This past weekend, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park played host to more than 100,000 people over three days for the Outside Lands Music Festival. There were so many nice moments (and a few extremely shitty ones) it’d be impossible to catalog them all, but here’s a summary of the festival:
We walked away from Golden Gate Park for about an hour before finally managing to cram ourselves into a bus and arriving at 6:30, missing out on Steel Pulse, Cold War Kids and Manu Chao. Disappointing, but it’s all right – we only saw about a thousand bands over the next 48 hours. I would have loved to have caught the Cold War Kids and heard Manu Chao play “Me Gustas Tu” but it’s all good because we descended into the Sutro stage’s grove of wonderment just in time to see an hour plus of Beck.
Beck: Beck, of course, has great stage presence. He had myself and probably everybody around me mesmerized while he ran through “Nausea,” “Where It’s At,” “Guero,” and “Modern Guilt.” I thought the few other tracks he played off of Modern Guilt were also fantastic. I love his newest album and after basking in its glory it was soon time to head over to see Radiohead with 75,000 other people. Some of the worst parts of the festival had to do with the narrow pathways between stages – specifically from Sutro to the Lands End main stage. As a massive crowd tried to rush from the packed Sutro stage over to see Radiohead, creating a serious bottleneck and a bit of a claustrophobic, panicky situation, people trampled down the fences and hiked up the hillside in an attempt to get to Radiohead quicker – only to find themselves stuck behind a massive row of port-a-potties. It didn’t help that when people got to the top of the hill, many of them stopped to turn around and take pictures of the mess.
Radiohead: Once we got to Radiohead things really got crazy. Even though I don’t think we were anywhere near the stage, it was abundantly clear that seeing Radiohead live is an unforgettable experience, especially with 60,000 people. With night descending and foggy clouds rolling across the sky, Radiohead played hits from all of their albums with a brilliant light show to match. Aside from some unfortunate sound issues that definitely left the crowd feeling disappointed, I thought it was amazing and I should probably listen to more Radiohead, concentrating on Kid A, Amnesiac and In Rainbows. After they finished it was madness, but I really don’t want to talk about that because I walked about three and a half miles home – including a 16 block detour – in the vain hope of finding a bus that would actually stop and let us on.
No problems getting there, and got back easily after waiting out the crowds with a great sushi dinner at Little Tokyo, around 22nd and Geary.
Thriving Ivory: UCSB piano rock. Decent way to start the day, had a couple of interesting songs, but the lead singer looks like a complete douche and according to a friend of mine, my impression isn’t wrong.
Everest: I’d never heard of these guys before Outside Lands but they were playing next to Devendra Banhart, so we checked them out and they were awesome. I’ll definitely have to pick up some of their stuff immediately and I suggest you do the same. LA guys signed to Neil Young’s Vapor Records, throw down entertaining rock with roots from the Pacific Northwest.
Devendra Banhart: This folk freak extraordinaire took the stage and immediately told everybody he was going to play really quickly so he could run over and see the Liars. I thought that move was a bit dumb. I felt antsy listening to his whole set (which I enjoyed more than I expected) because I thought he might just peace to get a good spot for the Liars. It’s great that he gave them a plug, but not the best way to do it. The thing about Devendra Banhart is his style is all over the place and draws from a myriad of different sources and that’s the kind of thing that’s both good and bad about his music. At times the diversity of sounds is awesome, but the fact that each song sounds so different makes it hard to get into a flow. Also with Vapor Records, he was surprisingly great to watch from the hill Saturday afternoon.
Sean Hayes: Beloved San Francisco local by way of New York, and brilliant song writer. Sean Hayes is a very lyrically gifted and insightful artist. He put on a great set at the Presidio Stage and is a pleasure to watch. Be sure to check him out if you’re in San Francisco. He plays every few months.
Lupe Fiasco: He was one of the only acts to go on late – very late – and seemed like a bit of a prima donna, which is a shame because I do like his stuff. After seeing him live I’m just not sure if I like him so much. He put on a very professional hip hop set, but he wasn’t truly into the performance and it gave me the impression that he felt out of place. It was cool to hear him kick it off with “Kick,” “Push” and finish with “Superstar,” but that was really it for me.
Regina Spektor: Very talented singer/songwriter. She was a nice change of pace between the various acts. She drew a surprisingly big crowd, but I think that could be attributed to her prime time slot. She’s cool for sure. Check her out if you’re into sweeping piano and strong female vocals.
Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals: Played the Land’s End Main Stage, and the performance was good, but I was quite happy to grab some food and sit and listen from afar. Ben Harper has made good music since his early stuff, but for awhile he got so much play that hearing him now just feels kind of hackneyed.
Cake: This was easily one of the best performances of the entire festival. Cake was awesome. I will see them anytime the opportunity presents itself. They have so many good tunes and seeing them live in the Sutro valley was amazing. They even gave away a tree amidst stirring renditions of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Lifestyle” and “Comfort Eagle.” They truly built a religion and I will attend mass anytime.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers: So many hits, it’s hard to fit them into just two hours. These geezers were awesome and a great way to cap the night. There were many amazing solos, plus a guest appearance by Steve Winwood. The sound went out three or four times during this set, including about five minutes of silence while they struggled to fix the problem. Luckily it did not disrupt the solos, “Last Dance for Mary Jane,” or “Breakdown.” Thank goodness.
Jackie Greene: Hails from Monterey and plays sick rhythm and blues jams. Also plays with Phil Lesh & Friends and he’s only 27. Guitar licks way beyond his years.
Toots & the Maytals: Toots was Bob Marley’s favorite reggae band and is perhaps mine. Seeing Toots live is awesome. He is an old guy with so much happiness and energy, he excites everybody around him with his amazing vocals and dance moves. It was amazing to see him at Middlebury five years ago and it was great to see him do his thing in Golden Gate Park.
The Cool Kids: Chicago hipster rappers drew a huge crowd to the smallest stage at the festival, aptly named the Panhandle. Chuck and Mikey are smart lyrical rappers that have a crass sound which at times is infectious and fun and at others seems a little grating. I think as they mature with time they’ll figure out how to fine tune their sound. I also think that this is probably the reason why they’re much better as collaborators than artists at this point. That being said they have some great jams and my arms were very tired of waving at the end of it all.
Grace Potter & the Nocturnals: Grace Potter used to play at Middlebury and in Burlington, Vermont all the time so we had to check them out. They played a great set at the Presidio stage that included a cover of “Paint it Black.” That is one of my favorite Rolling Stones songs and Grace Potter’s voice made it very special. I found it on Hype Machine today and you can listen to it here.
Widespread Panic: These guys have a huge following, but play what amounts to a continuous jam that bends and meanders into different songs and covers. It was good, it’s obvious that these guys are talented, but I had enough after half an hour and wandered over to get a good spot for Wilco.
Wilco: I thought Wilco played a solid set with some great moments. I know some of my friends really love them, but they’re just fine for me. Great guitar work, nice lyrics, these guys are definitely solid.
Jack Johnson: I was pretty exhausted for Jack and quite frankly I don’t think it mattered. Everybody knows his chill campfire melodies don’t need much energy and after a handful of songs we took off.
And on Saturday morning, Caitlin and I also got free tickets to the Slow Foods Festival this weekend at Fort Mason. So watch out next week for more notes on: Gnarls Barkley, John Butler Trio, Martin Medeski & Wood, Phil Lesh & Friends (including Jackie Greene), Ozomatli, G Love & Special Sauce and The New Pornographers...