San Francisco’s Outside Lands Festival 2010: Day 2

by Jonathan Pirro on August 16, 2010

The far eastern Twin Peaks stage of Outside Lands (photo by kelp: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kelp/4896077718/)

The far eastern Twin Peaks stage of Outside Lands (photo by kelp: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kelp/4896077718/)

The second day of San Francisco’s Outside Lands Festival was met with both tiredness and anticipation from the thousands of fans who arrived to see the remainder of the odd but interesting festival lineup. While the day began just as overcast and somewhat gloomy as it had when it faded out the night before, blue sky finally broke through the clouds in the early afternoon, treating those who arrived to warm sunlight and renewed energy (especially with those who had been drained of theirs the night before). With a handful of big acts to come in the evening, it was expected that the opening bands would parallel their predecessors of the first day and serve as appetizers to the eventual banquet of concert frenzy; today, however, things got off to a rather slower, smoother start, which caused thankfulness in some and restlessness in others.

Quinn Deveux and the Blue Beat Review

Quinn DeVeaux and the Blue Beat Review

Kicking off the afternoon at the Sutro Stage was singer-songwriter Quinn DeVeaux and his motley crew of jazzy soulsters, the Blue Beat Review, who brought a gentle reawakening to the arriving crowd in the form of piano-filled, New Orleans-style blues. Despite the chilliness of the day and the miniscule amount of concertgoers watching the stage, DeVeaux was in great spirits as he chugged through the set, his charisma only matched by the wild improvisations of pianist Chris Seibert, whose marvelous solos earned the band more than a few howling cheers. A memorable moment of the performance was DeVeaux’s comment, “This next song is about a lesbian cocaine party I went to one time,” followed by a song that proceded to describe exactly that, with no hesitation or sarcasm about it. The humor was not lost on the crowd, who seemed to come to new life at this, and stayed fixated for the rest of DeVeaux’s set, which threw in a few extended jams and solos in the closing number when they found out that they only had time for one more song.

Mayer Hawthorne and the County

Mayer Hawthorne and the County

For a short while after the Blue Beat Review’s performance, a lull settled on the grounds of Golden Gate Park. Most of the crowd was still arriving, and the dulcet tunes and gentle country-swathed harmonies of Amos Lee continued to ease the day into being. Those who missed the explosive opening acts of the first day, such as Electric Six, The Whigs and Pretty Lights, seemed rather frustrated or simply bored of the slow opening, and eventually the Sutro Stage found itself densely repopulated in time for the arrival of Mayer Hawthorne and the County. Where Quinn DeVeaux had brought blue-eyed soul, Hawthorne cranked the energy up a few notches with a modern approach to Motown, bringing songs with catchy pop and R&B hooks as well as a style and tone that the Holland Brothers would have approved of. Rather than a small peppering of concertgoers, Hawthorne’s set attracted a rather large crowd which enthusiastically waved, clapped, and bounced to this soul-infused rhythms. While there was nothing in particular that stood starkly out in Hawthorne’s set, it was entertaining and a bit more awakening than the other morning acts, and he seemed to have a rather enthusiastic fanbase in the crowds that danced about in front of the stage.

Janelle Monáe

Janelle Monáe

Tensions had begun to come to a peak around the hour of three in the afternoon, when, not long after Melbourne rockers The Temper Trap had finished their explosive set — the first big wake-up call of the day — the Sutro Stage was again surrounded en masse by a curious crowd to welcome the arrival of the Kansas City neo-soul-funk queen Janelle Monáe. With the singer and her band falling behind schedule due to a late flight in from Toronto, coupled with a crowd that had been without music for all of 15 minutes (such is the OCD of festivalgoers), impatient applause sparked up a few times before the rumbling orchestral introduction of Monáe’s set bellowed through the monitors. Those who had been skeptical, however, soon found themselves on their feet and swaying about with joy and delight. Doing a complete 180 from the opening acts of Sunday, Monáe took the stage with absolutely astonishing gusto (the first 4 songs of her set were blended together in a furious medley), incredible energy (especially in the closing singles, “Cold War” and “Tightrope”), and a voice that chilled as well as amazed (in a stunning, haunting cover of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile”).

Janelle Monáe's private performance in the Chase Freedom Lounge

Janelle Monáe's private performance in the Chase Freedom Lounge

It was barely past a half hour when the dust of the Sutro Stage finally was allowed to settle, with Janelle Monáe’s fireball performance completely knocking out the doldrums of the morning acts and leaving the crowd howling for more. (Her enthusiasm was such that she actually pulled apart her intricate “pompafro” while she thrashed and danced across the stage during “Tightrope”, the closing number.) Those who were lucky enough to have stopped by the Chase Freedom Lounge earlier in the day were allowed to re-enter about an hour after Monáe had finished to witness her perform a second set in a much more intimate setting. Fans were treated to an acoustic version of “Sincerely Jane”, along with another performance of the gorgeously brittle “Smile” and a slowed-down, chillout version of “Cold War”.

