Virgin Mobile Freefest Part III

After we escaped the scene in the “Dance Forest” we made our way back to the stage where Ludacris was finishing up.  Up next was M.I.A, whom most of us had on our list to see.   Now I had heard her album Kala a couple of years ago, and like most people know the song “Paper Planes” which was featured in Slumdog Millionaire and Pineapple Express.  But I hadn’t given her newest album Maya a listen yet, which apparently a much more of a techno edge to it.

I’ll say this right off the bat.  M.I.A.’s performance gets top billing for the most interesting show I witnessed that night.  This isn’t exactly a compliment either.  First off, she started 30-45 minutes late.  Her DJ sidekick was up there spinning some dance beats trying to keep the crowd entertained.  Randomly, there were also three “people” up on stage at the microphones, but covered in full body, multi-colored berkas and motionless.  I thought they were mannequins for a while.  I’ll get back to them in a moment.

Eventually, Maya, the lead singer, came out on stage and began performing.  The first few songs I didn’t recognize (actually I didn’t recognize most of the songs in the performance), but they had a good beat to them and most of the crowd was getting into it.  Nothing was really out of the ordinary at first.

Then, Maya started to get a little weird.  She kept asking for the sound people and the audience to turn up the volume.  That itself doesn’t sound that weird, but from the way she kept yelling it, one really started to get the sense that she wasn’t exactly sober.  But that was still speculation at this point.

Things started to get really bizarre in the next few songs however.  Remember those three motionless berka figures that were just standing there?  Yeah, at this point, they whipped out power drills and pretended to start shooting into the audience.  You know that face that Jim Halpert on The Office makes?


M.I.A. - What is going on up there?

That was the look on the faces of most of the people around me.  Oh and before I forget, it was pretty clear someone on stage kept getting a text message (I’d like to think it was Maya just to keep the weirdness going).  And no, the “bleep” noise could not have been part of any of the songs because it happened so randomly. But because the show already took a weird turn, it was probably the least strange thing happening.

So for her “last song”, she actually invited people in the audience on stage with her.  Let’s just say I was holding my breath the whole time while a flood of drunk fans rushed to try and get on stage.  It could have been bad.  Luckily it wasn’t and the group did their best to try and impress the audience with their not-so coordinated dancing skills.  Eventually, Maya finished up and walked off stage with her crew.   Now this is where people were confused.  Was she coming back?  Was there an encore?  This was the Virgin Freefest, so there probably shouldn’t have been an encore because of the time constraints and her already starting late.  But the lights were still down, and the set wasn’t being cleaned up.  So we all stood around for the next 15 minutes to see what would happen.

Our patience was rewarded with Maya stumbling back out.  And I mean, she literally, kinda stumbled back out…in her pajamas…with a bottle of patron in her hand.   Literally her first few words to the audience as she came back out were “I have a bottle of tequila!  I’m in my pajamas!”

So needless to say, I’m giddy as hell watching this.  C’mon, it’s a free show, so I couldn’t really expect too much.  Maya continues to perform, with the bottle in her hand, cell phone going off, and weird berka people still standing behind her.  She tries once again to get people on stage, but this time security puts a wall up in the front row that the Pittsburgh “Steel Curtain” would be proud of.  So Maya went into the crowd instead, and performed for her last song “Paper Planes” while rolling on a group of spectators.  Now this is where I can probably say most of the people in my group got disappointed.  After waiting around, and watching the shitshow unfold on stage, I think people were really excited to hear “Paper Planes” and she botched it up.  It’s hard to be on key when you’re crowd surfing with a dude’s hand grabbing your breast.  After she finished singing, the security guard, literally, carried her off stage and her DJ sidekick awkwardly invited the crowd to some bar down the street for the “after party”.  I think after that show, we’d all had enough partying.  My grading here is going to be a little schitzo.   The performance gets a C, but the show from a purely entrainment, “what just happened?” standpoint gets an A.

I don’t even know how to follow up with the fact that we caught the end of the LCD Soundsystem on the way out.  I’ll make three quick comments about them.  From what I heard, I thought they were pretty good.  We caught “Losing my Edge”,but I unfortunately didn’t get to hear “Daft Punk is Playing at my House”.

Once again, the lead singer is nothing like what I pictured.  Even more so then the lead singer from Temper Trap, this guy was not the hipster, nerdy white dude I envisioned.  The dude was a straight-up lumberjack.


