Schizophrenic is one way to describe the second day of this year’s Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival. Imagine, just for a moment, that the music business is divided into two sides: mainstream and indie-rock. For every big shot act sitting on top, there’s the smaller breed, gaining momentum and working its way up the proverbial “musical ladder”, which means jackshit in today’s day and age. Keeping this in mind, however, organizers behind the festival, let’s say Superfly, got their jollies off with day two.
On one side of the park, the Lands End Stage, a few of today’s hottest mainstream acts owned some scorching hot real estate, roping in about 65% of the day’s attendance. On the remaining stages, various indie-flair flooded just about every place on the schedule. This offered some prime advantages for those digging the latter, as several prized up and coming acts were hardly overstuffed with fans, instead serving up some amicable, copious rental space — we’re running with the same metaphor — to hit up.
So, who do we send the “Thank you” letter to?
Street Sweeper Social Club
Twin Peaks: 2:20-3:10 p.m.
There’s something sad and irksome about Tom Morello’s new pet project, Street Sweeper Social Club. Maybe it’s the naivety of its frontman, The Coup’s Boots Riley, who believes people really give a shit about the group’s topical lyrics. Or, maybe it’s the countless throwback riffs that Tom Morello tosses in after each song and during every solo. Whatever the case, it’s not too drastic. This is, after all, just another project of Morello’s, and judging from the critical reaction and waning fan base, its longevity is questionable. Still, the rap-rock, pseudo-political front attempted to lure in unsuspecting fans, who really were just coming in from the nearby entrance. “100 Little Curses” did bring fists in the air, but mostly because Riley insisted on ’em ad-infinitum. Call it what you will, but the LL Cool J cover of “Mama Said Knock You Out” was entertaining, if not seven to eight years too late. At one point on the set, Riley announced, “I don’t got much to say, so I’m gonna keep on playing.” That’s the spirit. Where’s Zack de la Rocha? His insipid rants against democracy might not have been believable in the slightest, but at least they were earnest. The only worthy propaganda here? One nearby festivalgoer’s remark: “It’s like they’re a cover band of Rage.” Truth. -M.R.
Sutro: 3:10-4:00 p.m.
It’s hard not to smile when a small adorable woman dressed in a shimmering gold sequined dress hops on stage and shouts “Are you ready?”, before sending the crowd off into a sea of 2/4 claps for Dengue Fever‘s first tune, “Lost in Laos”. As the show unfolded at the Sutro Stage, the band proceeded to shake, jump and wiggle about while making wavering hand motions at one another, as Chhom Nimol innocently remarked “let’s see your hands together now as a bird”. And as we were serenaded by Nimol’s beautiful Cambodian vocals throughout their set, the rest of the band took part in a bunch of silly activities, including stomping and synchronized dancing. Surprisingly, the atmosphere was quite chill during all this, as people laid out blankets and sipped on chilled beers to Dengue Fever’s spaghetti-western stylized pop songs. Meanwhile, Nimol acted cute every chance she could remarking “Tank you very, very much. Tank you” in between classics such as “I’m Sixteen”, “New Year’s Eve” and “Hold My Hips”. Then out of nowhere right before “Pow Pow” came on, Nimol randomly gave us a serious stare and remarked, “If you drink, don’t drive” much in the style of a public service announcement. It was silly to say the least, but the crowd was eating it up as the band regrettably announced their final song, “One Thousand Tears of a Tarantula”. -A.F.
Portugal. The Man
Panhandle Solar: 3:10-3:50 p.m.
It’s hard to describe the psychedelic yet mildly experimental rock ‘n’ roll of one Portugal. The Man. It’s erratic, but not too sketchy. The sleek, feminine vocals that only so lightly remind us of Cedric Bixler Zavala (of The Mars Volta) highlight what are otherwise tightly wound, well constructed arrangements that would make acts Jefferson Airplane, Three Dog Night, and even The Doors envious. The parallels to former ’60s and ’70s acts are important, if only because the group oozes of this classicism. In some respects, the music begs for wasted nights in your uncle’s den, numb in a drunken stupor, with glazed eyes staring vividly at the LP covers of The Carpenters and The Bee Gees. Spacey? You bet.
