Outside Lands Festival in Retrospect

For the two days of this past weekend, I lived in the small microcosm that was the Outside Lands Festival, located in San Francisco's massive Golden Gate Park.  With an attendance of probably twice my town's population and as diverse as it gets (the ever-faithful Deadheads, hipsters, suburban families with young children, hoodrats, BoHo girls, punks, college dudes, stoners, yuppies...I could go on), the atmosphere was charged with energetic good times.  Smiles were plentiful, substance-induced or not, and a different kind of Summer of Love emerged, happiness spread like the times of old.
Day 1:

12:00- LA hip-hop duo People Under the Stairs absolutely killed it, starting off the festival with big beats and killer rhymes.  They are a group that give me continual reassurance that hip-hop is not dead, yet.  Highlights: "The L.A. Song", "San Francisco Knights", "Acid Raindrops".
12:45- Freelance Whales put on a delightfully mellow show with their sparkily fuzzy, instrumentally happy indie pop.  What sets this band apart from the other scores of indie pop bands is their use of more instruments beyond the regular acoustic guitar or synthesizers, additionally throwing in a xylophone, an accordion, a banjo, and various percussive dodaddies I can't name.  Highlights: "Generator ^ First Floor" (my favorite track), "Hannah".

1:25- The only band I saw on the Panhandle Stage (100% green powered) snuck up on me and spat into my face some refreshing alternative folk rock.  Dawes represents the genre at its best, putting out tunes that are seemingly written and played by the emotions of a country boy, with streaks of Springsteen's weather-worn ruggedness in his hair.  Random quip: The drummer was totally feelin' it during "Fire Away", my favorite track of their set.  Highlights: "When My Time Comes", "Fire Away" (new), their strong command of the stage despite their youthful status as a band.
2:15- If you could have a so-called "festival awakening", I would declare that mine emerged during the disgustingly filthy Pretty Lights set.  He was the Destroyer of Musical Worlds, throwing down explosive and corrosive beats for the duration of his 40-minute time on stage, incorporating elements of hip-hop, trance, dubstep, and drum 'n' bass into his tracks that smoothly transitioned into each other.  Highlights: everything--- the lights, the music, the feeling of awesomeness that flowed through my veins as his tracks took over my body.
3:05- Everyone's favorite band of Eastern European gypsies kept the intensity going with their banging gypsy-punk.  As crazy as ever, Gogol Bordello put out a setlist that demanded probably the only legitimate mosh pit out of any other act that weekend, and of course, it was completely satisfying.  Energetic and brilliantly mad, they clearly got the crowd into a manic state of wild.  Highlights: "Start Wearing Purple", the ever-wild Pedro Erazo coming out at random intervals to goad the crowd into screaming their eyes out.
4:05- Even though the power was cut halfway through his set, Bassnectar came back blasting the bomb beats harder than before.  The San Francisco freestyle experimental electronic musician definitely showed why he is so revered in the electronic music community, throwing his hair around in Aoki-like fashion and snarling at the crowd like a feral cat.  Highlights: "Basshead", his custom huge black beachballs emblazoned with his logo that were thrown out into the crowd.
5:25- Tokyo Police Club was one of the acts I was looking forward to seeing, and they did not disappoint with their calmingly fast, gently loud songs of youth.  I see a lot of potential in them, and I would refuse to say that they are just an indie hipster trend of a band---sure they are popular amongst that crowd but their music and their lyrics have tremendous power.  Highlights: "Tessellate", "Breakneck Speed", "Your English is Good".
7:05- The forever darkly sexy Chan Marshall, in her alter ego form Cat Power, put on a disarmingly stunning show that exhibited the full force of her sultry voice that any man would die for to lull him into seduction.  Dressed in nothing particularly flashy, she walked back and forth across the stage with her microphone, keeping the audience turning their heads as she crooned us into slow evening tracks. Highlights: her voice, no doubt, no matter what song it was.  Her coming off the stage into the crowd was also pleasingly nice.
