riday boasted not only the most unreal and cathartic sets of the weekend, but also a selfie between a headliner and a stage crasher.
Most unreal: SZA
Highlights: “Broken Clocks,” “I Hate U,” “20 Something”
As a screen of fog descended and the lights went out, a roar rose from the tens of thousands thrilled to witness R&B phenomenon SZA.
The obvious star of the night, SZA was joined on stage by a slew of backup dancers against an extravagant set design — including marine paraphernalia, ropes strung across stage, a giant ship and an enormous lighthouse that would periodically shine its sharp spotlight onto the crowd.
To the opening chords of “All the Stars,” the lighthouse flashed a rainbow of colors as SZA appeared out of the fog like a deity donning a letterman jacket with an emblazoned S. Immediately, SZA’s chart topping talent radiated across her audience, and gave them absolutely no break from her stardom.
With no transition, the boppy beginning of “Supermodel” rang out spontaneously. Despite the thousands gathered for a glimpse of SZA, she somehow maintained an intimate performance, scanning the crowd and making individuals feel like she was singing directly to them.
Her performance was made ever the more personal through the small comments and stories she would tell between songs. Occasionally, it would be a simple proclamation such as, “We don’t give a f—!” before shaking her hips to “Broken Clocks;” other times, she’d share a narrative about her recent recovery from COVID-19, or how she wishes she could just feel like a “Normal Girl.”
At all times, SZA’s extravagant range was on display. Despite the difficulty of understanding every lyric on her records, SZA enunciated every single word during “Go Gina,” which was followed by a never-ending high note at the conclusion of “Normal Girl.”
Playing with her audience demonstrated how SZA is a true showwoman. Through “Love Galore,” she encouraged the audience to yell “love, love, love” back at her, and during “Drew Barrymore” and “Doves in the Wind,” SZA danced sensually to the red light circulating the stage while uttering her lyrics with intensity. SZA has a message about love and self-love, and she’s putting it out there truthfully, honestly.
To spectacularly end Friday night of the festival, SZA played almost every single one of her recently recorded tracks, from “I Hate U” to “Kiss Me More” to “The Weekend.” Even when San Francisco began to sprinkle with rain, SZA made sure to give Golden Gate Park the exuberant sendoff it needed to last all weekend.
— Katherine Shok
Most cathartic: Phoebe Bridgers
Highlights: “Motion Sickness,” “Chinese Satellite,” “I Know the End”
As the afternoon heat diminished into a dusky fog, Phoebe Bridgers took the Twin Peaks stage. Dressed in a delicately beaded, skeletally detailed suit, she appeared radiant beneath the darkening skies, and adoring fans gravitated toward her like moths to a flame.
Bridgers makes music fit for listening alone in one’s room, but when she gathers before thousands, it makes for a collective, cathartic experience. Her airy voice danced through the upper octaves on “Motion Sickness,” building into a resounding belt as she reached for the final notes. Between songs, her speaking voice proved deeper, her humor incisive. “Who has the sniffles right now?” she asked, tissue in hand. “Who has a complex relationship with their dad?”
Fans raised their arms as though in worship during “Chinese Satellite,” searching for answers in the opaque night sky. At the mention of “Tears in Heaven” during “Moon Song,” raindrops began to gently fall from above. The congregation joined in song for the beloved “Scott Street,” fans singing into the mic as Bridgers walked the border of the barricade.
Bridgers remained poised for much of her set, casting subtle smiles as she sang and played her guitar, but all let loose for the fiery, scream-laden “I Know the End.” Instruments twisted into cleansing chaos while the stage blazed in vibrant shades of red. As Golden Gate Park erupted with a cry, Bridgers dove into the crowd. Floating triumphantly over a sea of loving hands, Bridgers proved to have the most healing and heartfelt set of the night.
— Lauren Harvey
Most likely to deescalate stage crashing: Lil Uzi Vert
Highlights: “444+222,” “Wdyw,” “The Way Life Goes”
Although Lil Uzi Vert no longer has their forehead diamond, they’re still shining bright. The rapper brought an endless stream of frantic energy to Lands End, controlling their massive crowd with a single beat drop or a wave of their hand.
Hands waved and phones bobbed as Uzi leapt across the stage, prioritizing hyping up the crowd. Followed by a considerable security team, Uzi often ran down to the barricade to get closer to the thrilled crowd.