When the group casually strolled over to their instruments, all looking like next door neighbors of Eric Forman, they bit right into the jangly “Church Mouth”, which segued flawlessly into the Three Dog Night classic, “One”. John Baldwin Gourley, from behind a head of shaggy, relentless hair, told the crowd, “We represent Alaska and Oregon here at this festival.” With nothing else to add, he pummeled away at the guitar, and brought out the best tunes: the uphill climbing tour de force “My Mind”, a balmy cut of “AKA M80 the Wolf”, and that Southern-fried groove of “People Say” off of this year’s The Satanic Satanist. Tip of the hat goes to multi-instrumentalist Ryan Neighbors for carrying the entire band and creating the perfect voids to get lost in. Keep an eye out for these folks. They’re primed to bend more minds. -M.R.
Lands End: 3:50-4:50 p.m.
Hundreds of people flocked to the main stage to catch a glimpse of Jason Mraz‘s blues-rock performance. Amidst the chaos, fans found themselves participating in a number of syncopated claps and shouts, which not only felt embarrassing, but mildly cliché. However, the crowds initial lack of participation stabbed Mraz with a feeling of contempt and he soon shouted, “Look, if you can’t do these simple motions, then turn to those around you and do one of these” as he raised his middle finger high up in the air. And as the saying goes, birds of a feather flock together, the crowd easily succumbed to this behavior and was more that willing to play a hand in this ridiculous display of rebellion. Needless to say it was hilarious to watch, as Mraz’s jam band sounds carried their way through the park and people cheered for more songs like “I’m Yours” and “The Remedy (I Won’t Worry)”. At least the live experience took away from Mraz’s normally bland vocals and added a new element of guitar and saxophone solos that helped the music take on a new and fresher jazzy feel. -A.F.
Twin Peaks: 3:55-4:55 p.m.
Metal isn’t for everyone. In fact, some people despise it. They have their reasons, too. After all, who wants to sift around fans hellbent on cracking skulls and creating endless destruction coupled with unchecked chaos? Well, only on weekends, perhaps. All jokes aside, Mastodon roped in an audience that consisted of hardcore metalheads and those passing by, possibly not having the stomach to sit through Jason Mraz. With a set heavy with works off of this year’s Crack The Skye, the Atlanta quartet sliced and diced through some heavy handed material, tracks like the ear shattering opener “Oblivion”, the larger than life “Quintessance”, and the scatterbrained “Divinations” all were well represented. Lead guitarist Brent Hinds kept a stoic frame throughout the hour long set, making shredding and finger tapping look as easy as turning on the television after a shit day. And while he may be all brawn and muscle, bassist and vocalist Troy Sanders interacted with the audience in a non-committal manner, throwing out guitar picks and tapping his chest to nearby moshing fans (the first of the weekend). They might appear dangerous, but these guys couldn’t hurt a fly. Then again, they said the same thing about Norman Bates. Lesson learned: Don’t let appearances fool you, but at the same time, watch at your own risk. -M.R.
Sutro: 4:50-5:50 p.m.
One of the first tragedies of the weekend hit hot reunion Os Mutantes, still breaking waves since reforming in ’06. Enjoying one of the smallest crowds yet, the Brazilian big band were also treated to sound errors galore, resulting in a 20 minute delay, which inevitably killed what little crowd they had before. Without shedding one tear, guitarist and composer Sérgio Dias Baptista smiled from behind a smock that would make any king red with envy, and instead hit the switch to the dance party. Immediately, his band came to life and struck up the feel good classic “Tecnicolor”, which provided some much needed Tropicalia to the dying scene surrounding the Sutro stage. What little audience remained turned up the heat and some sweaty, erotic dancing ensued.
