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Outside Lands 2015 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

The highs and lows of Golden Gate Park's odyssey of music, comedy, art, and food

Outside Lands 2015
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    With rainy summers and gorgeous falls, it’s hardly a surprise that Christmas comes to San Francisco in August. For three days, the natural beauty of Golden Gate Park is transformed into an odyssey of music, comedy, art, food, and wine. Returning in 2015 for its eighth year, the Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival once again delivered on its unique niche of fog-soaked tunes and lots of things wrapped in bacon (with a pinot to pair, of course).

    Headliners Mumford and Sons, The Black Keys, and Elton John all delivered the goods with sets rich in popular tracks and gratitude for the mass of fans who braved the cold each night. As is always the case with festivals, some of the weekend’s best moments were the small surprises – Hot Chip covering Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark”, Bill Kreutzmann jumping behind a drum kit to jam with Alex Bleeker and the Freaks, and the last-minute addition of Wolf Alice to the bill.

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    Sadly, not all was flower crowns and microbrews. Fantastic Negrito made local headlines on Saturday when he was denied entry to the festival just ahead of his set. SZA, playing the morning after a brilliant performance from Kendrick Lamar, was unable to rouse him to join her for one of her most popular songs. Such is life in the whirlwind that is the modern music festival. Still, the chance to hear music you love again or discover your first taste of a new favorite artist among the trees in the majesty of Golden Gate Park is an experience everyone should take part in.

    Read on for our extensive coverage of the highs and lows of the 2015 Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival.

    –Zack Ruskin
    Staff Writer

    George Ezra

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    George Ezra has the deep, thick, and passionate voice of that 50-year-old man who plays a set every Saturday night at your local piano bar. George Ezra, though, is actually 22 years old. He just sounds much older. Ezra was discovered on YouTube at the age of 18, and now, at 22, he’s a star, having already earned a top 10 record in his home country of England and a top 40 hit in the US with “Budapest”. His baritone demands your attention, but it’s almost too easy. His voice rarely waivers, becomes delicate; it’s just pretty and pleasant. His voice — deep and rich — is like syrup: thick and sweet. –Mike Anderson

    Toro y Moi

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    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    Call me a hater — many will, as Chaz Bundick is very popular — but Toro y Moi’s sound is a little flat. His synths don’t bounce and tickle you like some other acts’ manage to do. Of course, this is a chillwave act — which, although very vaguely defined, generally denotes music where the synths are processed and faded and, well, chill — but at least Neon Indian mines from the same sonic palette and crafts something with a little more depth and fullness (read: “Polish Girl”). –Mike Anderson

    Amon Tobin

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    Photo by Amanda Koellner

    ISAM is a funny choice for such an elaborate stage show. The album, which the Brazilian DJ performs the whole of, is harsh. It culls more from the industrial genre than the breakbeat jazz of his past work. The first 20 minutes of this show are made tolerable because Amon Tobin presents us with one of the most sophisticated light shows you’ll ever see: a pile of cubes sits on the stage, and a landscape lays itself out on them, folding and morphing into different worlds throughout the course of a song and in perfect sync with the music. While this was beautiful to see, the music certainly left some of us desiring an equally stimulating sound to match — not just electronic music as imagined by a slightly obtuse robot. –Mike Anderson

    Hurray for the Riff Raff

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    “I used to sleep in this park when I was a little runaway kid,” Alynda Lee Segarra announced to the small crowd of early risers who opted to kick off their day with a foggy hoedown. Her serene country rasp was a great cure for the gray skies and occasional raindrops spread above the Sutro stage. Segarra’s banter was as entertaining as her music. Before “Lake of Fire”, she dedicated the song to “that asshole from earlier who told me to smile.”  Between quips, Segarra and her band played a set of heartfelt, occasionally somber tunes that worked well for a crowd still finding their bearings from the night before. –Zack Ruskin

    SZA

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    Photo by Philip Cosores
    Taking the stage in an oversized Adidas jacket, her mane of copper-red hair billowing in the wind, SZA got down to business. “How the fuck is everyone?!” she demanded, but didn’t wait for an answer. Her high energy and infectious dance moves inspired some early afternoon movement from the Twin Peaks crowd. The only real disappointment was the missed opportunity to welcome Kendrick Lamar back to the stage he’d destroyed the night before to deliver his verse on SZA’s “Babylon.” Major bummer. –Zack Ruskin

    Nate Ruess

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    So there was this dude at the festival with long, blonde hair that danced from open to close on all three days with such exuberance that he became something of a fest celebrity. Barefoot, shirtless, dirty, there was never a song that he didn’t like. For him especially, Nate Ruess’ faithful cover of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” was the festival’s climax, a moment that all the other acts had been working towards. For much of the rest of the sedate audience, Ruess’ cheeseball act played fine, but not captivating enough to earn the .fun singer the distinction of becoming a must-see festival act. Still, when Ruess trucked out “We Are Young” and “Some Nights”, the commitment to giving fans what they wanted rather than sticking solely to his solo and previous band material was admirable. –Philip Cosores

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