It’s been a week since the fourth year of Outside Lands 2011 ended at Golden Gate Park, the most incredible day of my summer. To start with, I’m not going to write this like a professional review – I’ve read too many amusing stories on tumblr for that. So I’ll compensate with a half and half.
The festival, back to its original three-day form, has yet to disappoint with its lineup, except for the time scheduling (MGMT and Foster the People at the same time?) which didn’t go down well with a lot of people. With MGMT, Phish, Big Audio Dynamite, Muse, Arctic Monkeys, Arcade Fire and super loved indie bands, it was such a tough choice which day to go, let alone which stages. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of the lucky bastards who got their hands on $123 three-day passes on Craigslist, and was more than grateful for my $100 one-day ticket.
I was supposed to wake up at 5 AM on Friday morning, but of course, I wake up at 6 when my friend arrives to pick me up. I had about 50 seconds to gather my stuff together and dash out the door like a madman. So off we went to the San Jose Caltrain station in my pajamas, with my hair soaked in hot pink Manic Panic from the night before, wrapped in a plastic bag. FABULOUS. Make use of the bullet train’s tiny sink to rinse it off and dress properly (for a festival at least). People look at me as if they’ve never seen anyone with paper towels wrapped around a dip dye ponytail at 6:30 in the morning before. Commuters. When we reach San Francisco, we get out with people dressed in business suits and office clothes. Soleil and I could not have stood out more – the only two teenagers in Outside Lands style out this early in the morning in such a crowd.
Good thing we were taking the MUNI bus at this time, because later on public transportation would be… not so convenient. I later read about some old man getting more and more frustrated as he tried to board MUNI only to find it completely full each time. Those darn Outside Land attendees!
I leave my friend at the Polo Fields with a bunch of girls, some who came all the way from Canada, prepared to wait 5+ hours for MGMT and listen to bands they’ve never heard of. As much as I like MGMT, I needed to get to the Sutro stage rail for my bands. Release the Sunbird is playing and a respectable crowd is already up over there. Local and loved Rogue Wave’s frontman (Zach Rogue)’s new side project is warm and mellow, just the perfect start for what’s to come.
The Joy Formidable follow, around 15 minutes late for their set; they are picky about their sound and mixing, so their prepping delays things a bit (the radio wouldn’t turn off I think?) – but the results paid off. In great contrast to the previous set, the Welsh trio are feisty and run on an almost violent energy (as evident by the way the bassist and vocalist/guitarist, who are also lovers and childhood friends, playfully smack each other around and bash their instruments). They are by the peroxide pixie Ritzy Bryan, who is in the words of my new Welsh pal next to me, “made of dynamite.”
Their shoegazing (I really didn’t see much of that!) and intense blend of noise and melodic depth brought a good crowd over. It really struck me that Ritzy somewhat resembled a rock n’roll J. K. Rowling, with her wild, wild, electric blue eyes going wide at the audience as she showed us her great vocal range and shredded shimmering blazing notes.
At a funnier point, someone shouted that they needed more coconut water (it was in abundance at the festival, either that or I’m mistaking beer for it), to which Ritzy joked, “We fooked that one (coconut water endorsement?) up!”
They closed with “Whirring” from their first EP in chaotic fashion, Matt Thomas smashing his cymbals like there was no tomorrow, and Ritzy and Rhydian slamming their Fender and bass all over the place, much to all of our approval.
Phantogram, whom I adore dearly, would continue the female ruling at the Sutro Stage. They share a few similarities with The Joy Formidable: their love of loud, them being childhood friends, obvious musical chemistry, and of course, the sexual tension in the music which is interesting to see live.
On the stage, it’s easy to see that Phantogram have their own brand of intensity, layered over Josh Carter’s multifaceted guitar, Sarah Barthel’s heartbleeding voice, and sparkling electronica.
Josh came out smoking a cigarette, in a beard that suited him, while Sarah was dressed in harem pants and a signature tank top. Her cool, sleek black bob (bringing to mind Ritzy’s white-blonde from earlier) whipped dramatically about her face in arcs and swishes as she pressed keys and swung her shoulders, as we’d seen from music videos and past shows.
Meanwhile, the guy directly behind me screams how much he loves her, a lot of times. I think he pretty much said it for all of us.
Their two most well known songs, “Mouthful of Diamonds” and “When I’m Small,” were great crowd-pleasers, with a crowd singalong during the latter. At the end, a setlist wasn’t tossed to us, but instead their mic setup!
