The first day of Outside Lands saw the most emotive, in sync, saxophone-centric and floppy sets of the festival.
Counting Crows: Most emotive
Highlights of the set: “Rain King,” “Colorblind,” “Mr. Jones”
If Adam Duritz should ever consider a change in career, Broadway may be calling his name. The frontman of the Berkeley-based 1990s soft rock outfit Counting Crows has a known knack for potent emoting through his music — and a palpable stage presence that drives these numbers home for anybody lucky enough to see this flock live.
With his distaste for falsities and overenthusiasm, Duritz would be an unlikely starring man. On Friday at the Twin Peaks stage, he blundered onstage without any fanfare, clad in a black T-shirt and a leather jacket and chewing gum nonchalantly, as if he were beginning a routine rehearsal instead of performing for one of the biggest music festivals on the West Coast. He barely peeked out from behind his clump of unruly (fake) dreadlocks before launching, with clear and careful enunciation, into the desperation of “Round Here.”
But despite his apparent composure and grumpy air, as demonstrated during this set, Duritz’s ability to channel authentic feeling is unparalleled when he finds his groove. Throughout the set, he tapped his chest, lifted his open hands to the sky and even seemed to be wiping tears from his eyes at some points.
Many of Counting Crows’ compositions can be boiled down to a few essential characteristics: nostalgia and longing for home, memories of a lost love (a girl named Maria, Amy or Andy), tragedy and a heartbreaking beauty.
“Round Here” was an apt choice for an opening number, touching on each of these key components that define most of the band’s work. The piece also showcased what the gathered crowd would come to see as some of the preeminent highlights of a Crows live performance: Duritz’s unyielding, wild earnestness with each lyric; the heated passion in each of drummer Jim Bogios’ beats; and guitarist David Bryson’s contagious grin and unyielding focus.
As the set continued, Duritz led the band seamlessly through hits, offering a sense of the different stylistic niches in which the band has dabbled. “Mr. Jones” provided even the most casual of fans the opportunity to sing along to the Crows’ 1993 pop rock hit; during “Colorblind” Duritz slumped his shoulders, hands in his pockets, as he gazed emptily into the distance; and “Miami” provided the opportunity for the band to prove its rock ‘n’ roll mettle.
“Rain King” was perhaps the most clear-cut demonstration of how the band had attracted such a wide range of viewers (young and old) for this performance. In Duritz’s appeals — “Mama, mama, why am I so alone?” — there was clear evidence of the sort of fear and longing to which anybody could relate. If everybody hadn’t already been on their feet at the beginning of the set, the performance would’ve warranted a standing ovation; and perhaps, years from now in a theater, the same songs will.
– Ryan Tuozzolo
The Neighbourhood: Most in sync
Highlights of the set: “Afraid,” “Daddy Issues,” “Warm”
A familiar upside-down house glowed in black and white on the Lands End stage Friday when The Neighbourhood took the stage. As the Newbury Park bad boys began to play, bringing their brooding sounds and killer style to Outside Lands, fans screamed bloody murder — and kept going for almost all of the performance.
Fueled by the cheering, lead singer Jesse Rutherford and guitarist Zach Abels used the expanse of the stage to perform, especially standing out during “Afraid” when they began interacting more with the crowd and using the space. While Abels strummed with pensivity, Rutherford provided a foil with his charming stage presence, tattoos and gritty sensuality.
Playing the main stage of Outside Lands can be an intimidating feat. As the group seamlessly transitioned into “You Get Me So High,” the audience could feel Rutherford’s nerves. In the first 15 minutes of the show, the singer’s voice fell a bit flat and he seemed reserved in his motions. This lull was short-lived, however, as he gained momentum with performances of “Prey” and “Paradise,” seeming to start feeling more comfortable in front of thousands of people.
The band, especially Abels, took the challenge of such a large audience with ease after the initial shock wore off. Gravitating toward one another both physically and in sound, the group members were cohesive and forcible in joining together to fill the stage.
Abels and bassist Mikey Margott were especially in harmony with each other, their synergy especially apparent in “Void” as the two played synthesizers in perfect unison. While a lot of the magic happened toward the back of the stage, Rutherford’s magnetic personality brought fans to their feet — ecstatic screams could practically be heard for miles as the singer loosened the buttons on his eye-catching leopard-print jacket.
The band went back to some of its older hits toward the end of the performance, playing “Wires” for all the fans who have been around since 2012. Since the recorded version has notable layers of vocal distortion, the live performance sounded peculiarly organic and grainy.
Even though the crowd screamed “Play ‘Sweater Weather’!” throughout the entire show until the band actually did, the evident strength of The Neighbourhood’s newer songs showed that the group has grown and evolved since that first album. The set ended with “Stuck With Me,” which Rutherford said is “about me and these guys,” motioning to the rest of the band. The band may be constantly evolving, but if there’s anything that stays consistent with these musicians, it’s the tight-knit bond and unfaltering good music that keeps people coming back.
– Skylar De Paul
Masego: Most saxophone-centric
Highlights of the Set: “Tadow,” “Queen Tings,” “Prone”
The saxophone has, historically, not been designated as the sexiest instrument. It’s been relegated to meme-ery and band geek-ery, often considered at most a jazzy sidekick.
