Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Pemberton Festival: Wolfmother, Chromeo, Nine Inch Nails open festival on strong note

Yesterday was a very long, long and very wild, wild day - so this is the first opp I've had to blog on the actual Pemberton Festival.

After a 2 hour-45 minute train ride from Vancouver to Whistler aboard the Whistler Mountaineer (, which came with a gorgeous scenic route, breakfast and unlimited cocktails, we then boarded a shuttle bus to Pemberton that took an hour and a half. Traffic was thick, with some festivalgoers jammed up to four hours between Whistler and Pemberton. I and a group of other journalists caught the tail end of a media orientation, and finally it was time to head out for the music.

The Pemberton Festival is spread out over an enormous open field, which used to be a rundown farm, so there's actual hay needles everywhere - and unfortunately there's lots of dust swirling around throughout the day as well, not a good thing for those with sensitive allergies. Also, the altitude of being up in the mountains is taking its toll on many Americans who've made the journey to Pemberton, just outside the Whistler ski resort.

Thanks to my friends at BH (you know who you are), I was escorted with the photographers near the front of the stage, where I quickly made my way to the pit for Wolfmother. Before the Aussie trio went onstage, the crowd was restless. After seeing them twice, I told a few Wolfmother virgins that this show was going to be crazy. We'd eventually find out that crazy was a huge understatement. This concert was a zoo, an all-out riot!!!

I've been privileged to have been in many mosh pits before, and this one reminded me of the ones back home during the grunge years - needless to say, my sunglasses broke and my baseball cap fell off and is completely filthy now.

Wolfmother, still looking the same as they did when I last saw them in December 2006, took the stage at 4:45pm and opened with "Dimensions". Everyone was pushing to get to the front, and I was immediately crushed by shirtless young guys (no complaints) and tank top-clad chicks (some complaints). From the minute they began, Wolfmother just pounded and pounded and pounded away on each song.

I didn't spot any new material from the threesome, though I had an afternoon buzz going on. And they barely said a word to the audience during their performance, so if there was any new material they didn't intro it to the crowd. "Woman" was performed midway through Wolfmother's set, a surprise since I thought it'd be saved for the finale. The song, a Grammy winner for Hard Vocal Performance in 2006, was definitely a highlight - it ignited a wild, big mosh pit towards the front of the stage that knocked several people flat on their asses. We had to hoist so many people over our shoulders who wanted to crowd surf during that number, and we had to help people around us that were completely mowed down to the ground. It was a ridiculously wild hour-plus of music! Wickedly wild.

"White Unicorn" sounded as tight and fresh as ever, Andrew Stockdale's vocals up to par with the Robert Plants of yesteryear. The whole audience sang along to the chorus. If I remember correctly, they didn't do "Love Train" - but I do recall "The Joker and the Thief" being thrown into the mix. Again, I was buzzed. By the time Wolfmother finished, everyone near the front was dripping in sweat and highly satisfied - some had lost flip-flops, sunglasses, caps, hats, and shirts. People chanted "wolf mother!, wolf mother!, wolf mother!" and others shouted "one more song!, one more song!, one more song!". But that was it. No encore. Drummer Myles Heskett, who I interviewed two years ago, was the last member to leave the stage - he had a giant smile on his face as he waved goodbye to the audience.

Montreal-based Chromeo drew an incredibly long line of fans outside the Bacardi B-Live Stage. Before the electronic-house duo began their set, my friends and I hung out at the Bacardi Media Lounge, complete with complimentary mojitos, canopied beds with pillows, lawn chairs, and bathrooms with actual urinals and toilets (as opposed to the gross porta-potties).

Within minutes of going onstage, Chromeo had half of the huge tent full. Those who follow the dance circuit followed Chromeo here, and they came ready to party. The whole floor was bouncing up and down when club mixes of "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" and "Groove is in the Heart" were played. I'm not particulary familiar with Chromeo, who dropped by the media tent to say hi to a few journalists earlier in the day, but I must say this performance had as much impact and energy as Simian Mobile Disco's show in Seattle this spring - it was a full hour of hot dance sounds.

Nine Inch Nails were the headliners on the main stage last night, and my body was already begging for me to head back to my hotel and soak in a tub. Already, I was sore from Wolfmother's set. But I stuck around, only to be somewhat disappointed by NIN's not-so-riveting opening numbers. They played newer material at the start, and even though Trent Rezor - in leather jacket and cropped hair - looked damn fine and the lighting was cool, it just wasn't what I though it would be. I expected Nine Inch Nails to come out hammering away from the get-go, possibly doing more popular songs, but the performance didn't have the juice or fire that I expected. To their credit, the group drew an enormous audience.

As I left the grounds, heading to my shuttle back to Whistler, I noticed many more concertgoers also ditching the Nine Inch Nails show. Perhaps they too expected a bit more. I did listen to "Closer" outside the gate, and I can now say that I've heard that song performed live in my lifetime.

Elsewhere, I caught part of The Secret Machines' set - and they sounded really good. I missed Seattle-based Minus the Bear, due to an afternoon mojito craving, but I did catch a third of Interpol's terrific performance via live feed in the media tent. Lead singer Paul Banks sounded amazing, and looked great in a snazzy suit and formal hat combo. I'm not sure what the keyboardist's name is, but he too looked good in a suit, tie, and pimpin' hat. I've never really been an Interpol fan or supporter, but I was won over yesterday in the half hour I saw them.

Other news from the Pemberton Festival: on-site food ranges from fish n' chips to burritos to pizza slices to lamb donairs to hamburgers to funnel cakes. The campsites are completely full, and even though the press-media has their own camping area I chose not to rough it and stay at the totally comfy Sundial Boutique Hotel in Whistler. The shuttle service at Pemberton is a bit nutty, and needs to be organized much better. I waited for 30 minutes for my shuttle to Whistler before being told that I was at the wrong gate - so I had to walk nearly a mile to catch it (ugh!!!). Other shuttles transport concertgoers to-from the Pemberton airport and the Pemberton business area, which is very dinky, but where a lot of people are having to park for the festival.

I'm about 45 minutes away from catching my shuttle to the festival for today. The Saturday lineup includes Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, MSTRKFT, Flaming Lips, My Morning Jacket, Mates of State, Black Mountain, Buck 65, and Low vs. Diamond.

It's time to head back to the festival, and as achy and hungover and exhausted from a long, wild day yesterday as I am, I absolutely can't wait to get there and do it all over again.

On behalf of Seattle Gay News, joining some 100 other press-media representatives at the Pemberton Festival including Rolling Stone, it's a great pleasure to bring you exclusive coverage of the inaugural Pemberton Festival.

One last note, the backdrop of the mountains and lush green forests is mesmerizing, truly mesmerizing.

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