Every year Outside Lands gets bigger and better. This year was a great year for a lot of reasons – it was an excellent, diverse and well-paced line up. They also switched up the set-up of the grounds this year, opening up walkways, adding more bathrooms and in general, making a much more comfortable festival experience. The weather was amazing, as well. None of the usual ice cold and overcast OSL, this year was all about having fun in the sun. I also got to see a slew of excellent sets of music & comedy!
Comedy sets at music festivals are tough. Being the first performer of the entire festival on top of being a comic is nearly impossible to rise above. Joe DeRosa wasn’t bad, but he had a lot that he was up against.
Jen Kirkman is simply one of the best comics around. Her set was full of dry wit, and was the perfect companion to the whiskey-infused coffee I was enjoying.
Ron Funches is a national treasure. Simply one of the funniest people in human history. His soft, gentle demeanor balances nicely with his sharp tongue. Every punchline hits you over the head with a huge surprise.
Rory Scovel was something unexpected. He’s good. But, for a set at 1 PM on a Friday, he was a full on dynamo. Ron Funches was the guy that people came to see, but Scovel quickly pulled the people that wanted to leave after Funches right back into the room with his pure energy. A fantastic set, and my first OSL surprise.
Arann Harris & The Farm Band
Arann Harris & The Farm Band were my second OSL surprise. I’ve never heard of them before. They weren’t listed anywhere. In fact, they were playing in an RV behind the mini golf course. They played some loud and dirty blues rock, akin to the great Two Gallants.
St Vincent’s eponymous 2014 record is a work of genius. The live show she debuted in 2013 was magical – a perfectly choreographed display of both beauty and intensity. My only problem with St Vincent’s set at OSL was that she played the exact same set that she’s been doing for a year and a half now, and you could tell that she was getting bored with it. The fanciful foot work combined with ferocious guitar shredding that was once inspired seemed a little flat. Then again, St Vincent at 50% effort is still 200% better than your average performer.
Wilco are a live force to be reckoned with. Tonight at Outside Lands, they had the unenviable task of playing in front of a sea of people that have been perched in front of the main stage waiting for Mumford & Sons to play. How do they take on a crowd that was in diapers when Wilco’s first record was released? Do they play the hits? Nope. They dive head first into… A new album that was barely two weeks old when they played the set. And that’s how they converted 20,000 teenagers into Wilco fans. The secret? Nels Cline’s blistering guitar work had more than one kid rendered frozen by shock. Not only did they play the fantastic Star Wars beginning to end, we also got to experience a short set of the most experimental and dynamic pieces from their entire career. It was a stunner.
D’Angelo and The Vanguard
Last year we were expecting a triumphant return to the stage from the great D’Angelo, neo-soul’s troubled genius. He opted to cancel his tour and take a year off to get healthy and sober. Waiting a year certainly paid off, as D’Angelo was looking healthy and as buff as he was in the classic “Untitled” video. He also sounded amazing, and his band was impressively tight. He did a full on 1:15 of high energy soul music, stretching songs out and taking you on a full-on auditory journey. His set consisted of a mere eight songs, but it was a glorious treat by a true mastermind.
Hurray For The Riff Raff
Hurray For The Riff Raff, aka Alynda Lee Segarra, was a great way to start the second day of the festival. It was a bit drizzly and overcast, however Segarra’s voice broke through the weather and got the crowd moving. She’s equal parts Patti Smith and Grace Slick, only with a spunk that’s entirely her own.
I’ve been hearing a lot about Misterwives, but haven’t been actually “hearing” this band. Despite playing sold out shows all over the country, this was my first encounter with this band. This high energy band that blended 80’s funk with contemporary indie pop and just a hint of ska punk was the perfect way to get your blood pumping in the AM. Singer Mandy Lee is a fireball of energy that is reminiscent of Gwen Stefani. She even did push-ups while giving a speech about body positivity and feminism.
Langhorne Slim & The Law
The best thing about the current folk movement is that a lot of bands that have been touring for over a decade are finally finding themselves with a fan base. Langhorne Slim is one of those guys… He’s been honing his delicious blend of bluegrass and punk for over a decade, and now he has it down solid. This live set was full of passion and energy.
Jen Kirkman & ASSSSCAT
ASSSSCAT is an improv group made up of members of the LA comedy troupe Upright Citizens Brigade. The premise is simple – the host, Matt Besser, selected a member of the audience to shout a word. Then Jen Kirkman has to tell a story based on that word. Afterwards, the improv group does a series of short scenes based on that story. Not to give too much away, but I was practically in tears watching the team take turns portraying a terrible manager as prompted by the word “Industry.”
Popstars with Emilie Baltz and Dan Deacon
Emilie Baltz made popsicles that you could hook into a microphone that basically allowed you to amplify the sound of licking. Dan Deacon is an electronic music composer that manipulated those licks live, turning casual dessert devotees into beats.
He’s 58 years old. He still sounds like he’s 20. He still has the body of a 20 year old. The only proof that he’s aged was some gentle wrinkling around the face. He also played 60 minutes of solid hits that kept fists pumping the entire time. And, yes, that was an hour of nothing but songs that every single person alive knows. And he never even made it to “Cradle Of Love.”
Kendrick Lamar is riding high on the strength of one of the best hip hop records of the decade, possibly all time. But can he deliver live? He certainly can. Backed by a simple four-piece band that perfectly duplicated Dr Dre’s genius production, Lamar worked the crowd with ease. Playing tracks off of every part of his career, including plenty of tracks of To Pimp A Butterfly, a record that was largely ignored at sets played in the early part of the year.
Outside Lands is known for an eclectic line up. The one thing we were missing? Something seriously heavy. Until Sunday morning, that is. We got to to enjoy some full-fledged hardcore punk that managed to get a sea of tie-dyed jam band fans in full-on circle pit mode. Good work, Metz!
Givers put out one album in 2011. It was a genius fusion of zydeco, punk, folk, and funk that hasn’t been heard since The Talking Heads were active. They’ve been largely quiet since then, however they decided to return in big way at Outside Lands, playing a bunch of new material that adds a hint of 80’s new wave to their sonic medley. Although Metz had the pit, Givers prompted a dance party that was far sweatier than the punk rock fury that preceded them.
Pop musicians have it rough on rock festival bills. The same kind of production that works in a dark theater or nightclub doesn’t always work outside in the sun. That’s the biggest struggle I had with Sky Ferreira’s set. Her dark, almost druggy synth sound seemed to lack the dynamic needed for a live performance without the ability to work with lighting. It may have been better if we had typical San Francisco weather, as the bright sun & heat did not work well with her set.
Mac Sabbath w/ Richie Nakano
We’ve all heard “Frying Pan” by Mac Sabbath at this point. The schtick is pretty simple – Black Sabbath songs rewritten as songs about McDonald’s. Unlike other food rock tribute bands like Pizza Underground, Mac Sabbath have chops to match their whimsy. They are simply a really good cover band, only with an incredibly elaborate stage show and excellent costumes. Also, famous chef Richie Nakano was making chicken nuggets and french fries LIVE on stage and throwing them into the crowd. They were delicious.
What can be said about Elton John that hasn’t already been said? He played two straight hours worth of music. And every single note he played was something that is encoded deep in the souls of all 80,000 people in attendance. Singing along wasn’t optional – it was instinctual. The moment he began playing “Your Song,” I actually started to tear up a little. And when he closed the whole set with “Crocodile Rock,” he basically tied the whole festival together. It was a beautiful way to end the event.