*Event Review* Outside Lands Music Festival | JUSTICE | BIG BOI | METALLICA | STEVIE WONDERby BrandonHoward on Aug 21, 2012 • 3:03 PM No Comments
Outside Lands descended upon the city of San Francisco last weekend for three days of debauchery, emerging sounds and genres, and classic hits lathered in Bay Area haze. With three days chalk full of non-stop music from four different stages and one DJ dome, there was plenty to see and take in.
The lay of the land was a bit difficult to grasp at first, with one main stage, and three other stages in different nooks of the park. The lack of sunshine required people to wear more clothing than what is typically seen at summer festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo, which seemed to breath a sense of creativity as people came dressed in furry vests, baseball costumes, and even decked out in face paint. At my first set of the day, Yacht were getting people dancing to their quirky sci-fi inspired dance music at the Twin Peaks stage. An audible audio glitch came when Claire Evans’ microphone malfunctioned only long enough for her to answer fan questions about what she orders at Olive Garden, (shitty breadsticks, of course). The crowd sang along to Dystopia, Evans’ was as charismatic and likable as ever, and they perfectly kept the party rolling on that end of the festival grounds. The tough tie between Die Antwoord and Of Monsters and Men decided to pan in the favor of the latter. The Iceland based folk-pop group craft catchy songs that are not quite as lyrically over the top as the similarly sounding Mumford & Sons. They seem grounded while playing, and a packed crowd turned out to sway with them, and the hills were covered in couples lounging to their set.
Around 7 p.m. MSTRKRFT started spinning and the party broke out. “We tried to make ‘festival weapons,’ so when we play them, it’s like throwing a million hatchets into the audience,” stated half of the MSTRKRFT duo, Jesse F. Keeler. Substitute hatchets for glowsticks, spirit hoodies, and good vibes, and that is exactly what you have with their live show. The heavier electro beats were coming full force, but for most the people in my area, this was a warm-up for Justice. Having never seen Justice before Friday night at Outside Lands, my expectations were high, and then they were subsequently blown away by an hour long set of heavy, disco inspired dance music. From the production, to the amps on stage surrounding the deity-like French duo, to the overt tone of the cross itself, their music, when experienced live, is a religious experience. Every note of Civilization seemed to ring a lot more true live, where as on record it seems to take on a different, almost cheeky tone. On their recent string of live shows, they like to play with builds and drops, literally manipulating the audience away from what is usually expected from big room house. The best audience/audio tease had to be what seemed like a milli-second sampling of On To The Next by Jay-Z layered into the middle of D.A.N.C.E. which inspired an especially loud wave of emotion by most already dancing. Audio, Video, Disco is extended for a live show, and they even threw in We Are Your Friends for a little taste of the good life. A live Justice dance party would topple Neil Young any day, at least for me.
Perth’s Tame Impala kicked Saturday off with a bright and early (afternoon) set on the main stage. I’ll use the word tame to describe their set, partly for the awful pun, and partly because there seemed to be absolutely nothing inspired about their meandering set, even their banter “this is the next song,” didn’t seem like much. Their last album was great, and the band will probably tighten up for their own tour, but I will presume that this set didn’t gain them any new fans. The cavernous main stage also probably didn’t help either. Next up on the same main stage was Portugal. The Man. Their vocals aren’t as crisp live, but it doesn’t matter. Everybody in front of the enormous main stage were either dancing or singing along, they were the perfect follow up to Tame Impala.
As much as I was the only person who really cared to see the heavily hyped Alabama Shakes, most of my party were indifferent, so in lieu of fighting what I heard to be a giant crowd at the Sutro stage, we mellowed out for a bit to the soulful singing of Michael Kiwanuka. You may know him from such places as your favorite NPR affiliate, or you may have seen a copy of his album in front of the register at Starbucks, but live he is a star, and has the voice and great band behind him to match that. It should be stated that it was around this time mid day Saturday where the atmosphere in the park seemed to take a turn for the even better. There weren’t folks pushing past people, everybody who accidentally ran into me made sure to stop and say sorry, and making new friends was happening at every set. Everybody in the park was there to enjoy a weekend of pretentious-free music lovin’. We even met a group of girls who bought VIP passes only to use the private restrooms. Otherwise, they were there to sing along to songs they knew, dance to great beats, and spread the love.
Big Boi, on the Twin Peaks stage, can only be described as the epitome of an old school party two years in the making. Having missed his Outside Lands set last year due to technical difficulties, people swarmed the Twin Peaks stage. Big Boi busted out many classic Outkast songs. Thrown into the mix for great nostalgia sake (sans André 3000) were Ms. Jackson, Bombs over Baghdad, and So Fresh & So Clean. Most the happy bay area crowd were singing along and dancing to all the old hits as well as his own solo work which was equally as party filled.