But during his Friday Outside Lands set, Masego deftly elevated the woodwind to new heights, imbuing it with a rare swagger and gravitas in a showcase of the instrument’s (and his own) musical range. As the opening notes of his saxophone-heavy “Tadow” rang out, throngs of people came peeling down the hill into the Sutro gulley, racing to attend what would be an expertly crafted set.
As the pioneer of “TrapHouseJazz,” a genre of his own creation, Masego fully incorporated elements from each of those styles in his selected tracks. Behind a pair of rounded sunglasses that blocked out the early evening light, he was cool and collected throughout, sifting through many of the best tracks off of his 2018 release Lady Lady.
Alternating between vocalizing, playing the saxophone, dancing and beat-making, Masego gave each track its full due. He oscillated between slower, slinkier songs and more upbeat selections: “Queen Tings” drew a raucous response from the crowd with its simple refrain of “She gone pull on me / Pull like weed / Entice me,” as did “Prone,” with its echoey percussive intro. Justin Timberlake’s “Señorita” was given new life under Masego’s hand as he played off of the crowd’s reaction to the nostalgic track while offering room for interpretation with the artist’s more jazzy repertoire.
Time after time, where any other artist could have come across as corny or cringey, Masego somehow pulled off various Casanova-esque stunts — such as pulling out a rose to wave around during his performance of “Wifeable (Demo 3)” (dedicated, of course, “to the ladies”). He also took a moment to commend an older woman twerking before launching into “Old Age,” his ode to that fact that, apparently, “Old age don’t mean nothing to me.”
Masego allowed for numerous solos throughout the set, for both himself on the saxophone as well as the other instrumentalists and vocalists onstage. The longer musical sidetracks, rather than being indulgendent exhibitions, were well-placed and well-thought-out showcases of each performer’s talents. There was an easy back-and-forth between everyone onstage, allowing the songs’ live performances to expand on their well-known recorded versions. Masego also frequently engaged the crowd through call and response, playing off of the onomatopoeic back-and-forth to add another layer to his tracks.
With “Navajo” as his final song, Masego slowed down the energy of the set, tempering the sultry energy with a last balladlike croon. Ending with saxophone in hand, he concluded his Outside Lands appearance with a return to the “Tadow” refrain from the beginning of the set, making for a perfectly rounded-out performance.
– Camryn Bell
Still Woozy: Most floppy
Highlights of the Set: “Lucy,” “Wolfcat,” “Cooks”
The sun was high and the crowds were sweaty on the first day of Outside Lands. Tucked into the Sutro Stage for an early afternoon slot, Oakland-based artist Still Woozy helped kick off the festival with an energetic but unrefined set, a frenetic whirl of floppy ankles, thumping drums and rolling shoulders. Though the act consistently matched the energy of the still-energized, early-first-day crowd, it didn’t quite bring the musical chops to level with the rest of the festival’s lineup.
Leaping and bounding onto the stage, Still Woozy — the project of Sven Gamsky, who was joined by a drummer and guitarist — kicked off the set by stirring up the audience with some generic clap-clap-claps and goofy dancing, which was a constant source of yelps and woo-hoos throughout the performance. This entrance set the tone for the set as a whole: It was brimming with good-natured energy and inherent panache, but paired with a so-so musical performance.
Following the musicians’ exuberant debut onto the stage, Still Woozy launched into the beachy, breezy “Lucy.” Mired by a too-low mic, the song didn’t achieve its full potential as a festival-worthy banger, but the group maintained energy with continued crowd engagement and dancing. The trio’s moves ranged from “Fortnite”-like stock moves to actively grinding on each other — all to the repeated delight of the crowd.
Starting out with this tune (decidedly the artist’s most well-known track) helped buoy the set in these initial moments, but it lost its fizzle as it progressed. At one point, Gamsky shouted, “You ready for some bass?” only to have the bass be completely drowned out for the entire track. Similarly, the band’s “punk song,” “What the Fuck Are You Gonna Do,” was gummily fangless. Tracks “Wolfcat,” “Vacation” and “Cooks” were all were serviceably boppy, but they lacked in anything musically memorable.
But despite all these missteps, throughout the set the audience members were enamored with the performance, consistently clamoring toward the stage. As the set went on, however, their enthusiasm was likely the combination of both excitement and attempts to occupy the slight sliver of shade cast by the stage itself.
In an odd move, midway through the set, the band covered Jeremih’s “Oui,” a song “near and dear,” a band member said, to Still Woozy’s heart. It was a nostalgic gimme for the festival crowd, but the band’s interpretation was questionable at best. Lacking any of the inherent sexiness of Jeremih’s original track, the song came off stale, breathy and offbeat — a flat Diet Pepsi version of the original.
Toward the end of the set, the group members earnestly thanked the crowd, testifying to their local roots with thank-yous to their parents in the audience, shoutouts to Oakland and a sweet congratulations to a brother who recently got married. But for all the group’s commendable exuberance, Still Woozy still has a long way to go before matching its own energy with some musical chops.
– Camryn Bell