8:45- The Strokes were the sole reason that made Outside Lands a no-brainer for me, especially since these dudes haven't been seen together for the better part of 5 years.  I worried that after each of their respective side projects, and some problems in recording their next album, that they would have compatibility issues on stage.  All these worries went away as I watched their swagger on stage, Nick, Julian, Nikolai, Albert and Fabrizio all as charismatic as they ever were.  They breezed through songs without a single misstep, and Julian's voxbox was near perfect as he sang songs almost a decade old that were given new life on that stage.  Highlights: "Is This It", "Under Control", "Hard to Explain", "You Only Live Once", Albert's no-longer curly fro.
Day 2:
12:45- I missed most of The Soft Pack's set since the MUNI buses were packed, but I adore this San Diego band, and even though I heard just their last two songs, they brought the fire with sunny jams.  Highlights: "Mexico", "Answer To Yourself".
2:15- Hands down one of the top sets of the entire festival, The Temper Trap proved their worth beyond just their appearance in 500 Days of Summer.  Starting off with distortion and drum-heavy songs that developed into long jams, they kept a good pace and were very entertaining to watch and listen to.  Lead singer Dougy Mandagi's voice held up very well, especially crucial since many of their tunes showcase his controlled falsetto.  Highlights: splashing water from the big tom Dougy was drumming on in the middle of a huge drumming jam, "Sweet Disposition", "Fader", "Down River".
3:05- Janelle Monae, for all it was worth, utterly shattered her 20 minute set that was cut short by a late flight that delayed her arrival to Golden Gate Park.  She got big with the theatrics, coming out in a black velvet hood and cape and a synchronized dance with her dancers.  She stopped at nothing, stomping through her songs as her voice commanded the crowd with its large, beautiful versatility.  If she had played any longer, it would have been hard to leave because her energy is unrelentingly infectious.  Highlights: "Dance or Die" (killer opener), "Cold War", her cover of Charlie Chaplin's "Smile", "Tightrope"
4:00- Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros.  These desert gypsies by way of LA put on a decent show, jumping around and jamming as if around a bonfire at Burning Man.  It seemed as if they lacked something, an energy that kept me less than enthused about their show because it didn't sound like they wanted to be there.  Their performance of their flagship song "Home" hardly showed any effort or originality.  Definitely the most disappointing act of the weekend.  Highlights: the hype from the crowd, everyone was dying to see them.
4:30- The legendary Al Green was amazing.  He was filled with enthusiasm and happiness, clearly very happy to be there in front of that crowd.  Age was just a number as he danced and shot clever quips at the audience.  Unforgettable.  Highlights: "I'm Still in Love With You", his chilling run-through the greats of the genre, singing bits of the Temptations, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and others.
5:55- The recently popular, long existing Frenchmen of the band Phoenix were humbled by their appearance at Outside Lands, stopping at every song to give their thanks.  Thomas Mars is a terrific stage presence, playful and jumpy, and his voice was spectacular.  Every track was a marvel, mainly playing stuff off of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.  Highlights: killer opening with "Lisztomania", "1901".
6:55- It's safe to say that Nas & Damian Marley's project album Distant Relatives is a staggering work.  As heavyweights in their respective genres, they played off each other's parts so well that I could feel their togetherness in the energy of their music.  Nas was dirt nasty on the mic, and I was happy to finally see a major hip-hop artist live and putting on a sick effort.  Damian Marley was just as bomb, his hip-length dreads swaying as he crooned the audience with proper Jamaican vocals.  Highlights: "As We Enter", "Strong Will Continue", "Welcome to Jamrock".
7:50- The fame that Kings of Leon has garnered in the past year is pretty amazing.  They've gone from relatively popular in the indie world to the top of the mainstream crowd.  I was afraid that they would play tracks mainly off of their most recent record that contains "Use Somebody", definitely not their best, but I was very satisfied that they stuck to their roots despite the new haircuts and bigger stage lights.  Their sound was great, gruff voices and slashing guitars.  The show they put on proved that they deserved the headlining spot and their newfound popularity.  Highlights: "The Bucket", "Knocked Up", "Manhattan", "Use Somebody" (a delightfully smashed dude next to me was singing it during the entire 2 hour set, so when it finally came on he was a happy camper).

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