Years from now, I suspect it will be impossible to contextualize the 10th anniversary of Outside Lands without mentioning another number that comes with fewer bragging rights: two. That’s how many acts dropped off the top of the lineup in the weeks — and hours! and minutes! — leading up to the fest, with Queens of the Stone Age canceling “due to injury” and A Tribe Called Quest simply not showing up for several days in a row. Both events forced the organizers of the San Francisco festival to think quickly, turning what was supposed to be a victory lap into a hurdles race with little room for error.
The good news is that the last decade has prepared co-founders Allen Scott of Another Planet Entertainment and Rick Farman of Superfly for just this sort of scenario. As my colleague Zack Ruskin recently touched on in his chat with the pair, Outside Lands has been on the brink of disaster, more or less, since it debuted in 2008. The festival has weathered last-second cancellations (the Beastie Boys in 2009) and more serious recalibrations (a pared-down two-day format in 2010) in years past, and never has it been more prepared to do so than in the present. Recent additions such as Wine Lands and the Barbary comedy tent all but ensure that a diverse crowd makes its way through the gates, and the festival now wields enough clout to lock down a top-tier rock act like Cage the Elephant on short notice.
Still, it was difficult to look upon the foggy fields of Golden Gate Park this year without the sense that something was missing. The festival’s blueprint was basically unchanged, its vendors offered more local food options than could possibly be sampled in a weekend, and its generation-spanning headliners all performed with admirable spunk. So what was it? Perhaps it was the discernable lack of women — even a single woman, really — at the tip-top of the lineup, even though Lorde appears to be as ready as anyone for that spotlight. Or perhaps it was the general lack of cohesion amongst the smaller fonts, many of whom killed it individually (see: Mondo Cozmo, Swet Shop Boys, and Kamaiyah) but failed to contribute to any sense of a narrative playing out over the course of the weekend. Then again, why overanalyze it when the answer — a hole the size of A Tribe Called Quest — is staring us straight in the face?
Whatever the case may be, and despite such relatively minor quibbles, what’s important is that Outside Lands will endure. The hordes of young people sprinting toward the stage to catch Bleachers or Tove Lo or ScHoolboy Q make that seem clear enough, as do the rich old folks camped out with their chardonnays in the VIP lounge. This is a festival that’s grown to be bigger than any one act or demographic, and future iterations will undoubtedly scratch any itches this one couldn’t quite reach. And besides: If all we’re left with after a long and misty weekend is a couple of transcendent performances from the likes of Gorillaz and Solange, that isn’t half-bad.
In the following pages, we’ll run through those performances and other notable moments we experienced at Outside Lands 2017. In return, all we ask is a simple favor: Remind us not to forget our heavy coats next year.
S U R V I V E
The soundscapes created by the four members of S U R V I V E were dazzling, synth-laden journeys into eerie netherworlds that bubbled and boomed. Unfortunately, the spectacle was dampened substantially by the fact that watching the performance unfold entailed looking at some dudes standing still behind their rigs and occasionally twisting a knob or two. No one faults S U R V I V E for being a band without guitars or drums or a charismatic lead singer, but if the entirety of your live act is the concert equivalent of watching paint dry, why not try amplifying the experience with some trippy visuals or at least a few flashing lights? S U R V I V E’s set had neither, and while the work of members Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein on Netflix’s Stranger Things produced one of 2016’s best scores, that hardly excuses the band from making literally no effort in their live performance. Eleven would be ashamed. –Zack Ruskin
Worst Crowd Reaction
No matter the festival, no matter the artist, at some point during the weekend someone will fall prey to being on the wrong stage at the wrong time. For the 2017 installment of Outside Lands, the dubious honors went to bass maestro Thundercat. Helming a mid-afternoon slot at the sizeable Twin Peaks stage, the Kendrick Lamar collaborator and insanely talented instrumentalist fell victim to an ambivalent crowd that seemed more concerned with staking out spots for the A Tribe Called Quest set that would later be cancelled (again) than appreciating the performance on stage. Playfully blending jazz, R&B, and soul into a robust concoction, Thundercat and his bandmates stayed the course. As good humor has always been part of the deal with Thundercat, he appeared to take the lackluster reception to his efforts in stride, but it’s truly a shame that more eyes and ears didn’t turn their attention to his delicious bass lines and revel in the bounty of his musical gifts. –Zack Ruskin
Stankoni-est Case of Déjà Vu
Perhaps it’s just brand fatigue — all of those Heineken signs can get a little overwhelming — but haven’t we seen this before? Rapper and proud ATLien Big Boi popped by the Heineken tent on Sunday afternoon for a “surprise” performance that wasn’t much of a surprise, seeing as how he did the exact same thing last year. He brought along some new tunes this time courtesy of his latest release Boomiverse, but the swelling crowd didn’t lose its shit until he trotted out Stankonia hits “B.O.B.” and “Ms. Jackson”. We would’ve liked to see a little more from Big Boi’s workmanlike 30-minute set, but it wasn’t a bad way to pass the time while waiting for Lorde to take the Lands End stage. –Collin Brennan
It’s not Little Dragon’s fault that A Tribe Called Quest pulled out at the last minute, but try telling that to a crowd hungry for some old-school hip-hop and forced to settle for … well, pretty much the diametric opposite. Confused expressions were a common sight in the vicinity of the Lands End stage when Yukimi Nagano and her synth-happy band of Swedes opened the slot formerly reserved for Tribe, but give Nagano some credit for being her usual bombastic self.
