On Saturday, Hozier gave the most action-inspiring performance at Outside Lands and Childish Gambino attracted the largest audience in the festival’s history.
Childish Gambino: Biggest Ticket-Seller
Highlights of the Set: “3005,” “IV. Sweatpants,” “Redbone”
Stepping out in the iconic white-pants-and-no-shirt combo that signifies the current era of Donald Glover, Childish Gambino headlined the Lands End Stage to a crowd of almost 90,000. With the largest audience the festival has ever experienced, the rapper tried to put on his best performance — but he seemed to fall flat in energy as the night carried on.
Starting off strong with unreleased track “Algorythm,” Glover led the rhythm with a fluid energy that got the crowd excited (even if most people were unfamiliar with the lyrics). This energy mellowed as Glover transitioned into some of his calmer songs, but unfortunately, his drive never seemed to rise back up after this break.
The musician’s more laid-back songs, including “Summertime Magic” and “I. The Worst Guys,” were well received by the audience. But they seemed to wear out the legendary vocalist, who often took a seat and slowed down throughout the show. The switch from this speed into “II. Worldstar” and “Boogieman” was an especially tough transition. These required a high level of theatricality from Glover’s stage presence, a bar he didn’t meet.
“Have Some Love” brought a mix of soul and gospel to the festival weekend, and it managed to spur a positive crowd reaction regardless of its low popularity in the scheme of Glover’s oeuvre. The end of this song quite literally brought him to the floor, feeling every inch of the music with all that he could muster. At this, the audience went wild.
Glover seemed to appreciate the enthusiasm: “You guys have always been my second home,” he said. “I like doing these shows because I get to see each of you right in front of me.” He followed with a snippet of “III. Telegraph Avenue,” showing big love to the Bay Area.
Saturday was also notably the coldest day of the festival, with the sun never making an appearance and the fog seemingly the biggest fan of the day’s lineup. “It’s a little chilly,” Glover said, “but summer’s here.” This quip led into “Feels Like Summer,” during which Glover encouraged the crowd to hold up phone flashlights to light up the entirety of the venue.
Hearing this performance live was a very different experience from listening to the recorded track, in which the instruments sound more calculated and highly produced. The organic nature of the live show catered toward the personal aspects of going to a concert — making the huge crowds and long days worth it.
The performance of “This Is America” came at a somber time considering recent news of gun violence in the United States, but this was surprisingly never addressed onstage to pair with the message of the song. While Glover sang, the stage camera followed him at cinematic angles during the instrumental breaks. As the rapper took a seat and freshened up, viewers couldn’t help but notice how tired he looked onstage.
Glover has been saying for quite a while that he’s reaching the end of his music career, and this sense of burnout seemed to come out in his stage performance his Coachella performance back in April also received negative reviews. The Outside Lands performance almost exactly mirrored his set at Coachella, right down to the order of the songs. If this was your first time seeing Childish Gambino, the similarities to past performances were hardly noticeable, but otherwise, they made it feel repetitive.
It was the performance of old hits like “Sober,” “IV. Sweatpants” and “3005” that really showed the gems of Glover’s career over the past decade. Even though he didn’t perform a single song off of his first album Camp, he still provided fans with tracks to get nostalgic about. And even if Childish Gambino is getting ready to throw in the towel on his musical career, at least we got to enjoy his charisma while we can.
— Skylar De Paul
Hozier: Most action-inspiring
Highlights of the Set: “Nina Cried Power,” “To Be Alone,” “Angel of Small Death & The Codeine Scene”
Hozier’s Nina Cried Power possesses a certain fire, rooted in the grittiness of daily life, that makes it quite unlike the mellow overtures of artist’s previous records. The EP, the singer’s fourth and most recent, is a blatant decrying of modern injustices — especially those against Black individuals — and, ultimately, a call to action.
The titular track off the collection made for one of the most compelling performances of Hozier’s headlining Outside Lands set Saturday. The musician — lanky, long-haired, clad in black — raised a clenched fist in the air as he sang, “I could cry power, power,” the repetition fierce and heartening. Behind him played scenes of resistance: a young person’s freckled fists held together to display the words “Don’t shoot” in bold black marker, red life rafts cast ashore by refugees in flight, a flag displaying the message “Resist.” Hozier fostered such an air of determination that even the most disillusioned must have felt at least a flicker of hope.
The imagery of pro-Hillary Clinton signage and statements decrying gun violence felt notably American, showing yet another marker of just how much the Emerald Isle-based musician has penetrated the U.S. music scene — in March, he became only the fourth Irish artist to reach a No. 1 spot on the charts for Wasteland, Baby! In the cloudy enclave of Golden Gate Park, however, he provided a sweet if small reminder of his appreciation for his base — “This kind of hazy mist reminds me of home. It’s a good feeling,” he lilted.
A certain clean, ringing first note was what the audience was ultimately waiting for; when Hozier finally strummed the opening chords to “Take Me to Church” off of his eponymous album, the ensuing frenzy of excitement was immediate and seemingly insuppressible. His performance was fairly simple, no more remarkable than his previous numbers save for the vogue of the song. But it was a reminder that perhaps “Nina Cried Power” at its core doesn’t mark as large of a departure from Hozier’s earlier material as recent memory may suggest. While the numerous radio plays of “Take Me to Church” has earned its status as a casual party hit, the song’s music video playing behind Hozier was a reminder of the narrative that the artist himself originally advanced as a parallel to the composition in 2013 — one of forbidden love between two men.
We were reminded that Hozier has long strived for political commentary, though perhas never as directly as now. During his set, the musician also took the time to acknowledge his recent collaborators. He shouted out blues singer and civil rights activist Mavis Staples, with whom he collaborated on Nina Cried Power and who performed on the festival on Sunday, lauding her as “a hero.”
For all his high-minded musical creation, it wasn’t surprising that Hozier also managed to squeeze an existential musing into his hourlong set as the sun set over the park. The Wasteland, Baby! release “No Plan,” is about eternal darkness, he explained. The composition was motivated by astrophysicist Katie Mack and her research about the end of life, and light, on earth. It was a somewhat gloomy note, especially for the many very high audience members, but the song itself was easy on the ears, and the musician’s conclusion about the inevitable end of all that’s known was easy on the heart: “So don’t sweat the small things, I suppose.”
Hozier concluded a set that wasn’t only thought-provoking, but action-motivating with a “Thank you so much; I’ll see you again soon.” Indeed, he’ll be returning to the United States for his Wasteland, Baby! Tour in November — another chance to receive your own healthy dosage of revolutionary energy.
– Ryan Tuozzolo