Kacey Musgraves at Outside Lands 2019 (all photos: Daniel Kielman)
For a full photo gallery of the festival, click here.
Friday at Outside Lands is never off to a particularly fast start, but this year it felt like there were less “must see” artists and more “might as well” artists. Some locals got the early birds warmed up, wth Rainbow Girls on the Panhandle stage and the Seshen on Sutro. Both stopped to make statements on the current climate during their sets, remarking on the need for love and togetherness.
For all the fear and loathing around being in crowded public spaces recently, Outside Lands didn’t feel, at least to me, particularly unsafe. I was on guard, of course, like a lot of other people, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t mapped out a loose escape plan in my head the day before. The only thing that did make me a little uncomfortable was the armed-to-the-teeth SFPD officers that made surprise appearances around festival grounds throughout the weekend, riding around in carts and waiting in line for lunch with AR-15s strapped across their chests. As Childish Gambino would remind us on Saturday, this is America.
P-Lo drew the first legitimately large crowd of the day to Land’s End, and brought out special guest Stomper for a song or two early in the set. Then nostalgia set in, with Lil Wayne leading into his current tourmates blink-182. Putting blink-182 on before Twenty One Pilots was, in all honesty, a mistake. Not only because a dense fog obscured a good portion of the latter’s show (which looked pretty cool if I squinted — it included some choice onstage pyrotechnics, but what they make up for in spectacle they lack in artistic identity), but because I haven’t seen so many 20-year-olds sing along to “What’s My Age Again?” with that kind of enthusiasm since…like 1999. How did all these kids find out about blink-182? Do their (sharp, horrified gasp into my 32-about-to-be-33-year-old lungs) parents listen to them?
Honestly, the day felt pretty much over once the fog arrived. Legendary producer/musician/artistic polymath Flying Lotus did his thing on the Sutro stage — this time, in 3D. Then the Lumineers shut down Day One, because, as was the entire theme of the day, sure. Why not.
Saturday still took a bit to get rolling, with most worthwhile acts not taking off until the late afternoon. YouTube sensation Felly opened Friday with a set that went beyond the reasonable use of air horn, and the “Artist TBD” after turned out to be Haley Heynderickx.
I noticed this at her Noise Pop set this year and I noticed it again: I want a world where Haley Heynderickx isn’t demure about her talent. I realize that’s probably just who she is — I’m like that too — but she’s a superb songwriter who very often introduces her own work by making lighthearted jokes about it. She shuffled into her first song with, “And now we will play you some songs, because that is our job.” Even as her small, but incredibly devoted fans cheered her on, she shouted, “We are used to playing bars!” after ending a song — not to express surprise at their reaction, but to excuse any ill feelings attendees might have toward her music. It’s not exactly downplaying her own talent, but it’s definitely part of the “So, I wrote a thing…” family.
Santigold, finally, blessedly got the party started, which is basically her job at this point. It felt like a lot of the same set list from last year’s Treasure Island, the backup dancers doing the same running-in-place moves (by the way, do they ever get winded? If they do, they’re really good at looking unperturbed).
But that’s not to say it was bad. Bands like Santigold, Tame Impala, and Flaming Lips are surefire festival hits if you can afford them. Just like Outside Lands is always fun if you can afford it, but since it didn’t have liftoff until midday on Saturday with an act that of course is going to be great, it felt like there was nothing especially noteworthy about this year’s lineup.
But tell that to the swarm of people trying to get through McLaren Pass that afternoon. Childish Gambino confirmed it on the mic later: Saturday was the biggest crowd they’d ever had. So maybe that’s the key: Agreeable supporting acts, one on-trend headliner, and a rock and roll veteran for attendees of a certain age is the magic formula that gets people to shell out $300+ for a weekend pass (it certainly convinced me to pick up this assignment).
Speaking of reliably good musicians, Phosphorescent performed an engaging set, but he already feels like a relic of another time. A time a handful of years ago, when indie rock was quiet by default, the world was only sometimes a waking horrorshow, and everyone wanted to move to Portland. Watching him, I was almost overwhelmed: God, I miss being able to review music largely free of worldly context.
This was all in extremely sharp contrast to CupcakKe, who received a hero’s welcome on the Panhandle shortly after. For those not in the know, CupcakKe has made her name on being the naughtiest, raunchiest rapper this side of Lil’ Kim. She dispenses empowerment via lyrics like the only one I think I can print here: “Mouth wide open like I was at the dentist.” It all would elicit scandalized giggles if she weren’t so dead-serious about it. If set to a ukulele and played by two mugging white guys it would be novelty, but coming out of her it’s an anthem, and galvanized the heavily female-presenting crowd.
