Most festivals market themselves as being rock-oriented, and Outside Lands is no exception, landing Metallica and The Who as this year’s headliners. But in some ways, great pop music makes for fantastic festival fare — a fact made clear by Bleachers on the final day of the festival.
Jack Antonoff of Bleachers is one of the most prolific pop songwriters today, with writing credits not only on Lorde’s Melodrama but on the smash-seller “Brave” by Sara Bareilles and “We Are Young” as a member of fun.
Bleachers — known for the ‘90s-style pop embodied by the band’s 2014 single “I Wanna Get Better” — brought not only strong indie-rock musicianship to the stage, but a distinctly intuitive sense of what makes a crowd tick — including stopping a song to command everyone to jump on someone’s shoulders.
Bolstered by a set of instantly recognizable (even if you hadn’t heard them) songs, all of which were stadium pop anthems designed to be danceable, Antonoff leapt from one end of the stage to the other, endearing himself to the assembled crowd with each effervescent smile along the way.
Early in the band’s mid-afternoon set, Antonoff stopped to mentioned that Outside Lands was his favorite festival and what an honor it was to be there. One would generally write this off as typical city-based pandering, save for the fact that Antonoff had meticulously worked “San Francisco” into every conceivable location-based lyric in the set. San Francisco is four syllables — not a very lyrically smooth construction — but Antonoff worked things around in order to fit it in seamlessly, yielding roars of approval from the crowd.
Typical festival moves — e.g. jumping down onto the barrier with the fans — were accompanied by more heartfelt moments, such as when Antonoff brought his dad onstage to play guitar and sing on a track, or when he stopped the show to give ringing accolades (accompanied by solos) to each of the musicians onstage. One of those musicians was a saxophonist — always a plus in a live show.
Bleachers’ music is the type you know all the lyrics to — evidenced by the crowd’s unison chanting throughout — but it’s not necessarily the type you pour your heart into, which produced a palpable casualness with which the crowd consumed its music. Antonoff, despite this, managed to command the crowd without appealing to theatrical intensity à la Cage the Elephant — his goofy, inviting personality alone was enough.
Nevertheless, in a light, breezy sort of way, Bleachers’ set was one of the most purely enjoyable of the day, a chance to let loose and truly have a little fun before the festival closed its gates.