San Francisco is a musical city, not Nashville musical, but musical nonetheless. Owning to that, the annual Outside Lands Festival has become even more and more popular each year and the lineup thusly has improved dramatically since its inception.
Outside Lands 2012 was no different. Showcasing everything from hip-hop to metal to EDM to folk and everything in between, Outside Lands has something for everyone. People came from all over the world to see groups such as: Metallica, Jack White, Neil Young, Stevie Wonder, and Foo Fighters. What they got was interesting array of talent and genres to take home with them.
Day one started off with Fitz & the Tantrums at the main stage Polo Field and what I expected to be an over their head moment, was handled with aplomb as they effortlessly whipped the crowd into a frenzy with songs like their hit “Moneygrabber.” Give a San Francisco crowd a reason to dance and they’ll gladly accept.
After Fitz, it was time for Beck who covered Neil Young and Bob Dylan. It was Beck in rare form and judging from his next album release, a full album of just sheet music, it may be one of the last times you hear his music played by him for a while. Shortly before Beck finished, Of Monsters and Men (above) killed it at the Sutro side stage. Luckily I was up front for their set, because behind me was a sea of people impeded only by trees and fog. Foo Fighters were next up on the main stage and say what you will about the deterioration of the rock star, Dave Grohl is absolutely the epitome of that and ruled on stage.
Neil Young and Crazy Horse ended the night with an odd, metal-like set that featured a 20 minute opening number that had many of the faithful looking at each other like the kids in 1955 looked at Michael J. Fox when he played “Johnny B. Goode” at his parent’s prom. It ended strong and could be heard literally for miles, but Justice really took it to another level on the Twin Peaks Hellman Hollow stage bringing the club kids out of the woodwork for the weekend.
Friday finished and as Saturday began, the fog rolled in early devouring the park like something you’ll no doubt be watching great whites do during “Shark Week.” Sean Hayes was the first artist of the day and his mellow, dulcet sounds started off the day just right as many in the crowd sparked up and really got into the SF way of life. After that it was back to the mainstage to see the boys from Australia, Tame Impala, whose album Lonerism is due October 8. They were an unknown commodity to many, but like snake oil salesmen of old converted the nonbelievers quickly.
Playing on the small Panhandle stage was Father John Misty, the new moniker of J. Tillman, former solo artist, former drummer for Fleet Foxes. Tillman, who grew up as a self-described aimless kid whose only focus was religion. He has turned that upbringing into something of a meta stage performance in the same vein as someone like Jim Carrey, keeping himself in character the whole time. The music was brilliant, but the performance was astounding.
Playing on the Sutro stage were the Alabama Shakes. If you’ve been hiding under a rock or just haven’t had the time to discover this band yet, you might be alone. There were so many people watching the set that over on the main stage it looked like Portugal. The Man was a side act. Lead singer Brittany Howard showcased such phenomenal talent that she not only endeared herself to the crowd with her Southern charm, but her vocal acuity was flawless.
Michael Kiwanuka (above) was next and it was time to bring the energy level—but not the talent level—down as he and his band of loyal British subjects came to San Francisco for the first time and had the hipster girls dancing and the boys bobbing their heads. It was like the first time Ben Harper showed up on your radar and you knew it was going to be huge.
The Kills were amazing on the mainstage after that and while only having to compete with the serene Norah Jones, Alison Mosshart rallied the people for a set that included more band members than I’d ever seen before from the duo.
Saturday, however, belonged to Metallica and even though I’m no metal head whatsoever, I was so taken by how energetic and crisp they sounded after 30 plus years on the road. The Bay Area natives played rare cuts and hits alike and even brought some pyrotechnics and fireworks just for kicks.
With Saturday’s enthusiastic finish, Sunday was sure to be interesting. It started with Tom Morello on the Sutro stage covering Bruce Springsteen’s “Ghost of Tom Joad” and bringing the crowd on-stage to help him with “World Wide Rebel Songs.” It was an absolutely stunning performance e by the outspoken musician.
I checked out fun., and their merry band of pop climbers, but I was more interested in Trampled by Turtles who took over for Morello on the Sutro stage and wowed the audience with their bluegrass/punk styles. They were another band that people were leery of coming into the festival. Bluegrass plays in SF, but only at certain times of the year. Many weren’t sure if TBT would go over well, but wow they were an unbelievably talented group of musicians. It was energetic, fast and better than most anything I’ve seen in a very long time.
Regina Spektor was my surprise of the festival. I have never really been a fan of the Fiona Apples, Tori Amoses (Amosi?) and Regina Spektors of the world. I recognize the talent, but their music doesn’t really move me. That changed on Sunday as Spektor hit the Polo Field stage and played piano like Mozart incarnate and really affected the audience, most of whom were young girls, with a poppy slightly dark sound.
It was affective to me as well. While I was not among those that shed tears I did find the performance to be very inspiring and Ms. Spektor to be extremely thankful, if not downright bashful, when speaking to the audience.
Jack White stormed onto the stage next and really excited the crowd by playing songs from his latest album Blunderbuss, not to mention songs from the White Stripes, Dead Weather, and the Raconteurs. Of course, that was after he played a mini-set in the woods for a select few people with his as of yet unnamed all-female back up group. There is absolutely no one coming up today that can play the axe with the same expertise as White. He is this generations’ Clapton, Page, and Hendrix.
Finishing out the festival was Stevie Wonder, who started with a 12 minute version of Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is,” half of which was spent talking about politics. He also covered Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make me Feel” and the Temptations “My Girl.” It was quite the meandering beginning, but he righted the ship and it was a fantastic set nonetheless.
Gatherings like this are almost always an enjoyable experience. It goes to the power of music and the people who enjoy it that they can come out peacefully, without ulterior motives, and just enjoy the beauty of it all. San Francisco, for all its filth and degradation, can also be beautifully simple. This weekend showed what a marquee musical city it truly is and proved to the visitors that this city knows how to throw a party. The acts that came to town and grooved us are to be commended and the patrons are eternally grateful for the shared love that has inspired so many, so often.