While the rest of San Francisco was treated to a beautifully sunny afternoon, the fog settled heavily over Golden Gate Park, plunging the thousands of Outside Lands attendees into a chilly, murky, gray twilight. But though the air around them was cold, the crowds were hot, keeping warm packed in together at each of the festival’s massive stages. Like me, thousands of attendees arrived via bicycle, leaving their two-wheeled transport at the sprawling bike lockup, or with the convenient nearby bike valet, where—just like a coat check—you could rest easy knowing your ride was in good hands.
By the time I arrived, Fitz and The Tantrums were in full swing, rocking through most of their hit debut LP, with “Breakin’ the Chains of Love,” “Pickin’ Up the Pieces,” and “L.O.V.” They closed things out with their rendition of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams,” one of their live staples, before ending with their big hit “Moneygrabber.” Following up the Tantrums, Beck kept the vibe going strong. Early highlights were “Devil’s Haircut” and “Loser,” while the middle of the set was dominated by Modern Guilt and Sea Change tracks, including a heartfelt “Lost Cause,” dedicated to lost brother Adam “MCA” Yauch. Beck saved his heavy hitters for the end, though, closing the set with crowd favorites “Girl,” “Where It’s At” and “E-Pro.”
Locked into the crowd and not wanting to forfeit my position, I made the hard call to forgo Of Monsters and Men, but I heard it was great. Instead, I held my ground (and surged forward whenever possible) as the crowd grew ever-more-packed leading up to the Foo Fighters’ 6:10 p.m. set. Most Foos sets last more than two hours, but since their time slot designated them not a main headliner, they spent the majority of their hour-long time on stage rocking their most well known material. Dave Grohl kicked things off with “White Limo,” followed by “All My Life,” “Rope” and “The Pretender,” before taking a quick moment to express his sentiments for the short set. “We’ve got a lot of songs to play,” he said, “and the quicker we play them, the faster I get to see Neil fucking Young.” He then setted into a calmer groove with “My Hero,” “Learn To Fly,” “Walk” and some older, lesser known tracks such as “New Way Home” and “Aurora.” The band closed with the fan favorite, “Everlong,” excited to get off the stage and join the now-massive crowd.
Grohl’s excitement was warranted. By the time Young and Crazy Horse took the stage, the massive Polo Field had been filled nearly to the brim. Young and company rocked through a large section of their extensive catalog, taking extended jam sessions and playing with the timing and precision that comes from playing together for more than 40 years. Though Young appeared grizzled and haggard, a raggedy flannel shirt draping over his hunched shoulders, he rocked out all the same, making the decision to leave his set early and trek across the park all the more difficult.
But it had to be done. Wading through Young’s massive crowd, I joined the throngs of people doing the same, attempting to catch French electronic duo Justice’s festival-closing set. A massive light construction adorned the Twin Peaks stage where the duo performed, with the entirety of the hollow it faced transformed into a massive dance party by the time I arrived. Taking queues from the other massive French electronic duo, Justice played a Daft Punk-style set, weaving and mixing their songs together with choruses and hooks appearing throughout. Most noticeably were the lyrics to “Civilization” and “D.A.N.C.E.,” which sound fantastic mixed together. Now I can only imagine how awesome it would sound if Justice and Daft Punk teamed up to form a French electronic super-quad, but for now that will have to remain a dream for another day.
The rest of the festival was filled with highlights. Metal juggernauts Metallica treated the crowd to a scorching set. Running through a large swath of their 30-plus year catalog, they showed off their prowess as true stadium rockers—pyrotechnics and all. The explosive set stood in stark contrast to the other day’s end performance, ethereal Icelandic outfit Sigur Rós. While nowhere near as explosive, the show was a treat all the same; a mellow and relaxing way to wind down after a day of great music.
Sunday was a different story. Great music happened all day across Outside Lands’ five stages, but it was near impossible to want to be anywhere else but Polo field’s main stage. All day long, the massive field’s stage played home to some of the festival’s best acts, from Fun. and Franz Ferdinand who started the day off strong, to piano darling Regina Spektor and rock god Jack White. Spektor showed off her impressive pipes, belting out favorites, from “On the Radio” to “Fidelity.” The field remained packed throughout her set, but it was unclear if Spektor had brought the fans in, or if everyone was simply preparing for White. Either way, the crowd was electric by the time White took the stage. The majority of his hour-long set was dominated by the rocker’s past projects, kicking things off with The White Stripes favorites “Black Math” and “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground.” He then slipped into some of his new Blunderbuss solo material, before returning to the Stripes with a bit of Raconteurs and Dead Weather peppered here and there. The highlight of the set, though, came towards the end as the crowd began turning to leave, an attempt to catch the beginning of Dispatch or Bloc Party. Thousands of fans stopped dead in their tracks, turned and returned to the show as they heard the iconic “Seven Nation Army” bass line. I’m sure by the time White concluded the fan favorite, most were now late for their next set. On the other hand, I doubt anyone minded at all.
But while others wandered off to the other stages, thousands of us packed in tight, ready to be treated to the legendary Stevie Wonder—and what a treat it was. It was impossible to not smile as the 62-year-old soul man played through his two-hour set, belting out lyrics, jamming the harmonica and absolutely commanding the keys like he was no older than 25. Though he would shuffle slowly across the stage, often being led by one of his backup singers, it was truly amazing to see the man transform before our eyes into a jubilant performer the moment his hands touched the keys. The set featured most every Stevie fan favorite, including “Superstition,” “Sir Duke” and “Isn’t She Lovely,” in addition to a number of covers such as Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is” to Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.” For his final pre-encore song, Wonder dedicated “Happy Birthday” to everyone in the crowd, before returning with The Beatles’ “She Loves You” and finally ending on The Temptations’ “My Girl.” It was a spectacular set—probably a once-in-a-lifetime chance for many people. I joked that Wonder could have come out and played the worst set of his life and I would have been happy, knowing that at the end of my life I will be able to look back and say “I got to see Stevie Wonder perform live!” Lucky for us all, he played one of the best, and serving as the perfect way to end a fantastic weekend of music.
Check out Suzi Pratt’s photos from Outside Lands this past weekend, where Stevie Wonder, Foo Fighters, Beck and many others performed in San Francisco, Calif.
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