Naked man and Spoonman (Virgin Fest)

So Melvin and I had a shorter trek to make this year to see Underworld. Last year we had to go to New York, and we were prepared to go to New Jersey to see them at All Points West this year, but then they were announced for Virgin Fest in Baltimore. A 45 minute drive to see Underworld!

But first, the rest of the festival. We thought it was going to take a lot longer to get there — that there was going to be a giant line of cars heading into Pimlico. But that was not in fact the case. So we were there WAY early with plenty of time to catch Cat Power's set to start out.

I wasn't quite sure how she was going to sound live, but she sounded great and did a good, bluesy set. I love the way she completely reinvents songs for covers, and she did a cover of "Fortunate Son" that was very much reinvented.

We headed to the other stage after that, for Gogol Bordello's set (we wanted to be able to get a decent spot for Lupe Fiasco, who was on after them). I had never heard of Gogol Bordello, and I'm not necessarily sure that I'd put them on my ipod, but they put on a hell of a show. Their lineup at the beginning of the show included a fiddle and accordion, and by the end they had out a marching band bass drum and the lead singer was banging on a bucket. Fun times.

We moved up close for Lupe Fiasco's set, and I realized it was TOO close not too far into the set when the crowd surfers started going forward from far behind us. The crowd was pretty hepped up already, and they were flinging all kinds of things in the air — frisbees and water bottles. We saw a girl get hit in the head with a frisbee, and at one point a gallon jug full of water went up and came back down almost in slow motion. It didn't look like anyone got hit in the head with that one. I got kicked in the face by a crowd surfer at one point, but no serious harm. After Lupe's short but great set, we retreated farther back on the lawn where we could chill out and listen to Bloc Party and The Offspring — if the crowd was that wired for Lupe Fiasco it was only going to get worse, and I needed some rest to be ready for two hours of solid dancing during Underworld.

Bloc Party's set sounded good but they didn't have a lot of stage presence. They just pretty much went out there and played. The crowd perked up a lot more for The Offspring. They sounded exactly the same as they always have, but I tell you what — nothing that's happened as I approach 30 has made me feel as old as seeing Dexter Holland look more like a guy who just dropped his kids off at soccer practice and grabbed a microphone than the lead singer of the punk band of my high school days. Yikes. It was fun, though. As they kept bringing out more hits, I kept going, "I forgot about this song!" They closed, of course, with "Self Esteem," and it had the crowd jumping all over the place.

Then it was time to head over to the dance tent and scope things out. In the midst of our pizza eating/Underworld-prepping, Melvin and other people around me started pointing and giggling. I turned around to see what they were pointing at, and there was a naked man standing not too far away from us. He looked more disoriented than drunk or protesting something, and eventually he wandered behind some bushes as the crowd continued to grow.

I'd been trying to figure out what to do with the beach towel I was using to sit on the lawn, as I didn't want to lug it through the Underworld set. Melvin wisely suggested we give it to the naked guy, so he chucked it over the bushes. Naked guy picked it up, and we thought he was going to use it to cover up, but instead he just put it around his neck. So that's the story of what happened to my beach towel — Melvin gave it to the naked guy.

And then it was time to find a good spot for Underworld. We were able to get pretty close this time, but not scary close.

Again this time, I had expectations for Underworld, but this time they were actually based on having seen them live before. Once again, they met and maybe even surpassed my expectations — although the "Dance Tent" venue was not as good at Virgin Fest, Underworld sounded as good as they did last year, and maybe even better.

About that Dance Tent — I suppose it was a good idea in terms of making it dark enough for lights for the day acts. But by the evening, the grass that had served as the floor was pretty ragged, and once the concert started, the air got hot and stifling with all of the dust the crowd was kicking up. Not quite the same as astroturf and open skies at Central Park. But Underworld can't be blamed for that.

The set:

1. Crocodile — This was the only song they played off of the new album, which surprised me. I thought we'd get "Ring Road" or "Glam Bucket" at least. This was called the Dance Tent, though, and Underworld definitely kept the pace up the entire show.

2. Spoonman — !!! Worth the price of admission. For the entire festival. There was a transition period and then they played the distinctive "muuuuuurwgh" They wound into it slowly, got up to pace, and then went through another slowdown where Karl was reading the lyrics. Then they kicked the pace back up to close it out.

3. Rez/Cowgirl — They rolled this out early, and the crowd went nuts from the opening blips of Rez. I preferred the more unique arrangement they did in Central Park last year (still my all time favorite rendering of this), but it was still note-perfect.

4. Pearl's Girl — This might be my least-favorite song off of Second Toughest in the Infants. Being my least favorite song off of my all-time favorite album, though, is still pretty damn good, and I've really enjoyed this song both times live. That big helicopter beat down low really hits you.

5. Push Upstairs — They did this brilliant, sneaky transition out of "Pearl's Girl." We were in that song, dancing away, and then all of a sudden it morphed, and twisted around, and it was "Push Upstairs." And once they got to the song, it was great — huge on the bottom, and Karl Hyde really selling it on the mike.

6. New Train — This came on all stealthy and foreboding, and then they built it up to the big crescendo, with the lights flashing on the chords.

7. You Do Scribble — They wound things down after "New Train," and then came back with this rarity — a big surprise, but a nice fit — which built slowly on the blippy instrumental, Karl coming in at the end with the vocals.

8. Two Months Off — I was surprised on this one when they started blowing up the giant inflatable tubes, as I'd thought there wouldn't be room on the tiny Dance Tent stage for them. But with a lot of maneuvering by the stage hands — they were still adjusting them well into the song — they got them up and placed and I'm glad they had them. The colors in the tubes really add to the effect, which I think you can see in my pictures. The song, as it was in Central Park, sounded excellent, and was immensely great to dance to.

9. Rowla — I love that they bust this song out live. It sounds different than it does on the album, and it's perfect to dance to. HUGE on the bottom, and a little faster paced.

10. Shudder/Born Slippy .Nuxx — They did that little cymbal crash from the beginning of Shudder/King of Snake, and I thought at that point that was what they were going to launch into. But then...they didn't. And the transition went on, and it became clear that it wasn't "King of Snake," but instead the long-drawn out intro to "Born Slippy .Nuxx" — the same one they did in Central Park, which I think has some of the original "Born Slippy" mixed in. Gradually they started to slip into more recognizable bits of the song, and more and the crowd started to recognize it and anticipate what was coming. When they hit the big, signature chords, and everybody went nuts. The pace was frenetic, and by that time I had inhaled so much dust I had a hard time even shouting "lager lager lager" with everyone. Amazing, as always.

11. Moaner — We never did get "King of Snake," but if the tradeoff was that I got to hear "Moaner," it was so worth it. They came at this one with EVERYTHING, and it was extremely intense, with the huge undercurrent of bass, and Karl singing the vocals in an almost desperate way, and all of the lights flashing with the music.

12. Jumbo — They closed out the show, as they did in Central Park, with "Jumbo," which is my least favorite Underworld song. It wasn't bad at all — it seemed like they sped it up a bit to stick with the whole "Dance Tent" thing. I was just hoping for something different this time around, preferably "Ring Road," or even "Dirty Epic" (which would have thoroughly blown my mind). Still, though, it was a nice way to wind down at the end of the concert.

That's all I've got, words-wise. But I have pictures and video clips up at Flickr.

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