Show Review: San Francisco’s 2012 Outside Lands Festival, Day 3

by Jonathan Pirro on August 17, 2012

The one banana that didn't come in a burrito this weekend

The one banana that didn’t come in a burrito this weekend

San Francisco’s annual Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival is always tasked with the enormous duty of being the “other” huge festival of California, and the designation is both a blessing and a curse. On the low end, it has to try and come up with acts that Coachella somehow didn’t have the foresight to book ages earlier, or at leasts acts that will stand up as decent competition, and with tickets to the Indio festival now going onsale a year in advance, they’ve got to get their contenders up and available as soon as possible — usually right before Coachella kicks off. On the high end, the climate is, on the whole, much more pleasant, the acts tend to stick to more large crowd-pleasers and new discoveries, and the fine folks putting on Outside Lands spend many months listening to the irritations and complaints about Coachella to use as a salvo against their festival’s possible shortcomings. The result is that by Sunday afternoon, most of the 65,000+ fans that came out to Golden Gate Park got their fairer shares of mindblowing performances and raucous partying behind them, and were ready for the big finish that would wind down the end of the chilly August weekend.

Allen Stone (photo by Diana Cordero)

Allen Stone (photo by Diana Cordero)

Anyone who regretted missing the excellent southern soul of the Alabama Shakes was relieved a bit when they walked in and caught Allen Stone performing at the Land’s End stage just after the hour of noon. His energy was ferocious, and he got the early afternoon crowd whipped into a frenzy. He has one of the most soulful voices around, and his sound, sort of an indie rock update on the classic Stax sound, was the most perfect way to start the day. The smallish crowd and their general uneasy early-morning tiredness did little to diminish the enthusiasm of the Washington-born crooner, who swayed and swung with a gleeful grin, even picking up his acoustic near the end of the set to add another layer to the soul-soaked country that his band blasted out amidst his smoky roars. Those who fed off of Stone’s intensity found themselves at a pleasant level of alertness by the end of his short but furious set, and thus the festival continued in full swing.

Will Noon and Nate Ruess of fun.

Will Noon and Nate Ruess of fun.

Next up was fun., best known as the band with the huge party anthem about abuse. With Outside Lands being booked a long time ago, it seems likely that no one expected them to blow up the way that they did, and they ended up performing far earlier in the day than they should have. Nevertheless, the crowd erupted with joy and frenetic energy at their arrival, and the air was filled with shouts and cries as the onlookers sung the words of every song in the set. fun. kicked things off with triumphant “Carry On,” a delightful fusion of chamber pop with a power pop edge. Singer Nate Ruess is an incredibly charismatic frontman that can work a stage with fantastic ease, while sounding great, and his Wahlberg-esque good looks don’t hurt matters, either. Their set was full of warm hooks, and just in case they didn’t win over everyone there, they pulled out a faithful cover of The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” It was a brilliant set, and the cheering continued for many long minutes after their departure from the stage.

Franz Ferdinand beneath the banner of their moniker

Franz Ferdinand beneath the banner of their moniker

Scotland’s Franz Ferdinand haven’t played any shows in the US since 2009, which has made the last 3 years kind of rough. The good news is that the band has not shown any signs of rust in their break; on the contrary, their liveliness seemed to be at an all-time high this year. The band opened with “The Dark Of The Matinee,” sparking an all-out madhouse within the assembled audience. Franz Ferdinand’s angular dance punk still sounds as fresh as it did when the band burst out onto the scene over a decade ago. Lead singer Alex Kapronos and lead guitarist Nicholas McCarthy will not stop moving while they perform, even playing several songs while atop their own amps. They brought out one new song, a dark, keyboard heavy number called “Scarlett Blue”, which fit just nicely in with the classic material. Another highlight of the set was a brilliant rendition of the Giorgio Miordor inspired “Can’t Stop Feeling,” which evolved into a cover of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love.” Their huge hit “This Fire” was the centerpiece of their set, evolving and continuing for many long minutes, and Kapranos built the energy of their crowd to a fevered pitch, encouraging fist-pumping and bouncing in place as the refrain “We’re gonna burn this city!” was repeated ad infinitum.

The California Honeydrops (photo by Dakin Hardwick)

California Honeydrops (photo by Dakin Hardwick)

Some of those who were waiting for Regina Spektor to come on, but turned off by the intensity of the crowd crush, followed a text rumor about a secret Jack White set somewhere in the park. Despite the set finishing by the time the rumor had substantially spread, a few lucky wanderers found the secret Chocolands stage, where California Honeydrops were playing to all the folks willing to venture out into the nether regions of the park, and putting on a fantastic performance to boot. There was a small group of fans dancing in cloud of dust, while they ripped through a blistering set of hot jazz, funk, soul, and pure party music that really thrilled. As a general note to all comers to Outside Lands next year: please find this stage! It’s the best party that nobody knows about inside the biggest party in town.

