difficult choice– stay at the North Stage for Stone Temple Pilots, trek to the South Stage for Bob Dylan and or head over to the dance tent were Moby was DJ-ing. Being a jaded soul and having already seen Bob Dylan perform at a minor league ball park two years ago, I decided to stay for STP, while Andy left for Dylan.

The Pilots arrived on stage, 15 minutes late, and immediately launched into their hits, starting with “Vaseline” followed by fan favorites like “Plush”, “Interstate Love Song”, and “Big Empty”. Only a few months removed from his dismissal from Velvet Revolver, the sinewy Scott Wieland delivered a strong if unspectacular performance, while hundreds of beach balls bounced in the air like popcorn popping.

During the show, one man pulled out a plastic baggie with something white inside; I thought it was drugs, but it turned out to be an engagement ring wrapped in a napkin. Is there anywhere more romantic to propose to your girlfriend than in a sweaty mass of humanity, moshing, body surfing and praising Travis Barker and Papa Roach? Maybe a sporting event. Well, she accepted anyway and the people around cheered.

The Pilots ended their set just in time for me to catch Dylan close his set with an encore of “Like a Rolling Stone.” It was a very blah performance from what I saw. Now wedded to the keyboard, his songs seem to be played at the same tempo making it almost impossible to tell which song is which.

After burning the roof of my mouth with my dinner, I trekked back to the North Stage to see Nine Inch Nails. Not being a great fan of the group, the only song title I knew was “Hurt”. Nonetheless, NIN gave a powerful two hour performance capped with some very elaborate light board work. It was truly a sight to behold.

Kanye West closed at the South end and carried on half an hour past the 10 pm Pimlico curfew. At one point Kanye declared, “Kanye West and Trent Reznor, we are the exact same artist, in different genres.”

Overall, it was quite the experience, but next time I go to a festival, I only wish to expect one thing: the Flaming Lips.