At Virgin Festival, Police phenomenal, heat abominable...
August 04, 2007 

More than an hour before the Virgin Festival started at noon yesterday, concertgoers were pouring bottles of water down their shirts.

Hot? Try brutal.

With a heat index of about 103 degrees all afternoon at Pimlico Race Course, it was often difficult to concentrate on the music filtering from two stages, set almost a halfmile apart on the track's infield.

Officials at the on-site medical tent said that by 7 p.m., about 400 people had been treated for heat-related issues, and about 50 people passed out. None of the problems were life-threatening.

Attendees had a few ways to combat the weather. Water fountains were stationed around the grounds - lines were about 100 people deep all afternoon - and misting tents, shade tents and a "Refresh Dome," a damp, foliage-filled area, offered brief relief.

But with 10 hours of music capped off with the Beastie Boys and The Police - on the only area appearance of their reunion tour - true music fans coped with such icky impositions as Portalets that seemed to have last been cleaned when Seabiscuit raced here.

Organizers estimate that the two-day fest, now in its second year, drew about 70,000 people. The Police closed the night with a phenomenal 100-minute set that demonstrated why their reunion tour has been met with such rapturous response.

A happy-looking Sting playfully batted beach balls tossed on stage in between belting Synchronicity II', with guttural force. "C'mon, you want to sing?" he then asked the crowd, leading them into some "ee-yo-ohs" to kickstart 'Walking on the Moon'. While some hits were slightly altered - a different key for 'Don't Stand So Close to Me', a jazz-tinged 'Wrapped Around Your Finger' - the band infused every note with passion and technical proficiency.

The jam that Sting, guitarist Andy Summers and drummer Stewart Copeland engaged in during 'When the World is Running Down' would have blown away bands three times their size. Just one reason why they're legends.

Before The Police closed the night, the Beastie Boys, the New York rap trio that has sustained a 30-year-plus career, offered an invigorating set of classics and new material.

The Beastie Boys aren't those goofy kids from the'80s imploring you to fight for your right to party anymore. But now, even in their 40s, they're sharp, energetic and could teach these one-hit wannabes a few things about rapping.

From the dance-tastic 'Put My Root Down' to the expert old-school scratching in 'Makin' with the Freak Freak', the main threesome, clad in suffocating three-piece suits, skipped around the stage like teenagers. Longtime fans were rewarded with zippy runs through 'Brass Monkey', 'No Sleep Til Brooklyn' and 'Intergalactic'.

Aside from the two headliners, the concert also featured 12 pop and rock bands - most with a penchant for jeans and T-shirts - that ranged from the dependable Cheap Trick to the jam-inducing funk rock of Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals to the new rock of Sting's son, Joe Sumner and his band Fiction Plane.

Other musical highlights:

Scotland's The Fratellis, one of the best new bands out there, have a crunchy, yet melodic sound likely appreciated by fans of Franz Ferdinand.

They're the band behind that iPod commercial (the song used is called 'Flathead', but it's more familiar for its ba-da-da-da-da-ah-oh refrain), and, as demonstrated during its 50-minute set, are a lot of fun live. That song arrived early, pulsing urgently as drummer Gordon McRory's (aka Mince Fratelli) sticks danced across the tom toms.

LCD Soundsystem, who brought their rave-rock to a fawning crowd of at least 10,000. The band's melding of syncopated dance beats and serrated guitars is hugely appealing, especially on the self-deprecating 'North American Scum' and 'Time to Get Away'.

Amy Winehouse, the notoriously kooky British soul singer behind the unlikely radio hit, 'Rehab', was interesting to observe with her skeletal body covered in tattoos, a towering beehive and her swaying dance moves that suggested Diana Ross after a few gin and tonics.

Joined by a taut band, including two brass players and two male backup singers, her organic voice that indicates she has seen a lot of hurt and whiskey sounded record perfect on 'Tears Dry on Their Own'.

But as good as Winehouse sounded, she could have used a hint of stage presence. Aside from a standard, "How is everyone, Baltimore?" and introducing her band, she never spoke, merely segueing into songs that started to sound alike. Even when 'Rehab' sent the throng into happy chant-a-longs of "no, no, no," Winehouse delivered the song as if she were reading the lyrics from the back of a magazine. How about a little effort for the fans?

© Richmond Times-Dispatch by Melissa Ruggieri

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