The first day of Outside Lands saw some of the most emo, jam-worthy, electric and lean sets of the festival.
Best fit to play warped tour: Bartees Strange
Highlights: “Flagey God,” “Lemonworld,” “Boomer”
The music of Bartees Strange is punchy and frenetic, equally suitable for the setting of Outside Lands as it would be for the Vans Warped Tour.
Hot off the heels of his remarkable debut album Live Forever, the Washington, D.C.-based singer-songwriter started off the festival with an air-tight set at the Sutro Stage full of enough emo and indie rock energy to satisfy fans of either genre. Strange and his bandmates played a lively batch of songs that showcased a number of different musical styles, stirring up attention from a variety of early festival-goers eager to see what the band had to offer.
There were plenty of pleasant surprises. Popular Live Forever track “Mustang” made its way into the setlist early, with its galloping tempo and urgent melodies revving up the audience. Strange was all smiles, playing with so much spirit that it was impossible not to sense the collective excitement for a return to festivals and live music.
Breezing through his 45-minute set, Strange wove in performances of new music, which saw the artist switching in and out of rap cadences with ease. Songs such as “Weights” and the unreleased “17” helped the set’s personal themes of lost love and internal struggles ebb and flow alongside high-energy hype anthems. Strange’s take on The National’s “Lemonworld” was an unexpected curveball, forgoing the soft, warm buzz of the original and replacing it with cold, electrifying bursts of crisp guitars and a crashing chorus of wails.
The set concluded with “Boomer,” an undisputed high point. While the crowd wasn’t exactly packed densely enough for a mosh pit to break out, the Live Forever standout finished off Strange’s swaggered, high-octane Outside Lands performance with fists in the air and a sea of headbanging — a perfect taster for the day’s events.
— Vincent Tran
Most groovy: Khruangbin
Highlights: “Summer Madness,” “Time (You and I),” “Gypsy Woman”
Houston-based rock band Khruangbin was easily one of the best performances that took place at Outside Lands. The trio came onto the Lands End stage at 5 p.m., just as the fog finished rolling in and wrapped the surrounding area in a shroud of gray. With two disco balls glimmering above the stage and two of three members rocking nearly identical jet black fringes, Khruangbin truly seemed like a band straight out of the funkiest peak of the ’70s.
Khruangbin began with “Time (You and I),” loaded with ample bass and a funky, hypnotic beat. The band then slowly made its way to the pinnacle of the set, a captivating jam session packed with samples, covers and overall great vibes. Mashing up AC/DC’s “Back in Black” with a series of snippets from rapper MF Doom and ending with “Benny and the Jets” by Elton John, this jam not only exhibited Khruangbin’s talent in transitioning from song to song but also its affinity for playing off of one another as if extensions of the same entity.
Guitarist Mark Speer and bassist Laura Lee strutted around the stage like they were performing at Woodstock, the duo doing their classic sway as they played away. The band’s spectacular and dreamy cover of Kool and the Gang’s “Summer Madness” was also performed flawlessly, sounding not as if it was a cover, but their own song.
Apart from the music, Speer and Lee were dressed impeccably. Speer donned a sleek gray suit straight out of the ’70s, Lee rocked a chic denim two-piece complete with rhinestones and a gold fringe and both wore heeled gold boots. The show was both a treat to the eyes and ears to say the least. Khruangbin left the massive crowd in an ecstatic daze, playing music straight from the soul.
— Pooja Bale
Wildest stage personality: Remi Wolf
Highlights: “Electric Feel,” “Sexy Villain,” “Photo ID”
From the size of the crowd at the Sutro Stage on Friday, it couldn’t be more obvious that Bay Area artist Remi Wolf is on a hot streak. The local musician from Palo Alto was received in the midafternoon by a massive crowd flocking to witness her perform some of her viral hits as well as songs off her newly released LP Juno. Wolf arrived at Outside Lands with the charisma of pop star acts twice her size; to say that she graced the stage would be putting it lightly. She utterly commanded it.
The set was characterized by powerful vocals and lively funk-pop energy which the artist capitalized on from song to song. Wolf and her band, all colorfully dressed, gave physical performances, seemingly surrendering themselves to the rhythms. Center stage, Wolf frequently broke out into full-blown dance, undulating her body and feeling out the grooves. The confidence and sexuality exuded by her performance were as infectious as the frequently catchy music.
Throughout the set, the Sutro crowd was treated to an assortment of tracks spread across Wolf’s discography, from the bright and bouncy “Liquor Store” to slower jams such as “Rufufus” and “Liz.” But all hell broke loose when Wolf and her band switched into some covers. She pulled out the Gnarls Barkley classic “Crazy” as well as MGMT’s “Electric Feel,” two funk-heavy songs which her voice was perfectly suited for, and the audience seemed to lose it in unison. Wolf grew increasingly excited as the set raged on, igniting the incredibly receptive crowd in turn.
Juno highlight “Sexy Villain” presented an opportunity to highlight Wolf’s stellar vocal chops atop the song’s buoyant instrumental. By the time of closing song, the TikTok earworm “Photo ID,” it was clear that Wolf’s early stint at Outside Lands proved her as one of the biggest up-and-coming sensations and a must-watch at festivals to come.
— Vincent Tran
Most lean and mean: Flo Milli
Highlights: “Like That B—,” “I Am,” “19”
D—ks were up in the Outside Lands party the moment Flo Milli stepped on the Twin Peaks stage. Biting through a haze of San Francisco fog and a damp, dank crowd, the rapper emerged doing classic “Flo Milli s—.” In just 20 minutes, her short set served as a shot of electric energy straight to the keister.
Her stage setup wasn’t elaborate — with only a Mean Girls-inspired mood board projected behind her as she performed, Flo Milli knew she had to be the sole source of the night’s energy. It wasn’t by any means an easy feat to reinvigorate an aloof crowd still reeling from the daytime festival chaos.
Yet, once she dictated how the next tight set would go, every single person was screaming along with her and even overwhelming the booming bass. Flo Milli knows she’s absolutely fabulous and was benevolent enough to grace audiences with that fire at the festival — as she reminded the crowd during “Like That Bitch,” broke, ugly men and bad energy, be gone.
Bouncing in a bubblegum pink matching set, Flo Milli, the reigning queen of “fat camel toes,” initiated her lesson in brash authenticity by reminding everyone of their “bad b—” potential. Between performances, she would stir up the audience by relaying life lessons. “I want all the ladies to know that when they wake up, they are that b—!” she screamed before launching into track “19.” It was a reminder that despite her being only 21, her penchant for seasoned wisdom delivered in evenly metered, brash bars has already made its iconic impact. Closing out the show with “In the Party,” people of all ages in the crowd were in near hysterics, chanting “Flo Milli s—, ho!”. Trending fame may come and go, but being a bad b— is forever.
— Kelly Nguyen