Everyone says that Outside Lands is cold. Well, it turns out that everyone is right. Today temperatures peaked at 56 degrees, a difficult temperature to adjust to in early August. But Saturday’s crowd was out earlier and in fuller force than the previous day. The merch booth did a steady business selling festival blankets, which were seen wrapped around ever more underprepared attendees as the day wore on.
Early attendees needed something to warm them up and shake off the fog. The perfect antidote came in the form of New Orleans bounce queen Big Freedia, playing a “Beignets and Bounce Brunch” on the Gastro Magic stage at 1:30pm. As the infectiously repetitive, high tempo bounce beats began, Freedia strode on stage, long blonde hair swinging beneath a blue police cap.
Not so much a rapper as her own hype woman, Freedia exhorted the crowd to “release ya wiggle!” as her three very talented dancers twerked and popped alongside with abandon. “I know it’s kind of early. How many of y’all got some kinda fucking liquor in your system?” she asked as the crowd laughed and cheered.
The Gastro stage pairs chefs and music, and Freedia’s set culminated in the crowd being invited on stage for beignets freshly showered in copious powdered sugar. The price? Ass shaking, naturally. Dozens of delighted dancers crossed the stage, fried dough in hand, to attempt the circular gyrations of rump. Of course, Freedia showed up each and every one.
Finally, she closed with Beyonce’s new hit “Formation”, on which she is a guest. It was a welcome turn from the bounce beat, which alters little from track to track. And with that, Freedia left her audience smiling, sweaty, and charged up for a full day ahead. [IKW]
A very different set followed on the Sutro stage, with French-Cuban twins Ibeyi commanding a solid afternoon crowd. These sisters are fearless, opening up completely a capella with a Yoruban chant. Many songs are stripped down affairs, using just piano, cajón or body percussion, and their sweet, close harmonies. Other songs made use of looped vocals and pre-recorded beats. But the pure beauty and simplicity of their more organic songs brought a vulnerable immediacy to the set. And hand drums brought a surprisingly bassy punch to the mix.
Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz paid tribute to both their mother and father during the set. Ibeyi means “twins” in the Yoruban language, spoken in the West African countries Nigeria and Benin. Clearly, family ties run deep with this pair. So too does a deep sense of ancestral history, as filtered through a multicultural lens of diaspora.
On their self-titled debut, Ibeyi blends R&B with jazz, hip hop, and even touches of electronic music, all with hauntingly beautiful singing. Rendered live, these songs made for a stellar set, and an early highlight of the day. [IKW]
At the other end of the massive festival grounds, Vince Staples faced an early struggle on the Twin Peaks stage. The set fumbled with sound from the outset, with the Long Beach rapper’s microphone almost inaudible through the entire first song. The crowd took up a frustrated chant of, “turn it up! Turn it up!”
Even when his volume was finally increased, it was hard to make out Staples words (he is a bit of a mumbler), and the bass wasn’t hitting as hard as it should have. With five dedicated music stages, and many other diversions, it was difficult to justify spending unnecessary time on Staples’ somewhat lackluster start to his show.
Still, close to his home turf, and having appeared on mixtapes with Mac Miller and the Odd Future collective before releasing his critically lauded debut, Summer ‘06, Staples has a loyal following. Clouds of sweet smelling smoke rose in the cool afternoon breeze, many waiting for their favorite songs to drop. If his December, 2015 CNN interview is to be believed, Staples might not have approved. There, he said that he opposed rampant drug use in hip hop, and said he never drank or used drugs himself. Regardless, when the bass did finally hit harder and the set hit its stride, fists pumped in unison and blankets were cast off shoulders as many jumped enthusiastically along to the beats. [IKW]
Back on the Sutro stage, a very different set got underway. Lord Huron have come a long way in their relatively short time together, but their second album Strange Trails charted well upon its April, 2015 release. The bowl was packed with a sprawling crowd as the Los Angeles indie folk rockers sent swelling, earnest songs out over the crowd.
“Six years ago today we played our first show ever, so it feels like sort of an auspicious day,” said singer Ben Schneider. The large audience suggested that perhaps Lord Huron could have commanded one of the bigger stages at Outside Lands. But this medium-sized stage afforded some of the best viewing angles and sounds of the whole festival, as well as somewhat more attentive crowds. It was an excellent, tree lined setting to be swept away in sound. [IKW]
Big Grams are the pairing of upstate New York indie electronica outfit Phantogram and Atlanta rapper Big Boi (of Outkast fame). They apparently met at Outside Lands "a few years ago," according to Phantogram singer Sarah Barthel (likely in 2011 when both were on the bill). This encounter would lead to the fun synth and hip hop pairing known as Big Grams. And this show was an unexpectedly special one, a possible unofficial farewell show.
“This is our last show until we make more music together,” said Phantogram singer Sarah Barthel. It remains to be seen if that will happen, as Big Grams have not publicly discussed what the future holds.
