Free Stuff

Everyone loves free stuff right?  Judging from the lines getting to the parking lots yesterday at Merriwether Post Pavilion, the answer is most decidedly yes.  Having snagged a pair of the free tickets to the Virgin FreeFest music festival, me and a few friends headed to Maryland to soak up some unseasonably warm weather and enjoy that free music.  Uninspired by the first few hours of the lineup we opted to head up later in the afternoon.  Apparently a lot of other people had the same idea.

The lines to the overflow parking made us miss Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros entirely and we got to listen to parts of Yeasayer when we rolled down our windows as we sat in traffic and again as we walked towards the entrance.  Once inside, we headed to the west stage just to see Yeasayer end their set.  Next, after a pitstop at a water spigot (it was nice that they didn’t force you to buy the $4 waters they were selling) to fill up our water bottles, we headed to the pavilion stage to see Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.

I could only name one Joan Jett song (I Love Rock n’ Roll) and would recognize only one other if I heard it (I Hate Myself for Loving You), but I was eager to see her play.  We situated ourselves on the hill and laid back and enjoyed the straightforward rock tunes Jett and the Blackhearts played.  After playing some rather pedestrian stuff, she got to the songs everyone had come to see her play.  The crowd got into it, one lady near us definitely was well-versed in all the lyrics to I Hate Myself, belting out the song along with Jett.  Jett sounded very good and we were speculating whether she over 50 (she is, born in 1958), which made it an even more impressive performance.  A cover of Crimson & Clover was also very good.

Next up was Matt & Kim.  I’ve seen the Brooklyn-based duo twice and was really looking forward to their performance.  I was also wondering whether their high-energy approach would get lost in the bigger stage of a festival setting.  Nope.  Matt gives off the vibe he’s an eternal optimist (he told how they were operating on no sleep due to getting stuck in Denver with a smile and in upbeat way that gave no indication of sleep deprivation).  Kim wails on the drum (see the picture) and Matt works the keyboards and sings.  The crowd was jumping and dancing along to the bouncy music coming from the duo.  Racing through a bunch of songs in their hour set, I think this was head and shoulders above all the other performances I saw.  Matt even did brief between-song interludes of hip-hop classics like ODB’s Shimmy Shimmy Ya, DJ Kool’s Let Me Clear My Throat, and Biz Markie’s Just A Friend (which he extended for a crowd singalong).

With the sun set, the first night act of the pavilion stage was Pavement.  I’ll admit I wasn’t a huge fan of Pavement when they were active.  I enjoyed their songs, but I didn’t have the fanatical love for them a lot of people have.  Though they sported a bloated stage presence in comparison to Matt & Kim (with an extra percussionist and things like guitars and basses), their sound was lean and casual.  A couple of us were planning to cut out of Pavement early to check out Sleigh Bells in the “dance forest” nearby the pavilion.  While I enjoyed Pavement, it wasn’t so good that I felt like I was missing something special, so off I went.  I was glad that I got to hear the instrumental Heckler Spray as I walked away from the pavilion.

In contrast to Pavement’s easy, laconic sound the Sleigh Bells were frenetic and loud.  Very loud.  One member of our group had fingers in the ears for a good bit of the set, but even so I think she enjoyed it.  With only one album under their belt coming in at a brief 32 minutes, the group played most of the material in their half hour set.  Crowd pleasers like Crown on the Ground cranked up the sonic distortion, and the crowd responded positively.  The pleasant Rill Rill was by far the most toned down and was a good break from the more raucous numbers.  Like Matt & Kim, they seemed happy to be there and it showed in their set.

On the other hand, the lady who signed Sleigh Bells to her N.E.E.T. label, M.I.A., came out with the energy of Derrick Coleman after signing an extension.  I wanted to see her set because I thought it had the most potential of any set to be either fabulous or terrible.  It was terrible.  A large crowd was waiting in anticipation at the west stage.  What I thought was going to be a quick intro of some electronic noise, beats, and coordinated light show, turned into an intermidable drone as M.I.A. stood over a laptop.  One person nearby derisively shouted “Do something!”  I agreed.  She was joined on stage by backup “singers” who appeared to have walked off the set of Dune.  I put singers in quotations because I’m not sure they ever actually used their microphones (were they on?).  Finally after she finished checking her email, M.I.A. took the microphone.  She must have been playing stuff from her new album (I recognized one Arular song) which I’m not that familiar with, and now I don’t really have a desire to get to know.  The whole set just seemed lazily put together.  Was she mad that she was not headlining on the main stage (she seems to not take criticism well) and decided to take it out on the crowd?  We decided to cut our losses and headed back to the main pavilion to see LCD Soundsystem.  Not sure whether she even played Paper Planes, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she did not.

I’m going to see LCD in October at the Hollywood Bowl, so I didn’t feel the need to see their own set.  I enjoyed the parts we saw, including a raw version of Daft Punk Is Playing At My House.  I’m definitely looking foward to hearing a full set.  We cut out a little early to beat the traffic, which wasn’t anything like it was coming in.  Overall, it was a very good experience.  Merriweather is definitely a better venue than the Nissan/Jiffy Lube Pavilion in Virginia and I liked that the organizers were able to keep the stages close enough together to make walking between them manageable and still not have too much sound bleed.  And of course the price was right.

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2 Responses to “Free Stuff”

  1. Sarah Says:

    I think you’re an eternal optimist

  2. LCD Soundsystem at Hollywood Bowl « Nothing to Write Home About Says:

    […] less than a month I’d seen LCD Soundsystem, but last time I only got to catch part of their set headlining VirginFest.  This time I was going to make sure I caught the whole thing.  This was my […]

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