It started off blazing in the mid-90s and concluded in the frigid 50s. It spanned the gamut from banda electronica to folk-punk to straight funk. It reminisced on the Nineties, dressed like the Eighties, and was wired like the '00s.
This year's Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival, held last weekend in Golden Gate Park, certainly lived up to its expectations and exceeded them with music, food, alcohol, and entertainment for nearly all tastes. Logistically, the second annual event was just as impressive; the layout, organization, and flow of bands and the crowd were all incredibly seamless. Security was effective but not oppressive, and everyone seemed to be having a blast.
Covering last year's event was a monster, so this year we had our writers spread out over the grounds to text and tweet their coverage instantaneously to our web site and Twitter feed (Twitter.com/eastbayexpress). Considering the multifaceted, multidimensional nature of the festival, it seemed the only proper way to capture the activities. We cleaned it up here for you — blame the free beer in the media tent (and the iPhone's overactive spellcheck).
Day One: Friday
In contrast to last year's freezing weather, the first day of Outside Lands proved to be a scorcher. Shade was a rare and highly treasured commodity. The first band on the Lands End stage, LA noise rockers Autolux, started things off with quiet-loud dynamics, juxtaposing screeching feedback with sinewy basslines and whisperlike vocals. Fans seemed intrigued by their raw sound. By 2:18 p.m., a few crazies were dancing outside the fences, and at least one went over.
Built to Spill's Doug Martsch sported a full beard and, with eyes closed, got deep into the solo on "The Plan" off 1999's excellent Keep It Like a Secret. While not the most charismatic performer around, he's certainly adept at coaxing jam-band-like solos out of solid indie rock (sans the annoyance factor).
Backstage, we caught up with Chris Kilmore of Incubus, who remarked, "If I could play with any band from the past it would James Brown."
Silversun Pickups sounded like Radiohead and the Smashing Pumpkins, and the fans loved it. Beach balls and ganja smoke abounded (a reoccurring theme all weekend).
As the sun began to descend behind purple clouds, headliners Pearl Jam kicked off its raucous two-hour set, mixing old favorites with newer material. Eddie Vedder seemed to be in good spirits, and spontaneously decided to play "Lowlight" because "the light was right." Vedder reminisced about the band's time in the area, recording Vs. in Marin, playing Bridge School benefits, and the time the band played the park fifteen years ago but Vedder got food poisoning and had to get Neil Young to cover for him. He enlisted the audience to sing "Better Man" for him and ended the night with Young's "Rockin' in the Free World."
Day Two: Saturday
We took Muni to Golden Gate Park. First they only take coins at the BART station, but they don't actually provide change. (Guess that would encourage more ridership or something.) Then we sat in the hot sun for ten straight minutes without moving. Why do San Franciscans stand for this? It makes Emeryville traffic a bit more bearable.
The Dirtbombs delivered danceable, dirty Detroit rock 'n' roll to open the Twin Peaks stage. "Underdog" was a predictable highlight. Great vocals from the female vocalist. Who needs GM when we got the Dirtbombs? Well, okay, NUMMI. Never mind.
Bostitch and Fussible from Tijuana's fabulous Nortec Collective sounded great. They're like Ennio Morricone for the club set. Just too bad they went on at 1:30 p.m. and not 1:30 a.m.
The weather was great. Light breeze. The crowd was mellow. The beer and bathrooms were plentiful. The logistics were incredible: Handicapped viewing platforms, media uploading stations, and everything seemed on time so far.
Raphael Saadiq covered "Search & Destroy" by Iggy and the Stooges. C for execution but A+ for effort.
Extra Golden, a blend of American indie rock and African pop, whose members hail from DC and Kenya, was devoutly upbeat. Still, everyone was sitting.
A large green dragonfly hovered helicopterlike above the sunbaked, dancing crowd at Groundation. Maybe thinking, "What the fuck?" Many gawked but it wasn't fazed and stayed throughout an excellent reggae set.
Dengue Fever, the great LA-Cambodian jazz-pop band, played a marvelously energetic set to an appreciative crowd of thousands. One minute there were a few dozen people in the meadow, and then fifteen minutes later, this. It was a testament to how thoroughly the festival seems to have banished the crowd-management problems of 2008.
Even the members of Mars Volta checked out Mastodon, who played the only Bay Area date of its national tour. At first the crowd wasn't sure what to make of the heaviest band of the three-day fest. After a few songs, they started moshing. The Atlanta band was loud — too loud. But they played an epic, dynamic set sampling grunge and metal. Drummer Brann Dailor's double-bass drumming shook the whole stage. Stragglers in the back couldn't hang with the heshers up front.
