Outside Lands Review

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In early August, I made the drive up north to spend a weekend at Outside Lands, a music and arts festival that annually calls San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park home. Before I recap the weekend, I want to take a second to point out my personal bias. As a Southern California native, I am absolutely and totally infatuated with Coachella. As such, I went into Outside Lands with extremely high standards—failing to separate the two festivals as completely unrelated and incomparable. My account of this weekend will absolutely reflect this bias, but it might be nice to know how the two festivals stack up to one another.  

Day 1:

Sets I attended: Aer, Bleachers, Holy Ghost, Chromeo, Disclosure, Kanye West

The Best: I think it’s safe to say that Bleachers put on the best show of the day. Despite a few technical glitches, the set radiated energy all the way through. At first, I was surrounded by a substantial group of people who felt no inclination to be at the set.  But by the end, the entire crowd was bobbing along to the music—the band’s vigor was just that contagious. A high-energy lead singer (Jack Antonoff) and a dynamic debut album (Strange Desire) combined to make for a really electrifying performance. I also wanted to give a quick shout out to Chromeo for coming in a close second.

The Worst: Kanye West was probably the set I was most looking forward to—I did, after all, choose to not see one of my favorite bands (Arctic Monkeys) in favor of Yeezy’s set. Biggest regret. Rather than seeing Alex Turner kill it, I was faced with a set that saw Kanye singing a butchered version of “Blood On The Leaves” three times through, a ten-minute performance of “Runaway” that ended with a close to five minute auto tune rant about his love for Kim Kardashian, and a performance of “Power” that he only managed to produce half of before abruptly stopping and forcing a song change. I was expecting a pulsating cross between Kanye’s artistic masterpiece of a set during Coachella 2011 and the recently characteristic rants that I previously defended as hilarious. This set was none of the above, with a subpar stage presence, repetitive, verging on cheesy “rants,” and a setlist that was either absolutely awful or entirely disregarded.

Day’s sentiments: Everyone in the crowd seemed genuinely unhappy and disengaged, sets I was excited for fell flat (i.e. Disclosure and Kanye), and I was generally underwhelmed.

Day 2:

Sets I attended: Jagwar Ma, Finish Ticket, Local Natives, Haim, Death Cab for Cutie, and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

The Best: Today was honestly a toss-up between Haim and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. On one hand, Haim’s set was probably the most fun I had all weekend. I had been meaning to see the group that hails from my hometown live for the past few years, and they didn’t disappoint. Between Este’s signature bass face, jam sessions that Danielle likened to time spend in the Haim living room, and a hyped array of girls on guys’ shoulders per the request of the band, the set was flawless. There is, however, something truly surreal about listening to Tom Petty sing “Free Fallin’” live while standing next to a man dressed in a chicken suit and screaming along to “Learning to Fly” with a crowd of a several thousand music enthusiasts. Seeing Tom Petty instead of Macklemore was probably the easiest decision I made all weekend.

The Worst: I love Death Cab for Cutie’s music, but their live show is not one to write home about. Although I had previously seen the group live and was not too engaged, I assumed this time would be different. I was very, very wrong. While standing in the front row at the main stage, I found myself dozing off.

Day’s sentiments: Day two was significantly better, and I attribute that largely to the fact that nearly every band I saw had someone playing the electric guitar in it. I feel like the artists drew a different crowd, and for the first time, the people of Outside Lands seemed to genuinely care about the music in itself. It was also nice to discover a new band—Finish Ticket.

 

Day 3:

Sets I attended: Watsky, Flume, Spoon, The Flaming Lips, The Killers

The Best: I begrudgingly attended Flume’s set after Chvrches had to cancel theirs at the last second. I saw him just a few weeks prior, and was extremely disappointed with his live set, although he was and is one of my favorite artists. I was very lucky, however, to find myself at his set at Outside Lands, because he redeemed himself and then some. The entirety of the festival seemed to be at his set with the cancellation of Chvrches, and he did not disappoint. Not one crowd member was left flat-footed, as everyone immediately caught pace with each beat and submerged themselves into the music’s unique charisma.

The Worst: This is hard for me to say because I adore this band and am obsessed with their newest album, but Spoon’s set was definitely the least climactic of the day. In comparison to many of the performances from previous days, they were incredible; they just so happened to fall on a day that included better shows.

Day’s sentiments: Who can complain after watching the lead singer of The Flaming Lips, Wayne Coyne, peruse the crowd in a human hamster ball while people dressed up as foam rainbows swayed back and forth in the background? Day three definitely followed the positive trend of day two musically, but I still left the festival slightly underwhelmed by the overall experience.

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The final consensus: It all comes back to the fact that I spent the vast majority of the festival comparing it to its Southern Californian counterpart, and Coachella came up on top in all regards. The stages were way too far away from one another, the scheduling was absolutely terrible, and the vast majority of the crowd seemed as though someone was forcing them to attend. Outside Lands did, however, prove to be a decent conclusion to my summer of satisfying my live music fix, and it helped me check a few key performers off of my music bucket list, so I can’t sulk too much.