Sporting a garish neon cowgirl hat and white veil, the frontwoman acknowledged the situation by dedicating the blippy Season High single “Sweet” to the absent rap group, and from there she was all systems go. Alas — and in spite of a lively performance — Little Dragon was met mostly with a palpable air of indifference, partly owing to the last-minute lineup change, but also to the fact that the group simply doesn’t have much traction among Stateside festivalgoers. It was an odd booking to begin with (one suspects the connection to Gorillaz had something to do with it), but the circumstances didn’t help matters. –Collin Brennan
Best Neil Young Impression
For Upright Citizens Brigade co-founder and Improv4Humans podcast host Matt Besser, Outside Lands has became a second home. He’s performed with his improv pals in various incarnations at the festival for a number of years, and actually was inspired to invite Dan Deacon onto his podcast as a musical guest after catching his set in Golden Gate Park in 2015. This year he opted to trade in his buddies for strawberry ice cream with a set at GastroMagic, a stage unique to Outside Lands in which musicians and culinary creators join forces to do … basically whatever they want.
In this case, that meant Besser telling weed jokes and local ice cream mavens Humphrey Slocombe giving samples to the crowd. The highlight however was a song about spilling bong water delivered by Besser in a pitch-perfect impression of Neil Young. Whatever Besser cooks up for 2018, let us hope he finds some reason to return. If not, perhaps he can look into adapting his Young performance to bring back the Bridge School Benefit. –Zack Ruskin
Longest in the Tooth
The Who’s closing set at Outside Lands was as much history lesson as performance, as guitarist Pete Townsend was quick to remind the massive crowd that braved the rain and fog until the bitter end. “Way back in 1967, this is kind of where we started,” he reflected. “It was a great city then, and it’s a great city now.”
Of course, as with The Who themselves, the two versions of San Francisco he was referring to could hardly be more different. The observation that Townsend and singer Roger Daltry — the only two surviving members of the band’s original lineup — have lost a bit of their edge should come as a shock to no one. Sure, Townsend can still bust out the windmill trick a few times per song, but it’s difficult to hear Daltry sing “I hope I die before I get old” without getting a bit depressed at where old age has dropped him off.
Give both legends credit for keeping up some legitimately humorous banter and getting in a couple anti-fascist quips, but they no longer have the bite you’d expect (perhaps foolishly) from one of rock ‘n’ roll’s seminal bands. –Collin Brennan
Best Pairing of Band and Stage
The organizers at Outside Lands seem to know what they have with the Sutro stage. Year in and year out, they reserve the (relatively) secluded, (relatively) intimate venue for acts that do their best work in front of a crowd that prefers sprawling on blankets to rushing the barricades. Low-key rockers Real Estate certainly fit that mold, and their Saturday afternoon set is best described in terms that have stuck with the band through several albums: pleasant, dreamy, lacking in anything one could deem remotely offensive.
