On the final day of Outside Lands, performers brought on performances worthy of the titles of slowest burn, most stylish, strongest groove and most tritely eloquent.
Slowest burn: Kacey Musgroves
Highlights of the set: “Slow Burn,” “High Horse,” “Lonely Weekend”
At her Coachella performance last year, Kacey Musgraves issued the “yee haw” heard ‘round the world — or, to be more specific, the “I didn’t say fucking ‘yee’ ” heard ‘round the world. Though the chant didn’t quite work in that case, Musgraves’ Outside Lands set provided redemption, a yee for every haw as the crowd would respond in turn to Musgraves’ call and response crowd work.
As one of the vanguards of country music’s resurrection from the bro-y, beers-boobs-and-broncos cornball machine of the last few decades, Musgraves brought her perennially refreshing sound to the Lands End stage for a slick and stylish showcase of her latest album, the Grammy-winning Golden Hour.
Beginning with the ambient notes reminiscent of “Oh, What a World,” Musgraves arrived on the gargantuan stage to raucous applause. Guitar in hand, she immediately launched into “Slow Burn” as the crowd overcame its initial fervor to melt contentedly into the song, taking in stride its chorus of “I’m all right with a slow burn / Taking my time, let the world turn.” It was a fitting mood for the midday set, as the sun crept high and the exhaustion accompanying the festival’s third and final day threatened to sink in.
Ending the opening song with a stoic glance at the sweep of the audience, Musgraves kept up the contemplative mood, balancing out the lackadaisical pace of her slower songs with consistently excellent vocals and live compositions. Nothing about the performance was excessive, from the mod instrument setup to the kaleidoscopic images refracting in the screens framing the stages, and there was a sense of precision in each of the songs she performed.
Most of her chosen setlist comprised tracks from Golden Hour, including its titular track, which was slow and piercing as the actual light of day also started to hit golden hour. The earnest song is a tender ode to seeing the world through the rosy lenses of being in love, with a daydreamy energy to match — but one that was cut by Musgraves rewording the final line as “golden shower,” drawing laughs from the crowd.
At this point, the tone of the performance shifted from its honey-sweet stupor to a more upbeat mood, buffered with an extended instrumental intro to “Love Is a Wild Thing.” As the drums kicked up for the more country-country track, Musgraves started to move around the stage more, swinging the long microphone cord in rhythm with the twangy tune.
As nearly every other performer at the festival was wont to do, Musgraves offered up a nostalgia-bait cover — this time, a rendition of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” Stripped of its gold lamé disco digs, her interpretation was more minimalistic, getting straight to the point of Gaynor’s iconic self-love anthem.
Musgraves’ final two tracks were a final pairing of high and low energy: The penultimate “Rainbow,” offered a last moment of introspection before pivoting to the boppy “High Horse” with calls for everyone to “fucking jump.” And as the heavy bass of the song bounced the speakers, the crowd did so, ending the set on a jubilant high note.
— Camryn Bell
Most stylish: Leon Bridges
Highlights of the Set: “Bad Bad News,” “Beyond,” “River”
On Sunday, replete in a shining satin jacket and white cowboy boots — their tips pointing upward just so — Leon Bridges looked the part to deftly fill the Lands End main stage with panache. Like his music, the singer was stylish and sleek, exhibiting a triple threat of vocal prowess, musicality and dance moves that made for an engaging set.
Bridges’ music is rooted in both soul and 1960s R&B, with strong vocal progressions often based around a single guitar. On stage, however, the Texas-based musician was backed by a full band, adding new depths to the solo performer’s work.
Grooving into his discography, Bridges quickly asked the audience: “Can I play some blues?” After receiving an emphatic affirmative answer, he responded back with one of his tracks firmly rooted in the genre, “Mississippi Kisses.” With Bridges crescendoing the song into a frenzy, it took on a renewed energy in comparison to the more laid-back recorded version. The slinky, percussive “Bad Bad News” was another crowd favorite, also building into an extended outro that got audience members on their feet and moving.
Bridges’ afternoon set peaked as the sun began to crest over the stage, at which point he played the tender “Coming Home.” He left large sections of the chorus up to the audience to complete — which wasn’t difficult, as the enraptured crowd had already been singing along to nearly every song. This simple, sweet tune left many couples swaying together or dancing, a toning down from the more raucous settings of the rest of the festival.