“We’re so happy…because we’re finally putting out a new album,” Baptista announced, rather struck by the moment. “We’re lacking some stuff here because it broke, so we’ll have to wing it. But that is…rock ‘n’ roll?” What followed was a song titled, “Que ira?”, a typical Mutantes number with some spicy acoustics and saucy grooves. Good indication for the forthcoming album? Given it was lacking some instrumentation, it can only get better. Having said that, with a proper stage set up, the Mutantes could do some damage. It’s only a matter time…and place. -M.R.
Bat For Lashes
Panhandle Solar: 4:55-5:35 p.m.
As the sun set, Bat for Lashes decorated the Panhandle stage with feathered headdresses, rainbow sequined dresses and Jesus statues, which became the perfect background for their electro driven British rock songs. Prancing wildly about from side to side, Natasha Khan bounced and clapped along at first to melodies such as “Trophy” and “What’s a Girl to Do” before choosing to sit down at the keyboard for awhile. A nice keyboard duet shortly began for “Horse and I” as Khan sung softly into the microphone and Sarah Jones struck a wooden box with a mallet. Armed with tambourines, tribal rhythms and repetitive bass riffs, Bat for Lashes was a sight to see that created an interesting affect on its listeners, who were either caught in a trance like state or blindly dancing like ducks in a pond. -A.F.
TV on the Radio
Twin Peaks: 5:40-6:40 p.m.
Who would’ve expected that one of the weekend’s largest crowds would be for TV on the Radio? Well, how about anyone who actually listens to them. It’s hard to resist this decade’s hottest band out of New York City, let alone ignore the fact that they’re one of the better live acts out there today. Even frontman Tunde Adebimpe’s catching on. After a less than stellar performance at this year’s Lollapalooza, the quirky quintet came to Outside Lands with a chip on their shoulder, starting with the melodic, moody ambiance of “Love Dog”, arguably one of the best track’s off of last year’s note-for-note perfected, Dear Science.
“This is our last show in a long time and we’re happy to share it with you San Francisco,” Adebimpe screamed, the sun glinting in his glasses and highlighting a broken smile. As if the ghost of James Brown came to him, Adebimpe shuffled and rioted across the stage, kicking up throaty yet very punk-influenced performances of “Wolf Like Me” and “Dancing Choose”, at one point even knocking over the microphone stand.
Towards the end, the band dusted off “Young Liars”, much to the surprise and admiration of the audience. Though the real highlight came after some of Kyp Malone’s warbly distortion subsided and churned into the strumming drive of “Staring at the Sun”. Much like their time in Chicago recently, the song ended as the sun pierced the festival grounds for one more hour. As of now, they’re not only putting out critically acclaimed releases, but they’re making a name in the live circuit, as well. Go ahead and add ’em to your “bands you must see before you die” list. Rest assured, they’ll be back… and with more extraordinary music to toss around. -M.R.
Panhandle Solar: 6:40-7:25 p.m.
In the style of many bands that day, Deerhunter appeared late on stage. However, to keep the full audience subdued frontman Bradford Cox entertained us with his odd sense of humor, complete denial of Conor Oberst’s existence and the insistent reminder that Deerhunter was a professional rock band from Atlanta. Once the rest of the band finally appeared, Cox shouted “Oh shit! The helicopter just landed” and the band jumped into a psychedelic version of “Cryptograms”. At first the vocals were extremely soft compared to the other instruments, but this was soon amended by the third or fourth song. Unfortunately, however, this wasn’t the only blip in their performance, as they announced halfway through their set, “No cause for alarm or anything, but we’ve run into a bit of trouble and gotta replace this kick petal.”
