Outside Lands Festival 2013: Friday

Outside Lands Music Festival is now in its sixth year– a nice time for the event, because they’ve worked out a lot of the idiosyncrasies of holding an enormous festival in San Francisco’s stunningly beautiful Golden Gate Park. They’ve had years of experience to iron out the difficulties, the surging crowds and to handle expectations, and quite frankly, exceed them. Outside Lands is an incredible combination of music, food (all local to the Bay Area), wine and beer. This is not an affair catered by Sysco and with weak Bud Light at inflated prices as the fare; nope, Outside Lands brings together the best of the area with crowds that appreciate the extra flair that Another Planet Entertainment, Superfly Presents and Starr Hill Presents bring to the weekend.

Nearly 60,000 people show up each day for the festival, and while it can feel overwhelming in size at times (mostly when going between stages), there are always a wide variety of musical acts to take in. Last year, Jack White did an impromptu performance with the traveling Third Man Records van in the woods between the Sutro and Twin Peaks stages, and that’s typical for Outside Lands. It fits the San Francisco aesthetic, and gives festival-goers that special spark that makes OSL a weekend worth returning to every year.

This year we had editor Peter Zimmerman (@peterzimmerman) and staff photographer Joan Bowlen (@jonibow) covering the festival. Here’s the recap from Day 1: Friday.

 

FRIDAY

Friday is typically the quieter day of the three- understandably, because so many are still at work and cannot get there until later in the day. While the crowds were sparser, great sets were still delivered by Houndmouth, Rhye, Daughter and Band of Horses.

Jessie Ware is fairly new on the scene, but she puts on a really fantastic show, even with only one album of material to draw from. Her debut Devotion was a huge hit in the UK, and has enchanted a lot of listeners in the US now, too, as Ware has spent a lot of the last year touring around the States and building a devoted fan base through her performances. There’s a sultriness she can convey without being overtly sexual – the hint of sensuality that gets audiences intrigued by her stage presence, but when matched with such a powerful, commanding voice, she’s the real deal and puts on quite a show. Her songs like “Devotion” and “Imagine It Was Us” were potent and perfectly executed, but it was her smash single “Wildest Moments” that understandably drew the largest applause.

The National is a band that you could throw on any festival lineup and it would be made immeasurably better. Their music is both engaging and spirited, even if the lyrics are dissecting failed relationships, depths of depression or drugs…. or all at once. They have such a tight hold on their music though- with the band interacting seamlessly as one. For their show at Outside Lands, though, they had the help of the incredible Kronos Quartet, which really enhanced their sound and gave considerable richness to the arrangements. Their new album Trouble Will Find Me is another example at how a great band continues to age well, and the songs came off impeccably on stage, with tracks like “I Need My Girl,” “Demons” and “Graceless” really hitting home. And if it wasn’t amazing enough already, they had hometown hero Bob Weir join them onstage for the closer “Terrible Love.” While it would have been great to see them as a headliner, so they could dig deeper into stuff from Boxer and before, it was a fantastic hourlong show.

Chic feat. Nile Rodgers was one of the biggest surprises of the weekend. D’Angelo was forced to cancel this week due to medical reasons, but Outside Lands filled in the gap with an inspired choice- the superlative funk group Chic. Sure, it was hugely disappointing that D’Angelo couldn’t be there- he was one of the most interesting lineup offerings of the weekend, and really of the festival season- but talk about coming back with a brilliant replacement.

Chic’s set was an hourlong disco dance party- there’s really no other way to describe it. Audience members let go of inhibitions and let loose, following Nile Rodgers’ lead. From the very beginning, Rodgers exclaimed they would play the hits they wrote for or with others, and the gasps of recognition when they launched into Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family,” Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out” and David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” was worth the price of admission alone… but that was before they even did their own smash singles “Dance Dance Dance” and “Le Freak.” This was one of the best surprises Outside Lands has ever conjured up in its entire history, and this will definitely go down as one of the most memorable sets for years to come.

We all build up ideas of what our musical idols should be like in-person, when we finally get the opportunity to see them in the flesh, performing songs that we have come to have strong emotional ties to, we hope that they will live up to expectations. Last night, Sir Paul McCartney exceeded ours.

As the closing act to Day 1 of Outside Lands, McCartney and his band spent three hours performing an intense line up of classic hits. The majority of the set was devoted to Beatles staples that ran from the early days (“Eight Days a Week,” “I’ve Just Seen A Face,” “We Can Work It Out”) to the later work with a slightly more psychedelic tone (“Helter Skelter,” “Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” “Back In the USSR”). There was not a song that felt like a throw-away, McCartney and all of his band members looked as though they were giving their all to each performance and having a blast doing it.

And given the fact that they played about 40 songs, it is no mean feat. McCartney, who is 71 and you might think would want to be enjoying retirement somewhere quiet and peaceful, showed absolutely no sign of fatigue. He was winning and charming throughout, telling stories about playing with Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, describing his first trip to Russia and how a few top government officials mentioned learning English from the Beatles records (Hello, Goodbye!). McCartney also dedicated songs to the two departed Beatles members, “Here Today” for John Lennon and “Something” for George Harrison. He kept his words simple and heartfelt and the giant photo montages running behind him as he played made each song feel like a touching tribute to old friends.

The greatest moment of the night however came in the second encore. The entire encore set was packed with greats, but his rendition of “Yesterday” accompanied by the Kronos Quartet, verged on sublime. The beautiful musicality of the quartet’s strings heightened the delicate, reminiscent quality of the song and left the crowd audibly hushed. But the hush didn’t last for long as McCartney launched right into “Helter Skelter,” sending the crowd into a frenzy of body shaking and head-banging. He then proceeded through “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight” and (appropriately) finished with “The End”.

Sir Paul McCartney has lost none of the energy and edge that made him part of one of the biggest bands on Earth. Seeing him perform songs that have been such an integral part of our culture for decades was an opportunity of a life-time and one that many out there on the Golden Gate Polo Field will cherish for years to come.

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