Outside Lands Music Festival 2018 (photo: Jon Bauer)
It’s that time of year again. Outside Lands has come and gone. Everyone has washed the dust off their faces and returned to work or school or whatever it is they do.
Many memories were made this weekend, be it the Bill Murray sign on a stick that you used to keep your group together, or you finally getting to cry to Bon Iver live. We did it, and we survived. I hope everyone had a safe and fun experience (and that you put on enough sunscreen).
I spent much of the weekend running around the festival, taking notes with a ballpoint pen on a little yellow pad. Of course, not everything went according to plan. In typical Outside Lands style, I lost my phone somewhere on the first day, and wasn’t allowed into the festival at all for some reason on the third.
But it wouldn’t be a festival without a few war stories. And, if you went, I’m sure you have a couple to tell yourself.
Here are a few highlights from my 2018 Outside Lands experience, in no particular order.
1. Margo Price’s Authentic Take On Tom Petty’s “Last Dance with Mary Jane”
What better way to kick off the festival than with Margo Price, who was playing at the Sutro Stage when I walked in? Her homage to the late songwriter, whom we tragically lost earlier this year, was spot-on. She nailed the song’s melodic and lackadaisical core, then burst into “Cocaine Cowboys,” a driving country tune that built into epic psychedelic rock madness.
She and her band put on a great show, and I can’t wait to see them perform again someday in the future.
2. Laying On The Grass And Listening To Perfume Genius
I’d heard the name Perfume Genius bandied about on music blogs, but I hadn’t heard them before their performance at Outside Lands. After their exciting and emotional show, I’d say the hype is pretty well warranted. Seattle-based artist Mike Hadreas’ noisy R&B sounded like a wonderfully bizarre mashup of Prince, Morrissey, and Arca. A bit tired from all the excitement, I lay on a hill while they played, their haunting yet melodic tunes providing the soundtrack to the clouds that rolled over Golden Gate Park.
3. Oh My God…N.E.R.D Was Too Good
The Neptunes’ chart-topping production hot-streak in the early 2000s is legendary at this point. To me, N.E.R.D’s crossover pop was good, but never matched the brilliance of Pharrell Williams’ production work. However, N.E.R.D live is a completely different story. Their performance was nothing short of a spectacle. Pharrell jumped around the stage energetically in short yellow shorts, moving with the intensity of a workout instructor. The duo were flanked by a group of high-energy dancers and musicians, and the resulting energy was absolutely bonkers.
N.E.R.D’s medley of old Neptunes hits like “Grinding” and “Drop It Like It’s Hot” were pleasant surprises. But I can’t get their closing performance of their 2017 hit “Lemon” out of my head.
I’m not sure when I’ll stop dancing after that one.
4.Father John Misty’s Performance: Chillers Only
While electronic act Odesza was whipping thousands of young fans into a frenzy at the Land’s End stage, all of the chillers were experiencing an extremely different vibe with Father John Misty. Singer-songwriter Josh Tillman strutted around the stage like a mellow Mick Jagger, his booming country voice floating nicely over a beautiful string section. His performance of “The Palace,” which is on his latest album God’s Favorite Customer, was perfectly melodramatic. It ended with Tillman sitting on the stage, singing “I’m In Over My Head,” while the audience ran the gamut of emotions right along with him.
Plus: Shout out to the Grounds Lands employees for making the coffee that fueled me through the rest of the festival. This 33-year-old couldn’t have done it without you!
5.The Massive Sing-Along That Occurred During Beck’s Hit “Loser”
Closing down the festival on Friday night, Beck showed why he’s stayed relevant for over 20 years. Those in attendance were treated to tracks from all over his catalog, from the Sea Change-era folk song “Lost Cause” to near-forgotten ear worms like “Girl.”
Beck seemed to love playing his earlier hits as much as everyone loved to hear them, a trait not always found in performers with such long careers. His rapping during the smash hit “Loser” had him sounding identical to his previous self, that young punk from Los Angeles whose quirky alternative songs took over MTV in the mid-’90s. There were many great moments, but one stands out. If you were there, you might pick the same one: It was when everybody’s voices came together to the tune of “Loser:” “I’m a loser baby / So why don’t you kill me,” we sang over and over again, even when the band stopped playing.