That’s certainly not a bad thing, especially for the casual festivalgoer looking to chill out for an hour on the grass. And it’s not as if Real Estate have no depths to mine; on the contrary, songs like In Mind single “Darling” and the jangly “Crime” hide more than meets the eye in their interlaced harmonies and guitar melodies. It’s just that Martin Courtney, Alex Bleeker, and co. don’t demand anything from their audience. You’re free to drink in their extended instrumentals or strike up a conversation with the drunk sitting next to you, the latter of which seemed like the slightly more popular option this time out. –Collin Brennan
Timeliest Response to the Nuclear Apocalypse
One could be forgiven for forgetting Nick Kroll is a stand-up comic. Instead, he’s been caking on make-up to play old man Gil Faizon to John Mulaney’s George St. Geegland on Broadway, making films, appearing on all the podcasts, and completing three seasons of Comedy Central’s Kroll Show. Fortunately for us, Kroll found time to hit The Barbary comedy tent and deliver some painfully timely jokes about Donald Trump, nuclear war, and the finer points of dog intercourse (you had to be there). Later he called on surprise guests Jason Mantzoukas and Seth Morris for some delightfully bizarre improv scenes. The improv itself was half-baked, but the crowd banter that preceded it was priceless. While ideally the nuclear war bits won’t be relevant when it comes time for Kroll to tape his next special, we can rest assured that if the apocalypse is upon us, we’ll have a few zingers to ease the blow. –Zack Ruskin
Closest We Got to a Legit Rap Show
Sunday bore the distinction of being the only day A Tribe Called Quest didn’t cancel a scheduled performance, so hip-hop fans could find a bit of solace in that. But their real treat came late in the evening courtesy of Los Angeles rapper and Top Dawg Entertainment flagshipper ScHoolboy Q. It was probably too much to ask for Kendrick Lamar, SZA, or another high-profile TDE artist to stop by for a guest appearance, but ScHoolboy Q obliged the crowd with a couple of his own features, including a performance of Lamar’s “Humble” that sent the front rows into various states of catatonic arm waving. The energy remained at peak levels throughout the set, and it finally felt like folks got the rap show they’d been promised two days earlier. While far from transcendent, ScHoolboy did enough to take everyone’s mind off the cold and rain, especially when he trotted out fan favorites “Collard Greens” and “Studio”. –Collin Brennan
Most Inventive Disposal of Gum
When trying to describe Jeff Goldblum, you might as well make up a word, because nothing in the English language can accurately describe the man who has starred in a thousand memes as a shirtless Dr. Ian Malcolm. Seemingly unable to wait for his set to start, Goldblum surprised the still-arriving Barbary crowd and asked, by round of applause, if he should swallow his gum, spit it out, or deposit it into the hands of a fan. Of course option three won out, and immediately a girl had her hands cupped, ready to receive the masticated memento directly from Goldblum’s mouth.
Things gained some normalcy after that, with Goldblum vamping on piano alongside the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra, plying the crowd with trivia questions, and consenting to let one eager fan tie his shoe. While fans relentlessly made reference to Jurassic Park, Goldblum was content to leave his filmography at the door and instead take on the guise of gregarious vaudevillian. No word yet on whether a deal with Juicy Fruit may be in the works. –Zack Ruskin
Best Home Cooking
Oakland rapper Kamaiyah is blessed. Not only does she have a sick flow and a discerning taste in track outfits, but on Sunday afternoon, she had thousands of young hip-hop heads chanting her name and jumping up and down in unison. Go Yah Yah, Go Yah Yah, Go! were the only words you needed to know to participate in the love fest, and the queen of the party made clear how much she appreciated the home cooking. “I always say the Bay Area is my best show,” she beamed at one point. “Y’all make me feel at home!” The crowd saved its rowdiest reaction for the hit single “Out the Bottle”, lending their voices to Kamaiyah’s as she shouted what amounts to her artistic ethos: “We live every damn day like it’s Friday!” –Collin Brennan
Happiest to Be Here
On paper, at least, it’s easy to dismiss Los Angeles electropop trio MUNA as a minor-league version of HAIM. The comparison has some merit, in the sense that both groups craft tight, infectious hooks that hearken back to the softer side of ‘70s electro rock. But to watch Muna captivate the Twin Peaks audience early on Saturday was to understand how much they’ve come into their own in just a few short years.
