With day one of Outside Lands 2014 in the books, the general reception of Friday’s lineup was as expected — a bunch of bands that people have heard of, closed by Kanye West. This isn’t to say that this studiously composed schedule was void of excitement, though. Playing every summer music festival in the world seems to have vastly improved Disclosure’s live performances. They, along with Chromeo and the aptly named White Noise, supplied more than enough indie-flavored dance pop to keep the frothing masses engaged in between chugging $8 Heinekens and taking semi-ironic and flower-crowned selfies. Culinary options abound at Outside Lands, with every field and wooded path shouldered by booths hawking ramen burgers, chicken and waffles, cookie pies, and liquid chocolate. There’s even a gourmet cocktail area, found in the woods near the stage where cooking demonstrations take place throughout the weekend.
The Sutro Stage (found on the other side of the aforementioned off-putting haunted candy forest) might be the most pleasant corner of the festival’s grounds. A large, grassy, shaded hill and laid-back, accommodating lineup make for a family-friendly atmosphere (read: This is where the moms and dads hang out). It’s also where I caught a 4 p.m. set from San Fran’s own Nicki Bluhm, which was pretty close to perfect. Hours later, Kacey Musgraves would successfully “turn up” the Sutro crowd in preparation for West’s 8:20 headlining slot at the Lands End Stage.
And then, there was Kanye.
It’s difficult to describe West’s performance without veering into language that sounds hyperbolic or irrational. The visuals are spectacular in both their power and their simplicity. Using three gigantic screens, West has seemingly boiled down the most compelling and raw elements of live musical performance and then blown each of them out, like a photograph that’s been doctored to a point where all that remains is a stark black-and-white image. Per normal, Kanye came out masked in Margiela, silhouetted against a plain, bright red background, the sinister melody to “Black Skinhead” slowed and looped in the background. Pusha T’s opening verse on the drill-anthem “Shit I Don’t Like” would soon bellow from the speakers before West launched into his own verse from the remix of the track from fellow Chicagoans Young Chop and Chief Keef. It was an exciting choice, even though it served as a harsh reminder that this isn’t Coachella and cameos don’t happen.
Kanye would remain masked for a majority of Friday’s performance, save for a quick rant in the middle of “Clique.” He even tried to open up circle pits on “Blood on the Leaves,” going back to the track three times in an valiant effort that was noble if only for its ambition. “If you’re a fan of me, then you’re a fan of yourself,” said West, while some members of the crowd cheered and others yelled “SHUT UP AND RAP.” And yes, there was a mid-song Auto-Tuned serenade to Kim.
Simply put, this was and is the Kanye West experience, curated by the man himself.
The set ended somewhat abruptly amid apparent technical difficulties, making for an end to day one that felt immediately unsatisfying. But ultimately, everyone in Golden Gate Park got what they came to see: Kanye … and some other bands, too.