The set was upbeat and full of fun, with Big Boi and Barthel grinning at each other and trading dance moves on the massive stage. Twice during the show Barthel called for women to show their breasts, and apparently from her reaction, a few did comply. This low brow shtick hit a bit of an odd note in 2016, when attempted strides for equality and safe spaces for women in music are being made. But likely Barthel meant it all in the spirit of raucous, slightly dirty fun that is the music of Big Grams. Regardless of the antics, the beats hit hard, and lyrics came through loud and clear. A few mashups like Outkast's "Mrs. Jackson" with Phantogram's "Mouth Full Of Diamonds" garnered huge crowd reactions and spurred joyous singalongs. It seems likely that if the project does move forward with more music, they will have an eager audience waiting. [IKW]
The Last Shadow Puppets
The Sutro stage proved to be the easiest going and best booked stage of the weekend. Perhaps it was a way to split up the crowds a little so a massive crush of bodies, such as what was experienced at the main stage, didn’t keep fest-goers from having a good time. The Last Shadow Puppets was no exception with a great set complete with a good mix of their first album, The Age of Understatement and the recently released Everything You’ve Come to Expect, with a Bowie cover thrown in (perhaps this was a secret checklist item for most bands at Outside Lands, sure seemed like it).
Lead singer and Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner stole the show clad in his familiar black leather jacket and tight black jeans. His garb wasn’t what got everyone’s attention; sauntering onto the stage with an over-the-top wave to the audience and an over-exaggerated expression of delight everyone immediately started giggling at his not-so-coy charms. Sure enough the entire set was filled with hip shakes, sassy stances, silly jokes and great music. [MS]
French electronic duo Air were up next on the Lands End stage, joined by two touring members on drums and keyboards. To a generation of viewers used to music played on laptops, Air were distinctly live. Jean-Benoît Dunckel manned a few keyboards (including a Rhodes and a Korg MS-20) and sang. Nicolas Godin played keys, guitar, and bass, and modified his voice with a vocoder to achieve that signature robot/alien vibe.
The combination of Dunckel and Godin’s creative finesse was incredible. “Alpha Beta Gaga” from Talkie Walkie (2004) saw Dunckel on the Korg and Godin on banjo, the latter whistling the track’s infectious melody. The use of live banjo on an electronic track was unexpected, and created a plucky, almost sitar-like sound in the melody. Dunckel’s undulating synth bassline grounded listeners in the groove. They bordered on psychedelic, but the duo never quite lost their minds; there was an air of control and sophistication that kept the whole thing very cool.
The real highlight was “How Does It Make You Feel” from 10,000 Hz Legend (2001). A computer-generated voice in the style of old text-to-speech programs recited declarations of love as a wandering, melancholy synth trundled along. The words sounded sweet and romantic, but when spoken at a deadpan by a robot, they took on a sadness and an uncanny-valley detachment. “I would be happy with just one minute in your arms . . . You’re telling me that we live too far to love each other, but our love can stretch farther than the eye can see. So, how does this make you feel?”
After each time the voice spoke these words, Godin and Dunckel would sing them, lending a human element to an otherwise bleak list of sentiments. This further emphasized the emotional and physical distance between the speaker and the object of his or her affection. It was the epitome of unrequited love, and gut wrenching in the most exquisite way. [VH]
AIR set list at Outside Lands 8-6-16:
“Venus” from Talkie Walkie (2004)“Don’t Be Light” from 10 000 Hz Legend (2001)“Cherry Blossom Girl” from Talkie Walkie (2004)“Remember” from Moon Safari (1998)“Highschool Lover”, the theme song from The Virgin Suicides (2000)“People in the City” from 10 000 Hz Legend (2001)“Alpha Beta Gaga” from Talkie Walkie (2004)“How Does It Make You Feel” from 10 000 Hz Legend (2001)"Kelly Watch the Stars" from Moon Safari (1998)“Sexy Boy” from Moon Safari (1998)"La Femme D'Argent" from Moon Safari (1998)
Merrill Beth Nisker, or Peaches as her fans lovingly know her, can be a shock to the system. Clad in over-the-top costumes, every set feels the same and different all at once. If you’ve never seen her or listened to her music, and don’t know what to expect, you may have a deer in the headlights moment as she launches into a song about her vagina or fucking the pain away. Peaches is a force of nature, and if you allow her live show to wash over you and that grin to spread across your lips it can be one of your favorite moments of the festival. The crowd was eating up her set and for good reason. It started the moment she swaggered on stage, turning her back to the audience and standing stock still as her lengthy entrance music ended in a single repeating phrase: “My name is Peaches”. Launching immediately into “Rub”, the crowd went nuts and never came down. Who knew singing about Vaginoplasty could bring on such a massive (positive) response? [MS]
Sufjan Stevens is known to put on amazing shows, and his Outside Lands set was no exception. He opened with the gorgeous "Seven Swans", both he and his two singers/dancers clad in massive white wings (though Stevens left wing appeared to be giving him some trouble). As the song built to a towering crescendo, he raised a banjo high into the air before leaping up and smashing it down onto the stage. It took a few more whacks, but soon the poor instrument was made into yet another sacrifice to the gods of music. Stevens has apparently been employing this bit of showmanship all along his summer tour, and it is an effective if perhaps a bit tongue-in-cheek moment of excitement to open the set.
