08.04.2007 - 2007-08-04 BALTIMORE, MD: Virgin Festival / Wilted Virgin crowd comes alive for Police...
Wilted Virgin crowd comes alive for Police...
By the time the Police took the main stage at the Virgin Festival at Pimlico in Baltimore Saturday night, the sweltering 98-degree heat of midday had cooled to tolerable levels. A thick aroma of sunburned flesh, sunblock, marijuana smoke and spilled beer hung low in the air. The crowd, exhausted and slimy with sweat, was massed shoulder-to-shoulder for the most-anticipated act of the day.
The Police did not disappoint. Their set, clocked at a little over 90 minutes, was a litany of hits, with nary a B-side in the bunch. The group only released four full-length studio albums throughout a late '70s and early '80s heyday that was as notable for its brevity as it was for its popularity. In a way, their limited but highly acclaimed run added mystique to this reunion tour and they arrived with an aura of legend unsullied by bloat and mid-career mediocrity.
The trio looked much the same as it did when it first rose to fame. Drummer Stewart Copeland played with controlled ferocity, making a blur of the mop-top hair he styled on the early album covers. Guitarist Andy Summers played what looked to be the same battered Fender Telecaster he used to chop out the twangy reggae riffs on songs like 'Can't Stand Losing You' and 'So Lonely'. And except for a few wrinkles, global pop star Sting might as well have stepped from a time machine onto the stage, in his tight jeans, muscle shirt and little black boots. He played a beat up, unvarnished bass guitar that looked as if it has been made from the wood of an ancient sailing ship.
Only Sting's voice revealed the decades that have passed since the Police broke up in 1986. Songs like 'Walking on the Moon', 'Roxanne', and 'Don't Stand So Close To Me' are punishing in the upper registers, and Sting can be forgiven for steering clear of some of the highest notes. Musically, though, the show was a reminder of the band members' virtuosity as musicians. Mr. Summers, whose skill as a soloist is easily overlooked in the four-minute pop song motif, took flight on Saturday, playing several extended solos. Mr. Copeland's marvelous drumming, even more than Sting's voice, is still the spine that hold's the Police's best songs together.
Like the Police, hip-hop's Beastie Boys could be cynically characterized as 1980s retreads. And there is something about the spectacle of a gray-haired MCA (Adam Yauch) stalking the stage behind cohorts Mike D (Mike Diamond) and Ad-rock (Adam Horovitz) that at first glance borders on the ridiculous. But the hyper-enthusiasm of the crowd suggested that the rap trio will land prime gigs even when its rhymes turn to the virtues of prune juice and adult diapers.
Jocular, bombastic and a little unprepared, the Beastie Boys barefaced their way through a selection of their greatest hits including 'Brass Monkey' and 'Sabotage' and a botched version of 'No Sleep 'Till Brooklyn'. But the crowd didn't require apologies, as concertgoers pogoed, slam-danced and crowd-surfed through the entire set - even during the instrumental funk-jazz excursions from the band's new record.
The heat of the day peaked during an afternoon set by troubled chanteuse Amy Winehouse. Her soulful musings on addiction and infidelity seemed out of place at this testosterone-dominated festival, and it appeared that for many her presence was as much a curiosity as Virgin Festival sideshow attractions like Incredibly Strange Wrestling and the Charm City Roller Girls. In her trademark short shorts, orange hoop earrings and a rolled up black tank top, Miss Winehouse looked thin but not as emaciated as the gossip magazines would have you believe.
Flanked by a seven-man band, including a spirited brass and wind section featuring a flute, trumpet and saxophone, the sulking singer repeatedly patted her prodigious beehive hairdo, lifting her long mane off her neck in an attempt to fend off the scorching heat. Fans expecting drunken antics from Miss Winehouse even at 2 p.m. were met instead with hip wiggles, an irritated pout, and one show-stopping miscue when the singer accidentally unplugged her microphone. Even highlights like 'You Know I'm No Good' and 'Valerie' receive muted feedback, although to be fair it was not clear who was to blame for the lack of energy - Miss Winehouse or the overheated crowd.
At the end of her set, she rushed through a version of 'Rehab', her biggest single to date, looking less like a singer shortlisted for the Mercury Prize than an antsy first-timer. Grabbing her shirtless husband's hand, she stalked backstage amid cheers chanting the name of the next act.
Fountains of Wayne opened the show with what must be, for it, a rare noon performance. Singer Chris Collingwood told the crowd, "I haven't been up this early since the 1980s." Despite the hour, Mr. Collingwood and his band mate and songwriting partner Adam Schlesinger cranked out a more than serviceable 45-minute set, mixing up new songs with gems from the catalog. Though they neglected to play their 2003 hit 'Stacy's Mom', which is to Fountains of Wayne what 'Freebird' is to Lynyrd Skynyrd, they offered a zippy take on their 1999 gem, 'Denise'. Mr. Collingwood was later spotted strolling the festival grounds, taking in a set by Peter Bjorn and John, mercifully unmolested by fans.
For an all-day rock 'n' roll affair, Saturday at Virgin Fest was conducted with military precision. The event began and ended on schedule almost to the minute. Lines for the portable toilets were short, although the queue for the drinking fountain stretched to almost 300 people for much of the day. Except for the antics in the scrum in front of the stage, an excited but somewhat muted spirit ruled the day. Many of the thirty- and forty-somethings in the multigenerational crowd, (estimated at 45,000 by festival organizers) crammed under tents to escape the sweltering sun. The hydration tents proved popular as well, misting parched concert-goers as if they were wilted hydrangeas.
© The Washington Times