Virgin Mobile Festival Is Now FreeFest; Franz Ferdinand, Public Enemy, Girl Talk, the Hold Steady, St. Vincent and Wale Join Weezer and Blink
Headlines: Whew, what a day. Freedom and I were just trying to enjoy a major league/minor league exhibition at Fenway -- er, Nationals -- Park (it ain't "be nice to the Nats week" over here) and all of the sudden we get word on the Virgin Festival lineup. It was also around that time I found out that the Wizards traded away Ukrainian quote machine Oleksiy Pecherov, but I quickly got over it and could then spend some time on a Virgin Festival -- make that FreeFest -- breakdown.
The Aug. 30 festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md., is legitimately free; there's no need to ask us about a +1. Ticketmaster is even waving its service charges, provided you pick up the tickets at 9:30 club or Merriweather. First dibs at tickets will go to those who purchased tickets for past Virgin Festivals and Virgin Mobile subscribers. That seems fair. There will be a pair of pre-"sales" on Thursday and Friday for those two groups of people and apparently you will get an e-mail with instructions on how to go about getting tickets if you qualify. The remaining tickets -- and capacity for this concert is 35,000, almost double Merriweather's usual max -- will go on "sale" Saturday. Like past festivals there will be two stages and a dance tent. We'll obviously share the information on who's playing where and when as it becomes available.
My lack of enthusiasm for Weezer and Blink-182 has been documented on the blog. The '90s-alt-rock-throwback-as-headliner is pretty standard at this point, but these two bands were never quite in the same tier as past headliners Red Hot Chili Peppers, Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, Foo Fighters and Stone Temple Pilots. Both are still plenty capable of delivering hit-filled 45 minute sets -- I'd never think of changing the station on "What's My Age Again" or "Say It Ain't So" -- but anything longer than that would be pushing it. Blink is likely to trot out all the smashes and doesn't have much new material to work with. Weezer has four albums this decade that range from almost-mediocre to truly awful.
The sub-headliners are more appealing. Franz Ferdinand has developed as nicely as you could have hoped. This is a band that has grown into its sound and deserves to play on big stages. Plus, I said this in our first predictions post: "I would be shocked if there was a Virgin Festival without Franz Ferdinand." Good for me. The second band in that batch of initial predictions? Public Enemy. We should have quit while we were ahead. The Dave Navarro Rule certainly applies here -- in fact, it's actually the Flava Flav Rule. Still, it's Public Enemy. It would have been really cool if we got the Roots as backing, as was the case in Philadelphia a couple weeks ago, but that's not happening. PE is actually filling the Dylan role as old-timer act on this bill.
The Good Stuff
The Black Cat was too noisy for St. Vincent so I have no idea how she'll fare at a huge, outdoor festival. But her album, "Actor," is one of this year's best to date, one of those records that keeps revealing new quirks with each listen. Her mini-symphonies are all about subtleties, but Andrew Bird is a decent reference point and he fared surprisingly well during the middle of the day last year at Pimlico, so I have high hopes for Annie Clark's set. Yeah, I skipped the Hold Steady when they were in town a few weeks ago. Yeah, they'll probably play stuff almost exclusively from their two most recent records. Yeah, I'll find something to complain about. Yeah, they'll absolutely be one of the two or three best bands of the day.
Wale serves as the hometown hero this year. This could be a breakout performance for the perpetually-on-the-verge rapper. Since PE won't have the Roots with them, hopefully Wale can at least convince local go-go crew UCB to back him. I'm not big on Girl Talk but there is no denying that few acts work a crowd into a frenzy quite like Greg Gillis with his mashups. When he played V-Fest 2007 it was pandemonium, and that was at 12:30 p.m. in the Dance Tent. This time around he should be on one of the two main stages, which means more chaos and more sweat. Speaking of the Dance Tent, my fantasy was a headlining set from Animal Collective while Blink-182 played, but no dice. Holy [Expletive] and Lee Burridge should provide a nice respite when necessary, though.
The Not So Good Stuff
Somber chamber-pop + outdoor festival? Well, I just made an argument that it could work for St. Vincent, but I'm skeptical in the case of the National. The first band to appear at consecutive Virgin Festivals ... Taking Back Sunday? I suppose the teenagers will need something to occupy their time between Blink and Girl Talk and the video game tents. I honestly didn't know the Bravery was still a band. How about that? I thought stylized electro-post-punk-whatever was out, and now stylized indie-world-rich-kid-rock was in. Jet has been teased enough. Mates of State are on my shortlist of Bands That Make Me Want to Stab Myself in the Eyeball.
The Bottom Line
The ultimate caveat applies to FreeFest. It's free. Does the lineup compare to Bonnaroo? Of course not. But you don't have to spend a few hundred dollars on tickets and drive to some farm in Tennessee and hang around with 75,000 smelly people for four days. This is an actual no-strings-attached free festival with some relevant and good bands. I was ready for Weezer, Blink and a handful of nobodies. Instead we get one of the decade's most promising big rock bands, a legendary rap act, a band I've had a dangerous obsession with, some blog favorites and some party starters. Even I won't complain about that.
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