Our arts staff brings the bands, acts and events to look forward to this weekend (August 10-12) at the 5th annual Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival.
There isn’t an easy way to introduce the wildly enigmatic comedian/musician Reggie Watts. He’s a strange act, a dabbler in the avant-garde and a rather snappy dresser. Though he’ll share the Barbary this weekend with fellow comedians David Cross, Pete Holmes and Todd Barry, there’s probably no one more appropriate than Watts for the circus-like atmosphere of Outside Lands’ comedy tent. With nothing more than a few musical implements, often a keyboard and loop sampler, Watts fashions the musical and modern equivalent of a James Joyce novel — something irreverent, improvisational and utterly splendid.
Lately, Watts’ unique blend of sonic whimsy and lyrical jest has been garnering more attention, specifically on the small screen. After opening for Conan O’Brien on his post-Late Night tour, Watts has been a staple presence on the comedy circuit and plays the Paul Shaffer to Scott Aukerman’s David Letterman on IFC’s deadpan delight “Comedy Bang! Bang!” He even backed National Treasure Jon Hamm (official name) on a glorious freestyle about the ’70s sitcom “Taxi.” So, when you’re stumbling between the gaggles of concert-goers, be sure and stop by the Barbary for the man with the fro and the freestyle grooves — ringleader Reggie Watts.
— Jessica Pena
Explosions in the Sky
Music festivals can often end up as a blurry montage of sensual overload in one’s memory. Songs and sets begin to blend together after a weekend of sleeplessness and dehydration. But there are always a few sets that stand out among the rest. It shines crystal clear in your memory as that moment when all of the chaos disappeared around you and all that was left was you and the sound of your favorite song. Explosions in the Sky delivers those sets. With their exquisitely executed instrumental mini-symphonies, Explosions’ sets aren’t the most hyper, but all of the energy is there in the effecting reverberations.
Explosions in the Sky is arguably today’s most popular post-rock band, competing with Mogwai and Sigur Ros (the latter of which will also be playing at Outside Lands this year). The quartet, which originated in Austin, has erupted far beyond their fairly inaccessible genre due to their brilliant compositions and memorable live performances. In the last year alone they’ve lit up stages at Treasure Island, Sasquatch and Coachella.
— Sarah Burke
Neil Young and Crazy Horse
A Canadian with Americana influence, Neil Young has captivated audiences with his potent songwriting for almost 50 years. Young has been the author of countless classics — a diverse catalog full of both political rockers (“Ohio” and “Rockin’ in the Free World”) and acoustic ballads (“Heart of Gold” and “Old Man”). But taking his unpredictable nature into account, look for him to play some deep cuts, along with a few numbers from his new album, aptly titled Americana.
On Americana, Young takes classic folk songs and infuses them with a shot of intensity and electric guitars, which will sound great at the close of Friday’s marathon of music. With longtime, on-again off-again backing band Crazy Horse behind the instruments, Young’s set is sure to be electric — both literally (think amped up guitars) and emotionally (think incredibly exciting). Listen to “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” to get an idea of what’s in store.
— David Bradford
While you may know him for his experimental hip-hop/rock fusion guitar in Rage Against the Machine or Audioslave, Tom Morello’s solo material as the Nightwatchman shows a different side of the politically-charged guitarist. The Nightwatchman began with Morello taking center stage, singing with a smoky, almost Johnny Cash tone whilst strumming away on his acoustic guitar. He has since evolved the one-man revolution into a band of his own known as the Freedom Fighters Orchestra.
With the addition of this band, the Nightwatchman has progressively incorporated more electric guitar into the mix, allowing Morello to go back to his roots while still maintaining his new persona. He now has a full arsenal of songs at his disposal, from the acoustic strums and sing-a-long melodies of “The Road I Must Travel” off his first album to the heavy, electric F# riffs of “It Begins Tonight” from his latest album, World Wide Rebel Songs. If you’re up for some folk music, with a tinge of electric guitar fury, swirled in a molotov cocktail of politically-charged anthems, the Nightwatchman is exactly what you’re looking for.
— Ian Birnam
Jack White is a musical god. He’s written songs like “Seven Nation Army,” that get our generation banging their heads with the mere mention of a bassline. He’s turned the punk aesthetic mainstream, with his pitch black locks and velvet black blazers. He’s even built a guitar out of woods scraps and a coke bottle in a documentary that he starred in.
Best known for being the singer-songwriter of The White Stripes, Jack White has also headed The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather. Now, he’s on his own with only his sass, sex appeal and Satan behind him. His first solo album, Blunderbuss, debuted this past April, confirming that the success of his past projects wasn’t just a fluke. He also confirmed that he’s better off alone, as Blunderbuss was the only album he’s been on to debut on the American charts at number one. Threaded together by White’s idiosyncratic lyrical style, the album is a solid and accessible piece of bluesy rock ‘n’ roll with an irresistible Southern tinge. Live, White’s bad-ass magnetism will have boys sweating, girls stripping and everyone screaming along.
— Sarah Burke
Thee Oh Sees
John Dwyer and his band Thee Oh Sees will be on their home turf this weekend. Hailing from San Francisco, the psychedelic garage outfit will have no problem filling every second of their compact 40-minute set with intensity. Very few of those who will be recording Outside Lands sets on their iPhones were around during the Bay Area’s Summer of Love in 1967, but they’ll get a taste of it early Saturday evening at the Panhandle stage. For those wondering what they sound like, allow me to whet your appetite: take Kinks-style pre-punk garage rock, combine it with a little Jefferson Airplane trippiness, and top it off with some Ty Segall urgency. Now that’s a band that deserves to play under a Golden Gate Park sunset.
— David Bradford
After first coming out with Silent Steeples in 1996, Dispatch has grown beyond acoustic guitars and into one of the most unique bands to be playing Outside Lands this week. Mixing elements of folk, blues rock, funk and everything in between, it’s hard to label the band strictly to any one genre. The trio composed of Chad Urmston , Pete Heimbold and Brad Corrigan all share vocal, guitar, bass, percussion and vox duty in a stunning display of musicianship. If it feels like each song was written by someone of a different style than the last, it’s because that’s exactly what it is. “Everyone’s style is so different that it makes it feel like there’s more than one band in this band,” Heimbold said in a phone interview with The Daily Californian this past weekend.
Although the band went on a hiatus back in 2002 — with the exception of a couple one-off shows throughout the years — they reformed in early 2011 and have since embarked on a nationwide tour. After releasing their self-titled EP last year, Dispatch has a new, full-length album, Circles Around the Sun, coming out later this month, Heimbold shared his thoughts on the band’s reformation: “We got together at my apartment and we were just playing songs. It occurred to us that we had more in us than just one show,” he said. “Everyone had been writing a lot, and we were ready to put out more music.”
Those attending Outside Lands will get a taste for the new record, and fans of Dispatch’s previous records can expect a heavier tone to the album. “Some of the songs were in the vein of our record Who Are We Living For? in the sense of having a rock vibe,” said Heimbold. Keep your ears open for the reverb-rich vocals, catchy, distorted riffs and a well placed acoustic guitar placed somewhere in the mix, as Dispatch promises to be one of the most diverse, instrument-hopping bands at Outside Lands.
— Ian Birnam
To recall a line from “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” music festivals sometimes seem like a dose of clap — “before you arrive is pleasure, but after is a pain.” Thankfully, the several alcoholic beverage stands at Outside Lands will ensure that this pain is subsided, if only temporarily until the next morning. I don’t think I need to emphasize the benefits of wine and beer. Instead, I’m just going to list a few features that make the wine and beer of Outside Lands particularly phenomenal. One, Golden Gate Park isn’t that far away from Napa. So, that means not only will there be some of the best wine available, but lots of it — 39 options to be precise. Same goes for beer with more than 15 vendors serving up some sweet, refreshing sustenance. Because, if you’re going to crowd surf, you might need some liquid courage. If you’re Sarah Burke, resident Arts writer (see: her blurb), this plentiful Bacchanalian bounty may provide just the confidence needed to speak with Jack White and/or jump him. Either way, you can’t go wrong. If you’re over 21, Beer and Wine Lands are the places to be.
— Jessica Pena
For San Francisco-based electro-pop trio Geographer, Golden Gate Park is most likely familiar stomping ground. In fact, their music would be the perfect soundtrack for a bike ride through the park on a sunny day — if sun existed in SF. The band’s bright sound stacks layers of energetic synth beats atop cello melodies and charismatic vocals to produce some of the catchiest pop music to be at Outside Lands.
With a sound most easily compared to that of hipster darlings Passion Pit (an Outside Lands headliner this year), Geographer’s set will offer even more musical body, with their drumline building a fuller sound and their lyrics offering actual meaning. Both bands came out with new albums this year. While Passion Pit’s Gossamer didn’t quite live up to their debut Manners, disappointed fans should make sure to go local and get up close for Geographer and their new album Myth. While their debut LP offered songs like “Kites,” that are so danceable and cheerful that they could brighten any fog-filled morning, their recent Myth offers more mature, groovier sounds while remaining catchy.
— Sarah Burke
Let’s face it, the Barbary has never been considered a popular highlight at Outside Lands. However with Adult Swim and Nerdist sponsoring the vintage circus tent this year, the festival has booked numerous widely recognized comedians. David Cross, Neil Patrick Harris and Reggie Watts are just a few of the acts performing throughout the weekend.
While I don’t need to tell you who Cross, Harris and the like are, there are some names further down the list that are also well known, including David Koechner. Upon glimpsing the smiling mug of Champ Kind on the screen, I was reminded of how many roles the actor/comedian has played over the years. In addition to playing the sports anchor with a secret — but not really — man crush on Will Ferrell’s character Ron Burgundy in “Anchorman,” Koechner briefly appeared on “Saturday Night Live” as well as “Talladega Nights.” If you see Koechner, you may be in store for a variety of activities: a little chicken, maybe even some sex. There may even be a “WHAMMY!” or two if you’re lucky enough.
— Ian Birnam
Tame Impala’s Saturday afternoon set is an absolute must-see. Though the band provides just as many pleasing guitar riffs as their Australian countrymen, AC/DC and Wolfmother, they are more compelling and original than both of them. Sure, their songs harken back to late ’60s, early ’70s psychedelic stoner rock, with plenty of familiar sounds of that era, but the way they execute them is fresh and unique. Their 2010 debut Innerspeaker dazzled with its swirling guitars, dreamy vocals and expertly produced soundscapes, setting the stage for a promising sophomore effort, Lonerism, which will be released next month. On the band’s website, frontman Kevin Parker said that Lonerism would incorporate “an expanded sonic palette, more emotional songwriting, and more pronounced narrative perspective.” Tame Impala already sounds like a band well beyond their years, so how they can expand their sonic palette even further is beyond me, but we’ll take his word for it. We’ll have the exciting opportunity to see (and hear) for ourselves on Saturday.
— David Bradford
You won’t find the Brooklyn-based electropop band Tanlines high up on the lineup for this weekend’s festival. When compared to heavy headliners like Metallica, Jack White and Neil Young, this duo — comprised of percussionist Jesse Cohen and guitarist/vocalist Eric Emm — may not have the sonic bombast or name recognition, but they certainly have the kind of relaxing, summer sound perfect for an afternoon at Golden Gate Park. Their debut album, Mixed Emotions (released this past March), strikes an ideal and refreshing balance between the New Order-esque synthpop of the 1980s and the more recent, tropical sounds of bands like Vampire Weekend.
It’s a refreshing combination and one that translates well into studio albums. The test for Tanlines this weekend will be whether they can pull off their polished sound at a massive, live festival. To be sure though, there will be no noticeable difference as their crisp beats and soothing sounds lull you into what is left of summer bliss.
— Jessica Pena
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