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Outside Lands 2016 Festival Review: From Worst to Best

Sufjan Stevens, Chance the Rapper, and The Muppets wake up San Francisco

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    If Outside Lands doesn’t feel like other summer music festivals, that’s because San Francisco’s idea of summer involves donning a waterproof jacket and freezing your ass off in line for a five-dollar cup of coffee. While other parts of the Northern Hemisphere melt into a pool of molten lava, Golden Gate Park remains damp and chilly throughout most of August, transforming its premier summer festival into something that hardly resembles the Coachellas and Lollapaloozas of the world. “It’s too cold to wear my slutty Coachella outfit,” one attendee lamented, and though she may have been kidding around, the sentiment resonates.

    Chalk it up to the abundance of clothing or the fact that nobody under the age of 30 can possibly afford rent in San Francisco these days, but the crowd at this year’s Outside Lands seemed remarkably low-key. Perhaps it’s because the festival has fully embraced a more eclectic identity in its ninth edition, focusing less on the music and more on other aspects designed to appeal to the young, affluent urbanites who’ve taken over the city in recent years.

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    Photo by David Brendan Hall

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    There was the exclusive Barbary Comedy & Improv tent, which seemed like an absolute bitch to get into unless you knew someone or cared to stand in line for hours. There was the long wall of “Outsider Art” curated by Jeben Berg and San Francisco’s own Juxtapoz Magazine and the bear-shaped pedicab belonging to local celebrity author Dave Eggers. And then there was the food, embodied by an entire area known as GastroMagic and attracting the sort of people who instinctively know what type of wine pairs best with beignets. None of the above had anything to do with music, and that’s kind of the point: You could spend a full, robust day at Outside Lands without stopping to hear a single song.

    Then again, why wouldn’t you stop? Outside Lands may not crack the very top tier of summer festivals, but tell that to a lineup featuring the likes of Radiohead, LCD Soundsystem, Lana Del Rey, and Chance the Rapper. Even the side stages offered plenty of their own attractions, especially for the early birds who showed up to Julien Baker’s quietly powerful noontime set on Saturday. And with festivals inching ever closer toward complete homogeneity, it was nice to see local acts such as Fantastic Negrito, Con Brio, and — fuck it — Third Eye Blind get their moment in the sun (figuratively speaking, of course). Throw in a 25-minute serving of The Muppets, and you’ve got all the ingredients necessary for a successful festival.

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

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    To get an on-the-ground view of what Outside Lands 2016 was like for fans, we threw on our parkas and filled our sunscreen bottles with vodka (just kidding, security!) before hitting as many stages as we could. What follows is our best approximation of which acts stood out and which left us feeling soggy inside. We may have left our hearts in San Francisco, but let’s hope our critical faculties didn’t leave us in search of sunnier pastures.

    –Collin Brennan
    Associate Editor

    Least Likely to Leave an Impression

    Oh Wonder

    Oh Wonder // Photo by David Brendan Hall

    Photo by David Brendan Hall

    London-based synthpop duo Oh Wonder sound exactly like their name would suggest: a mildly pleasant approximation of awe that never warrants an actual exclamation point. Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West follow the CHVRCHES blueprint a little too closely for comfort, throwing in a dash of R&B here and there but failing to meaningfully separate themselves from the dozens of other bands doing exactly the same thing, more or less. There’s something to be said for “pleasant” when it comes to the early Sunday slot at a three-day festival, but we would have liked something a little riskier — a little more wondrous, perhaps — out of a main stage act. –Collin Brennan
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    Best Chance to Sneak In an Afternoon Nap

