Outside Lands Festival returned for its 4th year to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California. The environmentally friendly festival featured headliners Phish, Muse, and Arcade Fire. Our writer Ace Ubas and photographer Marcello Ambriz were there to cover the festival for us. Check out our first day review and photos:
Sutro Stage: Release the Sunbird
Oakland’s own Release the Sunbird started off Day 1 of Outside Lands at the Sutro Stage promptly at Noon. For those unfamiliar with Release the Sunbird, it’s a new project by Zach Rogue of Rogue Wave fame. With their lineup rounded out by vocalist Kate Long, bassist Kenny Childers, guitarist Mike Bridavsky, and drummer Pete Schriner, the quintet brought their soothing folk sound that was appropriate to the overcast weather. With people still making their way into Golden Gate Park, only a handful of people got to enjoy their 40 minute set. Their set consisted of songs from their recently released debut Come Back to Us. With songs like single “Always Like the Son,” “No Light,” and “It’s All Around You,” the difference in sound between Rogue’s bands are very distinguishable. Release the Sunbird brings a modern folk sound reminiscent of Band of Horses. Overall, it was a pretty relaxing set that got the crowd to relax before things got louder.
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Sutro Stage: The Joy Formidable
The North Wales trio The Joy Formidable took the stage next. With their debut album entitled “The Big Roar,” they lived up to the name by bringing their shoegaze indie pop sound across the pond and into the bay area. Looking at vocalist/guitarist Ritzy Bryan, you wouldn’t think that she could possess such animalistic energy, showing off her vocal range and intricacy on her guitar on songs “Austere” and “A Heavy Abacus.” On their last song “Whirring,” they abused their respective instruments with Bryan tossing her guitar into her amp multiple times, while bassist Rhydian Dafyidd drove his bass into the ground while twisting and slapping his effects pedals, and drummer Matt Thomas pounded away at his set before slamming his drum sticks onto his cymbals.
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Sutro Stage: Phantogram
Before they made their way to the Pacific Festival in Orange County, Phantogram made a stop at the Sutro Stage to get the crowd dancing. Opening with “As Far As I Can See,” the stunning Sarah Barthel grabbed the mic while showing off her own dance moves to the ridiculously loud bass beats. Guitarist/vocalist Josh Carter took vocal duties on “Pulling My Teeth Out,” “Running from the Cops,” and “You Are the Ocean,” proving that he is more than capable grasping the audience’s attention. They also played a couple of new songs up their upcoming EP (due for release later in the year) that showed them experimenting into different styles. “Don’t Move” was more pop-structured, while “Sixteen Years” featured a venture into the shoe gaze genre when Carter created a pleasing wall of sound that would make fans of My Bloody Valentine smile just a bit. The last two songs of their set was very mesmerizing with Barthel’s hypnotizing synths on “Futuristic Casket” and her looped, echoing vocal melody on “When I’m Small.”
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Twin Peaks Stage: Toro y Moi
I ventured over to the Twin Peaks Stage to catch South Carolina-native Chaz Bundick and his project Toro y Moi. They opened up with the funk throwback New Beat off their latest album “Underneath the Pine.” The guitar was full of twang, but the bass wasn’t loud enough from where I was standing. On the album, Bundick’s vocals are nearly drowned out, but during his set they were loud and clear. During “Go With You”, his voice was nearly Beach Boys-esque, while on “How I Know,” Bundickâ€™s soft vocal melodies was infectious. Fan-favorite “Still Sound” was his ode to 80s synth-pop backed by his live bassist and drummer to create one heck of a soulful rhythm.
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Lands End Stage: MGMT
All the girls clamoring to get to the front of the main stage meant it was time for MGMT. With them and Phish both playing this night, you can only hope to see many acid trips to create on hell of a good time. And with an arena rock-esque voice intro, Benjamin Goldwasser, Andrew VanWyngarden, and the rest of their live line-up (Matthew Asti, James Richardson, and Will Berman) entered the stage and jumped right into “Flash Delirium” from their latest effort Congratulations.
