Wednesday, August 18th 2010
Shows: Outside Lands Festival
Last weekend saw the return of the Outside Lands festival in San Francisco’s majestic Golden Gate park, and by all accounts the two-day musical extravaganza was a smash success.
Pared down from last year’s seven-stage overload, a leaner and more efficient Outside Lands this year sported appearances from The Strokes, Kings Of Leon, Al Green, Cat Power, Wolfmother, Social Distortion, Phoenix, Nas & Damian Marley, Electric Six and many, many more.
Performances were spaced out enough on the fairgrounds that music revelers weren’t forced to choose between their favorite acts or sprint between stages, adding to the casual pleasantry of the overcast skies and cool ocean breeze that kept the late-August heat from becoming a bother.
After dealing with the epitome of whole-crew ineptitude from the will call/media pickup people (really, guys? A dozen workers looking at empty rows while the one actually doing his job is listening to his iPod and casually spending an average of 5 minutes per person?) we got through in time to catch Electric Six turn the early afternoon crowd into a bouncing bonanza with Improper Dancing.
We’re all massive fans of E6 and have seen ‘em tear down the house at a dozen club shows, but these Detroit demons are most in their element in the festival setting, winning over tens of thousands of complete strangers with infectiously hilarious party-rock voodoo. Their new album comes out next month – it’s called Zodiac, and it’s without doubt the single most fun record you’ll hear this year.
We moved on to Gogol Bordello after an interview break, and were reminded how much better these guys are live than on record. Their unique brand of gypsy Rock matched the jubilation of Electric Six, with an Eastern European flare that was alien enough to keep the crowd – roughly half of which were familiar with the band – on their toes.
Beats Antique was an experience of sagging beauty and percussive mediocrity, with thirty-and-fortysomething dancers sucking in their bellies as they did their little gypsy hip shakes around the stage.
For a long while now I’ve had the same feeling about Wolfmother that I’ve had about eating broken glass (it’s stupid), but it’s only fair to acknowledge that goat man and his hired guns had the crowd in the palm of their hand Saturday night, particularly during a surprisingly impressive rendition of The Who’s Baba O’Riley late in the set.
After being completely indifferent towards My Morning Jacket for years, the photo-pit proximity to the show – coupled with some undeniably fantastic nugs – created the perfect environment for Jim James and company to fully convert me to a fan. They opened with a slow-rising rendition of Tonight I Wanna Celebrate, before moving on through an impressive set that included fan favorites Highly Suspicious and Golden. I was disappointed to leave after only a few songs, but I wanted to get good positioning for Chan Marshall, better known as Cat Power.
I’ve been a Cat Power fan for many years, but it gets difficult to maintain an active listenership with a voice that cuts through my heart like a sword through rice paper. Opening with Good Woman, a Vedder-tinted track from her astounding You Are Free record, the understated agony of heartbreak wafted through the air like a sweet sedative, calming the fidgety crowd and enrapturing all in earshot.
Moving on through a soft-step cover of the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction, Chan took advantage of the singalong to step back and survey her audience. The look of appreciative enthusiasm illustrated just how far she’s come as a musician since her early days of botched shows and fits of stage-fright.
My hectic trek to the opposite end of the park for Grateful Dead spinoff Furthur, featuring original Deadheads Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, proved unnecessary; they didn’t appear onstage until 15 minutes into their set time, after which they spent another 20 minutes noodling around, warming up and completely ignoring the crowd.
Once they opened with Cassidy, the joints were lit and the crypt-keeper face of Lesh was mercifully hazed out in a thick cloud of weed smoke. Watching a woman my grandmother’s age lose her shit as the band broke into the celebrated Dead jam Loser, screaming with joy and throwing herself to the ground again and again, proved to be my breaking point. I moved on.
The hippies rolled deep for Further, and I nearly missed the start of The Strokes set back across the field at the Twin Peaks stage. But I made it, in time to muse on how bizarre it was that a band who hasn’t had a record in four years or toured in ages was drawing such a massive crowd. I was a fan, but the boys had long since dropped off my radar, and I found myself wondering if they could even hold my attention anymore.
It only took one song. New York City Cops, a buoyantly stabby non-album track, kicked off a high-energy set of accelerated darkpop jams that escalated through The Modern Age and Hard To Explain, two more cornerstone songs that sold even the most cynical skeptics on hand.
We parted the hipster/hippie seas before the band closed with Take It Or Leave It, a triumphant day behind us, to gear up for Day Two.