Coldplay shows solidarity in Pemberton's dust

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      Katie Shindler
      I’m here to vend and sell my panties Cutiepie by Katie and I really want to see the Flaming Lips and the Mates of State. I saw Metric yesterday and it was great. From my booth you can hear the music, so everything’s been really fun.

      Frank Green
      I wanted to see Sam Roberts the most. He rocked this place, I loved it. Wolfmother was good. I don’t know any of the bands tomorrow but we’ll be here. We live right around the corner, we couldn’t think of anything else to do.

      Jordan Tal
      It’s been pretty good so far. I saw the Flaming Lips. I believe it was them who crowd-surfed inside a bubble; that was all right. I was posted up on the sidewall, trying to avoid the dust. I’m here to see Jay-Z. I wanna see him with my own eyes and hear him live.

      Laura Nairn
      Nine Inch Nails was completely epic. It was like everyone was walking at the same time with the music. And Trent Reznor, I didn’t realize he was so buff. His athletic ability on stage and the light show were fantastic. My boyfriend doesn’t even like them but he said it was an amazing show too.

      If you remember one thing when packing for next year’s Pemberton Festival, let it be this: bring a bandanna. If the 2009 edition is anything like this year’s inaugural event, that simple garment might just save your weekend.

      When the wind kicked up on Day 3, for instance, people wore theirs Zapatista-style to guard against inhaling their weight in dust. With the midafternoon sun beating down, doo rags all over the site were pulled over scalps Aunt Jemima–like, or rolled into headbands to keep the sweat out of people’s eyes.

      A few fashionable types knotted their bandannas jauntily around their necks, while two of the site’s filthiest brutes used them as face cloths, soaking them in four-dollar bottled water and birdbathing in plain sight of all.

      The bandanna was a fitting symbol of the first edition of Pemberton, a smaller counterpart to American festivals like Bonnaroo and Coachella, but one that scored a typically Canadian victory in its own modest way. When Coldplay wrapped up the weekend’s main-stage activities, it felt less like an ending than the start of something special.

      Earlier in the day, the Fiery Furnaces' Eleanor Friedberger opened the Lillooet Stage sporting high-waisted navy-blue slacks, a checkered cowgirl shirt, and a red western bow tie, looking like the kind of woman John Ford might have cast if he’d made ’70s art-porn.

      Swinging from terse spoken-word verses to howling choruses, the singer was a cross between Laurie Anderson and PJ Harvey, vamping over guitarist Jason Loewenstein’s blues riffs and her brother Matthew’s smeary runs across the keys of a vintage Fender Rhodes. The band’s dizzying brand of carnival-rock seemed to confuse some onlookers, but it delighted a contingent of Pemberton’s rarest species: the bearded Main Street hipster.

      When his face flashed on the big screen, Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig bore an uncanny resemblance to Crispin Glover, but from a distance, wearing plastic-framed sunglasses and a faded jean jacket with the sleeves rolled up, he looked more like a thrift-store version of Tom Cruise circa Risky Business.

      Koenig’s preppy quartet believes the world needs more Paul Simon, and as the sun broke through the clouds over the Mount Currie stage, that seemed like a very good notion indeed. The more they ripped off Simon’s Graceland, the better the New Yorkers sounded, their splashes of West African guitar and jaunty rhythms inciting joyous sing-alongs and the kind of silly dance moves people usually keep to their living rooms. Vampire Weekend was followed by N.E.R.D., which trades in a weird brand of lifeless juvenile rap-rock that wasn’t fooling anyone, not even the rubes visiting from Alberta.

      Back at the Lillooet Stage, the guys in Wintersleep ambled on-stage looking like the university students who adore them—shaggy, sunburned, and utterly nondescript. Still, the campus favourites were the weekend’s most resilient act, having made the journey overnight from Louisiana, where they’d had their gear stolen. Borrowing equipment (and an overall sense of lameness) from fellow CanCon rocker Sam Roberts, the Nova Scotians scored with “Weighty Ghost”, the kind of jangly number to which the only sensible response is to sway, very slowly. Near the back, a couple of beefy guys did just that, their arms thrown around each other’s necks, beerily reciting grisly lyrics about death and decay.

      Halfway between the two main stages, a Jackson Pollock–style painter tossed colours haphazardly at a pair of human canvases, two bleary shirtless dudes looking to cover up the muck and sweat of three days of camping. Beyond them, Bellingham–spawned Death Cab for Cutie was proving it’s become an ideal festival act—just muscular enough to get people’s attention, and just catchy enough to hold it.

      Pemberton Festival, day three. Photos by Adam PW Smith.

      Over on the Lillooet Stage, charismatic Jewish-American rapper Matisyahu cut a striking figure, dressed all in black except for the electric-blue Asics on his feet. The New Yorker—who looks more like he should be presiding over a bar mitzvah than riding reggae beats—spun all the hippie fairy princesses into wild dervishes, his sing-song patter like Sean Paul for the socially conscious.

      If you blinked you might have missed DJ Dopey's brief collaboration with members of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra inside the Bacardi B-Live tent, where club kids went for stiff drinks and funk- and soul-oriented beats from local heroes Sean La-La, Vinyl Ritchie, and Oakland’s DJ Shadow.

      As the sun fell over Mount Currie, Jay-Z turned in a performance that concertgoers will tell their grandchildren about. Backed by a 10-piece band in matching black-and-white formal wear, the man born Shawn Carter hopscotched across his catalogue, offering a master class in vocal technique, rhythm and timbre held in delicate balance throughout. A raging mosh pit erupted during the guitar riff-driven “99 Problems”, which the band turned into a cover of “Back in Black”, proving that Hova’s biggest crossover hit is not just a great rap single, but perhaps the best rock song of the decade.

      After racing without banter through his staggering number of street anthems, Jay-Z concluded with a heartfelt thanks to the crowd, picking out a couple of dozen disciples for special mention—like the superfan upfront who rapped along with every word, the lunatic who danced with his crutches swinging wildly in the air, and, especially, the pixie who bared her breasts for the big screen.

      While the rap fanatics retreated, everyone else rushed forward for Coldplay, whose brand of triumphant pop is tailor-made to the scale of an outdoor mega-festival at night. Lead singer Chris Martin was in fine form, nailing all his soaring parts and bounding giddily across the stage, ever the endearing, self-deprecating fool. When the Englishmen launched into “Viva La Vida”, he seemed to want to leap out of his skin, basking in the peculiar satisfaction that must come when 40,000 strangers are singing your own words back to you.

      If you looked closely, you could see he was wearing bandannas, too, wrapped as arm-bands on his jacket, as if in solidarity with every dust-caked survivor below.

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