Don't judge a book by its cover? I guess don't judge a musician by his/her sound.

Finally, in hindsight, I wish we had left M.I.A. early to catch more of LCD Soundsystem.  From most reports, they had put on the best performance of the entire festival (aside from the random few that loved Pavement. Why were they there again?).  From the fragment I saw, LCD gets a B+.

But all in all, I got to see some great acts, hear performances from artists I wouldn’t normally get to see in real life, and witness things I wouldn’t normally witness on a typical Saturday in September.  So, I feel like I got my money’s worth.  Oh wait a sec, it was free. 🙂

Virgin Mobile Freefest Part II

After Temper Trap wrapped up their show with “Sweet Disposition”, we moved onto see Jimmy Eat World.  Some of us went over to Trombone Shorty and you can read about that act here at Dwain Smith’s blog in his “Media Binge” section (I heard it was quite an excellent performance).  Of all the performances, Jimmy Eat World was probably the least exciting.  I’m not saying that they weren’t good, because they were.  But as far as early 2000’s bands go, they weren’t exactly the go-to band that everyone had targeting on the day.  They just played a relatively vanilla show, but it was fun hearing “Sweetness” and “The Middle”.  It was actually kind of funny because most of the crowd responded like they were listening to it on the radio.  People got into it and were happy to hear it, but still kept their conversations going, milled around, etc.  I’d give Jimmy Eat World a “B-“performance.

As Jimmy Eat World wrapped up, more people started coming over to see the next band: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.   Edward Sharpe is a new band that has just recently gotten popular with their hit “Home”.  You’ve probably heard it on the radio or seen the new NFL commercial featuring the song.   The band looks like what the Arcade Fire might look like if they came out of the woods of West Virginia.


Alex Ebert, lead singer of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Yes, his name isn't Edward Sharpe.


But their music hits that perfect combination of folksy, bluegrass catchy tunes that have been a hit on the airways.  They played “Home” as well as their other popular song, “Janglin”. (See the Ford Fiesta commercial).   B+

Joan Jett came on after Edward Sharpe.  Now I must admit, I knew who Joan Jett was, but I really honestly couldn’t tell you before the concert a name of a song she sang.  I also have to confess that it wasn’t until around the time of the concert that someone had to tell me that the Sunday Night Football song on NBC was actually a Joan Jett song that Pink/Faith Hill reworded.  Joan Jett did in fact play “I Hate Myself for Loving You” as well as her other hits, such as “Love Rock n’ Roll” and “Bad Reputation”.  The fact that this was probably the only time I’ll see Joan Jett was the only reason why I actually skipped Thievery Corporation for her performance (those guys tend to play a lot of shows in the D.C. area), but I don’t regret the decision. Because even though she looked a little old to be up there, she was actually still rocking out like it was 1981.  Joan and “The Blackhearts” get a B.

Next to come on the main stage was a band that I was looking forward to seeing and was one of the highlights of my day.  Matt & Kim comprises of married, dance, punk duo Matt Johnson (on keyboards and vocals) and Kim Schifino (on drums) and easily win the prize for cutest musician couple I’ve ever seen on stage.  Their enthusiasm, humor, and pure joy was intoxicating.  I’m not sure if they were on something, but they both had smiles from ear-to-ear throughout the show.  Their biggest hits to date are “Good ‘ol Fashion Nightmare” and “Daylight” – both can be heard on the first episode of NBC’s “Community”.  They performed those hits as well as a few covers (such as their rendition of “Let Me Clear My Throat”) because it seemed like as much as they wanted to play their music, they really wanted to get the crowd going and just plain have a good time.   Matt & Kim get an A-.

From Matt & Kim I moved with a group over to Ludacris.   Now you’d have to be living under a rock to not know who this guy is.  Even if you can’t name a song of the top of your head that’s his, you more than likely have one of his songs on your Ipod and don’t even know it.  That’s probably the biggest reason why I went over to his act.  To a lot of people at the concert, Ludacris probably should have been the headliner for the day and of all the performances I saw, his may actually have been the most packed.  While I enjoyed his performance a lot, I don’t listen to much hip-hop so I wasn’t as caught up as most of the crowd.  The one complaint I heard from most people was while he performed well, he actually only performed parts of a lot of songs, rather than a few whole ones.  But what can you do, it’s a free show.  Luda gets a B.