How great is Outside Lands, because we got to go from Big Boi, to tater tots, to eventually Norah Jones. Being not personally too familiar with her discography, I most recently remember Norah from her amazing cameo in the film Ted. All my preconceived notions of her and this type of singer songwriter genre were shred away the minute she took the stage and started crooning to the Bay in a beautifully soothing, warm voice that seemed to just perfectly fit the energy for that moment of the day. A lot of singers in the world have great voices, but not all of them carry such tender warmness that she does. Norah Jones also plays with such a strong sense of confidence that makes the songs resonate all that much more, Norah Jones is highly recommended if you ever get the chance to see her at a festival.
Her set was perfect before the two + hour metal extravaganza that was to become Metallica‘s landmark headlining set on the main stage. Their live performance carried on the postmodern musical trope of displaying the money behind the production, while miraculously and simultaneously being able to recall the very guttural feeling that can only be aroused by thrash metal. “We used to play in garages here, we know you can hear this festival all over this city! So this one is for San Francisco” said James Hetfield who reminded the audience on a few different occasions that they were from “Frisco,” and were playing to entertain us. Entertain they did. Most of their entire setlist came from their first five, classic albums. They belted out Master of Puppets as the second song of their set, shredded Ride The Lightning, and closed (the first part) of their set with probably their biggest hit, Enter Sandman. Throughout we were treated to large pyrotechnic displays, lazer and light shows. A double encore was partially necessary but absolutely embraced by the massive crowd, and included Creeping Death, Seek & Destroy, and finally sent the San Francisco home with Seek & Destroy.
What a better act to wake you up on a Sunday morning than the hometown electronic act The M Machine? A trio that is very much on the rise in the world of EDM with a much anticipating upcoming debut album, their 12:40 set was able to get people not only out of their houses early, but dancing along with their tracks. The only complaint is their set wasn’t long enough. More of them would be great, make sure to give this group a listen if you haven’t already. With M Machine ending, Birdy, a sixteen year old YouTube sensation who belts out amazing singer-songwriter covers of bands like Bon Iver and Phoenix took the smaller Panhandle stage. Sitting stage left behind a piano, Birdy endearingly let the audience know this was the first time she ever played a festival, and while you could partially sense her stage fright, her set worked while playing with a live band that included drums, a keyboard, and a slamming cello solo halfway through the set.
Next it was back to the party filled Twin Peaks stage for Big Gigantic, who’s live show brings an eclectic take to electronic, and includes live drums and a saxophone. Once again people came out ready to party, and as the beer and wine flowed out of the nearby Wine Lands, Big Gigantic laid down track after track of heavy bass, improvised solos, and eventually a few Kanye West remixes. Their live show takes on a life of it’s own that is uniquely different from not only their recorded music, but from any other live electronic show you will see. Around 4 in the afternoon, Canada’s City & Colour took the Sutro stage for what was a mesmerizing set filled with warm songs about death, love, and alcoholism. Dallas Green told the audience halfway through “Hold up your phones, now put them in your pocket. Just for one song let’s not forget to experience the moment before we get too caught up in trying to catch it forever.” What a nice sentiment. So sentimental in fact, that we were unable to pry ourselves away to catch some indie-licious Electric Guest, however catching their last song in passing is hardly to write home about. Still, they had a surprisingly large crowd gathered in front.
Hot off a great new album, Santigold brought the fun, the funk, and the bass just as Big Boi had the day before. Her transnational music is infused with afro beats, hip hop influences, electro, and R & B snippets. Not only does she have her own crew of dancers on the stage, but just as she had done at Coachella, good ol’ Santi made sure to hand pick whoever looked the most bubbly from the crowd to come up on stage to dance along with her. Her live show is great though, catch her at your nearby music festival whenever it comes around.
Stevie Wonder. Was anybody going to miss this? Ok, I’ll admit I was going to miss half of it. There was no humanly way I would be able to live with myself if I saw Wolfgang Gartner instead of a breathing American legend, one that is entrenched in current folklore and the modern music landscape. Realistically though, I was able to live with myself by doing half of Stevie and half Skrillex. Wonder’s set started rather slow, with a very long version of How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) where the audience was as much expected to sing as Stevie Wonder himself. Smile on full blast, Stevie who is fresh off filing for divorce was belting it out along with about half of the crowd it seemed. There was surely some awkward political banter as well, but when you are Stevie Wonder playing at the end of a beautiful festival in Golden Gate Park, you can get away with it. Tossed into his set a few songs in was The Way You Make Me Feel, covering Michael Jackson, and his encore included a magnificent Beatles cover of their song She Loves You. For as lovely as Stevie Wonder was, Skrillex’s set was the complete opposite. Bombastic as can be with a large Transformers-esque spaceship, and a countdown until the first track, Skrillex threw the crowd into a whirlwind of strobe lights, lazers, giant bass, sick drops, the usual from what can be expected from his show. But, if like me, this was your first time ever experiencing it live, it is something kind of crazy in a magical way. You are almost whisked into a video game fantasy land where everybody around you is jumping up and down. In the world of EDM I think it is safe to say that Sonny Moore’s live show, production wise, is unparalleled. The set list does feel extremely un-improvisational, however it is something truly unique.
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