They came. They saw. They most likely got cold due to all the fog. Our arts staff, Sarah Burke, David Bradford and Ian Birnam recap the best of Outside Lands 2012.
Passion Pit played just as the sun was setting. Behind them glowed the orange and pink watercolor blend of the album cover for their recent release Gossamer. Two hugging figures reached to the sky, pointing to a balloon floating into the distance. The five-person electro-pop band from the East Coast began their set with their newest single “Take a Walk,” which started the crowd’s continuous bouncing. Famous for their ridiculously catchy and upbeat pop tunes, Passion Pit showcased their new album while threading in hits from their popular debut. While their new songs had the crowd grinning, there was obviously more excitement emanating from the bubbly audience when old hits like “Moth’s Wings” were being played. Unfortunately, the dreaded festival outdoor equipment got the best of the band quite a few times throughout their set, as their vocals kept fading in and out. Luckily, the audience was more than happy to sing the words for them. By the time Passion Pit closed with their prized glory “Sleepy Head,” darkness had descended upon the festival grounds and the electro-angelic vocals rang crisp into the cool air above the clapping crowd.
— Sarah Burke
As Metallica appeared on stage, the performance could have gone two ways: they could either focus on material from newer albums such as Death Magnetic, or play a wide variety of songs from almost 30 years worth of material. As the band opened with the rapid-fire muted strings and shrill squeals of “Hit the Lights,” the first song off their first album, it became clear that the audience was in for a nostalgic dose of headbanging. The night continued in an old-school fashion, as fan favorites such as “Master of Puppets” and “Enter Sandman” were mixed in with tracks from their earlier albums such as “Ride the Lightning” and “Orion.” Metal concert theatrics? You bet. Everything from pillars of flames spurting out during “Fuel” to bright explosives firing off to the intro of “One.” Cheesy? Maybe. Ridiculously metal and totally justified? Definitely. Stage effects aside, the band can still put on a thrashing, mosh-frenzy show, even if they’re all almost fifty. With the last notes of closer “Seek & Destroy,” bleeding the ears of the roaring crowd, Metallica affirmed their reign as the metal kings of the Bay Area.
— Ian Birnam
The amount of talent exuding from Andrew Bird is unbelievable. It’s almost too good to be true. As a classically trained violinist, accomplished singer, and generally good-looking guy, Bird already has a lot going for him. Considering all of that, combined with his impeccable songwriting ability and easy-going nature, and it was no wonder that his set on the Sutro stage was a highlight of the weekend. Except for a period of about three minutes, when a burrowing gopher distracted from “Eyeoneye,” the audience was engaged and appreciative. The pastoral setting could not have been a more fitting backdrop for Bird’s unique brand of rock, pop, and folk. Violins and whistles filled the cold air as Bird played earthy tracks from his excellent new album Break It Yourself. “Let’s bring an ‘old-timey’ feel,” Bird said, as he motioned two of his bandmates over to stand close to him. Gathered in a circle, with one on string bass, another on acoustic guitar, and Bird plucking his violin, the band played “Give It Away,” charming the crowd with its country folk aura. Sitting on the hill, listening to Bird’s pitch-perfect vibrato and watching a master at work, was simply a sublime experience.
— David Bradford
Sunday afternoon at the main stage, Jack White proved who’s boss. Picking up a baby-blue electric guitar that matched his suspenders, he began with “Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground.” Although the beloved White Stripes song got the crowd going, from then on he stuck mostly to his recent solo album Blunderbuss, and understandably. While his earlier music rings with nostalgia, a live performance of his solo material proved what he is truly capable of. His phenomenal guitar playing had as many jaws dropping as it did heads banging. Solo, he was even more mature and impressive than expected, vigorously executing complex compositions with seemingly no effort. But, he didn’t leave White Stripes fans completely in the dust. He made sure to include sweet, old favorites like “We’re Going To Be Friends,” although presenting a more complicated version, transposed for his back-up band. And, of course, he closed with “Seven Nation Army,” projecting each word like a battle cry to his massive militia of fans. And for those lucky few who caught it, he even played a surprise pop-up show in the woods.
— Sarah Burke
Massive clouds of glowing purple and blue fog waded through the treetops of Golden Gate Park on Saturday night above the stage where Sigur Ros played, similarly illuminated. Although fans were screaming across the festival grounds as Metallica thrashed away, the sound of the Sigur Ros crowd was only a peaceful humming. The poignant melodies of the Icelandic post-rock band known for their epic-yet-minimalist arrangements seemed to evaporate into the air and float atop the swaying crowd with the fog. Behind the band, a screen lit up with soft imagery like stars reflected in puddles and a naked swimmer underwater, perfectly complimenting their ethereal sound.
Although Sigur Ros is famous for singing in “Hopelandic,” their own incomprehensible language, lead man Jonsi’s vocals hung heavy with emotion, open for each listener’s personal interpretation. While the band made sure to play tracks from their recent release Valtari, they also included favorites like “Hoppipolla.” In the end, though, all of their songs strung together into an exquisite lullabye that felt like a collective embrace from the hundreds of strangers standing in the dark around you.