However, things carried on smoothly considering how blitzed the crowd actually was and coincidentally, the band wasn’t much with it themselves. One couldn’t help but smirk as the bassist continuously smiled and shook is head for no apparent reason and the guitarist blankly stared off into the distance all bug eyed. And all the while, people were throwing shoes up on the stage and signing each others breasts. It was as if both parties were completely oblivious of one another. A stoner’s paradise to say the least. -A.F.
Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band
Sutro: 6:40-7:40 p.m.
A month ago, we reported that Conor Oberst might be finished with Bright Eyes. Panic ensued, partly because people hold strong emotional ties to the group’s lyrics (“Easy/Lucky/Free” is every hipster’s break up anthem, please). But, how unnecessary it is to get all worked up. Some may disagree, but the Mystic Valley Band is hands down thee best place for Oberst to be. Besides, it’s a good transition for the lanky kid with too much heart ache to carry by himself.
With two albums in tow, last year’s self titled Conor Oberst and this year’s punchy yet somber Outer South, Oberst and the band have a lot to play with, especially if they’re looking to match Bright Eyes’ previous shows, which never seemed to end — thanks to the mile long discography. Opening with the folk swing anthem “I Got The Reason #2”, Oberst sang, “I know a lot can happen after everybody falls asleep.” At first, the song appears morose, soft, and bitter…but it builds up to such soul-lifting heights that it’s easy to forget that the lyrical content is, well, still pretty depressing (but oh so damn clever). That’s the beauty of the new band. It’s fun in the same way Wilco’s fun, but it’s still “I need to kill myself”-depressing. Oh, Oberst, you devil.
Wearing a grey hoodie, some washed out jeans, and a blue button up shirt (basically the everyday, casual attire in, say, Colorado), Oberst appeared less drunk — like his former Bright Eyes days — and more drugged out. Zombie Oberst would fit the description more, and if you think he’s any more optimistic these days, think again — and boy does he still hold some fascinating grudge with the audience. When one nearby fan screamed out something, he mumbled aloud, “What was that? Oh, go put a fork in it…uh…go put a sock in it.” No one knew what to say, but laugh…awkwardly. You gotta respect that. -M.R.
The Mars Volta
Twin Peaks: 7:30-9:00 p.m.
“I think it’s very appropriate that we’re on the Twin Peaks Stage,” Cedric Bixler Zavala told the audience, taking a deep breath after ripping down a nearby sign, doing a few carthwheels, and two or three push ups on the ground. “Just remember…do not drink the coffee, there’s a fish in the filter.”
With an hour and 30 minute set, rivaling the likes of the Dave Matthew’s Band across the festival grounds, it’s apparent that The Mars Volta continues to become the band they set out to be: the stoner-rock gods of today’s youth. They’ve always been more a spectacle and event than an average rock show and with near-headliner status, they’re becoming precisely that. Now with five albums in the bag, it’s not like they don’t have the material to prove their worth — and it’s not like three of their songs couldn’t fill up the set alone.
Despite having released this year’s Octahedron, the critically acclaimed return to form, the Volta opted for some older material, with a heavy dose of 2003’s De-Loused in the Comatorium and 2006’s less than favorable Amputechture. Fan favorites like “Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of)” and “Drunkship of Lanterns” turned the crowd into a riot. Guitarist and band director Omar Rodriguez-Lopez arrived in top form, leading one hell of an extended solo section in “Dares”, and some jaw dropping shredding in “Wax Simulacra”.
Even five albums in and six years later, nothing’s really changed, per se. If anything, things are tighter. Drummer Thomas Pridgen has really come into his own and Zavala hardly misses the mic when he goes to kick it. The show’s all there, just as it’s always been. The backdrop of the latest album? Check. The strobes and solid neon tones? Double check. The frantic energy that carries over into the crowd? As always. It’s an event, and one that’s catching on, apparently. That’s if the beefy crowd and lovely haze of smoke was any indication. Rest assured, they’ll be around for years to come. But hey, c’mon guys, we still want that at.the.drive-in reunion. -M.R.