    Rogue Wave

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

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    Whether you’re a headliner or slugging it out on one of the side stages, there’s really only one rule at a festival: Don’t be boring. Oakland’s own Rogue Wave got points right off the bat for being hometown boys, and it was nice to see a healthy contingent of local bands on Saturday (Fantastic Negrito was actually playing at the Twin Peaks stage at the same time). But Zach Rogue and his band of generic indie rock dudes failed to quicken the crowd’s pulse, delivering a listless if pleasantly melodic set of tunes that could have soundtracked any season of Grey’s Anatomy. Even their big surprise guest — Michael Deni of SF-based rock group Geographer came out to sing “Ocean” — was only a treat to those who continue to follow the band closely enough to care. Judging by the crowd response, that’s a pretty small demographic. –Collin Brennan
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    Wettest Blanket

    Wet

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    The problem with naming your band Wet is that sometimes, either by choice or by accident, you’ll live up to it. Outside Lands got off to a soggy, sluggy start on Friday, but Whitney and Caveman did their best to brighten up the Sutro stage with songs one could conceivably dance to. By the time it was Wet’s turn, the pink beach balls were flying and the crowd felt ready to welcome the weekend, but the Brooklyn trio made it their mission to bring everybody down with their sadsack brand of minimalist R&B. Don’t get me wrong — vocalist Kelly Zutrau possesses a fluid, full-bodied voice that invites intimacy and demands attention. But there’s a time and place for everything, and I’m not so sure Wet makes sense in a festival setting. “This next song is maybe the saddest song on the album,” Zutrau said before launching into Don’t You closer “These Days”, and there was really no coming back from that. Such is the harsh truth about festivals: It doesn’t matter how beautiful your music is if you insist on being tone-deaf. –Collin Brennan
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    Least Adaptable to Daylight

    Tokimonsta

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    It’s not so much that Tokimonsta did anything wrong; the issue with her set lay with the choice to place the Los Angeles-based DJ also known as Jennifer Lee on a smaller stage early in the day. As festivals continue to grow both in size and genre, more and more DJs find themselves playing alongside traditional rock acts in outdoor settings. Some can rise to the challenge, but others, like Tokimonsta, feel out of place trying to conjure a nightclub energy in a foggy afternoon forest setting. Credit to the artist for inviting singer Gavin Turek to pace the stage and add her impressive vocals to several tracks across the set. Ultimately though, what could’ve been quite a captivating extravaganza under the stars ended up feeling somewhat stilted as a matinee booking. –-Zack Ruskin
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    Worst Crowd Response

    Poliçia

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    Photo by David Brendan Hall

    Nobody had more fun during Poliça’s Outside Lands set than vocalist Channy Leaneagh, who seemed singularly intent on bringing the party to the Twin Peaks stage on a sleepy Friday afternoon. Slinking back and forth across the stage in a glittery top, Leaneagh was perfectly at odds with a crowd that simply wasn’t having it, no matter what Prince-ly gestures the Minneapolis synthpop group threw at them. On paper, Poliça look like the type of band that should just work in the context of a festival. But a charismatic frontwoman, a locked-in bassist, and a couple of drummers can only take you so far if the tunes lack a certain spunk. Poliça specialize in a subgenre of dance music that’s weirdly difficult to dance to; it’s not bad, per se, but it’s a little too cold and impersonal to really get those butts moving. And on a chilly day at Outside Lands, you’d better get those butts to move. –Collin Brennan

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    Worst Dance Party

    Grimes

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    Photo by Heather Kaplan at Lollapalooza

    Grimes is a unique artist, and one would expect her Friday night set at Outside Lands to be anything but a little weird. Yes, there was screaming, and rolling on the floor, and awkward asides between songs, but what wasn’t there was any sense of energy or cohesion. Claire Boucher took the stage with two dancers who looked like they may have just wandered out of that rave scene from The Matrix Reloaded. Their choreography was on point, but what’s choreography if the music behind it isn’t potent? Grimes’ set was a master class in dissonance and misplaced energy, with Boucher placing more importance on bashing her drum pad than taking center stage to actually sing. Perhaps part of the issues surrounding a lack of intimacy can be attributed to the poor stage placement for Grimes, who drew so many fans to the Twin Peaks stage that many were forced to watch from a football field away. Regardless, what they saw wasn’t the writhing, intoxicating pathos on full display in songs like “Oblivion” and “Life in the Vivid Dream”. Instead, it was something far more diluted. –-Zack Ruskin
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    Most Poorly Attended Headliner

