Could I have skipped Outside Lands after Wilco's show at the Independent? Sure -- but I'd feel like an idiot for missing the band when they play five blocks from my apartment. Honestly, I couldn't not go and be happy with my decision.
Outside Lands, Golden Gate Park, Aug. 7, 2015: I've been to Outside Lands exactly twice, both times for the exact same reason. Yup, Wilco was back, which meant so was I. However, I didn't realize until this weekend that we went to the first Outside Lands in 2008. My, how things have changed -- the festival is a real destination now, even if it's also fallen into the cookie-cutter summer festival mode. But certainly its size and stature have grown, now encompassing a comedy bill and extra stages (like I ever check out other stages at festivals).
Also, back in 2008, Wilco was the headliner on the smaller stage, which was a godsend for me. Now, they were on the massive stage on the Polo Fields, and Mumford and Sons topped the bill. The silver lining: Wilco was playing on Friday, before the crowds grew too suffocating, and with First Aid Kit and St. Vincent, they formed a fantastic three-band run. In fact, despite the usual shenanigans, we never felt crushed, and we were more amused by the fans' insistence on sitting between acts, rather than pushing closer to the front. I probably wouldn't love this festival, but I'd damn well like it.
The Family Crest started the day, and it didn't take a genius to trace their influences. In fact, independent of each other, three of us cited Arcade Fire, minus the Caribbean tones. To their credit, they had all the earnestness and enthusiasm of a high school drama class, which was very cute. As locals, they were also welcomed warmly.
Lake Street Drive followed, and I think I've seen them exactly once on the Colbert Report. We noted that their four band members looked like they were drawn from three different bands, though that's not a terrible thing. I can't say they did much for me, despite an Annie Lennox cover and a brief foray into Van Halen, though the former brought out a hilarious comment from a child next to us who had never heard of the legendary songstress. Get her a copy of Touch stat!
First Aid Kit was the first band of the day I actually wanted to see. As I may have noted a million times, my concert going has dropped off precipitously, and I don't see as many bands as I used to. It's more a commentary on my habits than on the quality of music these days. Anyway, I would've loved to have seen First Aid Kit at a smaller venue, but that's the way it goes sometimes.
No reason to fear -- First Aid Kit have become festival veterans, and their sunny, sweet sound was a lovely complement to the bright, beautiful day. They threw in a cover of "War Pigs" for a touch of testosterone, and the sisters played up the theatrics, with extra stomps and flourishes.
Call me basic, but their big hit was the one that grabbed me. Something about "Emmylou" turned on the waterworks, and I couldn't stop crying during the song (fortunately, it was the closing number). As far as I can recall, this has happened to me exactly twice: When Jon Brion played "More Than This" at the Hideout and when Frightened Rabbit quoted Wilco during "Keep Yourself Warm." You can probably see why I'd get emotional over those moments, but with First Aid Kit, it came out of the blue. Chalk it up to a beautiful tune, a timeless sentiment, and the power of sibling harmonies. I still get choked up when the song flits through my head.
St. Vincent was up next, and talk about contrast -- her artsy take was a huge departure from First Aid Kit and Wilco (next on the bill). I recall seeing her once before, opening for Steve Malkmus and the Jicks, but as it turned out, I saw part of her set at Cafe du Nord a while ago too (according to my archives). I have no recollection of the second date, but even as an opener, she made a huge impression. It was only a matter of time before she'd break through.
You might not even recognize the current incarnation of St. Vincent compared to that early show with Malkmus. Her talent was always evident, but her innovation is now on full display. I honestly can't say anything about the staging or the choreography or even the wardrobe, but she still sounded great, and I couldn't stop thinking about how much she reminded me of Prince. Both are undeniably gifted, and they enjoy playing with personae and identity.