It means a lot, at 12:40 p.m. on a cold and foggy afternoon, for a band to make you believe there’s nowhere else they’d rather be. Muna accomplished that non-inconsiderable goal by appealing directly to their fans in the crowd, asking them to match their intensity on single “Everything” and queer pride anthem “I Know a Place”. The latter song is definitely the closest thing lead singer Katie Gavin and crew have to a bona fide hit, but the former speaks to the depth and intensity of Gavin’s lyricism. “Thank you for fucking going there with us,” she told the front rows, but from the looks of it the gratitude was mutual. –Collin Brennan
Safest Way to Set Sail
It’s never a bad idea to start off the weekend with some raucous tunes, but the wisdom of launching the tenth installment of Outside Lands with Nicole Miglis and the moody, piano-driven sounds of Hundred Waters felt fitting as the overcast afternoon got underway. Giving their set largely over to new tracks from their forthcoming album, Communicating, the trio relied on the sterling voice of Miglis to guide cuts like “Particle” and “Blanket Me”.
While the band continues to rest on the precipice between electronica and folk, the assembled crowd seemed perfectly content to trade bass drops for the more mellow side of things. While the true shape of Communicating was hard to discern during Hundred Waters’ short set, the subdued, atmospheric offerings of their performance might lead some to believe that they’ve finally found the genre best suited to their talents. –Zack Ruskin
Best Sunglasses Commercial
Hamilton Leithauser oozes cool. Front and center on the Sutro stage with a band bedecked in shades, the former Walkmen singer got down to business in a hurry. Still riding strong off last fall’s I Had a Dream That You Were Mine, he played all but one of the record’s 10 tracks, while also adding “Alexandra” from 2014’s Black Hours. While fans hoping for an appearance from I Had a Dream collaborator Rostam Batmanglij were not to be rewarded, the singular, striking sound of Leithsauser’s sleek growls more than made up for it. Every bit the nuanced, booming instrument it is in the studio, Leithsauser’s pipes were pristine, guiding tracks like “A 1000 Times” and “1959” to their full potential. Performing under a sleepy sun, Leithauser was a welcome shot of gusto as the grounds filled in, treating those at the Sutro to a taste of timeless rock at its finest. –Zack Ruskin
Best Hangover Cure
“San Francisco, you’re my fucked up SpongeBob!” This was K.Flay’s proclamation after spying a festival totem in the crowd. It was midway through her Sunday set opening the Land’s End stage, and while San Francisco may be a demented cartoon in her eyes, she’s a shining example of indie rap done right. While no longer a resident of the city, K.Flay shared how many of her tracks were written or recorded in the area. Alternating between spitfire verses and bass work, she shot some lightning into the soggy afternoon. Closer “High Enough” was a pure banger, while “Can’t Sleep” was dedicated to her mother. As the landscape for emcees of different shapes and sizes continues to expand, it’s definitely for the best that music has found room for K.Flay, because if her set was any indication, she’s not waiting for around for a damn invitation. –Zack Ruskin
Best Twee Dance Party
Belle and Sebastian
Leave it to Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch to imbue his set with a bit of local history. “We have a lot to thank Adolph Sutro for,” he grinned, referencing iconic San Francisco pioneer and namesake of the Sutro stage. To be fair, Belle and Sebastian are from Glasgow, but San Francisco has its fair share of history in the band’s story as well. Sukie of “Sukie in the Graveyard” fame is in fact a girl who once lived in the attic of an art institute in the city. The joy of the band is, however, universal.
As Murdoch peered out into the crowd to pick two young women in “colorful frocks” to dance on stage for “Sukie”, a full-on dance party seemed inevitable. It came when the stage filled with fans for a rollicking rendition of “The Boy with the Arab Strap,” a charming scene that saw the chosen few trade in their hipster detachment for a few minutes of booty-shaking glee. It’s hard to say what Adolph Sutro would think of the scene, but it was a lovely slice of modern-day merriment. –Zack Ruskin
Most Genuine Emotion
At the conclusion of her set, singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers was overcome with gratitude. The artist famous for blowing Pharrell’s mind with a demo of her song “Alaska” during an NYC Masterclass has now reached far beyond the limits of being a viral sensation. Touring on the heels of her new EP, Now That the Light Is Fading, Rogers needs no help from Pharrell to prove her worth. That work is now in the hands of tracks like “On + Off”, where Rogers guided a silky vocal harmony over soft guitar. That she closed with “Alaska” was a given, but her reaction as she stood facing a large sea of fans, her hand covering an emotional smile, was not. “This is my first summer playing festivals,” she told the crowd earlier in her set. “Last summer I was a camp counselor.” Hopefully that camp has found a replacement, because they won’t be getting Rogers back anytime soon. –Zack Ruskin
Best Pyrotechnics/Worst Dad Jokes
At this point, 36 years into a career that began in a cramped garage in El Cerrito, the world should know what it’s getting from a Metallica show. Metal’s heaviest heavyweights have become models of consistency in their old age, trading in the out-and-out fury of their thrash days for something more sustainable and equally impressive. True to form, they didn’t deviate too far from the script during their two-plus hours on the Outside Lands main stage. After opening with back-to-back singles off their new album Hardwired… to Self-Destruct (“Hardwired” and “Atlas, Rise!”), they settled into a career-spanning set that meshed with the newer stuff surprisingly well.
