It’s no surprise why San Francisco’s landmark Outside Lands is quickly becoming one of the country’s premier music festivals. Though still leaps behind behemoths like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, it has a respected reputation in the eyes of American concertgoers. It’s not quite the global attraction as those bigger competitors, yet its ties to the city and authenticity make Outside Lands one of the more unique personalities in the festival circuit. It’s an ideal example of the much-preached, never-perfected “Think Global, Act Local” fundamental.
The fest is undeniably San Franciscan: barefoot, pot-smoking hippies prance around as if Ken Kesey himself was commandeering the pit; classy wine lands celebrating Nor Cal viticulture replace standard overpriced beer gardens; first generation hippies (from the actual ‘60s!) and neo/pseudo hippies jam to Saturday headliners Furthur, the side project from Phil Lesh and Bob Weir of San Francisco legends The Grateful Dead.
While Outside Lands 2010 can pride itself in its diverse lineup, Saturday was a bona fide rock show in its purest form, with a dash of world music care of Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, electronic tunes from Beats Antique and Pretty Lights, and Gypsy punk perfection from none other than Gogol Bordello.
Billed as one of the leading headliners for Saturday, My Morning Jacket delivered one of the weekend’s most highly regarded sets. Led by front man Jim James’ angel-like falsetto, their lengthy set was a lesson in rock’s broad history: folk, Americana, jam, acoustic, indie, and beyond. Nothing was left untouched as the band dug across their discography from 2003’s It Still Moves to their most recent Evil Urges (“Highly Suspicious,” “I’m Amazed”).
Despite all their hoopla, however, My Morning Jacket was no match for the much younger, much more energetic Wolfmother, easily Saturday’s show stealer. Wolfmother are not unknowns, but somehow their set came out of nowhere and dazzled fans new and old from opener “Dimensions” off their 2005 self-titled debut to the bitter end. Since forming 10 years ago, Wolfmother have been regularly compared, for better or worse, to Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, and a number of other blues/classic/hard rock icons. It’s no wonder why Andrew Stockdale and co. gave the best rock performance of the night, breathing new life to classic rock ‘n’ roll that only Furthur would later match. Stockdale revived the classics with remarkable covers of The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm” and The Who’s “Teenage Wasteland,” as a peaceful generational clash took over the audience to embrace rock’s ageless history.
Newcomers Wild Beasts treated their small crowd to a before-they-were-big show as lingering fans waited for The Strokes and Furthur to take the stage. Led by Hayden Thorpe’s Siren-like coos, Wild Beasts’ electronic-tinged indie rock is one to watch; the English quartet is sure to shine in a few short years.
As leaders of New York City’s garage rock revival of the early aughts, The Strokes once had the world eating out of the palm of their hands before their rising star began to wane following their groundbreaking debut Is This It. Outside Lands fans, and The Strokes themselves, briefly forgot that spotty era when Julian, Nick, Albert, Nikolai, and Fabrizio returned to tiptop form with an It-heavy set. It was as if the boys had just stepped out of a time machine and warped back to their watershed 2001.
The Strokes managed to make NYC cool (again) in San Fran. The nostalgia factor was immeasurably through the roof, from opener “New York City Cops” to favorites “Hard to Explain” and “Someday” to the massive “Last Night.” Beyond Is This It, “Reptilia” from 2003’s Room on Fire and “Juicebox” from 2006’s First Impressions of Earth struck similarly memorable sentimentality, while “Under Control” emanated with a modern touch, almost sounding like a new track.
In terms of diversity, day two of Outside Lands took the crown with a hip mix of neo and retro soul, electro-pop, and Latin rock.
Motown revivalist Mayer Hawthorne rocked a too-early afternoon set, donning a full suit-and-tie getup and backed by his band The County. It’s only a matter of time before Mayer gains the super fandom he rightfully deserves. His 2009 album A Strange Arrangement was embarrassingly underrated. A modern icon of cool, Mayer’s mix of current-day soul and R&B is equal parts sexy, cool pop, throwback funk, and a tribute to Motown legends. There’s no doubt he was in heaven sharing the bill with Al Green, a major influence on Mayer’s sound. Only one album in, Mayer’s set highlighted several gems off of Arrangement (“Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out,” “Maybe So, Maybe No”) and a must-hear remix of Snoop Dogg’s “Gangsta Luv.”
The Temper Trap followed on the main stage and soothed audiences with their serene indie-pop, playing their popular single “Sweet Disposition” and “Fader.”
Despite a 30-minute delay due to flight issues forcing her to cut her set short, Janelle Monáe managed to deliver a high-energy set complete with costumes, backup singers and dancers, and a full band. Janelle is unstoppable once she breaks into a back-to-back rendition of “Dance or Die” and “Faster,” only intensifying the stage show and her frantic antics. Closing out with “Tightrope,” sans OutKast’s Big Boi, it’s easy to see why Janelle’s debut album The ArchAndroid is a shoo-in for this year’s critical year-end lists.
Of all the anticipated sets, Al Green’s was overall the most palpable, spanning all generations, ethnicities, and ages. Though the volume during the Reverend’s set was criminally low, his full band and backup singers triumphed to deliver an absolute love fest: hearts swooned over Green’s treasured “Let’s Stay Together”; lovers serenaded one another during “Tired of Being Alone”; and his covers of Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” and The Temptations’ “My Girl” let everyone know that he owned Sunday night.
And everyone had to agree.