Editor’s note: Below, find Jody Amable’s review of Outside Lands 2014, followed by a collection of Roman Gokhman‘s tweets from the festival all weekend long. Be sure to also check out Daniel Kielman’s great collection of Outside Lands photos too.
Another year, another Outside Lands, amirite San Francisco? There isn’t much that can be said about OSL that hasn’t already been said in the festival’s seven years of existence. There are certain things you can expect at this point: The food will be good, there will be at least one dad-rock headliner that ends up surpassing your expectations, and kids will find new, impressive ways to smuggle in illicit substances. However, there were a few surprises, both good and bad, at this year’s celebration in the fog belt.
Rayland Baxter was one of the first revelations of Outside Lands, and he was one of the weekend’s very first acts. Baxter greeted incoming attendees with some swampy melodies, and his warm twang filled Sutro’s sleepy Friday-at-noon stage nicely. Shortly thereafter, the Soul Rebels heated things up on the Polo Fields with insanely fun brass-band covers of pop songs intertwined with long jam sessions.
Things really got going in the afternoon with Bleachers, over on the other side of the grounds, who felt like the first real draw of the day. Bleachers’ creator and frontman Jack Antonoff bravely wore shorts, and he was lucky as the sun was uncharacteristically out for the duration of the day. Bleachers, with their manic, exhaustive electro-pop made some big sounds; too big for their corner of the park…really. The sound died several times in the first couple minutes, but the band played on and kept the crowd amped.
Phosphorescent, who crafted one of the most acclaimed albums of last year (and many years prior), put on a deflating live performance at the Sutro stage in the afternoon. Though he is still a masterful songwriter and garners massive respect throughout the industry, his Outside Lands performance confirmed that he’s just one of those artists that’s better recorded; better for a rainy day indoors or coming out your earbuds on a long bus ride. His work is so personal; his lyrics so intimate that it doesn’t carry over well to a festival environment.
Back on the Panhandle stage, Mikal Cronin and his band of bobbing, long-haired heads produced a solid performance. The band (who, according to their onstage banter, may or may not be changing their name to “Snakes!”, with an exclamation mark) rolled on through their usual set list of the same selections from his debut record and last year’s breakthrough full-length, in slightly different order. A few hours later on the Panhandle was Typhoon, who made big, beautiful music.
The hands-down biggest surprise of the day was Kacey Musgraves, an across-the-board favorite for attending TBB staff. Musgraves has been lauded for reinventing country songwriting as we know it, swapping out predictable themes of trucks and landscapes; God and country for clever turns of phrase and pop-inspired empowerment anthems, but Musgraves is also a magnetic live performer. With a band clad in classic singing-cowboy suits, Musgraves walks the walk of Nashville country, but is changing the talk big time. Girls and boys alike showered her with adoration, shouting declarations of love (and lust) at her during her set. She referred to the city as “San Fran” multiple times during her time slot, but no one called her on it, which was the truest mark of Outside Lands’ respect for her.
Kanye West was Friday’s big-buzz performer, and he didn’t disappoint…well, not too much. Those hoping for a trademark rant were let down, save for some offhand comments about mosh pits. West was, unsurprisingly, a few minutes late, and actually stuck to a pretty conventional set list of radio hits, starting with the newest and rewinding to older material as things wore on. The most startling thing about Yeezy’s set was that, from the vantage point of all except those in the very front, he kinda just looked like a dude in a white suit. In contrast to his famously outsize ego, he looked tiny. That could have been anybody up there, for all we know. He seemed…human.
But it was Arctic Monkeys, whose end-of-day time slot overlapped with Kanye’s, on the opposite stage that embodied Outside Lands’ intended spirit. Outfitted in his now-trademark oiled hair and leather jacket, Alex Turner led the crowd through a set list packed with newer, sexier material. Arctic Monkeys, one of the last decade’s most unexpected comebacks in the States, gave one-hit-wonderdom the middle finger last year by re-emerging with a ferocious live show, a new slicked-back aesthetic, and the omnipresent “Do I Wanna Know?”, which opened their Outside Lands appearance. As it stands, Arctic Monkeys have all the makings of classic rock stardom: foreign heritage, perfectly-placed guitar solos, a curled-upper-lip cool, and minimum onstage banter that births intrigue. It’s all a little too perfect—as if those years away were spent studying Rock ‘n’ Roll 101—but no one really cared. Arctic Monkeys drew a smaller, but far more appreciative crowd than Kanye, whose fans were mostly wrapped up in their phones and themselves.
Day two was the festival’s fullest, but least exciting, lineup. Locals Tumbleweed Wanderers kicked things off in true Bay fashion, making friends fast as early risers trickled through the gates and found their way to the Tumbles’ set on the Sutro stage. Dum Dum Girls were not far off on the Land’s End stage, starting soft and only getting louder from there; easing everyone in.
Over on the Panhandle, the Districts (whose sign was tragically misspelled), a gaggle of young guys all the way from Philly, set the stage ablaze with an turbulent performance. In contrast to their more down-tempo popular pieces, they pulled out some heavy, oppressive riffs bursting with energy.
