Those giants of music were just some of the headliners at the 6th annual Outside Lands Music Festival in San Francisco last weekend. OSL has quickly become one of the top major music fests in the United States.
As a festival known for its emphasis on representing a diverse range of genres from folk to rock and hip-hop to pop, Outside Lands did not disappoint. On Friday evening, the legendary Paul McCartney, now 71, performed for three hours, playing a string of Beatles’ songs he penned, from “Lady Madonna” and “Get Back” to “Blackbird” and “Ob La Di Ob La Da,” with tens of thousands of festival goers singing along. When great masses of people sing together in unison, it really sounds amazing. McCartney also played many Wings‘ songs, including classic 70’s radio hits like “Band on the Run,” “Listen to What The Man Said,” “Silly Love Songs,” and “Jet.” McCartney and the band also performed a number of songs from the former Beatles solo records as well.
The stage, which is impressively gigantic considering that it was constructed in days (and has to be taken down in a couple of days as well) contained two gigantic screens, which for McCartney’s set were extended to at least 40 to 50-feet high. The picture quality was stunning, and to see a full shot of McCartney from head to toe on two massive screens was a unique perspective, and raised the bar for festival video displays.
Throughout his three-hour set, photos of McCartney through the years were splashed on the background screen. And if all of that wasn’t enough, the show included a thrilling fireworks display that illuminated brilliantly through the night fog.
Earlier in the day, festival goers crowded around stages to hear a host of artists like Band of Horses, Surfer Blood, The National (all on the main Land’s End stage) with other artists like Wild Belle, Twenty One Pilots, Zedd, Yeasayer and Pretty Lights, all of whom performed on the Twin Peaks stage, which as the venue map shows, was all of the way at the other end of the grounds, some three football fields apart.
The smaller stages like Sutro and the Panhandle featured sets from an array of artists ranging from The Heavy, Rhye and D’Angelo to Houndmouth, The Men, Daughter, Wavves and Chromatics. For fans of all types of music, Outside Lands definitely delivers in that regard.
Listen to IRC’s Spotify playlist for Day One of Outside Lands
Day Two: Young The Giant, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Tallest Man on Earth, NIN, Phoenix
On Saturday, Day Two of the festival, crowds flooded in early, with lines, just to get into the festival grounds, backing up for blocks. Day Two started off at noon with Bhi Bhiman and Locura, followed soon after by The Soft White Sixties and Social Studies.
Indie favorites Young The Giant took the main Land’s End stage in the mid-afternoon. The Los Angeles band, who’ve been recording their sophomore album for months, emerged to perform for a huge crowd that latched on to the band after the release of their debut album. Of course they performed a number of their popular radio-friendly songs like “Cough Syrup” and “I Got.”
Over-lapping with Young The Giant, for the most part, was The Growlers at the Sutro stage in nearby Lindley Meadow. The long-time indie band from Orange County in southern California started off their set with “Nosebleed Sun” and performed a number of their other fan favorites like “What It Is,” “Someday,” “Wandering Eyes” and “Sea Lion Goth Blues.”
Also over-lapping with those bands was the performance from Youth Lagoon who were performing at the second main stage, Twin Peaks, which is located far away from where Young The Giant and The Growlers were performing.
Alternative rap posse Jurassic 5, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, Baauer and Bombino finished out the afternoon schedule for Day Two, opening the way for evening performances from Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Head and the Heart, Kurt Vile and The Violators, The Tallest Man on Earth, Grizzly Bear, The Mother Hips, and the Saturday night closers, Nine Inch Nails and Phoenix.
Nine Inch Nails, which turns 25 next year, performed their dark hard rock on the Land’s End stage to a massive audience. The band ripped out some of NIN’s newer songs to start off their set, including tracks like “Copy of A” and “Disappointed,” which will appear on the band’s upcoming eight album release, Hesitation Marks.
Later in the two and a half hour set featuring 19 songs, NIN performed many of their most well-known songs, like “Closer,” “Came Back Haunted,” and “The Hand That Feeds.” For an encore, Trent Reznor, the only original NIN band member, belted out “Hurt” with his fellow band members before a crowd that stretched as far as the eye could see.
Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the festival grounds, a younger generation’s band, the popular French electro-pop outfit, Phoenix, performed to an equally large, and enthusiastic, audience, delivering tracks like “Entertainment,” “Lasso,” and “Lisztomania,” to open their one hour and fifteen-minute set. Prior to Phoenix, Brooklyn indie folk rock band Grizzly Bear performed on the Twin Peaks stage while The Head and the Heart played at the Sutro stage and while festival headliners, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, rocked the main stage at Land’s End.
The biggest downfall, in our opinion, of a festival like Outside Lands, where the two main stages (Lands End and Twin Peaks) are some three to four football fields apart, is missing sets from bands that are playing basically at the same time. The distance between the two main stages makes it nearly impossible to see a half set from one band and leave in time to catch most of the second half of the other band’s performance.
This dilemma occurred a number of times during the festival; in fact, sometimes three or four bands and artists were playing at the same time. The issue with overlapping performances occurred a number of times on Day Two including during the block of time from 6:30 to 8:30 pm when Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Tallest Man on Earth, The Mother Hips, The Head and the Heart and Grizzly Bear – three of our favorite artists at the fest.
During their 13-song set, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs stirred up a massive, excited crowd of tens of thousands of mostly younger (under 25) festival goers who were packed in from the front of the stage area all the way back to The Dome – the spot (see here on the official festival map) where deejays and mix masters performed all weekend, and which often obscured the sound from the main stage for people furthest from the stage.
Karen O and the YYY’s opened with “Sacrilege,” followed by “Gold Lion” and “Mosquito.” By mid-set, the band knocked out the ominous “Heads Will Roll,” and saved signature songs like “Maps” and “Zero” for the latter half of their performance. A gigantic image of the band’s YYY logo graced the backdrop of the enormous Land’s End stage.
Other artists that played on Day Two included Social Studies, Locura, Milo Greene, James McCartney (Paul McCartney’s son), Cherub, and newer favorites of cafe patrons, Atlas Genius.
* Listen to a Spotify playlist of Day Two artists from Outside Lands 2013.
Day Three Delivered Red Hot Chili Peppers, Camper Van Beethoven, Kaskade, Vampire Weekend
Day Three of Outside Lands kicked off with artist like Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, The Easy Leaves, The Wild Feathers and Little Green Cars. The legendary 80’s underground band, Camper Van Beethoven, from Santa Cruz, California, graced the Sutro stage. CVB performed many of their cult classics, like “Take The Skinheads Bowling” and the crowd pleasing “Northern California Girls.”
Philadelphia indie folk rockers, Kurt Vile and the Violators, sounded superb during their set; that is, when they overcame technical issues. Vile opened with the standout track “Jesus Fever” from the 2011 album, Smoke Ring For My Halo. However, the on-going sound issues made the song sound flatter than it does on the official recording.
The natural surroundings actually prevented the sound issues from being even more disruptive. That’s mainly because the Sutro stage is located in smaller area, where a grassy meadow (Lindley Meadow) carpets a long and narrow raven that is shaded and shielded by towering clusters of eucalyptus and pine trees.
It was necessary to leave the Kurt Vile set a bit early to get back to the Land’s End stage to catch one of IRC’s favorite indie rock bands of recent years – Foals. The Oxford, England band formed in 2005, and in 2008, released their well-received U.K. debut album. Nonetheless, it was Foals’ 2010 sophomore album, Total Life Forever, that launched the band’s popularity in the States, a wild wave that they have surfed swimmingly all the way to their headline status at Outside Lands.
Foals opened their set with “Prelude,” that was quickly followed by songs like “Miami” and “Olympic Airways.” As the band’s 10-song set progressed, the audience, many who were claiming their spots close to the stage for the later headlining bands like Vampire Weekend and festival closer, Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Following Foals, it was off to the eastern side of the festival grounds to the Panhandle stage to catch some of King Tuff‘s set, after which it was time to return to the west side once again to the Sutro stage to catch Dawes, who have previously performed at OSL. Dawes played songs like their opening track, “From A Window Seat,” as well as “Most People,” “Fire Away,” and “Time Spent in Los Angeles.” We missed all but one song of Daryl Hall & John Oates headlining set, but it did not phase us much; we’re not really fans of their 80’s radio pop music.
Approximately 15 minutes before the end of Dawes’ set, we headed over to the adjacent Land’s End stage to catch Vampire Weekend‘s headlining performance, and thus having to sacrifice sets from veterans Willie Nelson & Family, indie rock newbies Ms Mr and the powerhouse songwriting duo Matt & Kim. Unfortunately, these are the difficult and regrettable decisions that have to be made at any festival with nearly 100 artists, five stages and 65,000 people.