    Lionel Richie

    Here’s a question I’ve been pondering for a few hours now: If Lionel Richie says “Hello” but there’s nobody there to hear it … does he still make a sound? It’s difficult to recall a headlining set more sparsely attended than Richie’s on Sunday night, and festival organizers have only themselves to blame. Why book Richie at all? Sure, he had some fun piano ballads back in the ‘80s, but did you really think he’d be able to compete with Lana Del Rey at a festival that seems to grow younger each year? I just feel bad for Richie, because he gave it his all and at least he knew what the score was. “Tonight I only have one job to do,” he told the crowd. “Play all the hits!” Well, at least he did that much. He even turned the Commodores’ classic “Easy” into a nearly seven-minute jam, complete with an extended guitar solo and sax solo. Say what you will about the guy, but he knows how to milk a good thing. –Collin Brennan
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    Most Prominent Use of the Slide Whistle

    Fred Armisen

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    To be fair, Portlandia star and former Saturday Night Live standout Fred Armisen didn’t actually use a slide whistle. He was too busy doing his impression of a guy who thinks doo wop is the hardest music he’s ever heard, screening a clip from the upcoming second season of IFC’s Documentary Now and jamming out with Hüsker Dü’s Bob Mould. It was guest comic Charlyne Yi, memorable as Martin Starr’s stoner girlfriend Jodi in Knocked Up, that wielded the slide whistle as part of her incredibly awkward, supremely hilarious set.

    Armisen tried to do a lot with his time, and while screening the Documentary Now segment was perhaps not the best use of his moment on stage, watching him serve as drummer for Mould as the rocker shredded “Hardly Getting Over it” was something special indeed. Later, as his alter-ego punk rocker Ian Rubbish, Armisen closed things out with his legitimately catchy ditty “It’s a Lovely Day”. It was the track he played during his final bow on SNL, and it was an apt sentiment once again. –-Zack Ruskin
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    Best Sedate Starlet

    Lana Del Rey

    It’s easy to crack wise about Lana Del Rey. She waltzes across the stage like Florence had her Machine replaced with a Xanax prescription. She not-so-subtly celebrates herself by broadcasting her name in giant neon letters above the stage. Yet, on the other hand, she also has a phenomenal voice and a startlingly dedicated fanbase. When the sound momentarily cut out during opener “Cruel World”, the overflowing crowd at the Twin Peaks stage nearly had a collective heart attack. Tears were legitimately shed when she descended the stairs to the crowd barricade during “Cola” to take selfies and sign autographs.

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    When her band struck up the first notes to Del Rey’s Born to Die single “Summertime Sadness”, the crowd fidgeted with elation, muting the artist herself by vociferously singing every word. While “proper” headliner Lionel Ritchie languished a field away, the masses gave in to the sleepy siren songstress and her muted but undeniable charms. As Outside Lands came to an end with a noticeably spirited performance of “Off to the Races”, the questions of Del Rey’s place in the modern music pantheon remained unanswered. All that was certain is how deeply so many people clearly care for her, which, in a way, is the only thing that matters. –-Zack Ruskin
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    Best Band to Catch Again at a More Intimate Venue

    Methyl Ethel

    Methyl Ethel // Photo by David Brendan Hall

    Photo by David Brendan Hall

    It was a small but eager crowd that gathered to see Australian export Methyl Ethel open the Panhandle stage on Saturday afternoon. The Perth trio got down to business playing cuts off their dreamy debut, Oh Inhuman Spectacle, but despite consistent charisma from lead singer Jake Webb, the band was the victim of the tardy, unfocused attendance that most festivals experience early in their second day. Decked out in an Empire Strikes Back tanktop, Webb looked ready for sunshine that was never to come. Also absent was the small club venue in which the band would likely have thrived. A young band with plenty of promise, they’ll surely have another chance soon to earn their keep and maybe upgrade to a Return of the Jedi windbreaker. –-Zack Ruskin

