Armed with a semi-planned out schedule and a list of bands I absolutely could not miss, this past weekend I took to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco for my first Outside Lands with 60,000 other fans of live music. From what I have heard, getting to the park was not as difficult as in years past thanks in part to a paid shuttle being run all day from SF’s Civic Center straight to the festival grounds. Enough with the background, let’s get right into it.
Friday, August 12th
The first set I was able to catch was Phantogram who performed at Sutro Stage (the best stage of the festival, sunken down a little, a great place to catch a sunset act), whose material from their album Eyelid Moves translates very well to the live stage. In my biggest regret of the weekend, I opted out of seeing Foster The People to go check out the original lineup of The Meters. Unfortunately, The Meters spent a lot of time complaining about the gear they were provided, with guitarist Leo Nocentelli having the most issues. I don’t know if it was the trouble hearing or not, but the quartet seemed pretty confused and shockingly sloppy throughout their set – not what you expect from the godfathers of New Orleans. MGMT then delivered a tight set on the mainstage that included a cover of English Glory’s Broken Arrows. Their performance of the epic 11+ minute Siberian Breaks impressed me. The omission of their hit Kids from the setlist kept us all in hopes that somehow that it would be incorporated into one of Phish’s two sets, but it was not to be.
Phish delivered two safe sets filled with choice cover selections (this blogger’s first time seeing Frank Zappa’s Peaches en Regalia in 115+ shows), repertoire staples and a welcome performance of the band’s newest original, Steam, which segued nicely out of Velvet Underground’s Rock and Roll. One thing is for sure, Phish playing inside Golden Gate Park is a welcome upgrade over the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View.
READ ON for more of Dave’s Outside Lands 2011 Journal…
Saturday, August 13th
Arriving early Saturday afternoon, I caught a bit of The Greyboy Allstars, it was a welcome change to see the day’s big-time funk act hit all of their changes and not complain the entire time. Next, I watched a bit of OK Go, just long enough to hear the frontman jokingly call the residents of San Francisco a bunch of dirty sinners multiple times and comment as he photographed the crowd at how overwhelmingly white we all were. Then, I left them to go grab a nice spot at the Sutro Stage for Vetiver and the band did not disappoint, delivering one of my favorite sets of the weekend. Vetiver lead singer Andy Cabic introduced one of his songs by talking about how beautiful Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach are before pleading to the audience that he needs more friends with boats. Somebody take this guy sailing!
Next, it was time to hop around for a while, catching portions of Arctic Monkeys (sounded great, a bit more raw than I was expecting live), The Black Keys (hard hitting but never seem to be mixed well) and The Roots (really had the crowd moving). Then it was time for the controversial part of my evening. As I wrote in my preview, I don’t like Muse. And that one sentence was the focus of all the reader comments we got, so I had to make sure I caught some of their set. I watched the first few tunes, and I’ll just say I don’t get it. I headed over to Girl Talk to watch him set the crowd en fuego for 45 minutes and made sure to walk back to Muse for the end of their set to see the production in all its laser-glory. It looked awesome, however I just don’t like Matthew Bellamy’s voice and don’t enjoy their tunes. What can ‘ya do.
Sunday, August 14th
Looking at the schedule, I knew there was no way I was going to be late for Sunday afternoon gospel. Sure it would have been nice to sleep in, but I made sure I told everyone I know to get their asses to the main stage by 12:15PM for Charles Bradley & Menahan Street Band and everyone that heeded my advice thanked me for it. Holy shit, what a set of music! After letting the incredible backup band warm up the small crowd, Bradley came out and did his thing: Blowing the doors off the place with an incredibly soulful voice and a face that looks like it has seen so much pain, it was difficult to watch on the high-quality video screens hung on either side of the stage. In an already short set, Bradley took a large chunk of time to hop down into the crowd to give hugs and shake hands in an act that was part politician and part Amma “The Hugging Saint.” Upon getting back upon stage and proclaiming, “You all have my heart so filled with love right now,” only men made of stone would feel like they didn’t have just a little something stuck in their eye.
Since it was a slow-arriving crowd, I decided I could make it over to watch a half hour of tUnE-yArDs before heading back to the main stage and I’m sure glad I did, her looping performance needs to be seen live to be fully appreciated. Back to the main stage for Mavis Staples and one of the biggest surprises of the weekend – a guest appearance by Win Butler of Arcade Fire for The Weight, a song which The Staples Singers famously performed with The Band. After thanking Win, Mavis then name-checked Jeff Tweedy (who produced her incredible 2010 album You Are Not Alone) and every member of The Band. In short, Mavis Staples is both legendary and still hip to what is going on in music today. A set-closing performance of The Staples Singers’ I’ll Take You There may have fulfilled Mavis’s stated goal to have everyone leave the festival feeling good for about six months.
After taking in a bit of John Fogerty, it was time for Beirut – another festival highlight over at the Sutro Stage as the sun set, just a fantastic performance and a top-notch mixing by the sounding engineer. Zach Condon of Beirut humorously thanked the crowd for choosing them over Gallagher, ahh but the joke was on him – it was my plan all along to see if I could somehow go see a couple minutes of fruit smashing in between Beirut and Arcade Fire. I thought I had it timed well, but when I walked into The Barbary Coast tent at 7:45, Gallagher had still not taken the stage for his scheduled 7PM performance. I hung around long enough to see the crowd get restless and see the comedian take the stage. He made it pretty clear that he wasn’t going to be smashing anything too cool until the end of his set, so it was time to go.
Arcade Fire was, at least to me, a little anti-climactic to close out the entire festival. It was a good set, nothing out of the ordinary production wise – though there was great video, nothing that rivaled what the band put together for Coachella. The most exciting portion for me was when Butler sang a couple of lines from LCD Soundsystem’s All My Friends before their final tune Sprawl II.
Though extremely well run (I heard from a number of people that this was the year OSL seemed to finally have all the kinks worked out) billing the festival as the world’s first “Gourmet Music Festival” seems like a bit of a stretch. Oh sure there was some nice diversity for meal options in the “Food Truck Forest” and I had one friend proclaim that the “StubHub Sports Tent” was the “best sports bar in San Francisco”, but it’s still a dusty three-day music festival. I couldn’t even begin to think of it as some sort of higher-class engagement unless they abandon their ridiculous exclusive contract with Heineken. In the land of microbreweries, the only beer option for those that didn’t sneak their own in were products of another country all together: Heineken and Newcastle. “Wine Lands” showed off some of the best California had to offer, but the festival beverage of choice was still a nine dollar Heineken all day.
Overall, a fantastic festival experience with Sunday by far being by favorite day of music. Bring on Outside Lands 2012.