Toronto Virgin Festival 2008

By: James Sandham

Noel Gallagher
Photo: Lisa Mark
Noel Gallagher

"The best thing about these kinds of concerts," Desiree said as we stepped off the ferry and onto Centre Island, "is the total diversity of people. Look at that guy over there with the cheetah print dyed into this mullet. And that chick there, with the stiletto boots. I want boots like that. Not for here though. She's gonna get killed when she tries to walk across the grass."

"The thing I like," Katherine said, "is that even though there's all these different people here, they can still all come to the same place and enjoy the same tunes. That's kind of cool, isn't it, these days? So what should we see first?"

We were walking away from the docks and across the steep stone bridge to the adjoining island. We could hear the Bacardi B-LIVE tent before we saw it, and feel it too, its deep bass thumping in our chests like an artificial heart.

"Let's stop here," Desiree said, "Let's Go to War is on. They're pretty killer. You know one of those guys used to live upstairs from us at our last apartment?"

"Oh yeah? How was that?" Kath asked. "Was he practicing all the time?"

"Not all the time," I said, "and even when he did, it's more the lady down the hall who had to deal with it - she was right underneath him. We used to hear them fighting in the hall about the noise all the time."

"Was he a nice guy about it?" she asked.

"He was pretty cool, but obviously he had to work on his music sometimes. I remember once I was sitting in the kitchen, just working on some writing, at about ten in the morning, and I heard the doorbell. For some reason I just knew it was the guy from upstairs - he always seemed to come by in the morning, to borrow toilet paper and stuff - so I opened the door, and sure enough, there he was. He said he'd met a couple acrobats from Cirque du Soleil the night before and was just getting in from the after-hours club they'd gone to. Anyway, he came in, asked me if I had any porn, and when I said I didn't he just said that was okay, smoked a couple of my cigarettes and drank a glass of wine, and then he went upstairs to work on his music. He has a good work ethic."

"Well it shows," Kath said, leaning on the fence that demarcated the licensed Bacardi tent from the rest of the grounds, "these guys sound amazing. Crazy, but amazing. I wonder what you'd classify it as."

"Their website calls it ‘digital confusion'," I said. "I like their squelchy, grinding beats."

"This song's called ‘Burn Down the Disco'," Desiree said. "I like it. I wonder if they've already played ‘Life We Live' - that one's my favourite."

We didn't find out, because MGMT were already taking to the main stage. We wandered over and sat on the grass, and gradually the band made their way through most of the songs from their Oracular Spectacular LP.

"Oh man, I love this song," Kath said, when "Time to Pretend" came on. "I've heard it so many times, but it's still great."

"What's Goldwasser doing now?" Desiree said. "It looks like he's talking to his guitar." It was true. MGMT's frontman had knelt down on stage, sharing what appeared to be an intimate, face-to-face moment with his instrument of choice.

"These guys are so weird," Katherine said.

"I know," agreed Desiree. "That's why they're so awesome."

"Is that shrub dancing?" I asked. 

"What shrub?" 

"That one, the one in striped stockings that's dancing."

"Oh fuck, it is!" Kath said. "And look at that, you see the stilt-walkers coming through? There's two of them coming through the crowd, you see that?"

I did. One was dressed like a bullfighter, the other had long pink legs and bright red dreadlocks, and both were gingerly picking their way over the blankets and people sprawled out on the grass.

"You see," Desiree said, "it's stuff like this that makes this festival so much fun." 

By the time MGMT's set had finished, The Fratellis had already started on the TD Music Stage, so we wandered over there to see what was happening. Desiree wanted one of the recycled plastic tote bags Motorola was handing out, so on our way we trekked through the tent city of sponsorship booths to find one.

"Fuck there's a lot of sponsors," Kath remarked, and Desiree agreed, but eventually we got her a bag, and even a pair of Kanye-style aviators, courtesy of the Virgin Angels, and then we made our way over to the TD Stage.

The Fratellis has a decent crowd, but their music wasn't very exciting, so we walked over and saw Montreal's Bad Flirt on the smaller Oh! Henry Stage. They were good, and they ripped through about a dozen poppy, synth-driven songs in their short set, to a good reaction from the crowd.

"Well, Wintersleep's starting," Kath eventually said, checking her festival schedule, so we walked back to the TD Stage and waited around. Wintersleep didn't start though, not until forty minutes after their scheduled set time (due to an errant singer), but we waited and eventually got to listen to a few of the Juno-winning Halifax quintet's drifting, dreamy, semi-experimental orchestrations. It was way too mellow though, and by this point Bloc Party were already gearing up on the main stage, so we hoofed it back over there. The sun was beginning to set and it was a beautiful dusk. As Bloc Party vocalist Kele Okereke asked the crowd, "what more do you want? Toronto, the lake, sunset." It was all we needed. Then, they played "Banquet" - everyone went crazy.

After Block Party we definitely saw the best act of the day, The Kooks. Maybe it was because they played on the smaller TD Music Stage, but the band instantly established a rapport with their audience. They looked like they were having fun, too, dancing around through singles like "Ooh La" while the audience danced along with them. They even convinced the thousand-thick audience to all sit down together, for one song, or at least until the chorus came and no one seemed capable of anything but jumping to their feet.