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    Best Set Sabotaged by Subpar Sound

    Vince Staples

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    Vince Staples can’t stop trying to top himself. The Long Beach rapper begins practically every song by asking his audience to “Bounce!” a dozen or so times, and he refuses to take no for an answer. Nobody brings more energy to the festival stage, and Staples smartly tailors his set to the EDM crowd, throwing in plenty of epic bass drops to get folks as lit as humanly possible. Through no fault of his own, Staples had a rough-ass start to his Saturday evening set, popping out on stage in full Tazmanian Devil mode and not realizing that his mic wasn’t turned up for the entirety of opener “Lift Me Up”. That’s a difficult thing to recover from, though he eventually found his groove and salvaged the rest of the set. By the time he busted out crowd favorite “Norf Norf”, I had already taken note of some dude passed out in the bushes. Like I said, folks get lit. –Collin Brennan
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    Least Likely to Live Up to the Hype

    Air

    When the Outside Lands lineup was announced back in April, Air stood out as an impressive get for the festival. The perpetually chilled out French duo has been a rare sighting on American stages as of late; they’ll play at FYF Fest later this month, but that’s about it in terms of U.S. shows. So Saturday evening’s set on the main stage seemed like a wasted opportunity for Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel to make a lasting impression. Clad in all white and performing in front of a weird, wobbly box of light, the sexy boys cycled through their sexy hits, but the overall energy at Lands End was lower than it should have been. Air salvaged some good will by closing with an extended psychedelic jam that felt very much at home in Golden Gate Park, though they might have been better off on a smaller stage where their fans wouldn’t have had to compete with the Radiohead faithful camping out in droves. –Collin Brennan
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    Best Afternoon Daydream

    Lord Huron

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    Opening with “The World Ender” off 2015’s Stranger Tales, Lord Huron set the scene for a brisk afternoon offering of folk-infused rock ballads. “Six years ago today, we played our first ever show,” Ben Schneider told the sprawling Sutro stage crowd, “so it feels like an auspicious occasion.” The band made the most of their anniversary, playing tranquil but stirring songs culled from their new album and 2012’s Lonesome Dreams. When they launched into their excellent single “Ends of the Eath”, Schneider’s twangy drawl ricocheted off the trees and across the blankets of lounging couples, a perfectly peaceful respite from the music festival mayhem. –-Zack Ruskin
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    Most Pleased With Themselves

    The Last Shadow Puppets

    Alex Turner knows he’s hot shit. You can see it in his black leather jacket, his perfectly coifed pompadour, and his not entirely necessary sunglasses. “Can I call you San Francisco?” he purred as bandmate Miles Kane looked on. The Last Shadow Puppets can bring the noise, but with it comes a healthy dose of smarm. Tracks like “Sweet Dreams, TN” carried with them a welcome burst of energy and distortion, but it was their faithful cover of David Bowie “Moonage Daydream” that left the most lasting impression, as if they were telepathically aware that less than 24 hours later Third Eye Blind would blaspheme the legacy of the Thin White Duke. Naturally, Turner had every right to be pleased. Celebrity sighting: Willow Smith not whipping her hair from the crowd. –-Zack Ruskin
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    Most Likely to Be Mistaken for Dylan

    Kevin Morby

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    At this point it’s probably lazy to compare Kevin Morby to Blonde on Blonde-era Dylan. But aside from the obvious sonic similarities, who else comes across as this effortlessly cool? Sporting long curls and a thin but unmistakable Midwestern drawl, Morby has really come into his own since recording his third studio album, Singing Saw, in Woodstock earlier this year. The former Woods bassist isn’t much for stage banter, but he doesn’t leave a lot of room for silence and comes across as a songwriter fully in command of his own ship. He peppered his Saturday afternoon set with touches of psych rock and other San Francisco-friendly sounds that don’t always come to the fore on his studio albums, and the crowd rewarded him with a warm reception. –Collin Brennan

