Day One – Friday
Kanye may have ruled the day, but the ladies gave plenty reason for Yeezy to be nervous on day one of Outside Lands.
First, though: Kanye. There is an outspoken camp, many of whom were in attendance at this seventh annual San Francisco festival held in the cool and (mostly) sunny Golden Gate Park, who want Yeezus to shut up and play the hits. These are not Kanye West fans. They think he’s okay, really like “Gold Digger,” talk about how he’s so full of himself. Then you have the rest of us. The ones who would jump in front of a bullet for Kanye. The ones who appreciate the humor, thoughtfulness, genius and excitement that he brings to the music world. Shit can get boring, but never when Kanye is around. When he rants, we cheer. We can hear “Runaway” at home. At a Kanye West concert, we can hear him contemplate why he uses auto-tune, in auto-tune. We’d be happy to see a show of just rants. They make the experience. Asking for circles to form during one of his half-dozen or so versions of “Blood on the Leaves” makes the song(s) better. It makes them unique. It just makes us love him more.
Aside from Kanye, Sunday was a day for the women. Tegan and Sara questioned whether or not Jimi Hendrix’s iconic Woodstock performance would have been as iconic if he had talked extensively about the whether, as Tegan did. When Tegan would not bend, Sara became exasperated, like “an anxiety dream.” It just made the whole thing so damn endearing, and boys and girls alike swooned with adoration. Their mix of newish pop jams, including “Now I’m All Messed Up” and “How Come You Don’t Want Me” with older classics like “The Con,” “Back in Your Head,” and “Living Room,” was well-paced and inviting for new and old fans alike. These tiny performers showed some of the biggest heart and cemented their reputation as festival all-stars.
Kacey Musgraves didn’t draw the biggest crowd, but those in attendance were screaming her name. The singer fired back with both her own songs and covers of Bob Marley and Nancy Sinatra. Musgraves, playing in front of a gorgeous, vibrant backdrop, showed that she’s more than a one-trick pony, and can easily reel in fans not particularly in-tune with country radio.
And Warpaint, ever-so-serious on their album, were all smiles during the afternoon performance. They were thrilled that Jenny’s mom was in attendance—apparently, she’s their #1 fan—and new tunes like “Love Is to Die” sounded well-placed next to “Undertow” and “Elephants.”
Day Two – Saturday
With as many of this season’s festival veterans as Outside Lands’ second day featured, the hope for surprises was meager, but the day managed its little treats in unlikely ways.
Of course, there was Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, who opened the set with his frequent cover of The Byrds and mixed in some of his newest record with “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” “Into the Great Wide Open,” “Freefallin’,” and “I Won’t Back Down.” Late in the set, “You Wreck Me” and “American Girl” closed out a feel-good and always dependable set from the legend. Compared to the performance he was giving last year, which included more rarities than hits, this year even the songs from his new album Hypnotic Eye were welcome, especially when they were played next to his beloved cuts.
Another act cranking out the hits was Seattle’s Death Cab for Cutie, who turned us all into saps when the polo field turned eerily quiet for Ben Gibbard’s solo take on “I Will Follow You Into the Dark.” Elsewhere, the sincere indie rockers opened with “I Will Possess Your Heart,” “Crooked Teeth” and “We Looked Like Giants,” working in cuts like “Cath” and “The New Year” to remind San Francisco of their own lengthy history.
Other fest vets like Atmosphere and Haim showcased why they can attract such huge audiences at these things (though in Haim’s case, they’re still performing the same set they did a year ago at a club in Pomona, stories and everything).
The surprises, though, were what made day two special. Christopher Owens drew only about a hundred early arrivals, pin-needle-quiet as he walked on stage with his five-person band. Owens after tinkering with his guitar, he felt the eyeballs and let out a meek smile and a “hi” that made everyone else not cheer, but talk back, with excited “Hi Chrissies” in return. Owens responded with a mix of originals and songs from his Girls days, adding “My Ma” and “Love Like a River” early in the set to go with new songs like “My Troubled Heart.” The result was a laid back, expertly executed performance that could make one fall in love with Owens all over again.
Equally lovable was Macklemore. Yeah, I said it. Attracting an absolutely massive audience against Petty, his set ultimately seemed pretty damn inspiring, particularly his anti-drug, acapella performance of “Otherside” and his marriage equality moment with Mary Lambert for “Same Love,” complete with an on-stage lesbian marriage proposal. It is not hard to understand why he is disliked, as he isn’t the most interesting rapper, or the best, or the most self-aware. But in an era where you would be hard-pressed to find someone say anything in their music worth a damn, Macklemore has a positive, useful message that could save lives, make people happier, and actually make a difference. I’ll take that over 100 Chief Keefs.
Day Three – Sunday
Outside Lands wrapped its seventh edition with a bang that, beforehand, had plenty of people feeling skeptical: The Killers, a band with a noticeable lack of an album to support. Lo and behold, they drew a massive crowd that witnessed a pro-level performance by the sometimes maligned group that might not deserve much of the criticism they receive. Opening with “Mr. Brightside” and “Spaceman” and continuing through just about every hit you knew they had and didn’t, The Killers gave fans a wonderful sounding, beautifully lit, and good humored set, including appropriate covers of Credence Clearwater Revival and Otis Redding. But really, The Killers came alive for their encore, serving up a big finish of “Shot at the Night,” “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine,” and their very best, “When You Were Young.”
There were plenty of other great things to see (despite a cancellation from Chvrches), and massive crowds showed up for the chilled-out electronic sounds of Flume and the up-beat sad songs of Lykke Li. Li stuck more with her older material, giving a festival highlight with a mid-set run through “Dance, Dance, Dance,” while later confiding with her fans that “No Rest for the Wicked” was about “fucking up one, twice, and three times, and then writing an album about it.”
The Flaming Lips were maybe the most interesting, getting away from their Terror show and giving an inflatable-heavy, fun set that included a Chemical Brothers and Beatles cover, along with the expected “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots I” and “Do You Realize?” Wayne Coyne was in his missed good spirits, milling about afterwards to take pictures with fans and making it hard to believe there could ever be any backlash against him.
Newer festival acts like Hiss Golden Messenger and Woods proved they have the ability to make new fans at these events, and the sunny weather made Jenny Lewis and Spoon all the more enjoyable for their turns through old and new material. The more disappointing sets of the festival were also the most presumptuous, acts like Ray LaMontagne and Lucius who didn’t seem to have anything to prove. For first time listeners, the sets didn’t reveal the charm that has given them a buzz this season.
All that said, Outside Lands improved on the previous year, curating the stages well so that the fans of different music types weren’t forced to cross paths too often (as those paths were narrow, and usually full of the drunkest kids who wanted to see everything and wanted to see it now). Ramen burgers were eaten and tomato soup was consumed on a cold Saturday that really made the other two days of sunlight appreciated. And all things considered, OSL does the festival thing as well as anyone, leaving anybody calling for the bubble to burst on summer festivals to be likely someone that doesn’t attend a whole lot of them.