If Coachella is your teenager who just got his license and wants to drive his friends around town, Outside Lands is your older, responsible son whom you trust enough to drive the evening shift of your family road trip. The annual San Francisco music festival ends at 10 p.m. due to city noise restrictions, but that doesn’t stop the droves of Bay Area natives who attend the three-day extravaganza from rocking all day. And while the festival certainly caters to an older crowd–fog blankets adorn most of the festival grounds in Golden Gate Park–there’s movement and excitement resonating from each of the stages. I was lucky enough to attend all three days of the festival. My personal music taste hangs out somewhere in the EDM and hip-hop galaxies of the universe these days, but I promised myself I’d attempt to expand my musical horizons by experiencing other forms of music. Fair warning: If you’re expecting a review of folky balladry like The Tallest Man on Earth, you might be a bit disappointed.
Band of Horses (6/10)
Entering the festival grounds from Golden Gate Park, my group and I immediately headed to the main stage to see Band of Horses. Though disappointment settled in when I realized no actual horse was pounding on the drums with its hooves, the band definitely entranced the crowd with their haunting single “The Funeral” and other gruff, calculated ballads. A solid start to the festivities.
Best Video Game Character Sighting: A Pac-man balloon.
Though Zedd’s music falls right up my alley, the German producer certainly understood his audience. He did not overwhelm the audience with the huge bass drops associated with EDM these days. His set included a melodious blend of his numerous pop hits, such as “Clarity” and “Spectrum,” along with rhythmic house beats. And while hardcore electronic dance fans may criticize Zedd for sticking to his hits, you have to applaud him for making the best of his 50-minute set.
Best Children’s Book Reference Sighting: Curious George/Banana on a Pole.
Paul McCartney: (9/10)
One of the biggest arguments I had with my friends was whether to see Pretty Lights or Sir Paul McCartney. And while the festival scheduled McCartney to play for two hours and Pretty Lights for one, I didn’t want to be late to see the Colorado producer Derek Vincent Smith (more on him below). Here’s the gist of the argument:
Varoon: Pretty Lights will play an insane set.
Friend: Dude, Paul McCartney.
Varoon: But, Pretty Lights will have an amazing light show.
Friend: Varoon, he’s a fucking Beatle.
Varoon: But . . . but . . .
Friend. PAUL. MOTHER-FUCKING. MCCARTNEY.
It’s an argument you simply can’t win. I didn’t grow up listening to the Beatles, but even I can understand the magnitude of his presence in Northern California. And though I only stayed for the first half, I sincerely enjoyed it. I cherished his Hendrix stories and jammed to his renditions of few Beatles hits I knew. My only regret is not seeing the “Live and Let Die” fireworks that I heard from the other side of the festival grounds on my way to the final act of the day.
Best “Game of Thrones” Item: Lannister House Flag.
Pretty Lights (8/10)
Day one closed with a soulful medley of electronic hits from the artist (not plural) known as Pretty Lights. He dropped a series of his older hits and scattered some of the smooth tracks off his new album A Color Map of the World as lasers pierced a mixture of fog and herb clouds. He too understood his crowd, as he mixed his own electronic flavor into some of the Bay Area’s finest rap anthems such as “Player’s Club” by Rappin; 4-Tay.
Imagine the crunkest party you’ve ever attended. Then imagine that Lil’ Jon, Flavor Flav, and every other hype man in history showed up. Now imagine you’ve consumed 18 Four-Locos.
You’d have Baauer. Although a late addition to the Day 2 lineup, the DJ/producer behind the YouTube sensation “Harlem Shake” more than surpassed all expectations. In a 58 degree frigid chill, he brought 110 degree heat with his trap remixes of Migos and Diplo hits; and grimy bass drops. Heck, the kids felt compelled to mosh. Now that’s energy folks.
Best African Flag Seen: Zimbabwe.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs (7/10)
One thing that rock bands of this generation certainly lack these days is an exhuberant front of house receptionist. But the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are certainly an exception to the rule. Lead singer and pianist Karen O. brought down the house with her screaming vocals and stage presence. The band dazzled the crowd with their transcendent single “Heads Will Roll” and left the crowed in a bizarre state of hysteria.
Most Irrational Phobia of an OSL Atendee: Fear of eggs.[ref]No seriously. A human cried after a boiled egg discussion.[/ref]
Just like Baauer, producer Griz was a late addition to the Day 2 lineup of Outside Lands. And just like Baauer, Griz exceed everyone’s expectations. Funky and powerful electronic beats split raindrops as they fell trough the cloudy sky. What’s more, Griz demonstrated his talent to the maximum, as he relished the opportunity to jam on the saxophone while still mixing his music on the 1s and 2s. Who said DJ’s aren’t musicians?
Good Deed of the Day: Saving a 60-year old woman who fell into a porta potty.
Phoenix surprised me with their set. Though I expected a lot of pop rock, Phoenix lit up the night sky with a shockingly captivating light show and eerie electronic sounds reminiscent of the Starship Enterprise slowly crossing a galaxy. But the day had taken its toll on my group, and we decided to leave early for the night in preparation for Day 3.
People Seen Asleep on Grass/Star Gazing on Acid During Departure: 48 confirmed.
Hall and Oates (7/10)
Here is a direct quote from my iPhone notes:
“Sunday Day 3. Hall and Oates. My feet hurt. They played Maneater. Life Complete.”
Yeah that pretty much sums it up.
Most Creative Use Space in a Crowd: Three shirtless bros jump-roping singing “Cinderella, Dressed in Yellow.”
After seriously considering the benefits of a pedicure, A-Trak and his classic DJ set made me forget all of my foot pain. He included a remix of “Heads Will Roll” by Day 2 star the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and many of his own tracks including “Tuna Melt.” And with the controversy surrounding DJs today and their “press play” sets, there was no doubt A-Trak was in completely control of his music as he scratched for three or four minutes at a time much to the pleasure of the crowd.
Best Celebrity Appearance: John Stamos for his birthday (Unless you count the Oprah head cutout in the crowd).
Matt and Kim (9/10)
The self-proclaimed “Partners in Crime and Sex” pounded on their drums and keyboards for an hour straight while people gyrated the way only white people can gyrate. In my mind, I would categorize Matt and Kim’s music as New Age Blink-182. But just when you thought you had a minute to rest and wipe your sweat off, Matt would drop “All The Way Turnt Up” by Roscoe Dash while the crowd held up a twerking Kim. An all-time dance party.
Number of Crowd Surfers’ Asses’ Grabbed: Four . . . OK fine, five. But the Bubba Sparxxx look-alike didn’t exactly give me a choice.
I know that the Red Hot Chili Peppers are probably one of the top 10 rock bands of the past 20 years. But Kaskade has a special connection with San Francisco. After growing up in Chicago and spending time in Provo, Utah for school, he meandered to the Mission District of SF in the late ’90s to explore the city and refine his sound. His opening song “Atmosphere” melted the crowd, the light show did not disappoint, and the music is still ringing in my ears. But the experience was more than that. It was an intimate conversation between 30,000 fans and one man through music. It was perfect.
I just reread that last paragraph and am now convinced someone slipped something in my drink last night. But such is life. Until next year, Outside Lands.