Reviews written by Isaac Kaplan-Woolner [IKW] and Victoria Holt [VH]
Ra Ra Riot
At 2pm Ra Ra Riot played on the Lands End main stage. The Syracuse, New York band’s sunny, jangly indie-pop was an excellent aperitivo as one of the best festivals of the season gets underway. Only the main speakers were on at this point, and the lack of sound reinforcement in the massive space meant singer Wes Miles voice was lost at times.
“You like cupcakes! With cigarettes on top for your birthday!” shouted a girl dressed in galaxy print leggings and shimmery silver top, her gleeful banter temporarily drowning out the music. Despite some minor sound issues, Ra Ra Riot’s breezy pop harmonies and backing strings are a light and fun way to kick off the weekend. The set included material from their new album, Need Your Light, on Seattle’s Barsuk Records. These sweet swept in backpacks and flannel shirts and flower crowns as the grounds slowly filled.
Up next was Brooklyn synth pop group Wet on the Sutro stage. The trio brought along a fourth touring member on live drums and pads. The sloped natural bowl was surprisingly full for a 2:30pm show. A happy crowd sang along to many of the band’s dreamy, languorous ballads and more sway-inducing numbers buoyed by catchy beats.
Singer Ashley Zutrau seemed surprised by the crowd and the day, remarking several times how much she she enjoyed playing in San Francisco. Wet sings songs of longing and loss, many are steeped in sadness, yet there is still a joy here, a playful melancholy. Guitarist Marty Sulkow added playful arpeggiated riffs over Joe Valle’s synths and electronic percussion. Touring on their January 2016 debut full length Don’t You, Wet have had a big year. They played on Fallon a week before the album’s release, and have been steadily hitting the club and festival circuit this summer. Still, Zutrau seemed taken aback by the warmth of the crowd’s reception.
“It’s so amazing to hear you all singing along to that song that I wrote a really long time ago, and didn’t think anyone else would ever be singing,” Zutrau commented after finishing “Don’t Wanna Be Your Girl”. A particularly fervent fan shrieked loudly between, and sometimes during every song. But she was far from the only one enjoying herself. “Thank you,” said Zutrau at the close of the foreshortened festival set, “This has been so much fun!” [IKW]
Way on the other side of the festival, at the Twin Peaks stage, Minneapolis band Poliça started their set. An other-worldly, warbled voice echoed out across placid faces as the crowd slowly stirred. Singer Channy Leaneagh was lost in her own magic, closing her eyes, swaying, and painting swirls around herself with her arms. Bassist Chris Bierden bobbed his head to his steady womp womp, as double drummers Drew Christopherson and Ben Ivascu kept time. It’s been an exciting time for the band’s founders, Leaneagh and Ryan Olson (production), who got married and had a son in 2015 after recording a new album. The band played a lot of material off the latter, titled United Crushers. [VH]
Then British indie rockers Foals took to the Sutro stage. Guitarist and lead vocalist Yannis Philippakis brought an animated energy to the set, jumping down on the subwoofer in front of the stage to vamp for the crowd. This is the most full this particular stage will be all day, and with many popular songs under their belts it was somewhat of a surprise they were not hosted on a larger stage.
No matter. Foals were short on stage banter but long on rock, building energetic songs that verged by turns on classic rock guitar and new wave driving beats. The sun came out for the first, and what would be only time of the day, and the packed crowd grinned and danced along.
“Smashing,” was all Philippakis had to say before launching into another rousing song. Foals is definitely a band to see live, as many songs took on a greater urgency on stage (or even off stage, as Philippakis surfed out onto the crowd at one point, mic in hand). It was another set cut just a bit too short by the confines of a festival’s tight schedule. But no matter, there was so much more to come. [IKW]
Swedish indie pop band Miike Snow made good use of the Lands End stage, with keyboardist and singer Andrew Wyatt running from behind his piano to perch on the subwoofers and even sit and roll briefly on the edge of the massive stage.
The sound was much bigger and fuller now, with the polo ground’s many speaker arrays now fully in use. Miike Snow’s newer songs are less synth reliant, and verge on straight up piano driven rock, a welcome departure or evolution of their sound.
It’s always nice when a performer brings a local flavor to their stage banter, an awareness of their surroundings and crowd. Golden Gate park in particular has been the site of many a storied musical happening, a fact not lost on Miike Snow. “San Francisco is one of my favorite places to watch The Grateful Dead on a ton of acid,” said Wyatt at one point, “And I’m so glad a newer generation is discovering that music.”
New songs like “Ghengis Khan” and the catchy sample-heavy “Heart Is Full” took on an epic quality in the live setting. This was a fun festival set full of good energy. [IKW]
The Claypool Lennon Delirium
Another very San Francisco set followed on the Sutro stage, with newly minted psychedelic supergroup (or super duo, more accurately) The Claypool Lennon Delirium. Les Claypool still sounds very distinctive, and at times like his good old Primus self. His off kilter bass lines were nicely matched with Sean Lennon’s guitar solos and high, sweet voice. Sean in clearly a Lennon.
Many of the Delirium’s songs take on a bizarre story or sound, and with Claypool’s involvement in the project this is small surprise. But Lennon brings a shimmery, and yes, at times Beatles-esque sheen to the mix. Their album Monument of Phobos came out in June, and it is unclear if the project is a one off outing or the beginning of a fruitful partnership.
The crowd was markedly smaller for this set than they had been at the same stage for Foals. Nevertheless, the band seemed to be enjoying themselves. Claypool wore a high bowler hat, Lennon a sort of police or postal cap.