More than one of my (male) friends later commented that they were surprised to see so many young girls rapping along with enthusiasm. Sorry to burst your puritanical bubble, folks, but a) boys have been extolling their own sexual prowess in song since the dawn of recorded music b) for that matter, girls have too, which means it’s not news that c) girls like sex and develop about as early as boys. As long as everyone’s happy and consenting, let’s reserve our pearl-clutching for actually shocking things, which there is no shortage of these days, OK?
Donald Glover’s a man of few words, but by way of banter, he greeted Oakland before San Francisco when saying hey to the crowd early in his explosive (literally — there were fireworks) performance as Childish Gambino. He’s been touring for a long time — since last summer — so the show felt a little bit rote. But he’s still one of, I believe, the greatest performers of this decade, and able to pack an outsize show into just him, a band, some backup dancers, and a little bit of crowd interaction.
Glover’s in a strange place career-wise, having started as a writer on behind silly-but-smart comedies like 30 Rock and Community, now having transitioned cleanly to a critically-acclaimed music career and the more understated show Atlanta. Last year, “This Is America” was adopted as a social justice anthem, thanks to a video that put the various injustices beleaguering people of color on startling display. But that night, the same song that, last summer, seemed sure to influence social change was turned into a party anthem, the crowd more than happy to dance their cares away to it.
Glover seemed to be working hard to remind the audience that the madcap days of Troy Barnes are no more, speaking on Oakland and its real-life influence on him in between songs. He, at one point, told the audience how he likes “How you can just go over a bridge
The lady next to me: “Not anymore.”
Let me be clear about something, Outside Lands: I take it as a personal affront that you put Weyes Blood on so early, and on such a small-ish stage.
12pm on the Sutro stage is usually the domain of the locally-known or the up-and-coming. But Sunday kicked off with the phenomenally talented Weyes Blood, who, with the help of her nimble band, played a large selection from her epic new record, Titanic Rising. Weyes Blood writes songs on the scale of the cosmos, and in person they sound even more expansive. Fans came out early to support her too, shouting requests and singing along to the “Ba, ba ba ba baaa”s in “Everyday.” Next year she deserves at least Twin Peaks billing.
From there festivalgoers had a plethora of options. In the wine-tasting, food-nibbling, weed-sampling spirit of the festival, I hopped around from Cherry Glazerr to Alex Lahey to Mavis Staples. I’m really glad Mavis is getting her due: She’s still touring, collaborating with more contemporary artists, and, as she adorably reminded us, “has a new CD” out on ANTI-. Millennial nostalgia for decades they barely remember has propped up some really stupid music in its hunger for parody (“Never Gonna Give You Up” and “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Africa” and whatever useless song is going to be dredged up next in the name of satire), but I’m so glad Mavis Staples is getting some recognition from my generation, free of irony.
After Mavis, the Land’s End stage was the place to be for a good long while. While some items like Dean Lewis at Sutro and Cherry Glazerr on the Gastro Magic stage were a fine use of free time, Kacey Musgraves was the next major can’t-miss event. She opened with “Slow Burn,” and continued with a majority of selections from 2018’s Golden Hour.
She’s been on an exhaustive tour lately, and still has many more stops to go before the end of the year. But she’s got this down to a science: She played only the choicest cuts from her most popular record, folded in a singable cover (“I Will Survive”), and did a little audience participation — yes, that one. “I tried this at Coachella and it didn’t go very well,” she said before she instructed us to “haw” after her “yee,” which we did flawlessly. Sure, she gave us a much clearer cue than she afforded the Coachella crowd, but take that, Southern California.
I normally skip the dad-rock option that closes Sunday, but amongst everyone I talked to — even those in my age range — Paul Simon seemed like the popular choice. So I skipped Anderson .Paak in favor of the man behind some of my favorite songs of all time.
In spite of the previous sentence, I did not have high hopes for him. The older our rock heroes get, the sadder it can be to watch them play as their bodies slow down, their vocal range becomes limited, and their memory dims. Simon’s voice is still smooth, and his mind seems in fine shape. He’s not exactly animated on the stage, but selections like “Graceland” and “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” don’t demand a lot of energy, and when you’re working with a catalog as stacked as Simon’s, the crowd will do a lot of the work for you. Almost every song on the set list that night has been enshrined as an American classic, and livelier ones like “You Can Call Me Al” and “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” received roaring applause.
Paul sent the crowd off with Simon and Garfunkel classic “The Sound of Silence.” And then, just like in years past and probably in years future, the crowd squeezed their way through the tunnels to 30th Avenue, letting the now-traditional group chorus of “Just A Friend” roll off the walls.