Thomas Mars of Phoenix (photo by Paige K. Parsons)

Thomas Mars of Phoenix (photo by Paige K. Parsons)

Those whom had stuck around at the Sutro Stage for San Diego’s reggae funk rockers Slightly Stoopid found the Polo Field dense with the San Francisco populace as thousands of festivalgoers converged upon the Land’s End stage for French electro-rockers Phoenix, who took the stage shortly after 5:30 PM. Declaring that this would be the last Bay Area show that they would play for a while, singer Thomas Mars and the rest of the band nevertheless threw themselves into an energetic performance, with drummer Thomas Hedlund and keyboardist Robert Coudert supplying the backbone of the band’s energy in the form of several drum battles and frenzied beating of their respective instruments. Not to be outdone, Mars hopped into the photo pit and into the arms of the startled crowd on more than one occasion, bringing the mic with him and beckoning fans to sing along with him while the band raged away onstage. While not nearly at the energy level that Gogol Bordello or Janelle Monáe’s performances had brought to the festival, Phoenix certainly got the crowd moving, and drew the largest audience yet seen that day.

Mike Ness of Social Distortion (photo by Paige K. Parsons)

Mike Ness of Social Distortion (photo by Paige K. Parsons)

A decent chunk of the festival, however, remained stationed at the Sutro Stage for its final act of the day, and were not disappointed as the first signs of sunset heralded the arrival of Orange County punk legends Social Distortion. Barely a wave and a fist pump were exchanged between band and crowd before singer Mike Ness and the rest of his band smashed its way into their set, barely pausing between songs for the occasional comment about the festival, their tour, or Ness’ pleasure with the arrival of the blue sky and a suggestion that most of the crowd would be better off — thanks to the combination of sunset, beer, and Social D — not going to work on Monday morning. To spice things up a bit, Ness and the band tossed some extra solos into performances of “Ball And Chain” and “Story of My Life”, as well as extended breakdowns, which gave a special air to the set. Each song was met with wild applause from those that had braved the day to see their heroes, whom Ness acknowledged with great pleasure at the end of the band’s set.

Empire of the Sun

Empire of the Sun

Despite the varying degrees of musical talent, wildness, beauty, and passion that had driven the second day of Outside Lands into its evening hours, the crowd that wandered away from the Land’s End stage (which the Kings Of Leon were seen to occupy for the next few hours of the night) was utterly blown away at the Twin Peaks stage by the second headliner of the day. Hailing from Australia, Empire of the Sun dazzled the park with a stunning array of lights, LED towers, smoke machines, and graceful dancers who seemed to change their outfits between each pair of songs. Topping this wild spectacle was the marvelous outfit of singer Luke Steele, which featured an elaborate headdress and silver-studded armor plating, and which shone brightly in the sea of color that bathed the stage for the band’s set.

The crowd that had stayed on the west end of the field seemed to be absolutely ecstatic about the band onstage; it was hard not to be, so amazing and surreal was their great spectacle of a stage performance. Psychedelic animations danced on a screen behind the band, and Steele’s keyboard and microphone rig pulsed and blinked along with the songs, not to mention the many custom arrays of hanging lights that danced through all of the colors of the rainbow during the course of the performance. The catchiness and excellent crafstmanship of the band’s many songs worked as a perfect compliment to the crazed phenomena onstage, drawing upon numerous aspects of electronic music to provide a dense but danceable soundtrack to the mayhem that surrounded the Twin Peaks stage. After coming out for a single encore, “Walking On A Dream”, Steele and his backing band (Nick Littlemore doesn’t tour) took a bow, a gesture that served as the perfect ending to an absolutely otherworldly performance.

This was my second year at Outside Lands, and while I was familiar with more of the acts from the first year, I found a lot more pleasant surprises this year and got to catch some of my favorite artists. Despite my own concerns about Sunday’s opening acts, as well as the eventual energy sap that they seemed to pull everyone into, the second half of the show seemed to kick into gear at just the right moment, and then kept going until there was absolutely nothing left. Had more small but wild opening acts dominated the Sutro Stage at the start of the day, I believe the energy would have jumped to a peak and remained there for all ten or so remaining hours of the festival. Such a decision may, indeed, be picked up next year by the event’s curators, and I’m hoping to have just as musically turbulent of a weekend as I had this year.

Photos by Jonathan Pirro except where otherwise specified.

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

More Posts - Twitter - Facebook

Read Also:

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Big Boog August 16, 2010 at 3:08 pm

good review

when the sun came out during Phoenix, that was amazing. It was another great weekend in GGP park.

Really dug Wolfmother on Sat. too

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: