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Outside Lands 2019 Day 2: The Openers (Tierra Whack, Wallows, Phosphorescent, Better Oblivion Community Center)

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Skylar De Paul/Staff


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The second day of Outside Lands experienced the most exciting festival debut, the best throwbacks and the most potent dad energy of the weekend.

Tierra Whack: Most emotive

Highlights of the set: “Fruit Salad,” “Hungry Hippo,” “Gloria”

The Twin Peaks main stage was decked out in the iconic red and white of Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat in the Hat” when Tierra Whack exhibited newly minted greatness at her first ever Outside Lands on Saturday. Accompanied by the characters from Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham,” the set design was an apt backdrop for the Philadelphia rapper known for her lyrically loopy style and sense of whimsy.

During a statically charged 45-minute performance, Whack showcased much of her 2018 debut album Whack World, as well as more recent tracks. The Seussian stage and her red-and-white outfit complemented the fully realized visual aesthetic of the eclectic music videos that accompany the album. As she moved across the stage and into the audience between tracks, Whack took on a shimmery dynamism.

Whack World is a carousel ride of short, pungent tracks. With each one clocking in around 1 minute, the album is a series of brief glimpses into the artist’s fun-house imagination. Yet each of the 15 pieces is transcendent and has a fully rounded vision. This sense of world-building — imbued in her album and encapsulated in its title — was also carried into Whack’s set.

After a few tunes spun by Whack’s DJ and hype man, Zach Whack (including “Promiscuous Girl,” which garnered an exuberant audience response in line with the festival’s penchant for nostalgic covers), the rapper burst onto the stage and launched immediately into “Only Child.” She then, without pause, pivoted to “CLONES,” switching tone and rhythm at a lightning-fast pace.

The set as a whole was a collage of Whack’s work, jumping quickly from song to song with constant energy and little buffer time. Mirroring her album’s structure, Whack covered a staggering breadth of material while still giving each track its due and leaving room for the mutable atmosphere of a live performance.

Backed by the original, more singsong track, Whack punctuated the lines to “Gloria” with a new sense of pointedness. By lifting the ends of the verses in a sort of rhetorical questioning, she made the song less of a meditation on the singer’s own prowess and more of a full exhibition of her bravado. True to the song’s title, it was a statement of purpose for Whack, who initiated joyous mayhem in the jumping crowd with the shout-rapped refrain of “They say, ‘Big Whack, Big Whack, Big Whack, Big Whack’ / What’s up? / Why you wanna see me down? You should give up.”

Jeremy Cohen/Courtesy

Whack maintained energy and her signature affability throughout, adopting an affected vocal imitation for “Fuck Off” and faking an exit in the middle of “Hungry Hippo.” In the high point of the set, she deftly amped up the crowd for “Pretty Ugly,” which drew the biggest audience response with its affirming opening lines of “Don’t worry ’bout me, I’m doing good, I’m doing great, all right.”

In a brief moment of calm, Zach Whack initiated a break for the crowd to sing “Happy Birthday” to the artist, who rang in her 24th birthday the following day. All in all, it was the least the audience could do to commend the artist for her excellent performance at the festival — the icing on the cake of a red-and-white-striped debut.

— Camryn Bell

Wallows: Best throwbacks

Highlights of the set: “Scrawny,” “Pictures of Girls,” “These Days”

Wallows’ time to shine at Outside Lands started before the boys even finished their soundcheck. Singer/guitarists Dylan Minnette and Braeden Lemasters, as well as drummer Cole Preston, entered the scene with fans cheering them on as they set up equipment ages before the set began. The enthusiasm was telling: Playing the Lands End stage as part of Saturday’s lineup, the Los Angeles-based indie rock band roused the crowd with a mix of upbeat rock tunes and dream-pop melodies.

The members of Wallows, all of whom are no more than 23 years old, looked as if they’d just walked out of class before heading to their festival performance. Lemasters sported a cozy navy sweater on the foggy day; Preston, a vintage-looking Tim Hortons tee; and Minnette, a blue The Regrettes sweatshirt in support of his lead-singer girlfriend Lydia Night. The trio looked proud in front of the thousands of people.

The first song Wallows performed was, unusually, not one of its own. In a vintage rage, the group played a cover of “Blister in the Sun” by Violent Femmes that allowed the crowd to run wild. Halfway through, Lemasters serenaded the crowd with a delicate cover of “Blackbird.” The rest of the band took a step back for this one, letting the singer have his moment before throwing the sound fully back on to finish the rest of “Blister.”

Skylar De Paul/Senior Staff

After this solid introduction, the band began its performance of its own source material with “Treacherous Doctor.” Keeping the energy consistently up was no issue for the rag-tag group of movie-star musicians, who used their boy-next-door charm to leave the audience swooning.

Cute autumnal cartoons plastered the back screen during the performance of “Drunk on Halloween.” As Lemasters and Minnette paced around the stage playing their guitars throughout the show, Minnette used all his goofy edge to rile up the crowd and get everyone clapping.

More than a few times, Minnette gazed in awe as he looked over at the crowd. He said he had been to Outside Lands by himself previously to see Radiohead before Wallows blew up, but that, “Right now, this doesn’t feel real.” The boys also joked about Outside Lands’ newer policies surrounding marijuana, calling the festival the first “cannabliss”-friendly festival in the world.

To keep the covers rolling, Minnette led a haunting indie-spin on Lorde’s “Swingin Party” that led evenly into “Pleaser,” a Wallows original. Although the two songs have distinctly different energies, the tones of eerie softness and bouncy rock paired well together.

“Are You Bored Yet?” finished out the rosy set. And as the question was posed, it was clear that not a person in the crowd would’ve said yes.

— Skylar De Paul

Phosphorescent: Most dad energy

Highlights of the Set: “Song for Zula,” “My Beautiful Boy,” “Down to Go”

In a festival featuring performances from more than 75 musicians, it’s all but inevitable that at least a few will fall flat.

Such was the case with Phosphorescent’s set Saturday afternoon at Outside Lands’ peninsular Sutro stage.

It wasn’t for a lack of generative material that Phosphorescent, known as Matthew Houck offstage, floundered. Many of his selections for the evening came from the critically acclaimed 2018 C’est La Vie, his seventh studio album and the artist’s ode to the years following the release of his preceding collection, 2013’s Muchacho. C’est La Vie benefits from the artist’s recent encounters with a series of landmark events in his personal life: marriage, the birth of two children and a life-threatening blow with meningitis. The result is a collection of songs that are uncharacteristically upbeat for the Nashville-based musician yet also retain the same air of longing characteristic of his earlier releases.

This vein of less angsty fatherhood-inspired music, however, didn’t translate well under the limelight. His selections didn’t land comfortably with the majority-millennial, crop-top- and animal-print-pants-clad viewers who gathered. Some numbers came off as a bit too motivated by his young children, any metaphorical texture in the recorded material lost in live performance. “Around the Horn” felt strained as Houck strummed and swayed along onstage: “We go over the bridge, we go under the bridge,” he sang in what sounded oddly like a misplaced fairytale.

Skylar De Paul/Senior Staff

Houck did bring a notably well-wishing, wholesome energy to the park, advancing a front that one might characterize as reminiscent of a puppy dog. He opened with one of the friendliest greetings of the weekend — not a gruff “How we doing, Outside Lands?” or a subversion of an introduction altogether, but instead a simple, “Friends, how are you doing? It’s good to be here!” and a friendly wave.

The song inspired by his first encounter with his now-wife, the Australian musician Jo Schornikow, “New Birth in New England,” sounded like the tame cousin of “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” — a bright and simple narrative format with no mentions of scandalous affairs. And the number Houck introduced by proclaiming, “This is a love song,” was not a serenade of an unnamed love interest or even his wife, but of his son (“My Beautiful Boy”).

