The first day of the 2016 incarnation of Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival was a strong start to a sold out weekend that offers a wide array of musical acts in addition to an even greater variety of cuisine, wine, craft beer and artisan chocolate. Apparently, August in San Francisco is notoriously cloudy and chilly (who knew?) so it wasn’t the battle against sunstroke many festival goers have come to expect. Throwing the event in the same location since 2008 has given the promoters ample time to hash out the logistics and it showed on Day One. Lines for food and bathrooms were never too long, crowds didn’t get too big (we’ll see if that lasts) and the vibes were groovy all around. The on-site experience counts for a whole lot but it was obviously the artists that made the day what it was.
A Crash Course In History: Between Duran Duran, Miike Snow and LCD Soundsystem, Friday was a crash course in Post-Disco Synth-Pop that kept bodies moving in front of the Lands End Stage all day and into the night. Miike Snow kicked off their set with “My Trigger,” the opening track off their third and most recent release, iii. They bookended their performance with “Animal,” the single that put them on the map in the first place. Their set may have been underwhelming, feeling like a Junior Varsity LCD act, but there are far worse bands to share a sound with, and they got the job done.
Duran Duran haven’t lost a step since their glory days and performances of tunes like “Girls On Film,” and “Hungry Like The Wolf” made it easy to close your eyes and go back to a time when people were foolish enough to think white jeans looked cool. A mini tribute to David Bowie was both tasteful and expected but what turned heads was their cover of “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” by Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel, a song Duran Duran covered in the mid 90’s after it put hip hop on the map in the early 80’s. For younger folks in the audience not too familiar with Duran Duran’s catalogue or old school hip hop, it must have been a beautifully disorienting moment.
LCD Soundsystem’s headlining set was easily the most anticipated of the day and their set kicked off a non-stop dance party that didn’t disappoint. Throughout the recent run of “reunion” shows, the setlist has been practically the same every single night, and while that doesn’t leave a lot of mystery for anyone who did a quick Google search, they did manage to fit in practically every single song an LCD Soundsystem fan would have wanted to hear. Opening with “Us v Them” was the right way to warm up the crowd and there is no better way to call it a night than playing “All My Friends,” one of the most important songs of the 21st century that has come to define the Millennial Generation. When groups reunite for a tour and only perform as music festival headliners, it tends to be a decision more inspired by money than art, and while that may be the case, it was clear everyone on stage was enjoying themselves and glad to be back in the swing of things. Vocalist/Frontman James Murphy’s wobbly vibrato sounded as solid as ever and his ability to sustain a single note during songs like “Dance Yrself Clean” proves that in a genre dominated by synthesizers, it’s his human touch that helped listeners hear a part of themselves in his music.
Another Kind of History: While it was sparsely attended, one of the most interesting performances of the day came from The Claypool Lennon Delirium, the collaboration between Bay Area Bass Boss Les Claypool and Sean Lennon, guitarist, vocalist and son of John and Yoko. It would be easy to write this group off as a novelty act featuring a famous singer’s son who didn’t belong on that stage but they’d be making a big mistake. It’s impossible to say if Lennon would have found himself working along side Claypool if not for his last name, but his guitar chops proved he belongs there. Rocking an apple green Jazzmaster knockoff with a reflective chrome pick guard and rigged to a Talk Box, Lennon demonstrated a technical proficiency that is a must when playing with a wizard like Claypool. In addition to running his fingers up and down the fret board, he played with an experimental tastefulness that was just as Sgt. Pepper as it was Seas of Cheese. They’ve been covering The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” pretty regularly this tour but seem to have recently subbed the tune out for a cover of King Crimson’s “In The Court Of The Crimson King.” Maybe Lennon was self-conscious about appearing to milk his father’s legacy, or maybe they just wanted to switch it up. Either way, anyone in attendance was sure to have left their set seeing Lennon in a new light. He may not be a self made man, but he is his own man by any definition.
Saturday has arguably the strongest lineup of the weekend featuring sets by Radiohead, Sufjan Stevens, The Last Shadow Puppets and more fried chicken stuffed waffles than you can handle. More to come!
Photos by Scott Fleishman