Day Two of Outside Lands really saw the momentum build from Day One and it registered in the quality of the bands, the fluidity of the logistics and the increased crowd size. From the time gates opened until Radiohead brought the day to a close, the various options to stimulate literally every single sensory receptor you have was endless
Drop In, Tune Out: Electric Beethoven’s Acid Test was an early highlight of the day that literally took the concept of hallucinogenic experimentation to a whole new level. The pseudo-jamband supergroup featuring members from Bay Area groups like Tea Leaf Green and Ratdog was the closest thing to a straight-up improv set we got all weekend and its location in McLaren Pass added to the mystique. Tucked away in a heavily wooded corner of the festival, the music took off under heavy tree cover before organizers handed out boxes containing pills made up of some kind of exotic super berry that literally causes taste buds to hallucinate and confuse flavoring to the point where bitter flavors taste sweet and vice versa. The boxes contained a few foods the audience was instructed to eat at certain times to test the effect of the berries and for a nice touch of authenticity, they included Electric Beethoven designed blotters (sans the acid).
Ghost Or Fantasy Host? Sufjan Stevens’ Sutro Stage performance will not be trumped with regards to showmanship. The Detroit Native took the stage alongside a band rolling a half dozen deep with everyone decked out in bright glowing neon colors. Stevens sported a pair of angel wings strapped to his back and at the end of “Seven Swans,” he smashed his banjo to bits. He worked with his backup vocalists throughout the night to execute abstract choreography, costume changes and he even brought out those wacky inflatable arm waving tube men you see at used car dealerships. Stevens is a lot like Bjork’s male counterpart: Every album he makes is drastically different from the last and while some material is far out there, he’s also made some pretty conventional pop music over the years. It makes Stevens a tough artist to put a label on, but his set pulled from his entire discography and ensured that whichever Sufjan Stevens is your favorite, you got to hear him at Outside Lands.
This Is What You Get: Radiohead’s performance in LA on Thursday night showed the band at it’s best while playing material that wouldn’t have left a festival audience thirsty for more. When playing for a theater of die-hards, an artist can do deep cuts, bust outs and B-Sides and their fans will enjoy it, but for a festival audience where you don’t know who is in attendance, any act worth their salt is going to curate the setlist to be more hits oriented and that’s what Radiohead did at Outside Lands. They performed the first three songs off 2016’s A Moon Shaped Pool, rather than the first five as they did in LA. Instead of playing the nine tracks from the new album like they did in LA, they kept it to six and leaned much heavier on OK Computer material.
While they have been playing both “Everything In Its Right Place” and “Idioteque” every night for the past ten plus years, at Outside Lands they allowed the former to blend into the latter in a way that amplified the power of two fan favorites while improving on the flow of the set.
Radiohead has been a two-encore band for a while now but in order to squeeze in as many songs as possible, they only took one leave from the stage and returned for a five song encore that was as awe inspiring as it gets. “Nude,” off 2007’s In Rainbows, has one of the most beautiful vocal solos recorded in the past ten years and that song led right into “Paranoid Android,” a journey that’s about as close to a “Stairway To Heaven” as Radiohead has. The Oxford-bred quintet is arguably the most universally acclaimed band in the world right now so they’re used to getting their due. With that said, Jonny Greenwood is one of the most criminally underappreciated guitarists of the past twenty five years and the solo that grinds “Android” to a halt is just as iconic as anything in the catalogue of Rage Against The Machine, The White Stripes, Nirvana or literally any other modern rock act.
“Karma Police” was written to be sung by a crowd numbering in the tens of thousands and hearing it performed at Outside Lands was like watching a beaver build a dam, it was experiencing something in its element. Hearing that many people sing “For a minute there, I lost myself” will send chills down anybody’s spine but what attendees will remember was after the song ended, frontman Thom Yorke turned his mic to face his audience, continued to play the refrain on his acoustic guitar while his audience sang the words. Being in the audience of a Radiohead concert isn’t the most interactive concert going experience. There’s not much moving and shaking because odds are your jaw is dropped in awe of the experience. With that said, having Yorke on guitar and his crowd doing the vocals made for a beautiful moment that relied on us as much as him and broke down the barriers that exist between artist and attendee. Long time fans with double digit show counts under their belt will surely remember this as one of the most powerful moments they’ve experienced at a Radiohead show.
The highlights of Day Two are endless, but right now, we’ve got a date with Ryan Adams, Lionel Richie and a hand full of the most musical Muppets this side of Fraggle Rock.
Photos by Scott Fleishman