But the audience wasn’t one to appreciate these simple gestures of appreciation. The crowd was hungry for sex, blood, calls to action — stalwarts of music targeted toward their age group and themes that the acts that directly followed Houck at Sutro (Better Oblivion Community Center and Hozier) touched upon generously.

Phosphorescent, however, left these subjects wholly in the dark.

— Ryan Tuozzolo

Better Oblivion Community Center: Most harmonious duo

Highlights of the Set: “My City,” “Sleepwalkin’,” “Little Trouble”

With the first song of the duo’s Sutro Stage set, Better Oblivion Community Center offered a sharp contrast to the generally upbeat second-day atmosphere. Singing in clear harmonies and playing crisp chords as the late afternoon fog settled over the grounds, the group delivered the lines to “My City” to devastating effect: “This town is a monolith / This town is a crowded movie / This town is a depot, I come and go.” 

While not necessarily a direct commentary on its current locale, this intro to Better Oblivion Community Center ⁠— the project of singer-songwriters Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers ⁠— cut the overall bubbly fizz of the festival with bittersweet richness. That’s not to say that the group’s set, buoyed by strong guitar solos and percussive melodies, wasn’t upbeat. But it did bring forth a sense of gravitas that made it a standout performance of the entire weekend.

Better Oblivion recorded its self-titled debut in secret in 2019, and the songs retain the feel of a clandestine endeavor. The pair specializes in razor-sharp songwriting, which knicks at the wounds of heartbreak and loneliness in precise fashion. It’s deeply personal music, material that’s very clearly founded in the particular bond between the two artists.

Early on in the set, the pair delivered “Sleepwalkin’,” off of its eponymous album, with sharpness as Bridgers sang out: “Why don’t you stay / If you’re going to leave your car here anyway? / Spend another summer shit-talking.” She extended out the last notes of the verse to intensely emotional effect, drawing cheers as upbeat kick drums contrasted with the more dour lyrics. 

Skylar De Paul/Senior Staff

Oberst and Bridgers displayed a studied balance of their respective styles — simultaneously complementary and distinct. Throughout the set, they deftly played off of each other, both musically and in their interactions onstage. Oberst was often louder during their shared vocals, but when audible, Bridgers’ voice melded perfectly into the harmonies, and she often rose clear and clairvoyant over the fray. Accompanied by an additional drummer, keyboardist and bassist, the duo worked in tandem throughout, passing the baton as they each led songs on vocals and guitar while also leaving time for solos from their bandmates. 

Most of the group’s songs lean toward the realm of indie rock, though tracks such as “Little Trouble” have a more typical country narrative structure — tales that Oberst and Bridgers brought to life onstage alongside rollicking, twangy guitars. The duo also took time for covers of each artist’s solo work, offering renditions of “Easy/Lucky/Free” from Oberst’s other project, Bright Eyes, and a strangely upbeat version of Bridgers’ mournful track “Funeral.” This cover of “Funeral” was the only misstep of the set, losing Bridgers’ deeply moving lyricism in a fog of jaunty guitars.

Oberst ended the set with a well-deserved chant of “Phoebe!” Bridgers took the hype in stride, climbing onto the drum set for the final notes of “Easy/Lucky/Free” and issuing a primordial clarion call of “There’s nothing” to close out the set. It was a stoic moment, and one that drove home the band’s ability to communicate emotion and intensity, making for an unforgettable set.

— Camryn Bell

Corrections: One of the images accompanying this article was incorrectly credited to @jermachoen04. In fact, the image is a courtesy photo from Jeremy Cohen.
Ryan Tuozzolo is the arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected]. Contact Camryn Bell at [email protected]. Contact Skylar De Paul at [email protected]. Tweet her at @skylardepaul.

AUGUST 19, 2019

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