Afternoon at Virgin Festival took an exciting turn, as the eighth Circle of Hell heat gave way to a dome of foreboding gray clouds and the constant threat that the sky was about to open up and bury us in a deluge. This would have been a welcome respite from the rest of the weekend’s weather, of course.
First up to face the storm clouds were Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Karen O, sounding like a sleazy extra in a film by native son John Waters, she growled a thank you to Baltimore, and everything moved along with the same energy. From there, the NYC rockers bravely faced the weather and kept the rain down to a drizzle, presumably because the raindrops were too intimidated by Karen O to get too close. It’s been said before, but it bears repeating: Karen O is sex. She panted and moaned (“Sealings,” “Rockers to Swallow”) and generally just orgasmed her way through the set, stopping every now and then to sing. Drummer Brian Chase kept perfect time and guitarist Nick Zinner twiddled knobs and produced way more noise on his electric guitar than his rail thin body seemed capable of making. Next, it was all about the Fever.
O put on a mask at the end of gloriously filthy “Rich” and gloried in the teetering emotionalism (and loud-soft dynamic) of “Pin.” She donned a sort of silvery queen’s robe before tearing into favorite, “Maps,” which she dedicated to a long list of people, including members of Bad Brains, Regina Spektor, and the entire audience. At the end, everything quieted down — the band, the singers-along — and it was just O on stage, pouring herself in to the microphone like it was the only thing that would listen. Then to remind us she was still having a good time, she and the band summarily destroyed “Y Control” and stalked off stage.
We interrupt this whiteness to bring you an update from the second stage. The 30-minute set breaks allowed anyone who was so inclined to check out the end of Wu-Tang Clan’s set before Interpol came on, and the New York giants didn’t disappoint. Those who stayed at Yeah Yeah Yeahs until the end got to the Wu just in time to hear Method Man’s “Da Rockwilder” (the line “smokin’ on a blunt” seemed to be popular with the crowd), followed quickly by “Triumph.” Ghostface Killah exhorted the crowd to show them some love, and announced the date of their upcoming record (November 13, the same day as the death of Ol’ Dirty Bastard) to a sea of W’s. Catching Yeah Yeah Yeahs meant you only got to see this very last part of the set, but it was completely energizing — joyful and funny and absolutely on-target.
One had to run back to main stage as soon as Wu-Tang had finished, because Spin cover boys Interpol were up next. The band appeared in their regular black garb (Carlos D has apparently decided Neo from The Matrix is a better fashion icon than the nihilists from The Big Lebowski, for kids keeping score at home), which must have been awfully hot under the stage lights even in the light rain.
The band played a set pretty evenly divided among their three albums. Our Love to Admire tracks like “Rest My Chemistry” (with a Pixie-ish intro), the enigmatic “No I in Threesome,” and joyfully cold-shouldered “The Heinrich Maneuver” blended well among the morose pieces from Turn on the Bright Lights and Antics, songs that were greeted with shocking enthusiasm from the tired crowd. “Slow Hands” got the fans going early, and the New York boys just kept ongoing, delivering quasi-hit after quasi-hit with “Obstacle 1,” “Evil,” and “PDA” rounding out the set.
Finally, it was time for festival closers Smashing Pumpkins. After the crew put together a lighting rig big enough to run the Vegas strip (assuming Vegas was hosting a glam-goth convention that week), Billy Corgan and company came out on stage to the rabid cheers from the packed crowd.
The Pumpkins are of course on a victory tour of sorts, playing their first American dates since 2000 in support of Zeitgeist.The more storied dates on the Pumpkins’ American reunion tour are the residencies at Asheville’s tiny Orange Peel and San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore West. While these earlier stops may have had more cachet, the set at cavernous Pimlico is more appropriate to Smashing Pumpkins and their legacy — a show in front of a stadium full of college students and suburban kids? That’s Billy’s bag.
Tattooed troglodytes not withstanding, there was something magical about the Pumpkins’ presence that night (Aug. 5). Billy probably still thinks he’s Jesus (the band was decked out all in white — like angels, get it?), suffering for all of us, but when the suffering sounds this good, one should be willing to indulge him a little bit. They played a little bit of their new music (notably the sweeping “Death from Above” and the revolution-tinged “United States”), but they mostly ran through their hits. Hearing a stadium full of people sing the chorus of “Tonight, Tonight” or “Today” back to Billy while the rain poured down on was pretty much perfect, and made everyone forget the sweaty drunk dude trying to start fights in the mosh pit in front of them for a second. And so Virgin Festival 2007 ended, sunburned, bruised, and totally high from the stardust memories created by Smashing Pumpkins. JEFFREY PARKER