The singer continued to turn schmaltz into sweetness with other romantic tunes, including “Beyond,” one of his most well-known songs. At this point, not only did the couples start dancing, but large swaths of the audience embraced whomever was next to them, up to the song’s lovestruck refrain of “O me o my I can’t explain / She might just be my everything.”
The dynamic between Bridges and his backing band was joyous throughout, as the instrumentalists played off each other in the ebb and flow of more rollicking and slower songs. With “River” as his final offering to the crowd, Bridges closed the set by picking up his guitar for the first time that afternoon, perfectly in tune as he strummed along and harmonized with his band. Like the singer and the set as a whole, it was a simple, stylish ending that left a sweet ring in everyone’s ears.
— Camryn Bell
Strongest Groove: Toro y Moi
Highlights of the Set: “Who I Am,” “Ordinary Pleasure,” “Girl Like You”
Toro y Moi is the musical gem of the East Bay, led by the talent of chillwave icon Chaz Bear. Hailing from South Carolina and currently living right here in the Berkeley area, the 32-year-old artist played the Sutro stage of Outside Lands’ Sunday lineup, getting the crowd fully funk-ready before Anderson .Paak’s following headline performance.
Opening with “Rose Quartz” from his 2013 album Anything In Return, his full band took the stage in a heap of strings and conga drums. The instrumentalists experienced a bit of technical difficulty with the drums at first, but it proved fixable after a brief lull in the show. “Rose Quartz” was a mellow intro for the set as a whole, but this lax style only built in energy as the music intensified and layers of sound hit the airwaves.
As soon as the drums picked up, the bass kicked in hard for “Ordinary Pleasure.” Bear took his place at his signature synthesizer, reading “TORO E MWA” on the back with a square peace sign. Each instrumentalist blended together like an artisan cocktail, setting the tone for a groovy night of dancing in the tree-lined area.
A shadowy mood peaked through in “Monte Carlo,” one of the artist’s more mellow and ballad-esque tunes. When the lyrics “Damn, East Bay really gets the heat” and “I’m done with the bridges” came through the speakers, listeners could see his Berkeley influence driving the messages of the songs.
“Who I Am” was one prize of the night, especially for a married couple in the audience that was seeing the artist live for the first time since they met at a Toro y Moi concert many years ago in Denver.
At the end of his set, Bear talked about how his first big show was 10 years ago at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco. “That show made me want to move here,” he said of his enchantment with the city. A decade later, after playing venues such as The Fillmore in January and the Greek Theatre just this summer, Toro y Moi can definitely look back and see the progress and hard work that led up to this Outside Lands appearance.
And just like that, the show ended on a high note with “Freelance,” sending everyone from the less-familiar listeners to the mega-fans swinging to the beat in a dance frenzy. With the progression over the year, Toro y Moi is only setting up to play an even bigger stage next time — and with the good vibes of this show, the upgrade is well deserved.
– Skylar De Paul
Most tritely eloquent: Nahko and Medicine for the People
Highlights of the set: “Dear Brother,” “Take Your Power Back,” “Love Letters to God”
Nahko Bear greeted the crowd with a high-pitched yelp, an “Aloha!” and an appeal to the Ohlone nation on whose land he and his audience had gathered upon. It was an apt introduction from a man with a melting pot of cultural heritages and an astute awareness for his place in the world — including those who came before and those who will come after us. Nahko’s set was jazzy and upbeat pop with a flair for positivity and social justice work — yet at the same time, in both message and sound, it was nongeneric.
Elegantly inked with with easy symmetries reminiscent of Hawaiian designs, Nahko doesn’t differentiate himself with mutable garments or an uncouth hairdo, but instead at the level of the flesh. It’s a telling aesthetic; the musician has long carved his own path. Nahko left his adoptive family as a teenager “in search of adventure and self-discovery,” as his website states. That was the beginning of what would manifest into his founding of Nahko and Medicine for the People, a vehicle not only for the frontman to come to terms with his own identity but also to promote care for oneself, others and the natural world.
Though gentle in his intentions and message, Nahko didn’t hold back in delivering a zealous performance Saturday. The group opened the set with “Nyepi” — named, ironically, after the Balinese “Day of Silence” — off the group’s 2013 debut album Dark As Night. The selection featured Nahko’s monotone vocal grill, reminiscent of the likes of Roo Panes, and a generic, bopping accompaniment; with its blunt appeals to self-betterment and divine powers, the piece wouldn’t be out of place in a religious youth’s camp.