"That was a good strategy," Desiree said. "If I had a band, I'd make everyone sit down too, just so they're that much more pumped when they get to stand back up again."

"I guess we should go see the Foo Fighters now," Kath said when The Kooks had finished, and Desiree and I grudgingly agreed. We walked back to the main stage in time to hear the end of their cover of "Young Man Blues." Then Dave Grohl explained his plan for the night, which was basically to "play a lot of shit," as he phrased it.

"I'm gonna play some old shit, for all the old farts, and some new shit, for all the new kids who are just getting in on this... and we're gonna get balls drunk," he shouted.

"Dave Grohl sounds like my dad when he comes home hammered and wants to seem cool in front of my friends," Desiree said. "This sucks."

"Don't worry," I said. "The festival's not over. We still get to see Oasis and Moby. Tomorrow's gonna be awesome. Just as long as it doesn't rain."

It did, of course.

Bloc Party
Photo: Lisa Mark
Bloc Party
Photo: Lisa Mark

Desiree and I awoke the next day to the sound of falling drops and the cold grey light of a September afternoon pouring through our window.

"Poo," Desiree said, rolling over in bed and watching the rain in disgust. We lay there for a bit, listening to it, until eventually Desiree said, "Do we have any Red Bull and vodka left?"

"We do," I said.

"Okay. Let's go drink it then," Desiree said, getting up and putting on her housecoat.

By the time we began riding our bikes down to the ferry, it had stopped raining and we were both drunk.

"I feel like we're on Lost," I said to Desiree as we rode through the park. "I'm Jack and you're Kate, and we have to go back to the island, it didn't want us to leave, Kate!"

When we got off the ferry for a second time that weekend, V-Fest seemed even busier than the first day. People were already lining up at the Bacardi tent two hours before Moby was supposed to go on. The ground around it was a thick, muddy soup of trampled lawn. Someone was splashing around in one of the puddles.

"Come on," Desiree said, "let's see what else is on today."

We headed off and saw London, ON, rapper Shad do his thing in front of one of the bigger crowds to gather at the Oh! Henry Stage. His lyrics were good, especially his song about being cheap.

"Hey," said Desiree, "this song's about you." I pretended to not hear and we walked back to see Stereophonics on the main stage. They were super loud and angsty and all we wanted to see was Oasis.

But before we could, we had to sit through Paul Weller's set, which was enthusiastically received by the crowd's older members.

"I didn't know Bruce Springsteen was playing this year," Desiree said.

"He isn't. This is Paul Weller," I told her.

"Who's he?"

"I dunno. He used to play with Fashion Council? The Jam?"

"Never heard of them," Desiree said. "This is boring." 

But it was getting dark by then, and we knew it wouldn't be long before Oasis took the stage. Finally it happened. We wound our way through the people scattered across the damp grass and pushed up as close to the stage as we could. When the first chords of "Rock ‘n' Roll Star" rang out, the whole crowd was somehow immediately re-energized and cheering.

"This is awesome!" Desiree screamed above the music as Oasis thundered deeper into their set.

"These fuckin' lights are kinda tripping me out," I said as spectral black and red images flashed across the stage's monstrous screens at three-hundred times a second.

"Play ‘Slide Away'! Play ‘Slide Away'!" Desiree screamed, and eventually they did, but not before "Cigarettes and Alcohol", which is probably one of the best Oasis songs ever, I think. Then they played some other shit. And finally they played "Morning Glory."

Before they could even get to the second chorus, some guy ran out and decked Noel Gallagher. The music stopped, short people like Desiree looked around wondering what the fuck happened, and security tackled the bastard to the ground.

"What the hell just happened?" Desiree asked, jumping up and down and trying to see over people's heads. "What's wrong with the sound system?"

"It's not the sound," I said. "Some guy just ran on stage and pushed over Noel!"

"Really?? Oh no! That means Oasis probably won't come back on! These guys are huge pricks, they won't perform after something like that!" 

But they did. They didn't finish "Morning Glory", but they did do "Wonderwall" (announced curtly by Liam), and eventually they played "Don't Look Back in Anger", which we had been waiting for and is crazy to see live because everyone knows the lyrics. They played an acoustic version of it, and everyone sang. And as Oasis closed with "I am the Walrus", Desiree and I headed for the water taxi. They didn't do an encore. 

"Well, that was a good fucking festival," Desiree said, as we sped across the lake. "All of it except for Noel getting knocked over. That sucked. I really wanted to hear the rest of ‘Morning Glory'."

"At least it wasn't during ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol'," I said, and Desiree nodded, hugging me against the lake's cool wind. Behind us the island grew smaller. And just like that, everything was over. Until next year, at least.

VFest Toronto Photo Galleries

Click the image below for the Oasis photo gallery

Oasis performing at Vfest Toronto 2008

Click the image below for the Paul Weller photo gallery

Paul Weller @ Vfest Toronto 2008

Click the image below for theStereophonics accoustic performance photo gallery

Sterephonics accoustic performance photo gallery

Click the image below for highlights of the Toronto stop of the Virgin Music Festival 2008

Vfest photo gallery

Video: Noel Gallagher being attacked

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