In the months leading up to Outside Lands, it became clear that the three-day gathering in Golden Gate Park would not be just any old weekend in the woods. I think when my dentist told me she was buying tickets with her husband, that was a fair indicator of just how many people an event like Outside Lands can appeal to, and for a good set of reasons.
First, the location and the fact that it was not in the middle of the desert. To host a music festival proportional to Coachella in San Francisco is like preparing a pilgrimage for the hipster religion-and who better to guide lost souls to scenester salvation than Radiohead?
Day one was more or less a push-and-shove between stages as everyone attempted to capitalize on the best lineup that the weekend had to offer. Beck, The Black Keys, Manu Chao, Cold War Kids, and others gave fans incentive to show up early, but as it happened, I showed up barely in time to get my photo credentials. The rest of my day was spent in a full-blown sprint across the field as I attempted to navigate the borders of the grounds, photograph Beck, and get the best possible spot for the Oxfordshire chaps’ set.
This past weekend I had the chance to observe some of my favorite bands from almost every angle imaginable. Watching from 10 feet away, suddenly all the invisible and mysterious things about a band become clear. You can see the nods and smiles between them, the mistakes, the subtle communication, but what you see most of all is the isolation.
Up there, I may have been able to see everything, but I couldn’t help but feel removed from the music. There was no explosive joy upon recognizing opening riffs. And when I spotted a group of my friends dancing at the front of the crowd, it occurred to me that it doesn’t matter how close you get to the stage-the music is what you make it, not where you make it.
In the end, what happened in Golden Gate Park was either a huge failure or a miraculous adventure, depending on how you see it. Sure, it was overcrowded and cold, nearly all the bands were late, and the sound problems were simply unforgivable (Radiohead’s sound went completely dead in the middle of their set-twice). But, as I learned, the weekend wasn’t about getting from one place to another to get the best spot, or frantically dialing to find lost friends. It was about losing yourself in the music and simply being in the moment. And with that, I present a breakdown of the highlights-and lowlights-of 2008’s Outside Lands.
As the sun went down on day one, the main stage was the only place in the world anyone could hope to be. The curtain fell, the lights died, Radiohead played some songs, and people listened.
Well, some people did. For others, it seemed like the only time they noticed the music was when it inexplicably cut out during “Reckoner” and then again during “The Gloaming.” Frontman Thom Yorke was clearly frustrated with the whole ordeal, as the beginning of “Pyramid Song” erupted with him suddenly banging on the piano and then laughing at his own perfectionism.
It’s really easy to focus on the bad things (especially when they happen twice). It’s easy to get frustrated because the public transportation was poorly arranged and you got there late, and it’s not hard to get mad because people around you are trying to talk over Thom Yorke. But sometimes, you can take a look around and realize it’s a clear summer night, and Radiohead is playing right smack dab in front of you.
Backed by a touring drummer, guitarist, and bassist, Beck came equipped with a whole toy chest of noises that he used to re-create familiar old songs as well as new tracks from his latest album, Modern Guilt. The man was 20 or so minutes late, but damn did he look good walking onstage and hammering out “E-Pro” in a black leather cowboy outfit and shades. Following up with “Girl” and “Nausea,” he then called a group huddle so he and his band could jam out “Hell Yeah” on a drum machine and keyboard. What he lost in punctuality, he certainly made up for in style.
Though Cake’s concurrently booked set surely would have been a good time (I heard they gave away a tree), I was simply won over by Primus’s offbeat mix of prog, funk, and metal. And singer Les Claypool was certainly in a dapper mood, warming up the audience with childhood stories about how he and his friends used to ride their skateboards around Golden Gate Park when they were kids. Then they counted down to “Harold of the Rocks” and people got loud.
Liars found themselves situated on a side stage that was positioned more like a pitstop between the two main stages, but the N.Y.C.-based post-punk fourpiece didn’t really seem to mind, nor did the youngins looking to get away from the crowded stages for a nice, quiet noise assault. And Angus Andrew, Liars frontman and graduate from CalArts, finally did crazy stuff that was fun to take pictures of, like putting a microphone in his pants.
Broken Social Scene
Watching the members of Broken Social Scene flood the stage is a little bit like watching a clown-car routine. The Canadian supergroup seems to have anywhere from 10-20 members with them at any given time. Backstage, there were diagrams posted everywhere showing where to put all their equipment, which included four guitars, one bass, one drum kit, one sampler, two keyboards, and five microphones. Of course the familiar faces were there and smiling, even though founding guitarist Kevin Drew played the first half of the show with his face concealed under a cloth. Brendan Canning was present (and barefoot) as usual, as were Evan Cranley and Amy Millan of Stars, who played earlier that day. Millan and Canning led vocals for newer tracks like “Fire-Eyed Boy” and the always-epic “7/4 (Shoreline).”