I'm kind of burying the lede. We had been planted front and center since the gates opened, which is simply our MO. The big payoff came at the beginning of St. Vincent's set, when she descended the stairs set up specifically for her show, climbed on the barrier directly in front of us, and rocked out. At one point, she grabbed a fan's phone and took a selfie with it. The crowd surged, the photographers went nuts, and she thrilled. That is how you do a festival show!
Frankly, I was a little concerned about the reception for Wilco at Outside Lands. On the one hand, they're huge in the Bay Area, and obviously not everyone could get into the Independent show. However, the other bands on the bill skewed young, and St. Vincent is kind of the opposite of the dreaded dad-rock label so often pasted on to Wilco.
Stationed at the front, I can't say for sure how Wilco went over. We had a cozy contingent around us, but at certain points, I think the woman to my left (who'd been trying to squeeze me out for several acts) simply set her head down on the railing, not even looking up. On the other other hand, her daughter seemed reasonably invested in the show. Let's call it a draw?
Other than Solid Sound, fesival sets tend to be underwhelming, especially if you're a die-hard fan. We had to wonder how they'd fit in Star Wars, plus catalog selections into the abbreviated festival window. The answer: They hit the "hits," threw in a couple of surprises, and ended on a song that was both a staple of the set but an unconventional closer. In the words of Colonel Landa from Inglourious Basterds: That's a bingo!
Yay to "You Satellite" returning to the set! And I already want to hear "Cold Slope"/"King of You" all the time. Also, kudos to everyone for making "Magnetized" work in a massive field.
As for the rest of the set, of course you expect "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," "Via Chicago," "Heavy Metal Drummer," and "I'm the Man Who Loves You," but the other half of the non-Star Wars set played more to the old fans than the festival novices. I mean, "Handshake Drugs" is a pop song that everyone should hear, but it also kinda wanders and unwinds. "Art of Almost," as its name promises, is an art piece, while "Box Full of Letters" may be older than many of the youngsters in attendance. I'd even say the crowd didn't fully awaken until "Via Chicago," specifically the part where Jeff and John serenely sing over chaotic breakdown. That drew a notable roar from the audience.
Toward the end of the set, the clock suggested the band would squeeze in "California Stars," perfect for the local audience and for festivals in general -- and maybe they'd bring in First Aid Kit? Nope, they went for "Impossible Germany," which is not exactly a shocker, as it's timeless and transcendent. However, it would mean that they'd go over their time -- but that wasn't our problem. One of the most memorable performances I've seen of the song came at the earlier Outside Lands, where Nels looked possessed through his solo and, more unexpectedly, took to the mic at the end of the song to dedicate it to John Cipollina. It wasn't quite that level, but the band took its time and didn't seem at all bothered by the prospect of making room for Mumford. As a longtime Wilco fan, I can say they managed to flip the script, and I was glad everyone got to hear Star Wars all wired up. Of course, the highlight of Outside Lands weekend had already happened the day before.
By the way, we got the hell out before Mumford came on and invoked the photographer rule for D'Angelo and the Vanguard: three songs and we left. D'Angelo and crew sounded great, but our legs, appetites, and attention spans demanded a break. Should the opportunity arise, I'd love to see them at another time.
I should probably report on celebrity sightings. I first spied members of Mumford and Sons -- accompanied I think by the blonde chick from Glee -- during First Aid Kit's set, and I believe Jeff Tweedy lingered in the back for their tunes. Everyone showed up for St. Vincent, including Nels Cline and Johanna from First Aid Kit. Wilco brought out Marcus Mumford and Annie Clark, but more important, Frank Riley held court! Granted, we also saw him at the Independent, but in short: Weekend. Made. And embarrassment be damned, I saw the Twilight werewolf kid walk past us in the photo pit toward the end of Wilco's set. (I refuse to Google his name.) Sadly, no sightings of Steve Wozniak on his Segway this time.
» i'd be lying if i said it wasn't easy
» rosin smells and turpentine smells
» like a dream in the night
» we adopt a brand-new language
» done well is so much fucking better
» as fickle as a paper doll
» the whole love