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It’s easier to see what Wilco is going for with their studio albums when you see them live. Nels Cline practically attacks his guitar. He seems legitimately upset with it, as if it will only produce the proper sounds through negative reinforcement.

Mr. Cline really let the strings have it during an extended, 20 minute version of “Spiders (Kidsmoke).” The song lends itself well to improvisation, and was easily the highlight of the first day.

Until the Foo Fighters took the south stage, that is. Dave Grohl is, simply put, the best frontman currently working in rock ‘n’ roll.

He’s a consummate pro, doing wind sprints up and down the length of the stage to keep the crowd involved. It doesn’t hurt that he and his band mates have a never ending string of hits to draw from; the Foos kicked things off with “The Pretender” and “Times Like These,” working the pit into a frenzy.

Still, Mr. Grohl managed to get the audience just as excited for songs off the new album as they were for the hits: “Cheer Up Boys (Your Make Up Is Running)” drew almost as much noise as “Learn to Fly.”

But the highlight was an extended version of “Stacked Actors,” featuring a constant stream of solos that never devolved into self-indulgence.

After that, Mr. Grohl began an acoustic set; figuring that I might as well check out the guy who’s known for acoustic stuff while the Foos were unplugging, I wandered over to see Jack Johnson, showing up just in time for “Bubbly Toes.” Remembering why I had avoided Mr. Johnson in the first place, I quickly retreated to the Foo Fighters set.

Attendance at Saturday’s show seemed a little lighter than promoters might have liked, but both stages crackled with energy and excitement. If you didn’t like the music, you could always check out the pyrotechnic shows, the Charm City Roller Girls, or the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus - not to mention the environmentally friendly cell phone recharging stations.

cFull coverage of Sunday’s Virgin Mobile Festival appears on