    Least Necessary Bowie Tribute

    Third Eye Blind

    We’d ask Stephan Jenkins to never change, but that’s not necessary. The 51-year-old frontman of Third Eye Blind still comes across like a 20-something college student who just finished Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in one sitting. Dressed in baggy shorts and an oversized beanie, Jenkins turned the Lands End stage into a San Francisco love fest on Sunday afternoon, making a point to mention how much it means to play his hometown. “We rode our bikes to get to this gig,” he exclaimed between songs. “My surf spot is down the street!” The crowd was willing to go with it — and to suffer Jenkins’ cheesy banter — as long as Third Eye Blind provided the hits, and they did. The only real misstep was an extended medley of David Bowie songs that seemed a little too contrived (and a little too vanilla) to do the Thin White Duke any real justice. But when Jenkins and co. stuck to their own material, the audience responded with more than semi-charmed enthusiasm. –Collin Brennan
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    Best Use of Silly Accents

    Spontaneation

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    Taping a podcast live at a music festival isn’t without its share of risks. Comedian Paul F. Tompkins knows this better than most: he’s had plenty of experience bringing a much-needed dose of giggles and bowties to the music festival circuit. His latest endeavor “SPONTEANEATION” is an Earwolf network podcast built around a single-narrative improvised scene informed by a conversation with a special guest. For his Outside Lands’ episode, Tompkins wisely recruited fellow Barbrary Tent performer Fred Armisen, who set the scene for guest improvisers Janet Varney, Craig Cackowski, and Tawny Newsome to adopt a myriad of accents and spread mirth throughout the packed house. Bonus points to the amazing Eban Schletter, who live scored the whole affair on a piano as it occurred. –-Zack Ruskin
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    Setlist Most In Need of Improvement

    Radiohead

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    Let’s cut to the chase: Radiohead was awesome. How could Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Ed O’Brien, Colin Greenwood, and Phil Selway be anything less? Their headlining set on Saturday night of Outside Lands was an expected mix of tracks off their latest, A Moon Shaped Pool, with forays into their extensive and beloved back catalogue. However, while Lollapalooza was treated to cuts like “No Surprises”, “My Iron Lung”, and “Street Spirit (Fade Out)”, the Golden Gate Park faithful had to make do with slightly less varied offerings. Pleasant surprises included The King of Limbs single “Lotus Flower” and the always haunting “Exit Music (for a Film)”. Fan favorites like “Everything in its Right Place” and “Pyramid Song” were reworked with slightly more uptempo, danceable tweaks that worked to both freshen up the tracks (not that they needed it) without compromising their appeal. It was fireworks by way of piercing melodies and delicate falsettos. It was Radiohead. –-Zack Ruskin
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    Most San Francisco-Friendly Sounds

    The Claypool Lennon Delerium

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    One of the big talking points this festival season has been the increased homogenization of lineups, but The Claypool Lennon Delirium are one example of a band that makes a ton of sense for San Francisco. Featuring freaky bassist Les Claypool and freaky guitarist Sean Lennon, they play right into the city’s long affinity for drugs and psychedelic rock. The cloud of weed was notably thick over the Sutro stage during their meandering Friday evening set, but the two leads showcased some impressive chemistry. San Franciscans love jam bands and things that remind them of the ‘60s, and The Claypool Lennon Delirium delivered on both fronts. Throw in a callout to “our lord and savior Bob Ross,” and you’ve got the makings of something special. Or at least something really fucking weird. –Collin Brennan
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    Hungriest Like the Wolf

    Duran Duran

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    If Duran Duran stopped being proper rock stars sometime in the late ‘80s, well, they never got the memo. Clad in white leather and looking 20 years younger than they ought to, the hardy English new wavers made a case for their continued existence during a surprisingly fun headlining set on the Lands End stage. After opening with the title track of their latest album, Paper Gods, they stroked the nostalgia nerve with flashback singles “Notorious”, “Hungry Like the Wolf”, and “Girls On FIlm”. They even saved some time to honor David Bowie with a cover of “Space Oddity” before blasting off with closer “Rio”. –Collin Brennan