Then there was Haim—oh, Haim. On top of the world for the last two years, it came as no surprise that the crowd adored them. While their more effect-heavy, pop-based stuff was a little cold, it was certainly more lively than what you find on Spotify. However, their best moments came when they improvised and played off each other, with guitarist Danielle pulling out some enthralling metal-inspired riffs.
The Kooks chose to debut some new music at Outside Lands, and what was heard of their upcoming fourth album was equally as strong as their older material. The band, perhaps, gets crammed into a group of stereotypical Britpop acts. But Saturday afternoon, they demonstrated that their songs rise above the din of the never-ending stream of similar-sounding tunes by English bands with similar-sounding monikers.
Death Cab for Cutie has been around for a good long while, evidenced by Ben Gibbard-and-company’s gradually graying heads. While they’re an indie rock institution, they might not have been a great choice for a closing act of a festival—their introspective, mellow catalog aren’t a great lead-in to acts like Macklemore or even Tom Petty, and more than one person on MUNI on the way out mentioned that, while they love Death Cab, they were a major mood-killer.
Tom Petty had every chance to be the rise-above headliner at Outside Lands. He could have been the one to leave audiences talking for days afterward. But as soon as the first part of his set began to concentrate on his new album, Hypnotic Eye, he began to lose his audience to Macklemore. The songs were not bad, but also did not compare to his earlier material. He could have chosen to play more hits, or at least pushed up his set-finishing power tunes of “American Girl” and “Running Down a Dream,” but stayed the course. His set was strong, for sure, but it’s hard to compare to the bombast and pyrotechnics taking place at the opposite ends of the festival grounds.
Macklemore, with Ryan Lewis in tow, entered to a video screen displaying various majestic, powerful, but almost-ridiculous animals (shark, eagle, wolf) and thrilled an enormous and tightly-packed crowd brimming with dingy fur coats to match the ones he made famous in his inescapable hit “Thrift Shop.” Macklemore was good, freeing fun, and in case you didn’t hear through social media already, facilitated an onstage marriage proposal before launching into “Same Love” near the end of their set. Macklemore takes a lot of flack for stealing the spotlight away from “real” hip-hop artists—“Thrift Shop” is just a nasal voice away from being a Weird Al song, after all—and as much as you want to hold it against him, it’s really hard not to love him.
Hey guys, did you hear Chvrches cancelled?
After the initial panic about Chvrches cancelled set subsided—damn you, customs!—day three turned out to be a pleasant end to another dreamy weekend in Golden Gate Park. The Brothers Comatose bounced bright and early onto the Panhandle stage, making another strong case for the rise of country and country-inspired music in the Bay. Headed up by actual brothers raised in Petaluma, the Bros wove their way through some down-home choices as more and more people set up camp in front of their stage to chug beers and dance on blankets, creating a real, traditional summer festival atmosphere.
Though Chvrches was one of the buzziest bands of this year’s lineup, the other bands on the Land’s End stage made do by tailoring their sets to fill the leftover time. Land’s End opener Imelda May got to play an extra-long set, and Paolo Nutini brought his blue-eyed soul out a little later than promised.
However, the Sutro stage also helped fill the void left by Chvrches. Lucius raised a ruckus that could be heard all throughout McLaren Pass, but Jenny Lewis took Sutro by storm shortly after. Dressed in the My-Little-Pony-fever-dream suit that made the rounds on the Internet a few weeks ago in her “Just One of the Guys” video, Lewis wasted no time in launching into a hit list of crowd favorites and Rilo Kiley classics, and brought Lucius back out to help her with gang vocals on “Acid Tongue”.
From the afternoon on, Day Three felt like the festival like the festival was just finding its footing after a rocky day two, but almost as soon as it got rolling, it was time to start wrapping up. Spoon delivered a reliably good performance, getting the Polo Fields crowds equipped for the festival’s biggest names to come: The Flaming Lips and The Killers.
The Flaming Lips made it difficult for The Killers to live up to their top billing on the festival’s last night. The crowd may not have been familiar with the deep cuts Wayne Coyne and band pulled out of the closet, or even the band’s more well-known tunes, but they were constantly bombarded with a “what-the-hell-is-going-on” color palette of inflatable costumes, set pieces that included people in rainbow and giant mushroom costumes, the return of Coyne’s human hamster ball and the Lips’ general brand of over-the-top delivery.
The Killers as a closer were a little bittersweet—the band has a storied history of making good-time tunes that are hard not to at least like a little. Halfway through the set, they had already played a number of their hits, with more on the way. As their show wore on and the hits just kept on coming, you kind of couldn’t help but reflect on the duration of their career, which is impressive for them but also a sobering reminder of just how goddamn old you are.
Outside Lands is enough to make one miss arena shows—San Francisco specializes in small bands; it’s not often we get the lights-and-all spectacle of arena shows right here within city borders. Even though it only happens once a year, and even though we might roll our eyes at the bombast of big-name performers every month other than August, we are still pretty lucky we get this kinda thing.