That's right, Yous a ho.


I actually left Ludacris before the end of his set in order to catch Sleigh Bells.  As day turned into night, it was a little tough to find my way to the “Dance Forest” where they were playing.  The “Dance Forest” was a stage on the edge of the pavilion where there was a thick grouping of trees (Obviously. I have no idea why I just bothered to write that last sentence).  It was hot, it was dusty from all the dirt kicked up, and it was really, really f**king smoky.  The trees trapped in all the dust and smoke and it was pretty difficult to see/breathe.  That being said, Sleigh Bells broke through all of it.  They were another boy/girl duo, but unlike Matt & Kim you got the impression these two had a lot more angst and they tore through your ears with hard, electronic rock.  Think Evanescence meets the Insane Clown Posse meets any European DJ.  Their performance was easily the most intense of the day, and maybe even that I’ve ever seen.  The sheer volume of the electric guitar, while rocking, also felt like you were getting hit by a train.  Apparently, there was something of a mosh pit going on up front where two of our group got sucked into inadvertently.   And although Sleigh Bells only had 30 minutes, they made the most of it.  Most of their music hasn’t hit the mainstream yet (although I just saw the new commercial for Honda that features they’re song “Riot Rhythm”), but I’m guessing songs such as “Rill Ril”, “Tell ‘Em” and “A/B Machines” will make Sleigh Bells a household name soon.  They get an A-.

The finale will be next.

Virgin Mobile Freefest Part I

Last week, those of us in the D.C. area were treated to a free, all day music festival for the second straight year; courtesy of Richard Branson and his Virgin empire.   The line up, while not as impressive as last year’s in my opinion, still had enough acts that I wanted to see that would make the trip up to Columbia, MD worth it.

The event (I just found myself cringing that I used that word, damn you NBC!) was held at the Merriweather Post Pavilion.  The actual pavilion (where normal shows perform during the year) acted as the main stage, and they set up a second west stage about 200 meters away.  There was also a “dance forest” set up – I’ll talk more about that later.

If you ever decide to see a show at Merriweather, here are a couple of tips.  1) Bring a bottle of water.  Yes, they’ll let you bring in one factory sealed bottle – which means as long as that gallon jug of water you want to take in is sealed, it’s all good.  And you don’t want to be paying $7 for a bottle once you’re inside.  2) Park at the Columbia Mall. The mall is literally a stone’s throw away from the back entrance of the pavilion.  State police “tried” to tell people to not park at the mall so that there wouldn’t be congestion, but we got away with it pretty easily.  If you park at the mall, park on the food court side.  You can get out of the area quicker and instead of paying $10 for a shitty plate of 3 chicken tenders (which I ended up having to have to do anyways since I got hungry 6 hours into the festival), you can hit up the food court at the mall before you go in.  Actually the food court is rather impressive with, seriously, pretty much every food vendor available.  This makes the pavilion actually a pretty good place to see a show during the week, since with the mall being right there, you can eat dinner before the typical 7:30 start time.

But back to the Freefest.  Before we went into the show, my group of friends had decided on what acts they most wanted to see.  Since a lot of the bands’ performances overlapped with each other we all did our best to try to plan so that we could get to and from the Main and West stage as well as the “dance forest” at the right times. Since most of the acts were on average 45 minutes, there was a lot of walking around.  But also, because the acts were generally shorter, all the bands played more of their famous songs and crowd pleasers to satisfy the masses.

As we walked in we noticed that the event holders were smart enough to have convenient tents and covered beds for the concert goers to relax in between shows.  There were also several vendors giving away souvenirs such as those plastic back sacks, wristbands and bandannas (that they refreshingly soaked in ice cold water before they gave to you).  Jeremiah Weed was also there with their sweet tea.  Yes, it was $10 for a Dixie cup sized cocktail, but it was damn tasty and damn refreshing on the last hot day of the year.


One of the cozy relaxation beds


(Thanks to the DCist for the pictures, my camera is broken)

Collectively, we all started at The Temper Trap on the west stage.  Most of you probably know the song “Sweet Disposition” from either the Diet Coke commercial, or the movie 500 Days of Summer (good flick to check out btw).  They were a solid B+, and I learned that they have both an Indonesian lead singer (the first of a few vocalists that day that I discovered I had wrongfully pictured in my head) and the most animated bassists I’ve ever seen.

I’ll get to more of the concert in the next post.