I misspoke; before I could see Wilco again, I had to get through three days of the Outside Lands Festival, which took place literally five blocks from my flat. You really can't say no to that. The Wilco summation will follow; for now, here's the rest of the weekend.
Outside Lands Festival, August 26-27, 2008: Granted, if Wilco weren't on the bill, I'd probably would've stayed home altogether, as I did on Friday, when the park was apparently packed (like you'll have any problems finding those concert reports elsewhere).
The thing is, I hate festivals, though I wasn't always like this. I once pined for the U.K. summer festivals--until my overarching love of British music peaked in 2000. Oh sure, I've been to one, two, or even three in the States, but more often than not, I skip them, including those in my part of the world featuring my favorite bands. Yes, I'm looking at you, 2005 Download Festival, with Doves and British Sea Power.
On top of that, I'm a bad festival-goer. I don't go to discover new talent; the club bookers in San Francisco typically guarantee a nice stream of up-and-coming bands in more reasonably sized venues. And despite paying the supersize ticket price, I don't get much bang for my buck. Instead, I do what I always do: camp out for my favorite(s). I did exactly that on Sunday, though thankfully, the Twin Peaks stage hosted most of the bands I wanted to see anyway. Saturday, meanwhile, was left for milling about, and in the process, I finally saw some new-to-me acts.
Hands down, my favorite act of the weekend (barring my usual obsessions) was Broken Social Scene, and not just because they namechecked Wilco as "America's best band" as they signed off or even because they brought Spiral Stairs, née Scott Kannberg, à la Pavement, vis-à-vis Preston School of Industry for their final song. I haven't seen them in concert in a few years, but You Forgot It in People ruled my airwaves for a time, and it was great to be reminded why. I think I counted 11 people onstage at one point, and at another juncture, we witnessed six or seven guitar players all slinging their trade at the same time. I loved it when I saw them at Bimbo's, and it translated even better to the festival, where they managed to sound simultaneously dreamy and rocking.
Theatrics aside, I also got a better idea of the band's numerous fluid layers and interplay, not to mention who was responsible for what song and the different influences they brought to the collective. Random thoughts: So Brendan Canning has been singing those songs? Why didn't I recognize Andrew Whiteman when I saw him with Apostle of Hustle? And indeed, Kevin Drew is no small presence either. I especially loved it when he silently directed Liz Powell to join Amy Milan on vocals for "Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl"--proof that Broken Social Scene never squanders a collaborative opportunity. Yay Canadian collectives!
Other highlights include Andrew Bird, whose majestic tunes filled the expanse admirably, and Lupe Fiasco, who was just pure fun. I think I recognized two whole songs from the latter, but I totally appreciated that Vallejo ranked high on his list of Bay Area shout-outs.
My goal on Saturday was to catch the set by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, a band I've always liked, even if I couldn't admit it to my Brit-addled friends in the early '80s. Judging by our reception smack dab in the middle of the Polo Field, you might have guessed we were watching Benmont Tench and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, but that geekiness aside, they delivered a ton of hits, along with some covers, obscurities, and a couple of tracks with Steve Winwood.
I'm a sucker for the audience singalong, which is what we heard for several songs, such as "Free Falling," "I Won't Back Down," and just about every other song they played. But what may have been my biggest takeaway from their set was witnessing a true rock 'n' roll frontman ply his trade. I see very few arena-filling bands, so I'm always surprised by the energy, ego, and, well, absurdity required to engage the audience. Sure, it's present to a certain extent with any band on any stage, but I suppose there's often a tongue-in-cheek or self-deprecating element to the so-called indie rockers I favor. Not so here--and it suitably complemented the audience's wide-eyed embrace of the songs just fine.
Unfortunately, I can't say I enjoyed every musician who performed over the weekend. I won't even bother discussing ALO, but I was hoping for more from Nellie McKay and Regina Spektor. Granted, I'm not a huge fan of female singers as it is, but their appeal evaded me for different reasons. Nellie easily qualifies as eccentric, but she struck me as someone who tries way too hard, and I couldn't find her actual songs underneath all the patter. Regina, however, didn't engage me at all.
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