Outside Lands, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA – 8/10-12
Although Sunday ended up ridiculously strong, the weekend’s most enchanting offerings came on Saturday, which offered an overflowing platter of ridiculously powerful and buzzworthy artists. The middle day’s schedule ran an impressive gamut from the dreamy and intoxicating early set by Tame Impala (a long overdue first chance to see the Aussie psych band), Father John Misty’s slithery, Lizard King dance moves (in a Freedom Now! Legalize LSD shirt), a massively crowded Alabama Shakes set and the sure-thing, always flooring guitar assaults of Explosions in the Sky all packed nicely into a four-hour window.
Despite their massive buzz, few could have foreseen a crowd of that size for the Shakes, and their placement on the Sutro Stage made it abundantly clear that the already have a main stage size draw. but the inability to even catch a glimpse of Brittany Howard and the rest of the Shakes made their set a wash and difficult to hear.
Following that impressive run, the 1-2 punch of Metallica and Sigur Ros was one of those rare, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that made attending Outside Lands a no-brainer. Although many would’ve liked to have seen all of both sets, the ability to thrash and mosh to speed metal and take in the over-the-top fireworks-laden display of a legendary hometown Metallica show, before traipsing into an ethereal wonderland created by the Icelandic wonder band at Twin Peaks is something I’ll never forget.
At Metallica, James Hetfield exclaimed: “We’re playing for the whole Bay Area” early on and Metallica was easily the loudest band to play the main stage at Outside Lands. Hetfield added, “hope you can hear us” and the added dose of ferocity that the band delivered early on during classic songs like “Master of Puppets,” “Fuel” and “Ride The Lightning”, giving more than even most hardcore fans could have asked for.
On the way to Sigur, we also managed to catch the tail end of Dr. Dog’s set, who were ecstatically hopping around to “The Rabbit, The Bat, and The Reindeer” at the Panhandle Stage.
Sigur Ros’ set began with the stark and quiet bells of “I Gaer” on a shadow-filled stage before a massive explosion of guitar and light sliced through the fog and elucidated an indescribably beautiful scene in Hellman Hollow amongst mountain-moving music. The tension-and-release of the first 60 seconds encapsulated not only the band’s swells-and-peaks sound and set the tone for the remainder of the set – one that included the new single “Varuo,” “Svefn-g-englar,” “Olsen Olsen,” and “Popplagio.”
Sunday involved a fair amount of racing around the park, in an attempt to take in as much as possible. The steady movement paid off quickly, as we stumbled into Jack White’s Third Man Records “secret set” in the woods with his all-female band and a special appearance by Tom Morello. All bets and better-laid plans were off for the time being and we were treated to “Hotel Yorba,” the new “Love Interruption,” and a Raconteurs’ cut “Broken Boy Soldiers.” All lucky enough to have stumbled upon this stealth set were asked to sit down so everyone could see the show. Watching White play in such a small setting followed by an appearance by Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine / Nightwatchmen) is a live music experience no one in attendance will ever forget.
After the special stop-in with White & Co., it was over for some Afro-pop with the decorous and golden spectacled Amadou and Mariam. Next at Twin Peaks, it was modern festival staple Santigold – who’s beats-heavy and stylin’ funk, rock and reggae mix blew the crowd energy wide open. After the highly-anticipated and thoroughly delivered-on Santi set, things got even better at Bomba Estereo’s set, as Columbian flags flew around the Sutro Stage and the ridiculously locked-in band laid down a thickly-layered, tropical wash of electronics and beat-perfect drumming for lead singer Lilliana Saumet to work upon, delivering a lively, yet too-short set that highlighted the festival’s final day.
Only one dilemma met fans on the final night: choosing between Stevie Wonder’s evening of classic singalongs and covers hit stream or Skrillex’s of-the-moment dubstep beats on the opposite end of the park. For many, it was actually a tough decision. Stevie did a fair amount of preaching interspersed with some playfully biting humor amongst hits like the opening “Master Blaster”, “I Wish” and a surprising cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” The man’s vocal range is as good as ever and a Stevie Wonder closing set sent all on that side of the park home with hearts full.