During my latest visit to the 10th Anniversary of Outside Lands I was excited and impressed by this years stacked line-up. The festival has always seemed to dawn a fair share of bad luck, from bands cancelling to having to dumb down and consolidate everything into a 2 day event. Unfortunately, this year was no exception. Queens Of The Stone Age backed out not far from the start date and A Tribe Called Quest decided to cancel on Friday, reschedule to Saturday and again cancel on a clearly distraught crowd.
Despite the new hashtags and chanting of, “More like A Tribe Called Quit” the festival has done a good job preparing and upgrading with the limited space it has to offer. San Francisco doesn’t offer any enormous, open spaces like the Indio Polo Grounds, but it’s got a tight knit city feel that reflects the bay area. The festival is stuck between tree-laden corridors that filter you into the various stages. This years additions included a ‘Barbary’ comedy tent and Wine Lands for your Bay Area grape tasting. These additions and its notable line-up of big names made this year the biggest by far. Kendra Kolling, chef and owner of The Farmer’s wife, makes one of the best grilled cheeses you’ll ever have. To put things into perspective, last year she brought about 275 pounds of cheese for the weekend. This year, a whopping 300 pounds was finished by the end of the Gorillaz set on Friday night.
Regardless, Outside Lands seems to lack something I couldn’t quite lay my finger on. It has the artists, it has the space and it has the crowd, but something feels off. Something is lacking from the energy in the air or maybe from the performances themselves? I never did quite figure it out, but here are some of the ups and downs from my weekend on the grounds.
Noteworthy Surprise: Mondo Cozmo
I’ve heard of Josh Ostrander and I’ve heard many of the songs of his debut album, Plastic Soul being played all over KCRW. I’m currently making music with some of his past members of ECC and I’ve heard of his live show being of the charts. That is an understatement. Ostrander gets on stage with the intent of changing lives. He knocks away a crowd, jumps around like a crazy man and sucks people in from afar — even at an early afternoon set.
Noteworthy Letdown: S U R V I V E
Of course, everyone knows this band from the legendary score they did for the hit Netflix series, “Stranger Things.” Maybe they’ve been jaded because the crowd only wants to hear the theme songs or maybe they don’t like performing live. What ever it is, this foursome came out looking bored as could be. They each stood in front of 2 or 3 synths, no smiles, no expression and no more than an occasional knob turn. Now, I know this is a synth band, so I didn’t expect performers cruising up and down the stage. However, merely a light show, accompanying visuals or at least some interest in performing to your fans would have helped out a lot.
All The Rage: Metallica
Whether you like them for there music or you like them because you enjoy mocking James Hetfield’s yelling, you cannot deny Metallica knows how to put on a show. They are entertaining, they are loud, proud and in charge. There are lights and explosions and fireworks and whether you are an old fan or new, there is something special about rocking out this hard with thousands of other people. How many other encore’s can you think of such as “Enter Sandman,” which simultaneously has the entire crowd singing along and head-banging.
Disappointing Sound: Fleet Foxes
Fleet Foxes have given us many-a beautiful sing-along from “Blue Ridge Mountains” to “White Winter Hymnal” and “Mykonos.” However, the pleasure in seeing these songs live can fall by the wayside without the proper sound. The festival had a handful of moments that were obscured by either front of house engineers or faulty speakers. Feedback roared and screeched through the foggy hills a few times throughout the weekend, but most of Fleet Foxes set sounded like it was being muffled by a pillow. I couldn’t quite pinpoint if it was the location of the ‘Sutro Stage’ or what, but this show turned out sadly underwhelming.
Best Vibe to Time Ratio: Real Estate
From their recent release of the album In Mind, this beloved indie band has been gaining a lot of new fans. The odd-time signatured groove, “Darling” has taken the hearts of many. Real Estate was placed on stage around 2:30pm on Saturday afternoon. Hang-overs were wearing off, the warm sun was breaking up the Bay fog and Real Estate could be found grooving us into the day and setting a high-note for a fun rest of the day.
Wildest Performance: Empire Of The Sun
While Metallica was banging up the other side of the fields, Luke Steele and his never-ending posse of dancers, performers and band mates were dancing the crowds into outer-space. Empire Of The Sun, paired an even balance of songs old and new, all while maintaining a constant stream of new gimmicks and spectacles on stage. From wildly mind-blowing light shows to smashing multiple guitars in the same song, the packed stage never stopped to catch a breath, keeping the audience’s eyes peeled wide in attention.
Biggest Bummer: A Tribe Called Quest
As stated earlier, A Tribe Called Quest backed out, not once but twice during the weekend. The legendary hip-hop group was quite the sought after performance at the festival and fans were left offended and insulted in their drunken states at the band’s leave of absence. Since the festival, the group has offered an apology but during the day-of, fans were far from understanding or sympathetic.
Biggest Shoes Filled: Cage The Elephant
With a late cancellation from Dave Grohl and Queens of the Stone Age, the band had a large torch to carry. But carry it and carry it well they did. The Kentucky native rock band, shook the stage with their anthemic and catchy songs. Jared Champion bashed the drums like this was the last time he would play in his life. Despite having many radio hits and selling out arenas, Cage the Elephant, still feels like it has an extremely loyal cult following, however, their unparalleled performance on the big stage showed a glimpse of their ability to take on headlining slots at equally large festivals in the near future.
After 10 years in the making, Outside Lands has worked out many kinks but still has a handful to figure out. San Francisco knows good music and they certainly know great food, but the lack of space can lead to major headaches trying to find anyone or keep track of them. The forest area and large crowds have led to people urinating all over the place, even in plain sight amongst the crowds. The sound systems seem to only carry up and into certain corridors of hillsides, so if you’re caught on the wrong side of the crowd you might find yourself struggling to hear or squinting to see. Regardless, if Outside Lands continues to concentrate on top notch and top budget bookings, rest assured the folks of Northern California will continue to have a notable and exciting festival every August for many years to come.
Check out photos below: