For our final day of Outside Lands Festival coverage, our writer Ace Ubas covered ten artists (his buddy Carlos covered the Decemberists) and our photographer Marcello Ambriz shot ten artists as well! We hope that you’ve enjoyed our coverage for this year’s Outside Lands Festival (thanks to Big Hassle Media for getting us in!)
Free Yr Radio Tent: Wye Oak
Since I couldn’t see Wye Oak later on during the day at the Panhandle Stage, I decided to see them at the intimate Free Yr Radio Tent right at the start of Day 3. Granted, it was a REALLY short set, but with their latest album Civilian, they’ve become one of the bands to watch out for. Vocalist/guitarist Jenn Wasner and drummer/keyboardist Andy Stack have always been a two-piece without a bassist. But for this performance, they changed things up as Stack wasn’t behind his kit, but holding up an actual bass instead. You can say that it was a stripped down set without the drums, but it seemed less dynamic. They played “Hot as Day” and “Holy Holy,” and you can instantly notice that the songs were hollow. The loud, reverb-drenched guitar was still there, but without the drums, it wasn’t the same Wye Oak that I knew.
Sutro Stage: The Fresh & Onlys
I managed to catch The Fresh & Onlys set, watching them play their last two songs. I wasn’t familiar with them at all, but it didn’t take them long to capture my interest. Maybe it was because they were back in their hometown San Francisco on a festival stage, but they did not disappoint for a second. From the 60s-psyche tune “Peacock and Wing” to set-closer “Diamond in the Dark,” they just flat out rocked the hell out of the Sutro Stage. This quartet is definitely on my radar and the next time they roll into town, I will not miss them live, neither should anyone else for that matter.
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Sutro Stage: tUnE-yArDs
After making her national television debut on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Oakland-native Merrill Garbus (a.k.a tUnE-yArDs) was out to show that her appearance was just a sneak peak into what her live performance is really like. Garbus emerged onto the stage by herself with her signature face paint as she banged on her floor tom. Soon the two brass players joined her on stage as they opened with “Do You Want to Live?.” Immediately she grabbed the crowd’s attention and got them to chant ‘yeah’ on cue during the song. They followed it up with their most popular song “Gangsta,” which got the crowd dancing. Presenting diversity in her music, she picked up a ukulele for the hip-hop-infused Es-so, showed off her high-pitched wail on Powa, and got groovy with the sexy “Real Live Flesh.” tUnE-yArDs was definitely one of the highlights throughout the weekend. Garbus has a monster voice while creating music that perfectly blends tribal freak folk with hip-hop and a sprinkle of reggae. It’s an experience in itself.
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Twin Peaks Stage: Junip
I didn’t think I would catch Junip’s set, but I happened to catch the last few songs. In terms of sound, it was a distinct contrast to what I’ve seen earlier in the day. There weren’t that many people watching the Jose Gonzalez-led Swedish quartet’s set, but they provided a nice change of pace in terms of musical style from what I’ve seen earlier in the day. With the seven-minute long “At the Door,” “Far Away,” and “Always,” the people lying on their blankets were able to soak in the soothing tunes as well as the sun.
Panhandle Stage: Grouplove
Being from Los Angeles, I was very excited to see fellow natives Grouplove bring a piece of the LA music scene with them to San Francisco. But at the end of their set, I came to the conclusion that not only do they represent the LA music scene, but they are the epitome of a summer band. With the sun blaring down on the crowd, the indie-pop quartet played feel-good songs such as “Lovely Cup” and “Itchin on a Photograph” that engulfed the crowd in this comfortable ‘warmth.’ Vocalist/keyboardist Hannah Hooper charmed everyone by talking about growing in San Francisco and when she put on her golden, sun-shaped mask, everyone knew it was time for their hit “Naked Kids.” Each member looked like they were genuinely enjoying being on stage and performing, and that attitude carried over to the crowd. Not only did they manage to make me feel like I was at home, they managed to send across a wave of nostalgia through their music and make everyone feel like they’re at home.
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Twin Peaks Stage: !!! (Chk Chk Chk)
Face it. LCD Soundsystem is not coming back anytime soon. Where does that leave the dance-punk genre? Well, since The Rapture are over on the east coast, Sacramento’s own !!! (chk chk chk) is left with the responsibility of throwing a dance party in the west coast. Granted, they played in the afternoon but who needs a disco ball and strobe lights anyway? Short-shorts wearing, hip-thrusting vocalist Nic Offer surely didn’t, as he got the crowd to break a sweat and dance their butts off. They even covered a song by a certain musician that made them ‘extra loveable.’
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Sutro Stage: Julieta Venegas
Music festivals are known for showcasing diverse musical styles from different parts of the world, so Outside Lands provided an opportunity for me to check out something new and open me up to other genres. I decided to check out the Mexican songstress, Julieta Venegas, out on the Sutro Stage and I was really glad that I did. Despite a few technical difficulties and appealing to the Spanish-speaking crowd exclusively (her songs are in Spanish and interacted with the crowd in Spanish), she proved exactly why she’s a Grammy-award nominee. Julieta and her back-up band provided infectious melodies, pop hooks, and ballads. Aside from a piano, she displayed her multi-instrumental ability by playing a banjo and an accordion throughout her set when playing more folk-inspired numbers. For her last song, she brought Chilean hip-hop artist Ana Tijoux (who played Day 2) on stage as they sang the duet Eres Para Mi. It was a great set, but I would’ve enjoyed it more had I paid attention in high school Spanish class.
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Sutro Stage: Little Dragon
When ever Gothenburg, Sweden’s Little Dragon rolled through Los Angeles in the past, something always prevented me from seeing them. But I wasn’t going to miss them again as I stayed at the Sutro Stage to get my groove on. Vocalist Yukimi Nagano wore a shimmering silver dress as they opened up with “Looking Glass” and “Never Never” from their second album Machine Dreams. A couple of songs from their latest release Ritual Union followed with the bluesy “Little Man” and the dark dance number “Please Turn.” Though Nagano may be pixie-like in stature, her voice packs a lot of soul like on songs “Summertearz” and single “Ritual Union.” The stellar musicianship of Erik Bodin (drums), Fredrik Kallgren (bass), and Hakan Wirenstrand (guitar) combined to create an ethereal and hypnotic synth-pop sound which Nagano traveled on in order to mesmerize the crowd.
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Sutro Stage: Beirut
It wouldn’t be a festival if there weren’t acts whose schedules didn’t conflict. For this particular day, patrons had to choose The Decemberists playing on the main stage (Lands End) or Beirut on the Sutro Stage. I ended up choosing to watch the New Mexico-based collective.
By the time Beirut took the stage, the time and place couldn’t have been anymore perfect. With Sutro Stage being surrounded by trees, the sun setting behind it created a beautiful backdrop as Zach Condon and his merry men serenaded the crowd with their European folk style. As usual, they used a mélange of instruments throughout their set that they’re known for, playing a beautiful, worldly set over the span of 70 minutes.
Despite their latest album, The Rip Tide, coming out at the end of the month, their set was a nice balance of songs from each of their three albums. “Elephant Gun,” “My Night with a Prostitute,” “Scenic World,” and “Nantes” were the fan-favorites and drew the loudest cheers of their set, while “Postcard from Italy” featured a great saxophone solo that echoed throughout the field. New songs such as “Santa Fe” and “Vagabond” still had that Eastern European folk feel, but they were definitely the more “poppier” songs that they played. Since I won’t be able to see them later on in the year, I was real pleased that I was able to catch their set. They just know how to create music that makes you feel good.
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Lands End Stage: The Decemberists
Since I chose to see Beirut instead of The Decemberists, I wasn’t able to see their set. Fortunately, my friend Carlos Cabral caught their set and he was gracious enough to write-up a review for their set:
Indie-pop veteran’s The Decemberists found a welcome and willing crowd Sunday evening in the almost-as-liberal-as-Portland San Francisco. Their set started routinely enough, opening with a throwback to Castaways and Cutouts in the summer anthem “July, July!” Ever socially-aware and politically-charged frontman Colin Meloy wasted no time exposing his famous wit, referencing republican presidential hopeful Michelle Bachmann by dedicating “Calamity Song,” a tune about the decline of civilization, for free use in her campaign.
Audience response was favorable enough as they marched through their set, composing newer songs mostly but also throwing in obscure gems such as “Dracula’s Daughter,” to which Meloy admitted, and not for the first time, was probably the worst song he ever wrote. But the crowd hooted and hollered to every song, including that one, and even went so far as to begin chicken fighting at the frontman’s behest. Where most indie bands would be happy enough with consistent positive reception and vulgar displays of power, such was not the case with the Decemberists, who took their set to a whole new level with “Won’t Want for Love.” Guest musician Sara Watkins, covering for Jenny Conlee who is currently fighting cancer (which Meloy graciously asked the crowd to send their positive thoughts), provided vocals for the song and received a warm welcome. Watkins’ passionate rendition was trumped only by a lengthy and impromptu guitar solo that turned the song more Zeppelin than anything else that has come out of Portland in the last several years, which sent the crowd rolling.
The Decemberists closed their set with fan-favorite “The Mariner’s Revenge Song,” seeking to please long-time fans’ attraction to the band’s penchant for storytelling and lyrical complexity. It remains somewhat of an oddity on how a band that beautifully sings about revenge, infanticide and calamity, has retained such a whimsically enamored following for all these years. But it was evident in the concert that the central thesis to The Decemberists is that the only respite to a world of consistently bad things is love, which they gave San Francisco that night, who reciprocated the same sentiment.
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Lands End Stage: Arcade Fire
Closing out not only the night, but the entire festival was Montreal’s pride and joy Arcade Fire. Even though they shared the closing slot with Deadmau5, I can say with the utmost confidence that they put on the best show of the entire festival. The giant theatrical marquee that hung above the stage gave off the feeling that everyone would be witnessing a grand opera, as a video intro was shown on the side screens. They emerged from the stage as they opened with “Ready to Start,” from their Grammy-award winning album The Suburbs. The husband and wife duo of Win Butler and Regine Chassagne both took the lead on “Keep the Car Running,” while “Haiti” featured Regine’s infectious vocal melodies.
In between songs, Win Butler talked about having the honor of joining legendary R&B and soul singer Mavis Staples on stage earlier in the day. And acting as global ambassador, he talked about the band’s partnership with the non-profit healthcare organization Partners in Health and raising awareness of the troubles in the country of Haiti, to which Regine has ties to.
Even though their last album elevated them from indie rock legends to mainstream masters, it wasn’t without flaws such as “Empty Room” and “Rococo.” But when played live, Arcade Fire injects those songs with this indescribable energy that they become nearly flawless. Another pair of oldies followed in the organ-led “Intervention” and the romantic ballad “Crown of Love.”
Win introduced the next song by sharing an anecdote about growing up in Houston, comparing it to San Francisco before sitting behind a piano and playing The Suburbs. They jumped right into their punk anthem Month of May before they got the crowd singing on “Rebellion (Lies)” and “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels).” Showing that nothing stands between performer and audience, Win jumped into the crowd for “We Used to Wait,” surrounding himself with near-orgasmic fans. Nearly the entire crowd had their brightly lit cameras out throughout Arcade Fire’s set, so it was a bit moot that Win asked them to whip out any electronic devices as a source of light for set closer “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out).”
Fans clamored their restless hearts out for an encore, to which Arcade Fire obliged as they came back with their biggest hit “Wake Up.” No matter how many times I’ve heard that song, seeing it live and hearing the opening choral harmony still sends chills up my spine because of its captivating and haunting eeriness. They ended the night with my personal favorite “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),” which Regine’s lush singing made me, and everyone else in attendance, wanting more as the sparkling 80s-pop throwback was a perfect way to cap off the festival.
At this point in time, anything Arcade Fire does shouldn’t come as a surprise. What ever they create, it’s consistantly amazing. It’s hard to believe that an eight-person collective have the ability to take tens of thousands of people through a sonic and visual transcendent experience, but somehow they do it. In the end, they always manage to accomplish one thing: leave anything and everything in awe.
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