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Velvet Revolver, Pumpkins rock Virgin Festival

The Baltimore Sun

Under threat of rain, about 32,000 fans reveled in the rock sounds of Velvet Revolver and the Smashing Pumpkins during Day 2 of the Virgin Festival. Yesterday came as a laid-back counterpoint to the nearly 42,000 concertgoers who flocked to Pimlico Race Course on Saturday, sweltering in near-100 degree temperatures to hear the Police.

About 500 overheated fans had sought medical attention Saturday, but only about 200 needed treatment by 6 p.m. yesterday, and then for various ailments, , officials said.

Initial estimates from promoters put Saturday's attendance at 70,000, but figures released yesterday were 42,000 for Saturday and 32,000 for Sunday, for a weekend total of 74,000. Single-day capacity is 60,000; last year's one-day, inaugural festival drew about 40,000 fans.

Festival publicist Bethany Vanderhoff did not comment on the promoters' expectations for attendance, whether they were met or what this might mean for next year. However, last night she recalled chatting this weekend with Richard Branson, CEO of festival sponsor Virgin Group.

"He told me, 'See you next year.'"

After Saturday's heat, perhaps the festival's biggest problem was an abundance of riches - bands such as the Police, the Beastie Boys, the Smashing Pumpkins and Amy Winehouse spread, sometimes concurrently, over the north stage, south stage and dance tent.

"This was run a hundred times more conveniently than I thought it would be with a festival this big," said Jason Horowitz, 23, a financial underwriter from Queens, N.Y. He and friends drove down Friday night. "My only complaint, though, is that they should let people camp out. There were so many good acts, I couldn't see all I wanted to see."

The highlight of the second annual festival was clearly the Police. The reunited 1980s trio of Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers closed Saturday night with a succinct hourlong version of their 2 1/2 -hour stadium set.

Sting, in good voice, was strongly supported by his old bandmates. Copeland's cunning, frenetic work on the drums sparkled with jazzy improvisations as Summers' blazing guitar lines took smart, engrossing turns. Their work was finely anchored by Sting's elastic bass lines. All three are better, more relaxed musicians than they were 20 years ago.

The group has been on the road most of the summer, rewriting its history by reinvigorating the hits. During Saturday's show, the trio mostly stuck to the old arrangements, taking a few style liberties here and there.

"Walking on the Moon," for instance, was beefed up with an undulating, funk-suffused groove, and "Wrapped Around Your Finger" was textured with atmospheric, Middle Eastern-inspired percussion - timpani, chimes and a gong.

On "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic," Sting fell slightly out of sync as he rushed through the lyrics during the first verse. He eventually fell back into the groove, though, as he, Copeland and Stewart delivered a satisfying set.

Yesterday's lineup at the festival was heavy on noncommercial acts whose sounds and stage antics were bizarre but fun. Acts such as Brazilian electro-rock collective CSS, singer-songwriter Regina Spektor and Baltimore's Dan Deacon gave surreal performances that mingled disparate styles in quirky, inventive ways.

Early in the day, Deacon was king of the festival's dance tent, where the audience was just as much a part of the show as his quirky music. His 30-minute set felt like a strange kids' show where attendees were invited to form a circle and "dance sassy" as Deacon chanted over hyper, neon-colored music that pulsed with squishy synths and buzzing noises.

Spektor, the Russian-born, New York-raised singer-songwriter, garnered rave reviews this year with her latest album, Begin to Hope. Her performance, like the album, was not particularly moving. She accompanied herself on piano in a style that brought to mind Carole King and Laura Nyro. Although Spektor is a fine singer and pianist, her whimsical songs are too quirky for their own good.

Later on the south stage, Jewish reggae-rock star Matisyahu gave a less manic performance. His songs of political and spiritual uplift were emboldened by tight musicianship from his six-man band. Fuzzy, psychedelic guitar lines charged the lilting reggae rhythms and busy percussion. The keyboardist thickened the mix with distorted, synthesized noises. But Matisyahu's rapping grounded it all.

Having just released the album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, the indie-pop band Spoon gave a loose-limbed performance that felt more like a rehearsal than an actual show. The music, though, worked. The beats were tense, the guitar chords choppy. But the quartet needed to tighten up the act.

Panic! At the Disco lacked energy and, for reasons unknown, performed a cover version of "The Weight," one of the most overrated songs of the late '60s. Everybody, including Aretha Franklin and the Staple Singers, has done the song. And if those legendary acts weren't able to add anything interesting to it, what made the guys of Panic think they could?

The Wu-Tang Clan, yesterday's only nod to hip-hop, barreled through its greatest hits as the large crowd waved the "Wu" sign in the air - palms up, thumbs touching. The nine-member collective, including high-profile members Method Man, Ghostface Killah and de facto leader RZA, came on 15 minutes late. And the set was beset with sound problems. Without taking a breath, the group and its DJ revisited Wu-Tang's heyday with such hits as "Protect Ya Neck" and "Sucker M.C.s"

Later in the evening, as the rain finally came, Velvet Revolver revved up the energy on the south stage. This was the supergroup's first show on its national tour behind its solid new album Libertad. The band rocked as if the guys had something to prove. And maybe they do. Libertad is the follow-up to the quintet's multiplatinum debut, 2004's Contraband.

During the well-paced hourlong set, Velvet Revolver dipped almost equally into both albums, opening the show with the rollicking "Let It Roll," the first song on the new release. The steely approach of lead singer Scott Weiland doesn't always mesh with the high-powered playing of his bandmates. But he is a charismatic frontman, and he shone on the surging rock ballad "Fall to Pieces," a big hit from Contraband.

The Smashing Pumpkins closed Virgin Festival on the north stage with a rambling, disjointed show whose sonic template was pulled from the bloated Zeitgeist, the band's latest album, released last month. For all intents and purposes, it was the Billy Corgan show, as he led the newly re-formed group through songs that were little more than overcooked, interlocking guitar riffs and pummeling drums.

Even songs from the Pumpkins' golden era, such as 1993's "Today," were given the Zeitgeist treatment, in which Corgan and his band- mates buried the melody beneath a web of showy, wailing riffs.

But the band pulled back toward the middle of the show on the stark piano ballad, "Death from Above," the B-side of the latest single, "Tarantula." Corgan whined his way through the song. It was almost insufferable, but it was still better than the overreaching rock grandiosity of the show's earlier half.

Compared with Saturday, the day's overall vibe was lethargic. But with 32,000 concertgoers, it was still a hub of activity: Charm City Rollergirls gave demonstrations; fans picked up trash for points toward swag; Paul "Paco" Fish, 25, of Baltimore walked around, dressed as a bush; and Warren Polinsky of Washington suffered through his second day as a pedicab driver.

Polinsky had been taxiing fans everywhere from the South Stage to the Port-O-Potties since 10 a.m., and by 5 p.m. yesterday was spent. But that didn't stop a seemingly inebriated fellow - who insisted on calling him Brian - from making several attempts to get on the cab.

The man fell twice, saying, "Call me Grandma!" as his pants dropped to his ankles. He pulled them back up and, at long last, got in the cab.

Luckily, a colleague interceded so Polinsky could get a break.

"I'm really exhausted," he said with a defeated look as he pedaled away.

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Tim Swift contributed to this article.

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