Festival Journal: Outside Lands 2011

Saturday, August 13th

Arriving early Saturday afternoon, I caught a bit of The Greyboy Allstars, it was a welcome change to see the day’s big-time funk act hit all of their changes and not complain the entire time. Next, I watched a bit of OK Go, just long enough to hear the frontman jokingly call the residents of San Francisco a bunch of dirty sinners multiple times and comment as he photographed the crowd at how overwhelmingly white we all were. Then, I left them to go grab a nice spot at the Sutro Stage for Vetiver and the band did not disappoint, delivering one of my favorite sets of the weekend. Vetiver lead singer Andy Cabic introduced one of his songs by talking about how beautiful Golden Gate Park and Ocean Beach are before pleading to the audience that he needs more friends with boats. Somebody take this guy sailing!

Next, it was time to hop around for a while, catching portions of Arctic Monkeys (sounded great, a bit more raw than I was expecting live), The Black Keys (hard hitting but never seem to be mixed well) and The Roots (really had the crowd moving). Then it was time for the controversial part of my evening. As I wrote in my preview, I don’t like Muse. And that one sentence was the focus of all the reader comments we got, so I had to make sure I caught some of their set. I watched the first few tunes, and I’ll just say I don’t get it. I headed over to Girl Talk to watch him set the crowd en fuego for 45 minutes and made sure to walk back to Muse for the end of their set to see the production in all its laser-glory. It looked awesome, however I just don’t like Matthew Bellamy’s voice and don’t enjoy their tunes. What can ‘ya do.

Sunday, August 14th

Looking at the schedule, I knew there was no way I was going to be late for Sunday afternoon gospel. Sure it would have been nice to sleep in, but I made sure I told everyone I know to get their asses to the main stage by 12:15PM for Charles Bradley & Menahan Street Band and everyone that heeded my advice thanked me for it. Holy shit, what a set of music! After letting the incredible backup band warm up the small crowd, Bradley came out and did his thing: Blowing the doors off the place with an incredibly soulful voice and a face that looks like it has seen so much pain, it was difficult to watch on the high-quality video screens hung on either side of the stage. In an already short set, Bradley took a large chunk of time to hop down into the crowd to give hugs and shake hands in an act that was part politician and part Amma “The Hugging Saint.” Upon getting back upon stage and proclaiming, “You all have my heart so filled with love right now,” only men made of stone would feel like they didn’t have just a little something stuck in their eye.

Since it was a slow-arriving crowd, I decided I could make it over to watch a half hour of tUnE-yArDs before heading back to the main stage and I’m sure glad I did, her looping performance needs to be seen live to be fully appreciated. Back to the main stage for Mavis Staples and one of the biggest surprises of the weekend – a guest appearance by Win Butler of Arcade Fire for The Weight, a song which The Staples Singers famously performed with The Band. After thanking Win, Mavis then name-checked Jeff Tweedy (who produced her incredible 2010 album You Are Not Alone) and every member of The Band. In short, Mavis Staples is both legendary and still hip to what is going on in music today. A set-closing performance of The Staples Singers’ I’ll Take You There may have fulfilled Mavis’s stated goal to have everyone leave the festival feeling good for about six months.

After taking in a bit of John Fogerty, it was time for Beirut – another festival highlight over at the Sutro Stage as the sun set, just a fantastic performance and a top-notch mixing by the sounding engineer. Zach Condon of Beirut humorously thanked the crowd for choosing them over Gallagher, ahh but the joke was on him – it was my plan all along to see if I could somehow go see a couple minutes of fruit smashing in between Beirut and Arcade Fire. I thought I had it timed well, but when I walked into The Barbary Coast tent at 7:45, Gallagher had still not taken the stage for his scheduled 7PM performance. I hung around long enough to see the crowd get restless and see the comedian take the stage. He made it pretty clear that he wasn’t going to be smashing anything too cool until the end of his set, so it was time to go.

Arcade Fire was, at least to me, a little anti-climactic to close out the entire festival. It was a good set, nothing out of the ordinary production wise – though there was great video, nothing that rivaled what the band put together for Coachella. The most exciting portion for me was when Butler sang a couple of lines from LCD Soundsystem’s All My Friends before their final tune Sprawl II.

Though extremely well run (I heard from a number of people that this was the year OSL seemed to finally have all the kinks worked out) billing the festival as the world’s first “Gourmet Music Festival” seems like a bit of a stretch. Oh sure there was some nice diversity for meal options in the “Food Truck Forest” and I had one friend proclaim that the “StubHub Sports Tent” was the “best sports bar in San Francisco”, but it’s still a dusty three-day music festival. I couldn’t even begin to think of it as some sort of higher-class engagement unless they abandon their ridiculous exclusive contract with Heineken. In the land of microbreweries, the only beer option for those that didn’t sneak their own in were products of another country all together: Heineken and Newcastle. “Wine Lands” showed off some of the best California had to offer, but the festival beverage of choice was still a nine dollar Heineken all day.

Overall, a fantastic festival experience with Sunday by far being by favorite day of music. Bring on Outside Lands 2012.

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3 thoughts on “Festival Journal: Outside Lands 2011

  1. Jonathan Sindler Reply

    Top notch review. I must add one comment since Dave took a respectably humble stance with respect to Muse.

    I DO get the attraction to Muse. There’s not much to get really. They have a successful formula. And it’s only natural for people obsessed with music founded on soul and purity to be frustrated by the success of a band like Muse.

    From what I saw on Saturday, outside of the light show, Muse is the most recent incantation of the ever-morphing pop amalgam that was once The Killers and… I don’t know… Bananarama. They’re a band that pop culture loves to throw panties and scrilla, while music gourmands sit quietly waiting for the 15 minutes to pass.

    Or maybe I don’t get Muse. I suppose that is also possible

  2. Jim McGonigal Reply

    A few notes from my experience, as we caught different acts:

    First off, I agree completely with everything said here about Muse. I don’t get it either. I saw almost their whole set and I still don’t get it. My friend I went to the show with is a former Broadway performer and he LOVED Muse’ vocals. I just don’t get it though. However, the lasers were okay.

    I also have to admit I guess I don’t get MGMT. When we got over to the stage they were rockin’ out, but then they started to get weird and totally lost the crowd. I admit we only stayed for a song or two before joining the flock and leaving MGMT behind, so I do not know if they were able to salvage their set.

    Phish was GREAT! But they are rarely anything else. Steam was definitely a festival highlight for me.

    As for Saturday, I feel there was a couple GREAT acts you missed, and based on crowd size you werent the only one. First the Old 97’s destroyed the Sutro Stage. I was right up front rockin’ the rail, and they rocked me. Those guys are always full of high energy. What a show. And the second act you missed was Warren Haynes. The man is a legend. Like Phish, he rarely disappoints.

    And I think we agree about everything that happened on Sunday.

    For me the best sets of the weekend were Phish, Old 97’s, Warren Haynes, Mavis Staples, and the Infamous String Dusters.

    I will also comment that I was shocked to see so much techno and DJ stuff going on. I may be a live music junky from Vermont, but I insist on my live music being made by live instruments. I get that DJs and such are amazingly talented at what they do, I just think that what they do is a waste. I did see a bit of Deadmau5 just to see what everyone was talking about. Very strange. Spaceship stage set up with some dude bobbing his mouse head hat up and down while he does his DJ thing. I know this guy says he isn’t a DJ, but he is in denial. In my humble opinion, pushing buttons is not making music.

    That’s all for now, long live rock!

  3. Jim McGonigal Reply

    Oh! And I forgot to mention the Decemberists! Great show with the amazing Sarah Watkins filling in!

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