Jack White (photo by Diana Cordero)

Jack White (photo by Diana Cordero)

As was the case in 2011 for the arrival of the Black Keys on Saturday, one of the largest crowds of the festival seemed to be assembled for the arrival of Detroit garage-blues-rock mastermind Jack White, along with his eclectic backing band that played host to a pianist, upright bass player, and all the elements of a proper rock-and-roll ensemble. With a spread of three possible bands’ songs at his fingertips, in addition to the work on his solo record, Blunderbuss, White wasted no time careening out onto the stage and launching straight into “Black Math”, a White Stripes number from their major label debut Elephant, and the song burst into new existence with a full band backing the wildly-thrashing rock star. Each number in White’s playlist was given its own set of new twists and turns, with the snarling, manic tone of the guitarists’ axes leading the way and keeping the signature sound that White has used to plow his way to stardom. The biggest crowd reactions came from performances of classic White Stripes songs, although a cheer of surprised awe went up for the performance of The Dead Weather’s “I Cut Like A Buffalo”, which swung back and forth, evolving into bigger and wilder passages, before slamming back to its end. A cataclysmic performance of “Seven Nation Army” finished White’s set, and the entire band left most of their instruments onstage as they departed, the feedback howling at a banshee-like pitch for long minutes after they had left the stage.

Stevie Wonder and his gleeful grin (photo by Diana Cordero)

Stevie Wonder and his gleeful grin (photo by Diana Cordero)

For a large portion of the audience, however, the real reason for coming out today was to see Stevie Wonder: a living legend, and an American treasure. Not one to back down from being ostentatious, he wowed the massive crowd at Land’s End by walking onstage armed with a keytaur. Despite having a plethora of his own hits to play, he opted to open up with a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is.” He managed to throw in a few bits reminding us to vote for Barack Obama in November, which, of course, was a bit of preaching to the choir. He still knew that people wanted to hear the hits, and Wonder was more than ready his classics for the assembly before him. He took the band straight into “Master Blaster (Jammin’)”, sounding marvelous with every note he played and sang. He was backed by a full ensemble: three piece horns, two percussionists, two keyboardists, 4 backup singers, one that doubled has a dancer, bass and guitar. It was a rollicking, classic R&B show.

Stevie Wonder enters on keytaur (photo by Diana Cordero)

Stevie Wonder enters on keytaur (photo by Diana Cordero)

The hits kept on coming, and Wonder’s voice was perfect the whole set, with all the vigor and spirit that he possessed four decades ago. “Higher Ground” was lose and funky, just the way it should be, and Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” was crafted to sound uniquely Stevie-esque. He opted not to bring up the recent finalization of his divorce, although his version of “I Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer” was especially intense — and as it wasn’t one of his classic, almost mandatory songs, it was easy to understand where the inspiration to play it came from. Even with the fantastic sprawl of his setlist, however, some big songs were missing, such as “Do I Do’ or “Ribbon In The Sky” — but if the crowd was bothered by these omissions, they showed no signs of disappointment, with their arms raised and swaying for side to side for the full two hours of Stevie Wonder’s set, which seemed to dissipate remarkably quickly. For his encore performance, he sat at his keyboard, made it so he could only hear it through his monitors, and figured out the chords to The Beatles’ “She Loves You.” He then shouted the progression out to his band, and they effortlessly launched into a near-perfect cover with almost no prep before the song. Wonder closed out his two hours, as well as the whole festival, with an epic singalong of “My Girl,” sending our tired, dirty, and cold masses out to rejoin our regular lives.

With heavy hearts, we had to return to our jobs after what will go on record as the best Outside Lands yet. You really set the bar awfully high for next year, Ranger Dave. Good luck!

Stevie Wonder’s setlist:

  1. How Sweet It Is (Marvin Gaye)
  2. Master Blaster (Jammin’)
  3. Higher Ground
  4. The Way You Make Me Feel (Michael Jackson)
  5. I Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer
  6. Overjoyed -> Imagine (John Lennon)
  7. Don’t Worry ‘Bout A Thing
  8. Sir Duke
  9. I Wish
  10. Signed Sealed Delivered
  11. My Cherie Amour
  12. Livin’ For The City
  13. I Just Called To Say I Love You
  14. You Got Me Runnin’ (Jimmy Reed)
  15. Superstition
  16. Isn’t She Lovely
  17. As
  18. Happy Birthday
Encore:
  1. She Loves You (Beatles)
  2. My Girl (Temptations)
Additional photos from the show below. All photos © 2012 Jonathan Pirro except where specified.

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

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