Stevens manages to be both a consummate showman, dressing the band in similarly patterned bright neon attire, running all over the stage, and hamming it up, while somehow simultaneously projecting an air of earnest vulnerability. So many of his songs are soaked in melancholy and sadness, yet brought to life with backing horns and a large live sound, they also sound like a celebration. "Death is imminent for us all," Stevens said at one point, "but for now we're alive. So let's live in fullness."
Next he launched into "Fourth Of July" off his 2015 album Carrie and Lowell, with the refrain "we're all gonna die," as the crowd sang and danced along enthusiastically. This duality of light and dark, of joy and sadness, of hope and despair is at the heart of much of Stevens music. He brought one of the strongest sets of the day to a packed crowd at the Sutro stage. [IKW]
Radiohead is in no uncertain terms one of the very biggest drawing touring bands of 2016. The British band is at the top of their game, touring on the popularity of their surprise 2016 release, A Moon Shaped Pool. Their world tour sold out quickly, and fans are flocking to any chance they have to see the band live. Radiohead, along with LCD Soundsystem, are two of the hottest tickets of the summer. Outside Lands is one of the few North American festivals that managed to land both acts, and tickets sold out as quickly as they were announced. Excitement was palpable as the lads from Abingdon took the stage. Tens of thousands of people had been waiting all day, all weekend, heck, since Radiohead’s last tour in 2012, for this moment.
Outside Lands is an excellent festival, with great production values and many quality offerings. But one of the challenges of the event was evident at this headlining show. Namely, there are so many goddamned people trying to get closer to the stage for massive draws like this, pressing and stumbling forward all at the same time. There are only so many people who could hope to physically enjoy the show, and for this major draw, there were simply too many. Still, after a few songs, the crowd finally settled in and mostly turned their attention to the stage. Thankfully, Radiohead reinforced their stage presence with several cameras aimed on individual members--Thom Yorke’s frenetic dancing, Jonny Greenwood taking a cello bow to his guitar--and these shots were displayed on large screens above and on either side of the stage. For a show this big, these efforts to make sure everyone can see a bit of the action were much appreciated.
The set started with an extended intro for “Burn The Witch”, the lead single off their new album, A Moon Shaped Pool. A slow burn of ominous anxiety rippled out of tall speaker arrays, and much of the crowd finally quieted down to listen intently. They stuck to new material for the next two songs as well, then dove deep and fairly equally into their extensive catalog (well as deep as OK Computer, they didn’t touch anything off the first two records). Still, this was at times a challenging show for a festival crowd, many now intoxicated and ready to party. The band refused to rush, refused to stick to only louder and more raucous hits. They played deeper cuts and several quieter numbers, forcing people to strain their ears forward and listen intently. It was a show for true fans, and for those who paid attention, it delivered in spades.
The two-hour set included highlights such as a rare “Let Down” to kick off a five song encore, and closed out with perennial crowd singalong favorites “Paranoid Android” and “Karma Police”. As the band left the stage, Yorke continued strumming a few bars of the song on an acoustic guitar, and tens of thousands of people sang the song together. Other shows on this tour have included a second encore, but Outside Lands strict 10pm cutoff would not allow for it, so the crowd would have to be content with the incredible 22 song set they had witnessed. [IKW]
Radiohead setlist at Outside Lands 8-6-2016:
1) “Burn the Witch” (A Moon Shaped Pool)2) “Daydreaming” (Moon shaped pool3) “Ful Stop” (A Moon Shaped Pool)4) “2+2=5 (The Lukewarm)” (Hail To The Thief)5) “Bodysnatchers” (In Rainbows)6) “Climbing Up The Walls” (OK Computer)7) “Exit Music For a Film” (OK Computer)8) “Bloom” (King Of Limbs)9) “Lotus Flower” (King Of Limbs)10) “Pyramid Song” (Amnesiac)11) “Identikit” (A Moon Shaped Pool)12) “The Numbers” (A Moon Shaped Pool)13) “The Gloaming (Softly Open Our Mouths in the Cold)” (Hail to the Thief)14) “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” (In Rainbows)15) “Everything In Its Right Place” (Kid A)16) “Idioteque” (Kid A)17) “There, There (The Bony King Of Nowhere)” (Hail To The Thief)ENCORE: 18) “Let Down” (OK Computer)19) “Present Tense” (A Moon Shaped Pool)20) “Nude” (In Rainbows)21) “Paranoid Android” (OK Computer)22) “Karma Police” (OK Computer)
With one more day of paradise ahead of them, Pickathon attendees spend the day diversifying their interests. Sure, there is plenty of incredible music to take part in later on, but throughout the experience, it's the culture of Pickathon that dominates, winning over those who don't regularly part...