The weather did cooperate after all with the skies just being grey and no rain happening during the inaugural Montreal version of the world famous Virgin Festival. The Virgin Festival has been going strong in the U.K. for 13 years. Dubbed the V Festival over there it is one of the bigger festivals in Europe drawing names like Oasis, Keane, Katy Perry, Fatboy Slim, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, The Proclaimers, and The Human League. It has been a major player as far as annual festivals go.
Virgin Festival has only been in existence for a couple of years in Canada and this is the first date in Montreal, so it is actually quite impressive that they were able to nab huge artists like New Kids on the Block, Simple Plan, Black Eyed Peas, Akon, and Live to be part of the lineup. Each of the Canadian cities that Virgin is hosting a festival in (Halifax, Burnaby, Toronto, and Calgary) gets a different lineup geared to the city's musical tastes. So Halifax gets The Tragically Hip and The Offspring, Burnaby gets Our Lady Peace and k-os, Calgary gets White Lies, and Toronto gets …well, we don't know who they are getting yet. But so far it looks like Montreal has the strongest line up. Yay!
Doors opened at Parc Jean Drapeau (great place to see live music outdoors) at 1 p.m. and the first artist up at 2 p.m. was Sam Bradley, followed by Stereos, former Canadian Idol winner Eva Avila, Ten Second Epic, another Canadian Idol alumni Carly Rae Jepsen, new Canadian R&B sensation Kreesha Turner, and then The New Cities. I got there in time for the Hedley set at 7 p.m.
Following the Canadian Idol trend, Hedley is a B.C. rock band that features front man Jacob Hoggard, another Canadian Idol alum who placed third during the 2004 season. Despite his solo success on the show, Hoggard (a frontman full of energy and charisma on stage) went back to his preferred band format, retained the name of his old band, but changed the lineup and they have been major players in the Canadian pop punk front ever since.
During their one hour set on the Virgin Mobile Stage they ran through the hits from their two first releases (they announced that they have been recording a new album for the last month and a half), which were both major sellers, "Hedley" and "Famous Last Words". As previously stated, Hoggard is an excellent frontman (though he could do with a little less "Thank you, Montreal") with energy to burn. He has the type of voice that is perfect for that pop punk genre – strong with plenty of youthful nasally sound. Pacing back and forth like a caged tiger who you expected to pounce at any time, Hoggard knows how to work the stage and the crowd. In between buying beers from a vendor walking in the crowd and his cute inbetween songs banter, he and his band provided the fans with what they came for – the hits.
Next door on the Festival Stage, Simple Plan started up their one hour set almost as soon as Hedley played their final note. The boys from Laval feel very at home in front of their hometown crowd and it shows. But despite their roots they are a huge deal and it shows on stage. They do all the requisite pop punk quintet posturing and jumping around. Their songs are filled with the young person angst coupled with nice little catchy melodies. They are pretty much the total package.
Simple Plan is unrestrained onstage and inspire devotion in their fans. Everything about their live show is seamless and they keep the interest up. This despite the fact that lyrically their songs are dark and angry. Lead singer Pierre Bouvier bantered often with the crowd and made everyone feel welcome. Especially the large young person contingency in the crowd. It is interesting to see how modern pseudo punk bands like Hedley and Simple Plan are clean enough for parents to feel confident enough to bring their kids to see them perform live.
Playing up to their obviously devoted fans, speaking only in French and encouraging sing-a-longs this band is quite polished and tight on stage. You can see the experience they have gained from playing on five different continents across the globe. They know what to do to get the crowd behind them. Whether it is focusing on playing the hits or doing coordinated scissor kicks on stage, Simple Plan knows the live music game and they play it well.
Finally around 9:30 the day's headliners, Black Eyed Peas, took to the stage accompanied by a for the most part hidden live band and DJ, a large screen right in the middle, lots 'o lasers, and two huge inflatable, grey robots. Now I have seen BEP live before, so I knew exactly what to expect: plenty of gyrating and strong vocals from (newly brunette) Fergie, a rapping and potty mouthed will.i.am, and the largely overshadowed duo – Taboo and apl.d.ap. This is the Peas formula and it works well for them based on the crowds reaction.
Ever since the release of 2003's "Elephunk" the Peas have been huge with sold-out concerts worldwide, plenty of awards and huge album sales. Despite their lay off while Fergie went out and did her solo stuff the band's recently released album "The E.N.D." once again has brought them to the top of the charts. It already has two top singles off of it despite being out for not even two weeks. This group is a hit making machine. And during their 90 minute set, their hugely successful version of mindless dance music hits is what we got.
It was plenty dark outside by the time Black Eyed Peas hit the stage and that leant to their cool laser show and video screen. Everything that happened between the two large, inflatable robots could be seen clearly. The four Peas worked their parts of the stage, moving around continuously, and keeping everyone happy.
Their unique brand of pop, soul and hip hop has served them well and won them many fans. Montreal, as will.i.am reminded us, has been on the BEP bus from the beginning. We dig what they are serving! The crowd was waving their hands and dancing around from the opening notes of "Let's Get it Started".
I don't know what exactly to say about a band that can at one moment preach world peace with "Where is the Love" and the next set the woman's movement back 25 years by performing that extra-vile song "My Humps". Are the real Black Eyed Peas insidious or harmless? My guess is that they are somewhere in the middle and in all honesty their fans don't care. They just want to dance to some beats. And provide beats and crazy vocals (courtesy of Fergie) is what they did. They aim to entertain and that is what they, for the estimated 12,000 people who were there on Virgin Festival 09 Day 1, accomplished.
Tomorrow's forecast looks good so head over to Parc Jean Drapeau to catch live performances by New Kids on the Block, Akon, Jesse McCartney, Divine Brown, David Usher, Jonathan Roy, and Live.
1) On My Own
2) Bone Shatter
3) She's So Sorry
4) Hand Grenade
5) Old School
6) The Nights I Can't Remember
7) Never Too Late
2) Take My Hand
3) Shut Up!
4) When I'm Gone
7) The End
8) Your Love is a Lie
9) Save You
10) Welcome to My Life
11) Right Round/Poker Face mashup (Flo-rida and Lady Gaga cover)
Black Eyed Peas:
1) Let's Get It Started
2) Don't Phunk With My Heart
3) ?? (Fergie dedicated it to the "crazy people")
4) Rock That Body
5) Meet Me Halfway
6) Hey Mama
7) My Humps
8) Rockin to the Beat (just the boy Peas featuring will.i.am as
DJ and sampling Estelle's "American Boy", Daft Punk's "Around the World" and Kings of Leon's "Sex is on Fire")
10) Pump It
11) Where is the Love
12) I Got a Feeling
13) Boom Boom Pow