On a scale between “click on a link” and “volunteer for at-risk youth,” this year’s Virgin Mobile FreeFest lineup is worth, say, assembling toiletry kits at a drop-in center for the homeless. What the cornerstone back-to-school party lacks in area talent and a discernible, reliable musical identity, it compensates for with exhausting marketing.
While the gimmicky stylings of Cee Lo and Deadmau5 are easy to attack, today’s festival also offers a seasoned, snarling big three: TV On The Radio (touring on a romantic, quietly stellar 2011 release despite bassist Gerard Smith’s heartbreaking passing in April); Okkervil River (same boat but with no reported interdepartmental deaths); and Cut Copy (wildly competent Australian synthpop, see: February’s Zonoscope).
James Murphy will DJ in a forest. Patti Smith signed up to chaperon. Kanye weed-carrier turned major-label commodity Big Sean will be charismatic and inoffensive. During the day, catch an overload of electronica (the beats on Ghostland Observatory’s 2006 album Paparazzi Lightning are insane). At night, The Black Keys are slated to rock out for every prophetic, shaggy, aromatic smoke enthusiast that wouldn’t shut up about Magic Potion in college.