Nobody in the audience, however, seemed to mind — this was what they’d come for. Viewers swooped and swayed about joyfully. “He’s so cute!” swooned a suntanned blonde; earlier, the young woman had also assured the security guards positioned before the stage that the coming set would change them and that there was a “reason” they’d been assigned this stage at this time.
Fateful occurence or not, Nahko made known his stalwart commitment to his vision for himself and his band, building upon an aesthetic of intentionality: “We are a big family on this beautiful turtle earth,” he intoned. “We must take care of each other and this beautiful earth. My prayer for today is that we continue to do that.”
These words were some of the most eloquent that left the singer’s mouth throughout his set; while upbeat and ambitiously inspirational, some of Nahko’s lyricism can veer towards a bit too on the nose, leaving too little up to personal interpretation. Many of these words were on full display Sunday: “If you wish to survive, you will find the guide inside” during “Aloha Ke Akua” or “Always be open to the path and the journey” from “Love Letters to God.”
But even if words left something to be desired, the language of instrumentation provided overwhelming clarity and plenty of substance. The most rowdy and rip-roaring moments of the performance occurred when Nahko’s backing musicians took center stage. Tim Snider proved that it’s possible to absolutely shred on a violin; Max Ribner trumpeted the crowd into a frenzy; and drummer Justin Chittams had no problems leading the band from the back of the stage.
Nahko and Medicine for the People made it clear that the group is a lot more than its front man. Precisely like the sort of community the band hopes to inspire, the band itself thrives with mutual respect and appreciation.
— Ryan Tuozzolo
Wildest fans: Denzel Curry
Highlights of the Set: “SWITCH IT UP | ZWITCH 1T UP,” ”Ultimate,” “SUMO | ZUMO”
“I want to sweat profusely, you hear me?” Denzel Curry said as he approached the crowd from the stage at the beginning of his Sunday set at Outside Lands. It was the sentence that set the stage for Curry’s tireless performance at Twin Peaks Stage. Fronting one of the craziest crowds of the weekend while wearing his own face on a T-shirt, the 24-year-old rapper stunned with his high energy and wild crowd control.
During the performance of “SWITCH IT UP | ZWITCH 1T UP,” a concerning portion of the audience was singing every word — considering how many times the N-word is present in the song and that much of the audience was almost definitely not Black. This is an ongoing problem at live shows, and it would’ve been compelling to hear Curry comment on the situation, as he knows the content of his own lyrics better than most.
All tensions aside, the performance of “BLACK BALLOONS | 13LACK 13ALLOONZ” was the biggest switch-up of the show, sliding out of the intensity of the previous song and into a lighter, less rap-focused tune. On this hip-hop track, Curry showed his melodic ability by actually singing the choruses rather than just playing the recorded track in the background, as many rappers who perform live do.
Throughout the show, it was always clear that Curry enjoyed interacting with the crowd — even when audience members acted out of line. At the end of “CLOUT COBAIN | CLOUT CO13A1N,” a rowdy fan threw a shoe onstage. After dodging the footwear, Curry called out and pointed to the person who made the toss, calling the move some “dumbass shit” but keeping a playful tone through the beef. And midway through “SUMO | ZUMO,” a pair of khaki pants flew into the air. Curry responded with a simple, “Damn, I fuck with San Francisco.”
But the set wasn’t all lighthearted hype. Curry said he wanted to dedicate a song to his friend XXXTentacion, which Curry hoped the late rapper could “hear from the sky.” Florida rapper XXXTentacion is controversial for his abuse accusations and his presence as a publicly violent figure. He passed away last summer at age 20 but previously lived with Curry while they were up-and-coming in the Florida rap scene.
The only bummer of Curry’s performance was the fact that the crowd didn’t know how to act when the rapper tried to choreograph a wall of death toward the end of his set — but the attempts at getting his fans engaged is more than commendable.
Before leaving the stage, Curry said, “You’re the only ones in the whole U.S. that aren’t afraid to turn up.” And considering how much he clearly loves performing in the Bay Area, his fans seem more than open to welcoming him back soon.
— Skylar De Paul
Ryan Tuozzolo is the arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].
Contact Camryn Bell at [email protected]al.org.
Contact Skylar De Paul at [email protected]. Tweet her at @skylardepaul.