    Best Dad Cameo

    Kamasi Washington

    Kamasi Washington is doing the impossible: bringing jazz to the next generation. Armed with a saxophone, and backed by a band of incredible talent, Washington used his short set as Sunday’s opening act on the Lands End stage to blast some brass and even get his father in on the act. Ricky Washington, a woodwind specialist, joined his son for a blistering take on “The Rhythm Changes”. Even the nearby police officers (who were otherwise unoccupied keeping the peaceful crowd at bay) seemed transfixed as two generations proved definitively that, at least for now, jazz is still alive and well. –-Zack Ruskin
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    Most Likely to Appear on Hoarders

    Ryan Adams and The Shining

    Looking at the stage that awaited Ryan Adams and his backing band, The Shining, it was doubtful much thought was put into its curation. An old Tetris arcade console was wedged next to a super-sized stack of Fender amps. There was a stuffed tiger, and two things accurately named by Family Guy as Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm-Flailing Tubemen. But in actuality, the stage could’ve been bare save for Adams and a guitar. That’s all he’s ever needed.

    Adams put his skills on full display for cuts like “New York, New York” (which he dedicated to the breakfast cereal Cocoa Puffs) and “When the Stars Go Blue.” The only real stage adornment that seemed to matter was previous Sutro stage performer Jason Isbell, who Adams invited back to help with “Oh My Sweet Carolina”. Amid the kooky Americana littering the stage, Adams slunk and soloed the Sutro stage into submission. Sunny the Cuckoo Bird would approve. –-Zack Ruskin
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    Best Person to Help You Come To Terms with a Trump Presidency

    John Mulaney

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    Photo by Philip Cosores

    Comedy at a music festival isn’t just a chance to rest your weary bones and spend an hour away from the masses. When it works, a great comedy set can also serve to replenish your thirst for music, acting as a wonderful diversion to ensure you aren’t sleepwalking through the latter hours of the day. Beth Stelling and John Mulaney embraced the challenge, delivering two top-notch stand-up sets that managed to overcome the slight sound bleed affecting the Barbary tent and make some fools laugh. Hard. Stelling opened things up, covering topics like the reverence with which she treats her old IUD (“it pitched a shut out”). Then Mulaney came on, and the former SNL writer shined with plenty of new material, including an insightful analogy pitting Donald Trump and the RNC as one big game of Family Feud. An admirable effort from two talented comics working in unusual circumstances, the hour was more than a reprieve. It was an utter delight. –-Zack Ruskin
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    Sexiest Man to Ever Have Sexed

    Miguel

    When sexy grows up, it wants to be Miguel. The LA-based R&B crooner has always specialized in turning the heat up, and that’s exactly what he did at a chilly Twin Peaks stage as the sun set on Sunday’s festivities. Just a few hours after Third Eye Blind finished up a contrived tribute to David Bowie, Miguel paid a more natural kind of homage to Prince, embodying the late singer’s sultry falsetto and flair for driving girls absolutely goddamn bonkers. Pretty much every Miguel song is about fucking and fucking real good, so it’s no surprise that the set highlight came with the booty-call anthem of the summer, “Come Through and Chill”. With a devilish smirk pasted onto his face, the singer led the audience through a call-and-response chant of “I wanna fuck all night.” After an hour of listening to this guy, what else is there to do? –Collin Brennan
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    Most Cathartic Redemption

    Fantastic Negrito

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    Fantastic Negrito // Photo by David Brendan Hall