Vampire Weekend, it goes without saying, was one of the main draws of Day Three, and were essentially opening for Red Hot Chili Peppers, a compliment for any band. VW has improved immensely, in all ways, from when we first saw them at the Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco in 2008, before they exploded into a worldwide ‘indie rock’ pop sensation. The band took the stage to a roaring welcome from the juiced up audience, which was as interesting as it was thrilling, considering that most of those in the audience were long in place to see the closing set from the RHCP.
Perhaps there are more RHCP fans who are also Vampire Weekend fans, and vice-versa? Regardless, VW opened their 17-song, 70-minute, set with the crowd pleasing favorite, “Cousins,” followed by other VW singles like “White Sky” and “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.” The New York band also performed most of their other signature tracks like “A-Punk,” “Horchata,” “Oxford Comma,” and “Walcott,” much of the time with the crowd singing along.
As the last shows of Outside Lands 2013 were drawing near, it struck us just how fast the entire event zoomed right by. But this happens at all festivals – there’s just too much to see and to much to do. It was now down to the last two headliners – the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Kaskade. We decided to split up to cover each separately. While it will be remembered for many great performances, these two top acts, scheduled to close out Outside Lands 2013, were among the most memorable.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers, who are easily one of the most popular rock bands of the past two decades, took the stage Sunday night to the roar of 40,000-plus festival goers who jammed the west side of Golden Gate Park for the closing set, while the remaining crowd of some 25,000 people, packed it in for the Twin Peaks performance by electro-pop beats artist Kaskade.
RHCP hit the ground running, opening with jam session that got the band and the massive crowd pumped up for the first song, “Can’t Stop,” followed by an electrifying “Dani, California” and “Otherside.” The band was just getting warmed up.
With the exception of what can only be classified as odd banter from iconic RHCP bassist Flea, the band ripped through an amazingly executed set of crowd pleasing songs that included “Under the Bridge,” “Give It Away,” and “Californication,” to name just a few of the 15 songs, including two encores.
Despite Flea’s strange ramblings, the RHCP would not have the power they do without Flea’s legendary bass riffs. And while As their name implies, RHCP were red hot, a stark contrast to the foggy, drizzly, windy and cool weather that surrounded them. Oh, and just a personal note, but the lip hair doesn’t work.
There were many festival goers that were torn by having to choose between the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Kaskade. And as with the RHCPs, Kaskade made certain that his fans would also be treated to a fantastic closing set for Outside Lands 2013, delivering a two-hour set of dance beats mixed masterfully with Kaskade’s unique electro pop grooves.
Although the sun failed to break through the thick, gray fog over the three days (which is typical for San Francisco in August), that did not dampen festival goers enthusiasm. In fact, we’ve heard many say it’s preferable to the scorching heat and humidity of most other big summer time festivals.
Each day of the OSL festival, some 65,000 people flowed into the city’s Golden Gate Park, walked long distances between the five stages, browsed the many art exhibits and murals set up in the park and trekking through the forested areas that included temporary wonder lands like Choco Lands, a chocolate-centric area that included just about everything one could imagine made with chocolate.
What a way to end another historic Outside Lands festival. In fact, OSL, together with the Treasure Island Music Festival (which also began in 2008), has brought major outdoor music festivals back to San Francisco, which itself is arguably the birthplace of outdoor music festivals (which then were often free, featured a limited number of bands, were much less organized, and certainly didn’t have corporate backing) as they were an integral part of the Haight-Ashbury ‘hippie’ scene that emerged in the mid to late 1960s.
Major outdoor music festivals in San Francisco and the surrounding region pretty much ended in 1969 with the tragic events of the Altamount Music Festival, promoted in the weeks leading up to the fest as the “Woodstock of the West.”
Sadly, that didn’t turn out to be the case. IRC will be publishing an extensive look at music festivals in the San Francisco Bay Area and northern California in the next couple of weeks and we will also be covering the upcoming inception of the new First City Music Festival (August 24-25) in Monterey, with a line-up featuring MGMT, Modest Mouse, Passion Pit, Neko Case and many others.
Stay tuned for more coverage of Outside Lands 2013, with additional playlists, photo galleries and video to be added in the coming days.