Dizzying background visuals swirled behind the rapper, and though the screen often read “no signal” with its intentionally glitchy aesthetic, the connection between Uzi and their crowd was stronger than ever. From a satisfying call and response during “444+222” to a shoulder shimmy during “Money Longer,” the rapper rarely lost steam.
“Even if you don’t know this, still sing it like you know it,” Uzi said through an auto-tuned mic with a smile; their audience came for one thing, to mosh, and Uzi knew it.
The highlight of the set wasn’t Uzi’s hype, however, but their affectionate understanding. At the opening beats of Playboi Carti collaboration “Wokeuplikethis*,” a fan managed to find their way on stage before being tackled by security. “Please don’t hurt him,” Uzi said instantly, turning to take a selfie with the stage crasher.
The ideal deescalation was heartening, and Uzi showed care in other ways, too — they frequently asked the audience to take three steps back, and at one point in the set, they passed a water bottle to a crowd member. Uzi’s hyperawareness was deeply appreciated, especially during a dense, mosh-y set with such a large crowd.
Breathless and beaming, Lil Uzi Vert walked offstage to Yung Glock’s “Neck On Froze,” their colorful aura lighting up Lands End in farewell.
— Taila Lee
Most willing to crowd surf: Del Water Gap
Highlights: “Distance,” “Alone Together,” “Perfume”
Before Holden Jaffe crowd surfed at the end of his set, he rode a wave of sweeping poignancy. The New-York-based musician, known popularly as Del Water Gap, melds watery loneliness with stormy intensity in his memorable live shows.
Jaffe’s acuity entranced the Twin Peaks crowd as psychedelic, incandescent fonts shimmered behind him and his band. The background’s whirling colorful whimsy contrasted his music’s harsher emotional honesty; he shifted from facing inevitable grief in “Hurting Kind” to the agonizing lust of “Perfume” with ease.
Sprightly yet blithe, Jaffe wandered the stage with conviction, hitting notes even while jumping emphatically during the choruses. He was beautifully buoyant, adorned with painted nails and neon beaded bracelets contrasting his black lace top and jeans. He sang about minor, intimate details — crosswords at breakfast, an ex’s new hairstyle — with bright grandeur.
Pausing for a moment, Jaffe recalled almost drastically changing his career (“No, but accountants keep the world turning,” he qualified) and thanked his audience for supporting his music. And indeed, Del Water Gap’s striking concert proved that his talent would have been wasted behind a bank counter.
— Taila Lee
Most free: Faye Webster
Highlights: “Kind Of (Type of Way),” “Jonny,” “Kingston”
Faye Webster, alt-indie icon and queen of being funny, brought sultry, nonchalant energy to the Sutro stage.
Webster’s saccharine vocals were perfectly complemented by the array of instruments packed on stage, including a violin, steel guitar and wind chimes rigged to the drum set. The artist circled the stage during “Kind Of (Type of Way)” before grooving without pause into “Right Side of My Neck.”
Webster isn’t the chattiest on stage, greeting the crowd with a simple “Hey, what’s up!” Her light and airy vocals sound even more enchanting in person than on record; mixed with the fog machine and pink and blue stage lighting, Sutro transformed into a superbly dreamy wonderland.
With polished transitions, Webster swept from “I Know I’m Funny haha” with a flip of her bangs into “Jonny.” Outside Lands learned that Webster is an avid listener of the Pokémon soundtracks with her surprise instrumental of “Lake” from “Pokémon: Diamond & Pearl,” before smoothly free styling into “In A Good Way.”
Throughout her set, Webster was intensely locked into the emotions of her songs, nodding along with the crowd at the ends of impassioned refrains. She concluded with a slowed-down version of “Kingston” to enormous cheers, reinvigorating Sutro with a lovely key change before waving goodbye.
— Katherine Shok
Most Gen Z: Role Model
Highlights: “Summertime in Soho,” “If Jesus Saves, She’s My Type,” “Forever&more”
Tucker Pillsbury, better known as Role Model, is no exemplar, but his Outside Lands set was a masterclass in Gen Z.
Pillsbury took the Sutro stage dressed in all black, his eyes covered by orange-tinted shades. Towing the fine line between confidence and cockiness, the 25-year-old remained a sight to behold. One moment, he was teasing his shirt upward to reveal the butterfly tattoo on his torso; the next, he was violently snaking across the floor. Balancing tacit self-awareness with uninhibited release, Pillsbury never quite revealed where he stood — he made serious and subversive look one in the same.