Sure, every Metallica set these days is going to have its eye-roll moments, and this one was no exception. James Hetfield’s dad jokes remain as corny as ever, and the hippie drum circle that punctuated “Now That We’re Dead” almost makes Lulu seem like a good idea by comparison. But, as a friend remarked while the fireworks blasted off during the inevitable “Enter Sandman” encore, at least Metallica sounded like they wanted to be there — no small feat for a festival that saw two of its top six acts cancel on short notice.
Despite the in-fighting and occasional silliness, Metallica’s great strength as a band is the fact that they so clearly love what they’re doing. It showed on Saturday night. Toward the end of their set, they brought out a new stage configuration that was supposed to resemble the garage they spent their earliest days banging away in. It looked nothing like that, of course, but the gesture spoke loudly enough: These guys still have the hunger, and they’ll keep ramming metal up our asses until they’re too old and decrepit to do so. To that I say: “HU-YEAH!” –Collin Brennan
Gnarliest Riffs (Non-Metallica Division)
Cage the Elephant were ostensibly tapped to replace Queens of the Stone Age after a late cancellation, but a different band seemed hell-bent on shaking the Land’s End stage with some QOTSA-level riffage. Royal Blood don’t pack a ton of ammunition — drums, bass, and a bevy of effects pedals constitute their entire arsenal — but the English duo were on a mission to out-shred everyone at Outside Lands not named Metallica, and the ringing in this writer’s ears suggests they did their job.
After strutting out to a laughably sloppy and atonal version of “Also Sprach Zarathustra”, bassist/vocalist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher kept things in lock-step the rest of the way, blasting through recent singles “Lights Out” and “I Only Lie When I Love You” with an energy that alternated between snarling and playful. It was enough to get the pit churning in circles for the first time all weekend, but it also underscored Royal Blood’s persistent weakness.
This is a group that can brawl with the best of them, but they don’t yet have the hooks or the songwriting prowess to sustain all that heavy scaffolding. You can satisfy a crowd of Metallica die-hards with a tight kick drum and some nifty hammer-ons, but Cage the Elephant’s subsequent appearance on the same stage proved that, in the festival world, hits still do more damage than punches. –Collin Brennan
Most Fearsome Surgeons
Arguably one of the biggest gets for Outside Lands was the crew known as Dr. Octagon. Comprised of Kool Keith, Dan the Automator and DJ Qbert, Friday’s Land’s End performance marked one of the first live performances from the group.
Sure, it may have been quite early in the day for an extraterrestrial surgeon from Jupiter to storm the stage in blood-soaked scrubs, but is there really a right time?
Keith and company seemed up for the challenge, running through tracks from 1996’s seminal Dr. Octagonecologyst as well as some new material. DJ Qbert looked the part with a surgical mask featuring a menacing smile – in fact, the whole crew took the demented medical theme to its extreme with costumes that together created the world’s least enticing operating room. Oakland rapper Del the Funky Homosapien made his first appearance of the day to duet with Keith on “Octagon Deletion,” surely the weekend’s high water mark for Bay Area hip-hop. Keith’s parting tip to “be on the lookout for the new album” should have fans ready for whatever the good doctor prescribes next. –Zack Ruskin
Best Dance Move Coined on the Spot
Swet Shop Boys
If Swet Shop Boys could pick their own superlative, they’d probably land on “Most Likely to Be Stopped by Airport Security.” Practically every other track the Indian-American/British-Pakistani group brought to the Twin Peaks stage on Sunday afternoon had a sharp, sardonic quip about what it’s like to be brown-skinned and bearded in a country that has an, um, complicated relationship with the Muslim world. It was a jarring but necessary change of pace for a festival that largely ignored politics on a weekend defined elsewhere by violence and bitter racism.