6. Bon Iver In The Polo Fields
There’s something humble about the way Justin Vernon of Bon Iver performs. Next to the strut of Father John Misty, Vernon seems particularly shy, preferring subtle smiles to anything flashy. Wearing big headphones and aviator sunglasses (which made him look more like a small plane pilot than a frontman), Vernon seemed genuinely happy to be where he was: getting lost in his music in front of all of us. Old, weepy favorites like “Holocene” had couples embracing and everyone else singing along. But the real treat was witnessing his 2016, mostly electronic album 22 A Million come alive with a full band, complete with five trombone players, two drummers, and the occasional saxophone burst from multi-instrumentalist Micheal Lewis. Songs like “22 (OVER S∞∞N)” and “_____45______” sounded huge, especially the latter, its mellow beginning crescendoing into a thunderous cacophony of drums and brass. Given how great his band is, it’s no wonder that — at one point — he just sat down on the stage and watched them play.
7. My Wristband Malfunctioning (And Going To Stow Lake Instead)
On the third day of the festival, I rode my bike to the show, and locked it to a sign post down the street from the entrance. I brought my things through security, and walked to a contraption that looked like the BART gates. Our wristbands had some kind of a chip inside them, probably to combat entry abuses. Anyway, I scanned my band on the sensor, just as I had the other two days. But this time, instead of a green light, the sensor blinked red. I knew that wasn’t a good sign, and the lady working the gate seemed to agree. She said I could explain the situation to the box office. However, I could not go into the festival.
Figuring the situation would be quickly resolved and I’d be cozily watching James Blake in no time, I walked confusedly to the box office tent, which was a little smaller than I had built up in my head. A man sat behind the desk: the judge, jury, and decider as to whether you got into the festival or not. I watched him reject a fellow concert-goer who apparently had gotten the same red light as me. He admitted to the gatekeeper that he had bought the ticket off some guy, and then dejectedly sulked away with his faulty investment, bummed he wasn’t getting into the festival.
So, knowing my fate would be much different than that guy’s, I walked up to the booth and pleaded my case. However, it didn’t quite go that way. He said he was sorry, but his computer showed that I had already entered the festival earlier in the day, and there were no re-entries. That’s odd, I thought.
“Because this wristband has been attached to my body all day, and I haven’t been anywhere near here until this moment,” I told him.
“The system doesn’t lie,” he said.
We did what anyone would do in that situation: we tried to get the last word on each other for far too long. And then, as our argument started turning into a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode, I gave up. He won. He was just doing his job. I would not be getting to see James Blake after all.
I rode off in what the French call l’esprit de l’escalier — you know, that feeling after a confrontation when all you can think about is what you should have said differently. Maybe I didn’t explain myself properly, I thought to myself. Of course, I was always the hero of my ruminations, like an articulate trial lawyer in a court drama. I’m sure the other guy had a much different retelling of the story. But that was none of my business.
I rode through the park and stopped at quiet Stow Lake, a body of water not far from the concert. Unsure of what to do, I stopped and sat on a bench, and took a deep breath, maybe my first since the festival began. For much of the weekend, I had been running between stages and squeezing through crowds of people. Coincidentally, getting rejected from the festival turned out to be a nice break from all the craziness. Sure, I really wanted to hear “I Am Sold” live. However, it was still a relief to be sitting in front of a quiet duck pond, with no one around me except some lady walking her dog. Geese were honking above, silhouetted by the grey sky, and a pelican — at least I think it was — landed on a tree across the lake. A gazebo stood over the water, reflecting wobbly in the ripples below.
It was no Janet Jackson. Still, maybe there are worse places to end up than quiet duck ponds.
And so, as the sounds of Outside Lands reverberated out over the park, I got on my bike and rode back home, saying goodbye to the super-fun weekend.
At least until Treasure Island Music Festival.