My Bloody Valentine plus Björk makes Bat for Lashes. Mystical, cinematic, electronic. A small but devoted crowd dug in.
TV on the Radio's stage filled up to transcendent sounds. Vocals and sax sounded trebly but sharp. Kyp Malone went for it.
A drum circle broke out by the eco-mom tent. It suddenly felt like Sproul Plaza.
Black Eyed Peas had the whole crowd jumping. There were waay more people there than Friday.
Chill song selection on the PA before Mars Volta. Peace Train, Creedence, Grateful Dead. Wow. Mars Volta started but everyone was at Dave Matthews Band. Omar said, "Don't drink the water because there's a fish in the percolator." Sage advice. Mars Volta fans flocked to Dave Matthews. Dave crowd was about equal to Tom Petty last year. Lame, but "Ants Marching" was good.
Day Three: Sunday
It was about 40 degrees colder than Friday. The fog was thick. Brrr ...
Overheard: "I can't believe we're here. This is so exciting!"
Berkeley's Morning Benders unveiled some new songs ("Cold War") and some oldies ("Damnit Anna"), demanding their fans to sing along. Their prior lives as a Beatles cover band clearly paid off: they competently play sunny, upbeat pop, like a more optimistic Walkmen. Although newer, darker material sounds reminiscent of the Helio Sequence's last album. Nice.
North Carolina's Avett Brothers tore up the Sutro Stage, playing folkie bluegrass with the energy of a punk band.
New-wavers Matt & Kim were like a shot of something strong, delivering high-energy hip-shakers to an undeniably amped crowd. Those two were just so adorably, infectiously, honestly excited to be there. Matt could hardly sing he was smiling so hard.
The few people hobbling around the park on crutches seriously deserved medals of honor. The festival was unimaginably spread out.
Calexico sounded kind of like an underwater mariachi band, and the crowd over at the Presidio stage appeared to be enjoying it.
The Dead Weather: This is Jack White doing what Jack White does best — swampy, smoky, blues-rock, made even better by Alison Mosshart's snarly vocals.
Spotted at the Dead Weather: someone dressed in a head-to-toe Chewbacca costume. Right on. More fashion spotting — fringe boots, neon shades, plaid shirts, Sperry Top-Siders, shaggy haircuts, scarves. And iPhones.
Modest Mouse's live shows are notoriously hit or miss, but today's show was generally solid.
Ween got the crowd dancing with "Roses Are Free." Not like we needed more, but the group had the fog machine on high.
You wouldn't think Brett Dennen's acoustic mellowness would make for a particularly energetic show, but he got the crowd moving.
Okay, weather report: it went from merely crisp to legitimately subarctic. Yikes.
M.I.A.'s dancers were fucking amazing. She did a raucous, frenetic, completely perfect Beastie Boys cover — a nice tribute to the group, which, of course, couldn't be here. Hm. An oddly underwhelming rendition of "Paper Planes." She signed off by saying "San Francisco, stay high." On that note, there was a truly astonishing amount of weed being smoked here.
Band of Horses sounded both majestic and intimate; couples cuddled on the lawn as Ben Bridwell's voice soared across Lindley Meadow. When he sang, The world is such a beautiful place in "Ode to LRC," it was mighty tempting to lay back and succumb to the sentiment. The band agreed to an encore after much demand from the audience. They're so modest: "Can't promise it'll be good, but here's one more." The set was the perfect dinner-time soundtrack, and a welcome opportunity to chill out before Tenacious D. In the best way possible, Band of Horses truly is the Coldplay of indie rock.
Despite the mass migration to Polo Field for Tenacious D, there were zero bottlenecks. This thing was remarkably well thought-out.
Tenacious D was obviously a bit of a wild card, but people seemed to be genuinely excited for them. Kyle Gass of Tenacious D revealed he grew up in Walnut Creek, to half-laughter, half-applause. Jack Black name-dropped DVC to further applause. Their skit was laced with comedic skits, which made their music more enjoyable than it might otherwise have been. They featured an acrobatic Jack Black body-double and a dude named Lee dressed up as both Metal (a metal robot) and the Dark Lord himself. Musical highlights included "Tribute" (a tribute to the greatest song in the world, which Kyle and Jack wrote but forgot to write down) and the closing Tommy medley featuring four songs from the Who's classic rock opera. Before leaving the stage, Jack stripped off his shirt and then his jeans and threw them both into the crowd, strutting off the stage in a pair of red boxer briefs.
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