By the end of the song, the entire Polo Field was nearly full end-to-end. This got me thinking that the night was about to get crazy. But was I ever wrong. Regardless of how many people were there to see MGMT, the energy level of that set wasnâ€™t what I expected. MGMT didnâ€™t do much interaction with the crowd and played through each song continuously. The crowd wasnâ€™t much help either as the only time they seemed to care about the set was when MGMT played their hits that put them on the map from their first album such as “Time to Pretend” and “Electric Feel.” Other than those songs, the crowd was pretty lackluster for most of their hour-long set which was terribly disappointing to see. Maybe try a smaller stage next time?
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Sutro Stage: Ellie Goulding
I made my way back over to the Sutro Stage to catch the end of the set of the very lovely, beautiful, and talented Ellie Goulding. Having just played a sold-out show at the Wiltern, the blonde British import brought her energetic pop sound to the â€œstarry-eyedâ€ San Francisco. Mainly everyone in the front of the stage had star-shaped sunglasses on and a row of fans had a sign that spelled out â€œGoulding Gate Park,â€ so fans were definitely dying to see her.
I walked in the middle of “Your Biggest Mistake” with everyone dancing and singing since the start of her set. She then played “Salt Skin” that saw her pick up an acoustic guitar, which she played intricately and delicately, before it jumped into a dance interlude. The lead single and synth-driven Lights got everyone to bounce around like the beach balls in the air. She ended her set with the synth-driven “Animal” and the fan-favorite “Starry Eyed” as fans witnessed one of the best modern pop acts around.
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Lands End Stage: Phish
Phish was definitely a band that I wasnâ€™t familiar with. But I knew that they were a psychedelic/jam band from the early 80s. It really took my by surprise at the thousands of people that filled Polo Field who looked like they werenâ€™t old enough to drink. But once Phish took the stage and started playing, I knew that everyone watching them was a legitimate Phish-head. They were full of energy and even sang along word-for-word. I didnâ€™t think that this kind of turn out would happen so I was definitely in awe. It fully captured the spirit of what a music festival should be like. Did I mention that these fans stayed with them for their 3 HOUR LONG SET.
In regards to the band, they were all masters of their respective instruments. Vocalist/guitarist Trey Anastasio was sharp playing his blistering guitar riffs, drummer Jon Fishman was a monster behind his kit, pounding out some impressive beats, and keyboardist Page McConnell spewed out impressive piano solos that got everyone to cheer when he was showed on screen. For that particular first set, it was hard to tell which songs everyone cheered for the most, but it would definitely have to be a tie between “Tweezer” and “Possum.” It was an hour of blues and groove by a band that proved that they havenâ€™t lost a step since their formation nearly two decades ago.
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Twin Peaks Stage: The Shins
There was no doubt that the top headliner of the night was the returning Shins. What I really mean by returning is James Mercer with a brand-new line-up. After being on hiatus for nearly 3 years, you can safely assume that most of the people at the festival were there to see them. Mercerâ€™s new band included Richard Swift (keyboards), Modest Mouse member Joe Plummer (drums), Yuuki Matthews of Crystal Skulls (bass), and Jessica Hobson (guitarist). With Mercer having been involved in Broken Bells with Danger Mouse, he and the rest of the band looked to prove to the thousands of anxious eyes that The Shins havenâ€™t gone anywhere and theyâ€™re even better than the past.
Immediately they jumped right into their classic “Caring is Creepy” that got massive cheers from the crowd and sang their hearts out with the band. They followed it up with another favorite in Australia. With them playing two of their most popular songs, tons of momentum and adrenaline was flowing through the veins of the band and the fans. Another favorite was played in “New Slang,” where the vocal melodies provided by the other members harmonized so well that it sent a cold chill up my spine; itâ€™s as if that line-up has been playing together since 1997.
And after playing more hits like “Kissing the Lipless,” “So Says I,” “Sea Legs,” and “Saint Simon,” The Shins showed the thousands in attendance that theyâ€™re back, and much better than before. When they played “New Slang,” I immediately felt that sense of nostalgia and sent me back to my middle school days. It was beautifully played as fans roared the loudest during their set. It reminded everyone of why they fell in love with that band in the first place.
After playing for nearly an hour and a half, the most impressive part was watching their chemistry with one another, as if they had been playing together for so long. With Mercer being the only member of the group, it shows that he really is the driving force behind The Shins and as long as he still remains, fans should be excited for the future of the band with a new album coming up in 2012 and hopefully many more shows to sing their hearts out.
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