After carefully sidestepping the hordes of Caribana revelers that littered the Lakeshore and wrangling a media pass through cheap lies and trickery, I arrived at Fort York around 6pm in time to catch New Jersey’s Gaslight Anthem. Yawn. While the band got a warm reception from the fans that milled around the stage, their brand of straight-ahead, blue-collar rock did little to inspire as the singer—voice alternating between vintage Springsteen and fucking Rod Stewart—sang wistful little ditties about Saturday night and other topics designed to tickle the nostalgia centers of your brain. My friend Alexis pointed out that they were the type of band that you couldn’t not like, which was true, but by being merely palatable, they were the type of band that was hard to love.
The snoozer set soon finished and I turned my attention to the crowd in attendance—a loathsome mix of punk kids, hipsters and bros (obviously there for Girl Talk). I noticed in mounting horror that it was becoming harder and harder to tell these villains apart with their matching tank tops, identical beer buzzes and full-sleeve tattoos. Even the babies and toddlers that perched precariously on their parent’s shoulders through the plumes of pot smoke (kids under 10 got in for free) were heavily inked. How would I be able to target these hated groups (especially those dumb, lazy babies) with my snide comments and sarcastic putdowns in the future? Also, what were the festival organizers thinking when they decided to plant the massive Jägermeister tent in the middle of the field, completely blocking line of sight to the stage? Such a boneheaded practice is unheard of in outdoor festivals, basically meaning that if you decided to get a beer or food in the middle of a performance, you were missing the show.
Next up was Girl Talk (Gregg Gillis) in the 7:40 pm slot, who managed to steal the show the minute he bounded across the stage and pressed play, a roar going up from the audience with the opening riff of ACDC’s “Thunderstruck” on loop—god, how I despise that song. But the mash-up superstar more than made up for it as he unleashed an effortless mix of alternative radio hits and beloved club bangers—everything from Grimes, the Breeders and ODB to inspired fusions like 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” colliding with “Rock Lobster”—all the while bobbing like a maniac on the decks and accompanied by blasts of confetti and toilet paper streamers to remind us that this was a party. True to form, Gillis was shirtless and sweat-soaked by the end of the performance, closing off the set with a salvo of multi-coloured balloons being shot into the skyline where they collided with sea gulls circling the field for scraps of Smoke’s poutine and the ozone layer.
It was bad fucking luck that UK quirk-pop outfit, Hot Chip were scheduled to follow such a high-energy, crowd-pleasing act. Even more unfortunate was the band’s decision to eschew the bouncier, dance-friendly tracks of their earlier work for the more somber, straight balladry of recent albums. With a weak, muddy sound devoid of bass and charisma, the tiniest frontman in the music business, singer Alexis Taylor (taking time off from his side-job of guy who gets turned down for prom dates) meekly held court over a bored and restless crowd. The bros looked confused as they clutched their $11 dollar cans of Bud in their meaty fists and apathetic conversation circles of show attendees soon formed all over the field (never a good sign at a festival). It wasn’t all bad however, with a reworked “Ready for the Floor” and “One Life Stand” being the standouts of the performance.
Headliners Phoenix managed to get things back on track when they took the stage shortly after 10pm, reigniting the crowd with their iTunes-friendly brand of jangly pop-rock and a slick light show. Propelled by the thunderous beats of guest drummer extraordinaire, Thomas Hedlund (of metal band Cult of Luna), the band soared through a set heavily weighted with songs from their 2009 breakthrough album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix to the delight of fans. Sonically, the band seemed to be at the top of their game with none of the sound problems that had plagued earlier acts. Every synth line, guitar solo and plaintive yelp from singer Thomas Mars was crisp, clear and on-point. It was a strong performance on which to end the night and even some of the bros that had stuck around managed to get into the spirit of things. My personal highlight from the show: watching a trio of Jersey Shore rejects snorting cocaine off of the screen of an iPhone 5 while dancing clumsily to Phoenix playing “1901″.
See more photos from the festival here.