— Sarah Burke
Stevie Wonder’s classic soul provided a stark, but welcome contrast to the usual Outside Lands menu of rock & roll and indie pop. Though the demographics of the audience were assuredly different from that of most Stevie Wonder shows — the number of top-ten hits to his name (over 30) was definitely larger than the average age of festival attendees (under 30) — the whole crowd was dancing enthusiastically throughout the entire set. Age seemed to have no effect on Wonder’s voice; it soared and soothed just as immaculately as it did 40 years ago. Wonder’s interjections were just as entertaining as the music, including a plea for “harmony” in re-electing Barack Obama (keeping in mind that he loves Mitt Romney “because God says to love everybody”) and an impulse to lead the crowd in singing “making children is good.” As the timeless classics just kept coming — “Signed Sealed Delivered” gave way to “My Cherie Amour” followed by “Living for the City” — it was impossible not to marvel at Wonder’s incredible career. With good vibes thicker than the Golden Gate evening fog, Wonder provided a perfect end to an amazing weekend.
— David Bradford
Although the crowd began on the smaller side at the beginning of his set at the Outside Lands Music Festival, Tom Morello had the entire meadow filled to the brim by the end of his show as the Nightwatchman. There wasn’t a side of Morello that didn’t come out during his performance, as the crowd got a taste of his soulful acoustic melodies, his experimental riff flurries and everything in between. Combining the best of both his guitar styles, Morello riled up the crowd with a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” building up from rhythmic strums into a searing electric guitar solo, consisting of octave-jumping harmonics, his signature turntable-scratching effects and even some good old teeth playing a la Jimi Hendrix.
As if that wasn’t enough to excite the crowd, Morello invited audience members up on stage to sing along with him for his last song, “World Wide Rebel Songs.” As fans clambered over the fence, ignoring the security guards’ futile attempt at crowd control, Morello smiled and sang on as he proudly exclaimed that his one man revolution had become a chorus of world wide rebels.
— Ian Birnam
Beck’s second go around at Outside Lands started a little shakily, in terms of production value as well as content. Not only did microphones cut in and out and guitars provide unwanted feedback, but many of the first few songs didn’t translate well onto the stage. Beck’s renditions of tracks from his immensely popular, lively 1996 album Odelay, including “Devil’s Haircut” and even “Loser,” lacked a certain spark. The magic wasn’t quite there. But the set smoothed out and improved considerably as he eased into his more lush, psychedelic material. “Modern Guilt” and “Soldier Jane” sounded amazing, while “The Golden Age” sent chills down the spine in all its melancholy and aching beauty. After dedicating “Lost Cause” to late Beastie Boy Adam Yauch and briefly paying tribute to fellow Outside Lands performer Neil Young by covering “After the Gold Rush,” Beck picked up the pace once again, but this time with an influx of good momentum. One rocking version of “Girl” and one energetic jam session of “Where It’s At” later, Beck had the audience in the palm of his hand, just in time for some epic headbanging to the guitar riff of “E-Pro” to close out the set.
— David Bradford
The crowd waiting for Die Antwoord’s set at Outside Lands this past weekend was generally made up of two kinds of people. Of course, there were pumped-up fans of the rap-rave duo, ready to scream along to favorites like “I Fink U Freeky.” But there also seemed to be a lot of people who didn’t know any of their songs. What they did know was that they had seen the music video for “Enter the Ninja” when it swept the interwebz in 2009, and they wanted to see whatever was about to come on stage.
Yo-Landi Vi$$er and Ninja, the two members of Die Antwoord had a lot to live up to, considering their collection of bizarre and disturbing music videos that are cult favorites on Youtube. But the Cape Town-based duo exceeded expectations with their ridiculous stamina and stage presence. While the two emerged on stage in florescent orange track suits, they slowly stripped down until they were jumping up and down in their underwear screaming lines like “I rub my dick on expensive shit.” (Of course, Ninja’s were his signature The Dark Side of the Moon boxers, which don’t do much to cover up.) Needless to say, everyone left as a fan.
— Sarah Burke
Watching Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl perform is like a straight injection of adrenaline to your bloodstream. The man has so much energy and vocal stamina that you can’t help but jump around and follow suite alongside the singer’s fervent performance. The band played about four songs before Grohl took a breath to tell the audience that they planned to focus on playing, not talking.
Even though Grohl and company may not have personally talked with the fans much, they still brought the audience together by having them sing along to multiple songs, such as the catchy chorus of “My Hero.” Grohl even ran along the center barricades of the main stage, climbing up onto the framework next to the sound booth as he played directly next to ecstatic fans. Although the band chose to skip a few hits in favor of tracks from their latest album Wasting Light, the crowd didn’t stop bouncing around after the second song of the set. Fading out to the melodic, powerful chords of “Everlong,” the Foo Fighters’ short-but-sweet set proved to be one of the festival’s most satisfying performances.
— Ian Birnam
On the last night of Outside Lands, halfway through Stevie Wonder’s two hour set, hordes of festival-goers began migrating across the grounds. Some looked mildly ashamed, and some looked purely ecstatic to be devoting the last hour of their Outside Lands experience to seeing electro-idol Skrillex.
Undeniably the most well-known dub-step artist today, 24-year-old Sonny Moore didn’t even have to worry about competing with a musical legend for his audience. The long-haired DJ stood at the top of a gigantic, Transformers-esque pedestal with fog cannons on either side of him (as if they were necessary, with all of the fog filling the park.) As he began his beats, the massive screen behind him lit up, and never went dark for the rest of the set. Surreal images of space machinery, abstract geometrical forms, and epic sci-fi landscapes melted into each other as strobe lights flashed all around the stage and colored lasers shot through the fog above the crowd.
The entire audience moved in unison, grinding together like gears. In the end, everyone stood stunned for a moment. What a way to end the weekend.
— Sarah Burke