Outside Lands 2011 has come and gone, a late-Summer sleeper success that delivered an impressive variety of rock, indie and electronica flowing all weekend long to a daily capacity crowd of 60,000. Crowds layered up in the NorCal coastal chill to see headliners Phish, Arcade Fire, The Decemberists, Muse, The Black Keys and dozens of other acts on the diverse bill.
Arriving at the festival grounds in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, it was immediately clear that OSL has taken great strides in greening the entire festival. Concertgoers were greeted with free bike valets, farmers markets, urban agriculture workshops and even a stage entirely powered by solar energy (the Panhandle stage). A proper preparation, given both that San Francisco is so well known as a progressively green-minded city, and the fact that the park itself is full of wooded areas and pathways between stages that resembled nature trails.
Several acts appearing had played Lollapalooza the weekend before, including Muse, Arctic Monkeys, Deadmau5, Foster The People, Ellie Goulding and a slew of others on the bill in what's being casually accepted as the great homogenization of music festivals; As the names get bigger and attendance grows each year, pressure rises to ensure that the safest talent bets are made, and the great character traits of each event have rapidly begun to blend into one another to the point of removing that sense of special exclusivity some festivals boast altogether.
Granted, Outside Lands goes to great lengths to add a natural, woodsy sense to their atmosphere, with a Food Truck Forest in the wooded areas between stages, complete with giant parachutes strapped to trees and billowing in the wind, where revelers rested their feet and enjoyed a few indulgences while taking in the gorgeous scenery.
On Friday afternoon, MGMT delivered an hourlong set to the legions of screaming girls crammed on the rail, with frontman Andrew VanWyngarden rarely opening his eyes throughout the performance, much less interacting with the crowd of adoring revelers desperate for eye contact. Opening with "Flash Delirium" into "Time To Pretend," the band seemed to have hit a near-telepathic level of onstage musical comfort, with minimal onstage interaction but a generally pleasant energy between members.
Without question, the weekend's biggest disappointment was Big Boi, who made fans wait more than an hour at the bottlenecked Sutro stage before finally deciding not to perform at all. Rather than giving the thousands of congregating fans anything at all for their commitment, the Outkast MC – who was very recently arrested on drug charges in Miami – arrived onstage arm in arm with the ever-elusive comic genius Dave Chappelle, and then proceeded to blame the ongoing technical difficulties on his DJ.
Chappelle took the mic momentarily, but didn't tell any jokes, opting instead to nervously thank the crowd for their support in the two hundred-plus hours of comedy he's done locally in the past year. Still as skitterish and unpredictable as ever, the man threw some odd energy at the crowd before kicking off even more waiting with a beach ball celebration.
Friday headliners Phish drew a crowd of at least 30,000 to watch Trey Anastasio & Co. tear through a jamtastic double set that began with "Kill Devil Falls," which led into a massively successful call-and-response session for "Wilson" and carried on through huge fan favorites including "Sample In a Jar" and "Possum". Anastasio was in particularly excitable form, electrifying the audience with one massive guitar lead after another, peeling off solos faster than fans could light their joints and reapply patchouli.
Check out our reviews of Day 2 & 3 on Page 2!
The second day of Outside Lands was a considerable markup in the rock department from Day One's festivities, with an energy uptick from the previous day resulting in fantastically received sets from The Black Keys, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, The Stone Foxes and many more.
Arctic Monkeys closed out their U.S. tour in support of their new album Suck It And See with a fantastically well-received performance that mirrored their setlist from Lollapalooza the week before – albeit without the torrential downpours and continual threat of electrocution. Frontman Alex Turner was in fine form, leading his Sheffield comrades through a lean & mean set of rockers highlit by "She's Thunderstorms" and "Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair".
The Monkeys were a beautiful precursor to Akron duo The Black Keys, half of our generation's answer to the milky-way-sized blues hole in the soul of the music industry (the other half, of course, being Mr. Jack White). Frontman Dan Auerbach dutifully rocked through a great many numbers from their recent album Brothers, including a falsetto-riffic take on "Everlasting Light," a loose-groove jam delivery of "Next Girl" and a particularly bouncy "Tighten Up".
As the sun dropped below the San Francisco skyline on Saturday, Muse began their space-rock operatic assault on the capacity crowd. They were greeted with screams of celebration and dancing, just as at Lollapalooza a week prior, but for those who had witnessed the band's performance at previous shows on the tour, the formulaic delivery and canned moments of "improvised" excitement were orchestrations of deception.
Outside Lands 2011 ended on a dual-personality high note Sunday evening, with sets from Arcade Fire and Deadmau5 rounding out the three-day festival weekend of music, art and tremendously good food & wine. John Fogerty's placement on the bill perplexed festivalgoers, who were used to seeing the name in their dad's record collections but likely had no idea the man was responsible for such an incredible amount of hits. As he blazed through "Down On The Corner" like it was a Creedence Clearwater Revival show from 1969, and proceeded to rock our collective faces with relentlessly true versions of hit after hit after hit, leaving the collected crowd unexpectedly exhilarated.
Completing what frontman Colin Meloy called "the meat in a John Fogerty/Arcade Fire sandwich," The Decemberists brought a stirring, beautiful soundtrack to the Summer's end on the Land's End stage with a set heavy on material from their two previous albums, dressed in what could easily pass for 19th-century equestrian uniforms.
"This Is Why We Fight" delivers an immensely rich color in live performance, with a deeply moving chorus that doesn't suffer from being overwrought. Prefacing "We Both Go Down Together" with a disclaimer, Meloy warned "This one's about joint suicide…" the crowd went wild with morbid embracement as the band set in.to the Picaresque gem. We all had arms outstretched at the track's conclusion, holding a note by request while closing the song in unison, bit-part players in the band for just a moment.
As Colin set into "Don't Carry It All" with the line "Here we come to a turning of the season…," a moment set in of crystalline perfection that's already engraved in the memory, the lyrical narrative framing a soft ocean-chill breeze creeping under sleeves and hoods, the setting sun glimmering between the trees bordering the Sutro stage on the horizon. The sense of electrified nostalgia penetrated deep, and more than a few faraway looks were present on fans' faces as I made my way back to the media tent in preparation of Arcade Fire. They had tuned in to the frequency The Decemberists have become so adept at conjuring, and it was transporting them to another place within. The right combination of music, setting and stimuli has a tendency to do that…
After ending with the powerful jig-dance jam "Mariner's Revenge," The Decemberists were off into the night, leaving the stage to their friends Arcade Fire. "Ready To Start" seemed as good a place as any to start, and following with "Keep the Car Running," kicked off a festival-closing performance high on dramatic lighting and heavy on singalongs.
With frontman Win Butler leading the charge through celebrated versions of "Rococo," "No Cars Go," and "Crown of Love," the captivated crowd reveled in the melodrama, joining in unison on the chant-hooks that anchor so much of the band's material. In the middle of the brooding "Suburbs," Butler changed some of the lyrics to a more setting-appropriate design: "I know I'd love to waste it again, in a park in S.F. with my friends – oh wait, I'm already there!"
Without a doubt, Outside Lands has been a sleeper success by all accounts. Hearing the electro-throb of Deadmau5 across the field on my way to the exit, all I could muster was a thought of encouragement & happiness for the spazzing masses in the pit, still going strong. Whether wearing a giant mouse head and perched on a glowing cube or bathed in melancholy lights rocking indie-gold classics, there was a captivated crowd tens of thousands deep, fully committed in the chilly pre-Autumn air.
Until next year!