    Photo by David Brendan Hall

    “We’re here,” Xavier Dphrepaulezz exclaimed as he took the Twin Peaks stage a year after he was controversially detained and denied the chance to perform at the 2015 Outside Lands Festival. “We finally made it.” Negrito made the most of his mulligan, playing cuts off his potent debut record, The Last Days of Oakland. Mixing soul with social commentary, he tore through numbers like “Scary Woman” and “Hump Thru the Winter”. The true highlight of Negrito’s set was a scorching cover of “In the Pines”, which used some tweaked lyrics to take the standard made famous by Lead Belly and again by Nirvana and turn it into something timely and ominous. The world needs more Fantastic Negrito. Good on Ranger Dave for making amends and not denying his denizens a moment longer. –-Zack Ruskin

    Most Intimate Commune with Nature

    Beach House

    “Peace and love and mystic trees.” These were the words Beach House singer Victoria Legrand spoke midway through her band’s spellbinding set to close out the Sutro Stage on Friday night. Drawing on songs from across the group’s five albums, the setting was serene and intimate. This was no doubt partially due to the overlap between Beach House and headliner LCD Soundsystem on the neighboring Lands End stage, but for fans of the Baltimore-based dream pop outfit, it was hardly a conflict at all. For some songs, Legrand donned a black hood with sparkling embellishments, adding to the magic of the moment. Their stage decorations were a sea of shining stars, all too perfect given the overcast skies above had none of their own to offer. Sometimes fake stars are more than enough, though, and in the case of Beach House, no real world could possibly compare to the artificial one they conjured for their fans amongst the dark shadows of mystic trees. –-Zack Ruskin
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    Easiest Headliner to Take for Granted

    LCD Soundsystem

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    Photo by Heather Kaplan at Lollapalooza

    What kind of a world do we live in where an LCD Soundsystem set in 2016 feels like a wholly unremarkable occurrence? I would have absolutely killed to see James Murphy and Co. do their thing a couple years back, but they’ve played so many festivals this summer that I found myself taking them for granted at Outside Lands. Shame on me. It may not be the sweaty club show that fans envisioned when they dared to dream of a reunion, but LCD’s festival set is still a thing to behold. That giant disco ball isn’t the only thing with its own gravitational pull — songs like “Losing My Edge”, “Dance Yrself Clean”, and perennial closer “All My Friends” never fail to pull fans closer and make them feel like they’re a part of something bigger. –Collin Brennan
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    Best Bummer Jams

    Julien Baker

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    If anybody was born to play the noontime slot at a cold and dreary festival like this year’s Outside Lands, it’s Julien Baker. Whereas most other artists would benefit from playing later in the day, the diminutive Tennessean seemed right at home standing in front of a small but rapt audience at the Sutro stage. Almost everyone there had risen from bed early (OK, relatively early) to see Baker do her thing, making the set feel far more intimate than any festival appearance has any right to feel. “The great thing about starting your day off with all these bummer jams is it can only go up from here,” she joked, but to hear Baker perform her starkly confessional songs accompanied only by an electric guitar is a treat in any context. Later, while performing “Everybody Does”, Baker again indulged her self-deprecating nature: “You’re gonna run when you find out who I am.” She’s wrong about one thing — nobody was running anywhere. –Collin Brennan
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    Most Likely to Succeed

    Jidenna

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    Photo by David Brendan Hall

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    Jidenna may have been forced to make due with the less than ideal prospect of playing at 2:00 p.m. on the first day of Outside Lands, but for the crowd at the Twin Peaks stage wise enough to see him, they were treated to a headliner-caliber performance. Decked out in a fresh, blue suit, Jidenna had dance moves and slick rhymes to spare. Joining him were a tightly practiced backing band and a Mmanwu, which Wikipedia defines as “a traditional masquerade of the Igbo people of southeastern Nigeria. “ The Mmanwu kept up with Jidenna as he blazed through cuts like “Long Live the Chief” and “Classic Man”. Towards the end of his set, Jidenna spoke of his time living in Oakland. “The Bay’s the only place where you really learn to be yourself,” he said. Well thank God he did, because Jidenna’s self is one we can expect to see for many years to come. –Zack Ruskin
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    Most Likely To Bring a Big Dumb Smile to Your Face

    Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem

    It was quite the unconventional coup. The 2016 Outside Lands Festival did what no other festival has ever done: bring Dr. Teeth & the Electric Mayhem in the felt to perform live in front of a crowd for the first time ever. The whole gang was there — Dr. Teeth, Animal, Janice, Floyd Pepper Zoot, and Lips — along with a remarkable team of puppeteers beneath the stage that kept the Muppets rocking along to covers of The Mowgli’s “San Francisco”, The Band’s “Ophelia”, and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ “Home”. Between songs, there were clips of the gang cavorting around the city, unquestionably a needed respite for the busy hands keeping Animal drumming and Janice looking like her radiant self. The 25-minute set culminated in a sing along to The Beatles’ “With a Little Help from My Friends”, with Dr. Teeth and co. themselves recruiting the Oakland Tabernacle Choir to help bring down the house and send a sea of fans off to other stages with warm memories and grins from ear to ear. –Zack Ruskin

    Most Likely to Convert the Nonbelievers

    Chance the Rapper

    Chance the Rapper certainly made his presence felt at Lollapalooza last weekend, but isn’t it a little weird that he didn’t warrant a headlining set in his own hometown? Not to worry. Chano’s Sunday afternoon showcase at Outside Lands more than made up for any perceived slight, and it let Bay Area residents in on a secret that Chicagoans have known for a long time: Nobody’s making more vital hip-hop than the kid from 79th. Chance brought his boy Donnie Trumpet along for the ride this time, and the live instrumentation gave his set some extra oomph it didn’t even need in the first place. After cycling through some Acid Rap standouts, Chance launched into his standout verse on Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam” and proceeded to run through the highlights of his recent mixtape, Coloring Book. It would have been nice for West or even frequent collaborator Jamila Woods to make an appearance, but that’s probably asking for too much. After all, Chance is the last guy who needs to call on outside help. –Collin Brennan
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    Best Way to Cope With Mortality

    Sufjan Stevens

    Dressed like ET going out to a rave, Sufjan Stevens donned his massive angel wings and got down to breaking hearts. He opened with “Seven Swans”, after which he smashed his banjo. If “Seven Swans” doesn’t strike one as a song that would lead to instrument destruction, then you don’t know Stevens very well. Contrasting outlandish garb and tin foil-covered stilts with poignant melodies about life’s most ethereal quandaries, he once more confirmed himself as one of the most engaging live performers around. During “4th of July”, Stevens actually managed to turn the cresting chorus of “we’re all going to die” into a beatific rallying cry, urging the crowd to sing along to the morbid sentiment with gleeful abandon. We are all going to die, but until we do, there’s Sufjan Stevens to remind us of life’s joys. –Zack Ruskin
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    Best Local Act Poised to Breakout

    Con Brio

    Holy shit, man. Con Brio. Con fuckin’ Brio. This Bay Area-based soul septet is a lean, mean, festival-slaying machine if their performance on Saturday evening was any indication. Though they’ve been around since 2013, they only recently released their debut full-length album and — Whoa! Watch out! — that’s the sound of a killer local band getting ready to explode on the national scene.

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    In an era when too many festivals feature the same acts, it’s up to long-running fests like Outside Lands to book the best local talent the city has to offer, and the organizers did a hell of a job getting Con Brio on board this year. Led by frontman Ziek McCarter and bolstered by the “Hallelujah Horns” of Marcus Stephens and Brendan Liu (the latter of whom literally can’t stop smiling), the band comes across like a party punk version of Sly and the Family Stone — another band SF locals might be familiar with. McCarter literally cartwheeled and backflipped his way across the stage on Saturday, stopping for just long enough to belt out the lines to songs like “Free & Brave”, a powerful response to the Black Lives Matter movement. A lot of people lament the talent drain San Francisco has experienced in recent years, but McCarter and Con Brio have enough talent to support the whole damn city on their own. Outside Lands 2016 will go down as one of their (many) coming-out parties. –Collin Brennan

    Click ahead for an exclusive gallery from Outside Lands 2016.

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