Outside Lands @ Golden Gate Park: August 10 – 12
Photos: Lee Fenyves
It was a bit dustier, slightly more crowded (on account of all three nights being sold out) and home to considerably less sunshine than last year’s Outside Lands Music Festival, but overall it felt like the same great three-day setup in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park as last year. With five stages of music – many of which often overlap – the large scale event has the choose-your-own adventure feel of other 65,000+ person fests that need to schedule conflicting major touring acts to split the crowd.
[All Photos By Lee Fenyves]
The solar powered Pandhandle Stage, the smallest of the main stages, was home to a number of noteworthy performances. On Friday Tennis delivered a solid day-time set – they followed YACHT on the Lands End stage, what we were calling the sweater-vest combo. Michael Kiwanuka’s Saturday performance, marking the Englishman’s first time in San Francisco, proved that his band can back up the smooth recordings from his 2012 LP Home Again. Despite a short time-slot they still managed to slightly jam out the outros of a few songs. It was early Sunday afternoon when the next generation of musicians got their chance with an impressive lead-off set from the aptly named Infantree and the first festival performance of 16-year-old Birdy who serenaded the crowd with her down-tempo indie covers.
The Sutro Stage in all its sunken down glory played host for the opening slot of the entire festival, HT favorites White Denim, who put together a well constructed set that included the band segueing the majority of their songs and managing to not close with the one ballad in their repertoire – which they unfortunately did a few months back when opening for Wilco in Oakland. The Sutro Stage was also the site of one especially buzzworthy set from Alabama Shakes. I think it’s safe to say that word is out about the band as the crowd stretched from the stage as far as the eye could see during their early afternoon set. By comparison Norah Jones played on the same stage to a significantly smaller crowd a couple hours later. Jones’ set was already a favorite of mine before she brought out Bob Weir for a cover of the Grateful Dead’s It Must Have Been The Roses.
Daytime main stage acts ranged from the downright impressive performance turned in by Tame Impala, the always energetic Fitz & The Tantrums, to the “maybe they are just a studio band” feeling of seeing Portugal. The Man live. I’m a big fan of the band and absolutely love their most recent record – but I am always left feeling that lead singer John Baldwin Gourley does not have the voice to back up his impressive delivery inside the studio.
Bookending the festival’s night-time older generation acts were Neil Young & Crazy Horse on Friday and Stevie Wonder on Sunday. Neil Young had a few choice bits of stage banter regarding the delivery of the band’s set mixed in with a powerful presentation of old hits and stretched-out brand new songs – one of which I’m pretty sure ended with the band hitting the same chord at least 50 times. If you find enjoyment in Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s live “compilation” ARC – you perhaps would have enjoyed this – if that is not appealing to you, this was probably a difficult five minutes of live music to ingest.
While Neil Young & Crazy Horse sounded well-rehearsed a few shows into their meticulously planned tour – Stevie Wonder’s performance may have showed some signs of rust or general deterioration. The “hits” like Higher Ground and Superstition absolutely slayed – the latter of which produced an image I will never forget of basically every food vendor blowing off some collective steam with the festival being almost over and just absolutely getting down inside their food tent enclaves. The moments of spontaneity, like Stevie trying to teach his band The Beatles’ She Loves You, from the stage, were more than a bit cringe-worthy. Wonder also started his set late and ended it early despite having the longest set time on the schedule. Don’t get me wrong, it was great – but we caught Stevie at a one-off festival performance rather than in the middle of a tour.
The biggest artist conflict for me was the scheduling of Metallica and Sigur Ros at the same time and I elected for the latter. Jonsi, lead singer of Sigur Ros, I thought said that he knows where he would be if it were us – implying he’d be headbanging on the other side of the park. The Icelandic post-rock set was near perfection – with the one exception of a bit of static coming from their mix somewhat consistently throughout their set. It wasn’t major, but it was noticeable.
At festivals of this magnitude I’m always focused on the band that was able to absolutely kill it in the daytime and my big winner goes to Tame Impala. After making a quick comment about how Metallica’s stage setup had complicated things for all mainstage Saturday acts, they produced a blistering set of rock & roll that sounds like modern day outtakes to The Beatles’ Revolver which is fine by me. Another great booking for festivals like this is Amadou & Miriam, a blind couple from Mali that makes great afternoon festival danceable world music in the vein of Ali Farka Touré.
San Francisco is in festival season with Treasure Island and the free Hardly Strictly Bluegrass looming in November – but for many including me, it’s a countdown until Outside Lands 2013.