Rockers fight for their right to restore dignity to the Download Festival
Success! Oh yes!
Silicon Valley put its spin on the UK's Download Festival this weekend with an 11-hour marathon of melodramatic music and plenty of misplaced advertising.
The kids were quite clearly most moved by the idea of The Killers - still humping the success of their "Hot Fuss" debut - closing the show here at the awkward Shoreline Amphitheatre. Other names, including Modest Mouse, The Arcade Fire, and Doves, pulled in the fans as well. The performances of all these largely Brit-tinged bands managed to undercut some of the heavy-handed marketing ploys from the likes of AOL, Gametap and Napster.
It's hard to say what made this festival a "Download Festival" other than the tech-themed booths surrounding the side and main stages. SanDisk had a small tent where concert goers stood in a long line, hoping to win an MP3 player via a type of Wheel of Disk competition. Napster too owned a propaganda tent and had been meant to give all of the kids a one-month free subscription to its music rental service, although no one we talked to knew about this. The biggest sponsor of all was Gametap, which provides a download service for pulling down old video games and playing them on your PC. Gametap's marketing agenda, while bold, would go horribly awry later in the show.
British Sea Power accepted the difficult task of kicking off the main stage play. This meant strumming away to an only quarter-filled - at best - theatre baked by the mid-afternoon sun. To their credit, the Brighton rockers embraced the sedentary, still sober audience and tried to ply the people as much as possible. Keyboardist Eamon left the stage with a drum in hand and part of a tree tucked into his pants. He made it right up through the VIP section, through the seats and into the massive grassy field that takes up most of Shoreline. The kids enjoyed this.
The Doves followed with a clean set full of some of their most melancholy, sumptuous ballads. While many of the Shoreline crew had come specifically to see the Manchester lads, most appeared to have little idea who they were. Lead singer Jimi Goodwin's sarcastic humor didn't go over well in the land of processors and rich children.
"You are witnessing the rebirth of Spinal Tap mark two," Goodwin said. No laughs.
After a couple of songs, with the crowd still planted in their seats Goodwin pleaded for help.
"I've seen more life at a knitting circle," he said. "Is everybody okay? I just wanted to check if you were feeling alright?"
For our money, which went primarily to $8 beers, the Doves stole the early part of the Festival even if most of the crowd weren't yet drunk enough to appreciate the music.
"Enjoy the rest of your weenie roast," Goodwin closed. And so we did.
The concert went into an extended pause as the sun began to settle. Organizers decided it would be cute to post AOL IM chat sessions between the bands and what appeared to be pre-pubercized girls on large screens flanking the main stage. The questions went along the lines of, "Is this really the band?" "Why are you so great" "Where are you from" and "When will I turn into a woman?" The good-spirited rockers, or at least their handlers in virtual disguise, answered the queries as best as possible.
Overall, we weren't the only ones confused by the use of the "Download" name or the fluffy programs that surrounded the show.
"It looks like a marketing idea gone wrong," said Michael Grimm, who came to the show from Reno, Nevada. "I don't get the booth with the 14-year-old video games like Pac-Man and Joust. I'm not sure what they were thinking here."
Typically, the bands proved to thwart the advertisers' best efforts to bunkify the show.
"The music is good though," Grimm added.
And the best was yet to come.
With darkness taking hold of the venue, the Arcade Fire took hold of the bodies. Without question, Montreal's eight-person dynamo dominated the event. Their willowy, operatic whines, pounding drums and general energy orgasm pulled the kids out of their seats and got them thumping. Tears were shed, pot was smoked, beer was guzzled, asses gyrated and arms moved in that militaristic back-and-forth fashion that universally signals unbridled, masculine joy. Mmm, yes, if you haven't seen the Arcade Fire, now would be the time to start booking.
Arcade Fire made use of one of the best attractions at the festival - the Extra Action Marching Band. Verve, flair, swagger, horny goths in their underwear with tubas making love to the wooden roof of the Dentyne Lounge? Oh yes.
At best, the band can be described as a perverted, drug-fueled version of the marching bands that haunt so many high schools and colleges. But words fail to capture the real nature of these freaks who joined Arcade Fire on stage for a music riot.
After Arcade Fire's immense showing, the festival took a turn for the worse.
Organizers thought it would be a good idea to fill the hour-long gap between Arcade Fire and Modest Mouse with an interlude by DJs Adrian & the Mysterious D. Fair enough. The mistake, however, came as the DJs were surrounded by massive Gametape video ads throughout their performance. About twenty minutes in, the crowd turned and began launching foam lawn seats at the stage, booing and calling for Modest Mouse. A show official had to pull the DJs offstage and nix the ads.
Modest Mouse had the unenviable task of following this debacle and did their best. The more than adequate performance seemed out of place at such a large venue. During the middle of their set, Modest Mouse did have the entire crowd throbbing - particularly when pleaser "Float On" hit - but during the second to last song, most of the audience returned to their seats.
So it came to The Killers to end the affair.
Nothing dampens a good mood quicker than a band admitting it's tired of playing the same old songs and ready for the current tour to end. The Killers made such an admission - twice. They played the "Hot Fuss" collection with the tightness associated with an endurance test tour. And they played a couple other tunes much to the audience's delight. The crowd had clearly come to see The Killers, sang along with every tune and got what it paid for.
By the time they got on stage, the band seemed to have debauched quite a bit from a point earlier in the day when we spotted them playing basketball near the press tent. A visibly intoxicated Brandon Flowers did his Robert Smith/Mick Jagger thing but really couldn't seem to be bothered.
Our cynical take didn't match that of the intoxicated crowd. Following the show, we fumbled along back past the Napster tent, the SanDisk booth and even the Dentyne Lounge. Show-goers were pleased to find a fleet of Gametap representatives handing out giftbags as they made their way back to the car lots. The spectacular package included an AIM Mail CD, an ad for Logitech video game controllers, and Gametap ads. Everything you want for a ride home.
Ah yes, Dentyne staffers were there as well with plenty of gum on hand. Presumably to mask all that had been imbibed. ®
Check out the Download Festival in pictures on the next page. Broadband highly recommended.
More Arcade madness
Doves chew the fat in the Dentyne Lounge
Fans trickle in to Shoreline
All photographs credit of Melinda Pignotti. ©
From the stage
Killers in funky blue
Modest Mouse being interviewed
Modest Mouse on stage
All photographs credit of Melinda Pignotti.