Echoes of a couple thousand voices washed over the Polo Field at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park on Sunday night, singing “Sometimes I can’t believe it, I’m moving past the feeling” along with Arcade Fire, who were closing the three-day Outside Lands Music Festival. Neighbors said they could hear it from a mile away. The grain moon reflected on the Jumbotron managed to turn the audience away from the stage for a moment, just as it did the night before when Muse took the stage.
The festival kicked off on Friday as the fog rolled in well before dark, laying down a somewhat unexpected setting for a music fest. Foster the People churning out their summer hit “Pumped Up Kicks,” MGMT showcasing plenty of tracks from their latest album, and Dave Chappelle dropping in during the set that would have been occupied by Outkast MC Big Boi led attendees into a crisp Northern California evening where Phish (playing a double three-and-a-half-hour set) and the Shins pumped up their crowds on opposite ends of the space the festival occupied inside the park. By Sunday, the mist was a distant memory.
The lineup catered to all tastes, from Girl Talk and Deadmau5 to Ellie Goulding and Erykah Badu. The Joy Formidable came from across the pond, while locals like The Limousines, Vetiver, The Stone Foxes, and John Fogerty acknowledged their Bay Area roots. On Saturday, Andy Cabic of Vetiver told concertgoers that their song “Rolling Sea” was an ode to the Pacific. Arcade Fire’s Win Butler sweet-talked the crowd, saying “It’s dangerous being in San Francisco when it’s sunny. It makes us want to move here.”
Though Outside Lands is just one of the summer’s music festivals, it was distinctly branded with San Franciscan culture: the Panhandle Stage was completely powered by solar energy, yet loud enough to have ears ringing by the end of a performance. Agriculture workshops were held throughout the festival, eco-friendly games and a farmers market were present, and bicycle valet parking was available. An abundance of compost and recycling bins couldn’t keep the fields from being completely trashed at the end of every night.
A host of Bay Area restaurants were represented at the park as well, in addition to Wine Lands to flaunt the finest wineries from Napa to the Santa Cruz mountains. While there was plenty of beer and hot dogs to go around, sweet potato tater tots, Korean tacos, crispy macaroni and cheese, coconut chais, merlot, and pinot grigio were among the more adventurous options on the menu.
No band electrified their crowd like Muse, who lived up to a reputation of turning live shows into an otherworldly experience. Seizure-inducing lights, giant eyeball beach balls being tossed around in the audience and a laser show spectacular strung together the elements of pure rock theatricality. The adrenaline flowing through the audience made it seem as though they could touch the neon green laser beams above their heads if they only reached a little higher – those who didn’t have their hands in the air already just didn’t belong. The cardio workout the average Muse fan gets at one of their shows would make Jillian Michaels a very happy camper.
Frontman Matthew Bellamy wasn’t shy about showing off his guitar skills, playing not only the national anthem Hendrix-style, but the riff from AC/DC’s “Back in Black” and some of “House of the Rising Sun” as an intro to Muse’s own “Time is Running Out.” They came back strong with an encore that dug up guitar stunner “Plug in Baby” from the archives and hard-driving hit “Knights of Cydonia,” the latter accompanied by a brief cover of Ennio Morricone’s “The Man With the Harmonica.”
British band The Vaccines, who sound at times like a reincarnation of the Ramones, brought raging energy to the stage with their upbeat punk-meets-rock n’ roll tunes. “Post Break-Up Sex” blared through Choco Lands early in the set, while the devastatingly catchy “If You Wanna” threatened to dictate the radio airwaves this time next year.
It’s a wonder Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney didn’t induce an earthquake when the Black Keys took over at the Lands End Stage in the final hours of daylight on Saturday. Set closer “I Got Mine” followed an hour of bluesy heaven from the duo, whose set also included more recent hits “Tighten Up” and “Everlasting Light.” If there’s one thing the Black Keys have perfected, it’s bringing big sound without sacrificing any of the laid back swagger that permeates their records. They know what they’re doing onstage just as much as they do in the studio, and it’s a treat to watch all the way through.
60,000 people were in attendance, as Saturday was the first day to sell out single-day passes. Mayor Edwin M. Lee made a brief appearance before the Black Keys came on. Earlier in the day, OK Go revved up their fans by appearing in their usual crayon-colored suits and bringing all the antics but the treadmills to the show.
While Outside Lands was largely a showcase of fresh talent and a preview of the bands of tomorrow, veteran rocker John Fogerty, the voice that once drove Creedence Clearwater Revival, proved that he can hold down the fort as well as any headliner. The sun came out when he played on Sunday afternoon, giving the field a golden toasted feeling that complemented his upbeat cover of Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman.” Plenty of CCR classics (“Down on the Corner,” “Born on the Bayou,” “Up Around the Bend”) delighted fans who craved some rock n’roll staples. Speaking of Staples, hours earlier Win Butler made an onstage cameo to cover the Band’s “The Weight” with Mavis Staples in a festival highlight.
It would be a lie to deny feeling spoiled at having the opportunity to see the surf-rock trio Best Coast play “Each and Everyday,” which evolved into an explosive jam session at the close, and then hear “Caring is Creepy” wafting through the air as the Shins kicked off their set nearby at the Twin Peaks stage. Swaying to James Mercer and company working the chorus of “Phantom Limb” in a meadow on a mild August night may just be one of the best ways to spend an evening in San Francisco.