Spektor, Spoon highlights at Virgin festival

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A look at Sunday afternoon at the weekend’s Virgin Festival in Baltimore:

Regina Spektor

Regina Spektor provided an early afternoon highlight with her sharp, irreverent brand of folk. The red-haired solo singer alternated between the piano and guitar, sharing the stage with only a purple stuffed snake — first wrapped around her neck and then draped over the piano. From shrill yelps to clucks to breathy growls, her voice provided more sonic intrigue than any of the instruments that plugged into the stage on either day. She enthralled audience members during the song Baby Jesus by pushing the limit on the number of possible ways one could say a word (nonbelievers) in a coherent piece of music. Even members of Panic! At the Disco sat atwitter on the back corner of the stage for much of the set to take in the show.

Miss Spektor refuses to take herself too seriously, following a playful aside like Hair grows even after you”re dead with the reassurance, People are just people, they shouldn”t make you nervous. Unable to stop beaming for most of the concert, Miss Spektor finally released the crowd from her enchantment after an all too brief forty-five minute set, exiting the stage with a smile and a final curtsy.

Amanda Lewis

Spoon

Britt Daniel had a nice surprise for the Baltimore crowd — Mobtown boy and former Spoon bassist (and Orange frontman) Roman Kuebler stopped by to sing backing vocals on a couple of older numbers. Mr. Kuebler appeared a little ill at ease in front of the festival hordes, clutching a bottle of water in lieu of a guitar and sheepishly backing away from the microphone while Mr. Daniel, drummer Jim Eno, bassist Robert Pope and keyboard player Eric Harvey cranked out the music. It was a sweet, homey touch in an otherwise lackluster set marred by technical glitches and tuning issues.

Spoon drew a big afternoon crowd to the North Stage. Their new album, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga drew well-earned critical raves, for its blend of bare-bones, distortion-driven guitar rock with soulful horns. Even without the horns, Spoon cuts an impressive figure onstage. Mr. Daniel is a lean, dominating presence, ripping bar chords with authority and singing in a powerful but rangy voice. He got through a few tracks from the new album, including Don”t Make Me a Target and You Got Your Cherry Bomb without incident. But, as Mr. Daniel himself noted, The problem with daytime shows is that I can”t read my tuner. Clearly frustrated, he switched instruments, but bad luck followed him. It was a frustrating, though largely well-received set, but not the barnburner Spoon fans were expecting.

Adam Mazmanian

Interpol

Somehow, in the steady drizzle on the muddy Pimlico infield, the New York band Interpol seemed overdressed. Bassist Carlos D, especially, in his cutaway coat, embodied a spirit of frippery nowhere else in evidence. The band played an energetic set and did not seem burdened by the effects of traveling from its Saturday gig at the Lollapalooza festival in Chicago. However, the wrenching, moaning post-punk strains of Interpol tend to bleed together, one minor key riff into another.

The band played a mix of songs from its recent Capitol release, Our Love to Admire, and its two previous releases on the Matador label. The stand-still-and-dance vibe of the muscular but downbeat music, along with the escalating rain showers, gave the set a kind of desultory feel. But it would be unfair to diminish Interpol”s professionalism and talent. Lead vocalist Paul Banks has a haunting, powerful vocal style, and the band as a unit looks at home on the big stage. Indeed, it would be difficult to imagine them crammed into the small stages of the downtown New York clubs from whence they came.

Adam Mazmanian

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Karen O, lead singer of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, seems like one of those hyperactive children who refuses to take her Ritalin. After strutting out wrapped in a shimmering black, white and silver cloak and goggles, she writhed, jumped and whipped herself into a frenzy all over the stage. Her numerous sparkly accessories and howling lyrics grabbed the attention and spirit of the audience, but, like a child throwing a tantrum, she couldn”t hold it. An extended performance of Maps — the group’s one radio-friendly semihit — proved that restraining Miss O’s maenad side enables us to hear dynamic drummer Brian Chase and guitarist Nick Zinner, producing a better sound overall.

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