San Francisco’s rapid changes are well-documented. As rents rise and tech booms, the city is changing alongside its inhabitants, and the cultural and civic landscape once the dust settles is uncertain. Until then, the music will keep playing, like this past weekend at San Francisco’s biggest music festival, Outside Lands.
Outside Lands’ vintage aesthetic of fairy-light-filled forests, yards of fabric bunting and rustic Ranger Dave iconography provided an interesting contrast with the cutting-edge tech permeating the festival this year. Attendees who had scanned into the festival via electronic, waterproof wristbands — which could be loaded up with Bison Bucks for attendees to purchase items, in efforts to make the festival cash-free — could also enter a “digital detox” tent with a sign reading, “Get ready to say goodbye to all of your digital technology.” Or they could make GIFs of themselves from a series of snapshots in the Google tent.
At Golden Gate Park, as in San Francisco, the digital future has arrived — but does the future also have to mean $10 pints of Strongbow and $7 lattes?
Outside Lands was strong in its love for local musicians across the weekend, with Kehlani, Rogue Wave and Fantastic Negrito representing Oakland, and Vallejo’s own E-40 turning up unexpectedly on Saturday night with Warren G at the The House by Heineken.
San Francisco locals Third Eye Blind continued the hometown band tradition and ended its hour-long set strong Sunday afternoon with a David Bowie medley, complete with a 30-person choir donning Ziggy Stardust mullet wigs before closing out with “Semi-Charmed Life.”
Jazz-funk collective Con Brio, also from San Francisco, blew the crowd away on the Panhandle stage Saturday afternoon with its funk rhythms, thudding bass and lush brass instrumentation, carrying lead singer Ziek McCarter’s howls, screams and falsettos even higher above the crowd. Playing tracks from its newly released album Paradise, Con Brio was a standout of the entire weekend and a band the Bay Area should be very proud to call its own.
Dance ourselves clean
On Friday night, Beach House’s floating, fizzy melodies emanated from the Sutro stage, and LCD Soundsystem began the San Francisco leg of its reunion tour, quickly turning audience noise from anticipatory chatter into song.
As keyboardist Nancy Whang took her exquisitely wibbly solo in “Yeah (Crass Version),” the giant disco ball above the band began to rotate, the refracted light visualizing the shimmering, metallic joy in her keys, spinning out into space.
“That was cool. Seemed like y’all knew the words.”
— Chance the Rapper
Two white-haired men dropped molly three songs in as James Murphy repeated “I was there” on “Losing My Edge,” the band’s 2002 ode to taking part in a cultural moment. Thousands of fans got to repeat it with him, too — a particularly beautiful gift given that since LCD Soundsystem disbanded in 2011, when it seemed that they might never play together again.
Eight years since it headlined the inaugural Outside Lands in 2008, Radiohead was back. With a sample from Peter Rodis’ 1969 documentary on Nina Simone, the band opened up to raucous cheers from the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd. “I’ll tell you what freedom is to me: no fear,” Simone’s voice rang out as the band made its way across the stage.
It almost felt criminal to make a noise while they played, even if it was a cheer, a noise of love. “You’re gonna cry?” one man asked his friend as Thom Yorke poured his heart into a microphone during “Daydreaming.” “I’m gonna cry too, man! I’m right there with you.”
Thom’s frantic, body-folding energy was electric — Radiohead a storm of sound and his movement in the middle like lightning — before an encore featuring poignantly powerful “Nude,” quietly and gently settling in everywhere, like honey seeping through the cracks. Into the roaring crowd, Thom spoke just two words: “Uhm. Yeah.”
“Yeah. Yeah,” he continued, smiling. After a set like that, it was hard to find any other words to say.
Rolling into Sunday afternoon, Chance the Rapper brought a high-energy hour of hits such as “No Problem,” “Favorite Song” and his feature on Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam,” as a yellow smiley face balloon floated 30 feet above the crowd against the blue sky.
“That was cool. Seemed like y’all knew the words,” he laughed after “Summer Friends,” before rolling through his set and ending, appropriately, with “Sunday Candy.” With lyrics projected on-screen behind him like a giant round of karaoke, Chance conducted the singing crowd of tens of thousands like they were a choir, worshipping at his feet.
Waiting for Lionel Richie later that night, the ‘80s pop legend’s band jammed with an instrumental buildup, before finally, he bounced onstage with the word the crowd had been looking for: “Hello?”
Continuing with the festival’s bittersweet theme of remembering pop stars whose legacies outlive them, Richie took a somber moment during his lively set full of hits. “There is a song I want to do right now that I had the pleasure of writing with my dear friend, Michael Jackson. Tonight, I want to sing it with you,” he said before launching into “We Are The World.”
After all these years, Richie still sings it like he might really believe in it — and perhaps this year more than ever, it might do us good to sing it like we believe in it, too.