After debuting new song “Summertime in Soho,” Pillsbury jumped into fan favorite “Forever&more,” sweetly engaging with the audience as he sang of his “angel wearing plaid.” Running through the barricade and touching outstretched hands, he glazed playful sincerity over his upbeat performance. Pillsbury may not be the role model Gen Z needs, but he’s the one it’s been prescribed. And he’s ready to take the lead with his tongue out and his shades on.
— Lauren Harvey
Most merrily wholesome: Dayglow
Highlights: “Then It All Goes Away,” “Crying on the Dancefloor,” “False Direction”
Sloan Struble is giving wholesome chaperone at prom. Known as Dayglow, the artist combines peppy dad rock energy with the innocent friendliness of a 5-year-old who always carries a kazoo.
A massive crowd gathered for Struble’s bubbly talents at Twin Peaks, with ebullient kicker “Something” silencing incessant crowd demands for a BeReal notification. The cheery show may have been only 12 songs long, but its inflating glee was beyond infectious — when Struble smiled, the crowd couldn’t help but smile back.
Marked by groovy guitar transitions and galactic strobing noises, the show brought sonic whimsy to the late afternoon, and Struble’s natural ability to instantly brighten moods sparkled. In addition to happily performing hits from his own two albums, Struble delighted concert goers with covers of Lipps Inc.’s “Funky Town” and Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”
Struble’s exclamations served as quick but effective crowdwork: his call for “Prom, baby!” (“Crying on the Dancefloor”) shifted into “Let’s rock!” (“False Direction”). His other joyful whirlwind interjections — “Un, deux, trois!” “Oop oop!” — charmed as silly rather than out of place.
Toward the end of the set, the liquid blue dreaminess of “Can I Call You Tonight?” dissolved into the drawn-out bouncy synth of crowd-pleaser “Close To You,” showcasing Struble’s capacity to shift effortlessly from sorrow to joy. Dayglow’s shows foster more than positivity — they fuel escapism.
— Taila Lee
Most disillusioning: Oliver Tree
Highlights: “Placeholder,” “Alien Boy,” “Hurt”
Living meme Oliver Tree attempted to rock Lands End with his classic pink jumpsuit and platinum blond wig. Opening with “Placeholder,” Tree displayed his commitment to audience engagement by telling the crowd “you came to a singalong.” Launching into “Alien Boy,” Tree underwent what appeared to be an energy-shifting ritual as he marched across stage.
His occasionally harsh strings of expletives caught many members of the crowd off guard, but they initially didn’t detract from his set’s energy, as “When I’m Down” was met with cheers and even a crowdsurfer.
“All That” caused a small mosh pit to open up near the stage as well as random, uncoordinated explosions of energy from Tree. He said that he’d “fight anyone” with a bit of scripted aggression before encouraging Outside Lands to jump to “1993.”
Tree blurred the line between comedy and confrontational rudeness; he appeared to be at his wit’s end at Lands End during his final songs “Cash Machine” and “Hurt.” No one wants to see an artist vomit on stage before cussing out his fans for their lack of energy — apparently Outside Lands was “one of the worst crowds” Tree has had and San Francisco likely will be glad to see him never appear on a festival schedule again.
— Katherine Shok
Most sultry: The Marías
Highlights: “Calling You Back,” “Clueless,” “…baby one more time”
The world is The Marías’ stage and we’re just living in it.
As lead singer María Zardoya suddenly entered in a white swanlike dress, all of Twin Peaks danced along to “Calling You Back.” Standing against a red background emblematic of their album CINEMA, Zardoya gorgeously graced everyone’s ears with her angelic voice before greeting the crowd in Spanish.
Trumpeter Gabe Steiner had many moments to shine during “Déjate Llevar” and “Clueless,” vaulting brass instruments as a new keystone to alternative tracks. During “Little by Little,” visuals of Zardoya à la the “All I really Want Is You” music video flickered across the screen, enchanting the audience with her physical and vocal grace.
Dreamy underwater visuals intermixed with live band closeups played on screen as Zardoya crooned a slower, synthier “Only in My Dreams.” Another trumpet flourish announced the beginning of “Care For You,” a duet between Zardoya and drummer Josh Conway with epicurean tension.
Danceworthy “Ruthless” and “Basta Ya” with their strong baselines and syncopated drums led beautifully to The Marías’ cover of Britney Spears’ “…baby one more time,” finishing sultrily and silkily like only The Marías do.
— Katherine Shok