Foster the People came in to make the fourth band’s appearance at the fourth hour. While they were prepping, I spotted a very familiar blue hooded shirt, chatting off to the side of the press pit. I quickly grabbed the nearest photographer to take my Sharpie and ticket over to Phantogram’s Josh Carter and Tim, the live drummer. One should always carry a Sharpie in case something like this happens!
Despite competing with MGMT’s time slot, Foster the People attracted a crowd as far the eye could see, extending past the Sutro’s merch booth.
The rail got much tighter; clearly this was worth missing MGMT for. While I didn’t go all three days, I knew that this was was one of the very best sets of all. This band completely lacks any of the pretentiousness often attached to a popular indie band. Mark Foster, fresh in a Fred Perry shirt, seemed humble and modest as he bounced onstage from keyboard to drums to guitar with his bandmates.
Towards the close, Mark Foster recalled how he met Rivers Cuomo at a party during his early L.A. days, showing him songs he had written; “It was probably the three most boring, painful moments [of his life], and after that he taught me ‘Say It Ain’t So.’ Four days ago we just heard Weezer’s been covering ‘Pumped Up Kicks’.” Naturally, we all know what song was done next. When “Helena Beats” finally came around for the ending everyone dreads, no one wanted to see them go.
I had the good fortune of getting one of the setlists; the whole day i had wanted one. My wonderful new friend at the rail handed it to me after security had passed it to him – and I held it for half a minute, not believing I had my first setlist. But the girl behind me was really in love with them and sad about not getting it, and I knew it should be hers. Got a huge hug in return – just something that would happen thanks to this band.
Ellie Goulding was my last at the Sutro, and her arrival meant we were all shoulder to shoulder with barely room to move. Dressed in a red military jacket, not unlike the ones seen in her “Guns and Horses” video, she started off with “Under the Sheets.”
A couple of songs in, she pointed at the crowd and nodded to the fans holding colored letters up to spell “Goulding Gate Park.” Looking out into the audience, there were many wearing yellow star-shaped sunglasses (countless boxes were filled with them and tossed out by keyboardist and roadies) for the “lights,” leaving them literally starry-eyed.
She’s well matched with her keyboardist and drummer, the former who was a litte Paul Simonon-esque. He even pouted like Paul! I say to my rail friend, “He looks so obviously English. Look at his expression!” We laughed – maybe he had his Clash face on? However, he still smiled plenty during the set.
While it might have been too tight to move anything but arms in the closer rows, more out in the field, people were most definitely dancing.
As soon as Ellie left, it was time to split from the Sutro stage and dash through the thousands to get to Twin Peaks for Big Audio Dynamite (original lineup) – the very reason why I came to Outside Lands. Hadn’t eaten all day, and while it’s sad to miss out on the festival’s brilliant local food, there just wasn’t enough time to stand in those lines. Unfortunately, I was delayed by an important phone call during which I had to dash into some thin trees and foliage next to the trail and porta-potties (incredibly long lines). I was talking loudly, but some people didn’t notice my presence and tried to pee in there. I tried the coughing tactic and when that didn’t work, directly but politely announced I was there. Awkwaaaard.
I arrived about 25 minutes before B.A.D. took the stage, but the rail was already nearly full. Of Shins fans. You could easily identify The Clash fans – a big group of them centered in the middle, for prime viewing of Mick. A Shins sandwich with some Clash stuffing.
I was able to squish into the rail anyways, closer to the side of the legendary Don Letts, thanks to another new friend. “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” played for the band’s entrance, before Mick picked up the harmonica to start “Medicine Show.” You could tell the Clash crowd was truly excited, but the Shins fans weren’t feeling it just yet.
“Bad,” the old-school hip-hop and punk-tinged number, got more people dancing. At some point, Mick even brought out the little dance he would do on the Gorillaz tour. Very cute, Jonesy. He was grinning throughout the whole show, clearly happy.
Afterwards, Mick introduced “Rob Better Pay Paul” (about the current economic times), one of the new tracks from the upcoming album. It turned out to be one of the best songs played that night, and true to the original B.A.D sound. “E=MC2″ was a great old-school favorite, but signaled that the set was almost ending (too soon!).
The whole performance was outstanding, and hopefully more people have gained an appreciation for one of the most underrated acts in the past few decades.
At the end of my Outside Lands day, I did end up getting my wish – a Big Audio Dynamite setlist. Setlist karma? You have to love music festivals, and if you don’t, go to Outside Lands. You’ll always love Outside Lands.
More Outside Lands photos can be seen on DJ scribbles’ flickr.