The set’s impressive capstone came when Riz MC (aka Riz Ahmed) spun off a two-minute a capella verse about the West’s moral culpability for the recent wave of Islamic terrorism, but we can’t ignore our boy Heems for coining a sick new dance move while performing the hit song “Swish Swish”. Do it with us now: Two jump shots to the right, then an arm wipe to the left. Try and steal that one, Katy Perry. –Collin Brennan
Most Likely to Ascend to the Headliner Throne
Cage the Elephant
As the story goes, Charlie Chaplin once came in second at a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest. If Mick Jagger were 33, he may risk the same fate were he to go up against Cage the Elephant’s Matt Shultz. Shirtless beneath a leopard print jacket, he stormed the Land’s End stage catwalk with the confidence of a true star. Tapped to replace the late cancellation of Queens of the Age, Cage the Elephant’s performance was in no way a consolation prize — these guys are major now and bring Grade A rock with the gusto to match.
That they launched into singles “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” and “Mess Around” with over half their set still to go says everything about how much they believe in their merit, and for good reason. The Killers and Kings of Leon should watch their back — Cage is coming for their headline slots. Matt Shultz has long tried to embody the best of Jagger on stage, but it seems he longer needs to. Being Matt Shultz appears to be plenty powerful on its own. –Zack Ruskin
Shrewdest Rain Whisperer
Earlier this month, a violent storm forced Lorde to leave the stage at Lollapalooza after only four songs. Fortunately, the crowd at Outside Lands on Sunday evening was not subject to a similarly cruel fate. However, the weather does seems to follow the New Zealand singer, as a mist that had menaced the Land’s End stage for most of the day finally seemed ready to devolve into rain when she took the stage. It never quite did though, and thank goodness, because the heavy mist coupled with Lorde’s delightfully primal dance moves provided one of the weekend’s unquestioned highlights.
Drawing from tracks off both Pure Heroine and Melodrama, she shared the stage with a gaggle of dancers whose performance fell somewhere in the ether between pantomime and sheer, unbridled movement. Not one to waste an opportunity, Lorde also invited Melodrama collaborator Jack Antonoff (fresh from his Bleachers set across the grounds) to sit at the edge of the stage with her for a memorably charming cover of Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard.” As Lorde continues to storm the world (and bring the storms with her), the only question is when the weather will wise up and realize it’s no match for the might of pop’s heir apparent. –Zack Ruskin
Best Antidote to the No Tribe Vibe
The Avett Brothers
Carolinian folk rockers The Avett Brothers had a tall task ahead of them on Saturday evening, though they likely didn’t know it at the time. Minutes after the group took the Sutro stage with a spirited rendition of “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise”, news broke that A Tribe Called Quest had cancelled their appearance, leaving the Avetts as the only act worth seeing in the late-evening block.
Give them credit for making that extra bit of spotlight count with a rollicking, high-energy stage show (props to Joe Kwon for practically two-stepping with his cello) and a setlist that sprinkled in a couple of cap-tipping covers. The most emotional moment came during a cover of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun”, dedicated to the late Chris Cornell, but the Avetts sounded more in their element when riffing on The Band’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece”. These guys are just a little too freewheelin’ to translate the former track’s pain into something believable, while the latter served as a reminder of what they do best. –Collin Brennan
Best Bid for the Big Leagues
It may have taken Joshua Ostrander 20 years to build the buzz he’s been hustling for, but with Mondo Cozmo he’s found it. Kicking off the Panhandle Stage on Saturday, the band had the energy of a group just generally happy to be playing for a crowd that knew the words. Given their album, Plastic Soul, is less than two weeks old, the accomplishment is substantial, but unsurprising. Standout tracks like “Shine”, “Call”, and a pitch-perfect cover of The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” offered an embarrassment of uplifting, catchy riches. Add in Ostrander’s infectious stage presence — no doubt honed from years of practice with his past bands Eastern Conference Champions and Laguardia — left the wise early risers who caught Mondo Cozmo well aware they’d likely not be seeing them on a stage that small ever again. –Zack Ruskin
Most Likely to Become Gen Y’s Version of Billy Joel
Bleachers may not sound like a “serious” band to most people over the age of 25, but it’s hard not to get caught up in Jack Antonoff’s bombastic pop hooks when they’re charging at you with the weight of several thousand teeenagers backing them up. Such was the case at the Lands End stage on Sunday afternoon, when Antonoff showed off exactly why he’s one of the most in-demand record producers in the business and the mastermind behind some of the strongest tunes by fellow Outside Lander Lorde.