“Well hello there San Francisco, just another day in the park,” bay area native Claypool quipped early in the set in his signature staccato nasal voice, “I’m Steve Claypool, this is Steve Lennon,” he joked. [IKW]
Back on the main stage, British new wave stars Duran Duran were putting on a remarkably energetic show. Lead singer Simon Le Bon was in full swagger mode, dressed in a sharp, many-zippered white jacket. A lead singer, without an instrument to play, must command the stage to hold attention. Le Bon did this in spades, working the crowd and looking much younger than his 57 years.
“Come on now, put your hands in the air. Feel the love!” Le Bon shouted, and the crowd roared back in appreciation, “we’ve got a short time on stage, so I’m not going to talk very much, or at least talk very quickly,” he added before launching into the funky and fun “Notorious.” Though the crowd was understandably shading towards the older for this set, younger listeners might have recognized this one as a sample from Notorious B.I.G.’s song of the same name.
The set was full of classics and favorites. “Hungry Like The Wolf”, “Girls on Film”, and a “Rio” closer. A moving tribute to the recently deceased David Bowie came in the form of an excellent “Space Oddity” cover, during which the band displayed a young portrait of the fallen artist on the backdrop. New songs like “Pressure Off” from 2015’s Paper Gods were solid, but did not surpass their classic hits.
While Le Bon stole much of the spotlight with his shimmying, the rest of the band was all smiles and clearly having a lot of fun. A pair of backup singers and dancers added a lot to the energy and infectiously danceable vibe. Somehow these 30 year old songs sounded fresh and fun all over again, and the band seems to have lost nary a step. [IKW]
Canadian singer and producer Grimes, born Claire Boucher, attracted a large crowd at the Twin Peaks stage as the sun started setting. Her latest album, Art Angels, has taken the popularity of Visions (2012) and catapulted her further into the spotlight. When she played the trap-esque “Go” with its heavy drop, the crowd lost its collective cool and grooved out. Fans were shoulder to shoulder, but things loosened up as people left to get spots at LCD Soundsystem. This opened up plenty of space to dance to beloved hits like “Oblivion” and “Circumambient”. After newer track “REALiTi,” Boucher descended into mayhem, rolling around the stage and screaming into the microphone. The added element of three synchronized dancers upped the fun, and Boucher ran back and forth from her synthesizer to the front to alternate between singing, playing, and dancing. This made her set far more engaging than in tours past. Boucher has grown from a waif-like wisp hiding behind a synth to a commanding performer making full use of the stage. [VH]
At this point the sun was descending. As 7:00 rolled around, alcohol and drugs were clearly becoming a crowd factor. Several couples were making out in the VIP bathroom area. A man stumbled in loose circles and grinned maniacally from beneath his hoodie, giggling at everything and nothing. A woman attempted to stretch her sore calfs and ended up sprawling over in the grass, giving in to gravity’s sweet embrace. Outside Lands is a massive festival spread out over many acres. Beer and booze and more illicit substances flow freely. The crowd’s energy shifts with the onset of evening.
It was getting cold, and back at the Sutro stage a solid crowd waited for Beach House to play. Many were sitting at this point, perhaps victims of long walks across the large festival grounds, perhaps enervated by the dropping temperature. The Baltimore dream pop band came on in all black, singer and keyboardist Victoria Legrand in a hooded cloak dappled with sparkly green accents.
The group launched into a mellower set, looking mostly down instead of out at the crowd. While Beach House released not one but two popular albums last year, this set hit a bit of an odd low energy note at this point in the evening. Perhaps the set built to a bigger crescendo, but many people were drawn back to the main stage for the highly anticipated LCD Soundsystem headlining show.
The polo field was full of revelers as James Murphy and band came on to raucous cheers. Elegant uplighting splashed color around the outskirts of the field, throwing vibrant purples and greens into the tall Monterey cypress and pine trees. One of the hottest touring tickets of 2016 launched into their first song, “Us v Them”, and tens of thousands of people immediately started dancing. They wouldn’t stop for a solid 15 songs.
LCD Soundsystem amicably broke up in 2011, staging a series of massive farewell shows before calling it quits. Now, five years later, it is abundantly clear that fans are ready for more. Following the advice of the band’s break-up documentary, Murphy and company largely shut up and played the hits. The set was a surefire festival pleaser, without any great surprises. Yet for many attendees, this would have been the first opportunity to see the dance band live, or certainly the first time in many years. With popular songs like “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House”, “I Can Change”, and “Losing My Edge”, energy was high and happy.
Still, just one new song would have been greatly appreciated. Murphy said in a January open letter to fans that this is not just a reunion tour, and that the band is working on new material to be released some time this year. Yet none of that new material was evident. There is some question of motivation when a band reunites purely to rest on their laurels. Certainly, this set was full of great songs well worth revisiting live. And the crowd sang and danced along enthusiastically. Regardless of a desire for new material, it cannot be denied that this was a celebratory and highly anticipated show. It was a must-see highlight of the day.
There were many fun and at times emotional highlights, especially in the longing of “Someone Great”. Dressed in a white Nehru-collared button down and a sharp sport coat, Murphy also hammed it up an extra degree for his ballad “New York I love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down”. He called the spotlight back onto himself and exaggerating his already entertaining stage presence. His voice, which at times was rough and raucous, now showed its full range and ability.
The whole band appeared to be having fun as they built tight, infectious grooves. The end of a tour often has a special energy, and this show closed out a longer run for the band. Murphy said this was their last show for a few weeks, and they were headed home to New York after the festival. And when he announced that they had only three songs left, he meant it. They closed out with their biggest hit “Dance Yrself Clean”, and left the stage to howls and cheers.
In an era of automatically assumed encores, where a crowd need do nothing more than wait a few moments for the band to re-take the stage, there was actually something a bit refreshing about LCD Soundsystem ending the show when they said they would, though an encore would of course have been a welcome addition. Even more welcome would be a new album. [IKW]
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