Published Sep 01, 2009It would be a lie to say that Virgin Festival Ontario went off without a hitch. Unfortunately, this year's fest at at Toronto's Molson Amphitheatre was plagued by strict time restraints and a last-minute venue change, which resulted in frenzied sets, obstructed views and a feeling of general disorganization. Still, it provided some priceless performances from artists that spread across a plethora of genres.
Saturday kicked off on the Virgin Mobile main stage with harmonic pop couple Mates of State, whose piano-driven tunes were met by an appreciative audience, before Toronto's Lights attracted a much younger crowd with her brand of synth pop, intertwined with her kitschy keytar.
Indie rock lovers congregated back on the main stage to check out the spacious sounds of Grizzly Bear, who, although probably more emotionally evocative in a smaller venue, put on a mesmerizing show. Toronto's Thunderheist followed on the Virgin Radio stage, drawing a large crowd who danced about to their electro-trash hip hop.
Sloan played an amusing set, and the recently injured Chris Murphy seemed to be in high spirits. Paolo Nutini, provided genre-bending but cheesy pop tunes and was completely incomprehensible in his between-song banter. First because of his thick Scottish accent, but mostly because of an abundance of female screams.
The first disappointing set of the fest came courtesy of Cuban reggaeton player Pitbull, whose exuberant stage presence could not overtake his poor songwriting ability. Thankfully, Franz Ferdinand quickly got things back on track, playing a fun but typically destructive set, which ended in a drawn-out heavy rock outro with lead vocalist Alex Kapranos kicking down the equipment.
The Pixies were, as one would expect, incredibly together and astonishingly humble. Bassist Kim Deal was relentless in her praise for the crowd, who were passionate in their returned applause. This band has lost nothing over the years, except their youthful looks.
Sunday commenced with pretty French singer-songwriter Coeur de Pirate, and Norwegian electronic duo Datarock. Danish five-piece Mew continued the main stage line-up of European acts, and assuredly earned new fans with their flawlessly ethereal hits.
N.E.R.D. arrived late. Sure, these guys are insanely rich, but their childish performance and vacant audience interaction leaves one wondering why. Our Lady Peace played a conventional and safe set that included many of their recognizable tunes, though one of the day's arguably best performances came from Toronto's the D'Ubervilles, whose spacey dance punk had lots of concertgoers bobbing their heads along at the Boardwalk Stage.
The Pet Shop Boys followed Our Lady Peace with a – excuse the use of the term – fabulous show that was an undeniable highlight of the festival. Colourful dancers, and an elaborate but modest set gave these aged electronic masters the upper hand, as the audience stood transfixed by their complex visual screen accompaniment.
Alas, most of those in attendance for this fest had bought their ticket to see a single act – the all-powerful Nine Inch Nails, masterminded by loudmouth Trent Reznor. Without this appearance, the festival would have arguably been doomed, as evidenced by the number of new bodies who appeared simply for the NIN set, compared to the great lack of those who waltzed around before.
Reznor played all the hits, making it a trepidatious but uproarious show. He head-banged like a mad man and was his usual hyper-aggressive self. He spoke briefly that the show was supposedly to be NIN's last ever in Canada, saying, "Thank you so much for the support over the years." Fans were extraordinarily disappointed when Reznor and co. didn't play an encore, but at least they got to witness their heroes one last time in the flesh.