The 8th annual Outside Lands has kicked off with a remarkably warm Friday bringing 65,000 music maniacs into San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, and while it’s always a fantastic time exploring the forest-nestled festival adventures nestled in a massive metropolis, this year revealed some particularly interesting developments. Check out our Day 1 recap & revelations below, featuring performances from Mumford & Sons, D’Angelo, Leon Bridges, First Aid Kit and so much more.
St. Vincent: the Queen of Quirk
Alt-pop goddess St. Vincent, aka Annie Clark, continues to improve every time I see her. Playing to an enraptured main stage audience of “freaks and others, the queers and the dominatrices,” Clark delivered a sharply confident, killer performance through a perforated leather bodysuit and running makeup.
Welcome Party Crasher: Sir Mix-a-Lot
The conversations in the pit for Sir Mix-a-Lot’s surprise set at OSL were some of my all-time favorite festival eavesdroppings. Hipster brats were literally scratching their heads, wondering where Nicki Minaj was, and why this old dude was covering “Anaconda” so strangely.
Wilco does not give a fuck, and OSL is perfectly fine with that.
In a bold move for the main stage, Wilco tore through the entirety of their brand new album Star Wars during the first half of their Lands Ends set. Jeff Tweedy and friends then shifted gears for the fan favorite “Heavy Metal Drummer” and the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot classic “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” delivering a uniquely weird set that appealed to even casual passersby.
First Aid Kit are exactly the saviors country needs
The Swedish sisters of Klara and Johanna Söderberg are “holy shit” level talented… and that was before they shifted seamlessly from raw country-folk sentimentality to a cover of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs”. If they make a full-fledged country album, we may not ever get them back. Their pointed lyricism and uniquely captivating essence is exactly what that buffoonishly stupid color-by-pickup-truck genre desperately needs.
D’Angelo outshines the hype – by far.
The neo-soul of sex-croon hero D’Angelo gave the Sutro stage a sexual soaking on Friday night, arriving with his band in a white wide-brimmed hat and floor-sweeping cloak, with a shredded shirt and cape beneath. The 75 minute set was punctuated by the Black Messiah track “The Charade,” which he dedicated to “all the victims of senseless police brutality”. With guitar in hand, pucker on the lips and a deep sensuality in every note, the man gave an unbelievably good performance that was more than a little difficult to break away from in order to catch headliners Mumford & Sons. I should’ve stayed put.
Mumford & Sons is depressing as hell.
They’re incredible performers, their songs are fantastic, but when grown men are breaking down during “Believe,” something’s gotta give. Looking around me in the pit during their day-closing performance, I wondered to myself how many of these people giddily dancing to songs about heartbreak, deceit, lost love and sadness for two solid hours actually experienced such personal tragedies. Don’t get me wrong, the spirit of the band is incredible, and it’s entirely captivating to see bassist Ted Dwane losing his shit with glee during nearly every moment of the performance. The a capella harmony-fest encore of “Cold Arms” was remarkable (as was frontman Marcus Mumford’s kind but sincere order for the crowd to “shut the fuck up”). But the emotional disconnect required to bro it up is a fascinating study in human behavior.
Porter Robinson is welcomed like a god.. but why?
Speaking of human behavior, the other end of the music-reaction rationale spectrum was Porter Robinson. Why did the largest crowds lose their shit by FAR the most for a single dude onstage, who looked like he barely had anything to do with the sounds coming out of the speakers? To his credit, the 23 year old kid has made a remarkably good album that defies the current dumb-beat trend. But nevertheless, the bass drops are painfully obvious constellations of comically predictable peaks and valleys, and girls were frantically running to join the largest crowd the Twin Peaks stage saw all day – with the hookup-hunting bros closely in tow.
Deflate the hype: Leon Bridges is overrated
Sorry to say it, but Leon Bridges’ set at the Sutro stage confirmed that Bridges is a packaged brand, all fashion, image and impression. His performance was surprisingly underwhelming. There was no stage presence, no passion, barely any connective energy to the moment. I had high hopes after the breathless industry hand-wringing, but the golden-era throwback gimmicks had no meat behind them.
The magic of McLaren Pass is gone.
What used to be a beautifully quiet, off-the-beaten-path trail through the woods has become a wild showcase of branded weird and overpriced novelties. Instead of a nice open wooded area for people to relax, take in the beauty around us and enjoy a secluded bowl or three, we now have a “Gastro Magic” stage featuring a perfectly sensible pairing of breakdancing and live-action butcher demonstrations. Yep, that’s a dismembered pig in the background.
But the food… oh sweet Jesus the food.
There is no festival food experience that comes within a thousand miles of Outside Lands. We’ll bring you a full feature on the edible delights of OSL later this weekend, but for now, the picture above and below are worth several thousand calories – let alone words.
Outside Lands continues Saturday with Kendrick Lamar, Cold War Kids, Tame Impala and the Black Keys as well as Billy Idol, Ben Harper and others. Stay tuned for more…
All Photos: Johnny Firecloud