Though some of his biggest successes have come in the producer’s chair, Antonoff has all the charm and charisma necessary to conquer a stage at will. Just as importantly, he’s not afraid to indulge in a bit of cheese. Even in the golden age of Poptimism, this makes him somewhat of an embarrassing pariah amongst critics, but one could have said the same thing about Billy Joel 40 years ago — and he’s still selling out Madison Square Garden!
Watching Antonoff preach to the converted on Sunday reminded me of a Joel concert, and not just because he covered fellow ‘70s icons Fleetwood Mac with “Go Your Own Way” with his dad in tow. Absolute, unapologetic sincerity doesn’t always work in pop music, but these live versions of Gone Now hits “I Miss Those Days” and “Everybody Lost Somebody” pretty much nailed it. –Collin Brennan
Most at Home in the Forest
If there’s a better setting to see Fleet Foxes than in the dusk among the trees, Robin Pecknold would love to hear about it. On Friday night, he seemed fairly convinced that his band was performing in its ideal confines, the last of the sun whispering through the branches of redwoods as the recently reconvened ensemble played cuts off their new record, Crack-Up.
Thanks in part to a last-minute cancellation from A Tribe Called Quest, the crowd was massive, a sea of knit hats and Patagonia jackets eager to commune with nature via the majestic harmonies that have come to define Fleet Foxes. Filling the chilly air with the rich guitar of songs like “He Doesn’t Know Why” and “Third of May / Ōdaigahara,” the six-year wait seemed almost worth it for the chance to spend a short while in the company of Pecknold once again. –Zack Ruskin
Best Parting Shot
Before Solange’s closing set opposite The Who, there was already reason to be excited. After three days of dreary weather and disappointing schedule changes, there was a palpable exhaustion in the air as two columns, a slender pyramid, and a large red circle were carefully arranged on the Sutro stage. Then out came Solange’s band, also dressed in red and in lockstep from the moment they appeared. Naturally, Solange arrived soon thereafter, and the weariness of the world evaporated. A brilliant burst of energy and purpose, Solange used every second of her set to feed her fiery passion back into the crowd. Utilizing choreography she herself designed, every song was a performance unto itself, from Solange’s soaring voice to the essays contained in her eyes when she stared at the crowd with penetrating purpose.
There are no wasted moments, no stops and starts when Solange performs. From the moment she kicked things off with the triple-knockout of “Rise”, “Weary”, and “Cranes in the Sky” off 2016’s A Seat at the Table, it was clear that Outside Lands had indeed booked their first female headliner, even if they didn’t know it. “I know it’s been a hard few days,” she said towards the end of her set, likely referencing the hideous actions of neo-Nazi supporters in Charlottesville. “Find yourself clear, find your community. Every once in a while, when I feel low and it feels overwhelming, I go in my room and I fucking dance it out.” For just under an hour, Solange opened her room to a bedraggled crowd at Outside Lands, and we obliged. –Zack Ruskin
Most Eye-Popping List of Guest Appearances
Damon Albarn and his Gorillaz have come a long way from the days when they let the visuals dictate their live narrative, and the group’s Friday night headlining set proved to be the most immersive — the most three-dimensional, if you will — of the entire weekend. This is partly a matter of scope. Nearly everything about Gorillaz seems bigger and more bombastic in the wake of this summer’s Humanz, an album whose bloated tracklist spans moods and musical styles with help from a dizzying array of guest stars.
Many of those stars found their way to the stage at some point Friday night, with Pusha T, Kali Uchis, De La Soul adding flair and fire to a 26-song, career-spanning setlist. (Rumor had it that A Tribe Called Quest was also slated to appear, which would have made the final tally even more ludicrous). Fresh off filling in for Tribe just a few hours earlier, Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon arrived on stage with the set’s most pleasant surprise, the first performance of “Empire Ants” in seven years.
But none of these guests — not even local hero Del the Funky Homosapien, who represented the Bay Area well with his verse on closer “Clint Eastwood” — could overshadow Albarn himself. He’s one of pop music’s most precious treasures, and his penchant for continual reinvention (paired with eye-popping visuals) means we’ll probably be seeing something entirely fresh the next time Gorillaz play Outside Lands. Fingers crossed for that. –Collin Brennan
Photographer: Philip Cosores