The Indy’s second day in Golden Gate Park was even busier than the first – though we managed to get through the right gate on the first try at least. First up on the park’s Lands End stage was Austin, Texas’ Gary Clark Jr., whose career has been picking up some serious steam in the past two years. He’s hit nearly every major music festival in the U.S., and it showed during a tight, well-produced set featuring plenty of his trademark fuzzed-out guitar. In lieu of a sound check, Clark and his backing band took the stage and jammed for a few minutes, nonchalantly ripping through some riffs and then ducking backstage again before the main performance. It may have lacked the pyrotechnics and light shows of the late-evening headliners, but by the time Clark reached his breakout hit “Bright Lights,” the crowd was up and amped for the rest of the day.
After a brief break and jaunt through Wine Lands, we headed over to the Panhandle stage for Bombino, one of the coolest bands on Saturday’s lineup. Omara “Bombino” Moctar is a Tuareg musician from West Africa, who got his start playing guitar as a refugee from the Tuareg Rebellion. Bombino and his band took the stage in flowing Tuareg robes and launched into their guitar-heavy brand of blues-rock. (His latest album, Nomad, was produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, by the way.)
But after Bombino’s smooth jams, it was time to get hyped – Jurassic 5 hit the main Lands End stage at 5 p.m., and they didn’t disappoint. Hip-hop acts – especially in ensemble groups – can be tough to get right in a big venue, but the L.A.-based rap supergroup killed it on Saturday. J5’s signature switch-offs between verses were as smooth and fast as on their albums, and they kept the crowd engaged the whole time. When Chali 2na tells you to jump, you jump.
The Lands End stage was a whirlwind Saturday afternoon, with Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O blowing up the crowd with piercing rendition of “Sacrilege,” immediately followed by one of this reporter’s personal favorites, “Gold Lion.” It’s pretty unclear as to what exactly Karen O was wearing on her head, but apparently if you rock that hard you can get away with turquoise-sequined pant suits.
After the YYY’s high-energy rockocalypse, we cooled things down over at the Sutro stage with The Head and the Heart. The Seattle-based indie darlings were expectedly adorable, playing hearstrings and violins for some good ole fashioned love-ballad sentiment. While The Head and the Heart don’t push any musical envelopes, they do what they do well and rounded out the show’s previously high-energy tone (which also mellowed for Grizzly Bear down at the Twin Peaks stage). High points: it’s pretty hard not to sing along to “Rivers and Roads,” the band’s biggest hit and closing number.
After lulling ourselves into a false sense of optimism and comfortable security with the Head and the Heart, we rushed back to the Lands End stage for the big one – Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails. French indie-pop sensation Phoenix were playing on the Twin Peaks stage in the other top slot, but, to be honest, there will be other Phoenix shows. Reznor, on the other hand, is a titan of modern industrial music, and his set was simply incredible. Dressed in some kind of short-sleeved zip-up battle turtleneck, gray sweatpants, and combat boots, he charged the main stage in an explosion of light, smoke, shadows, and sound. It was a nightmare to shoot as a photographer, but tremendously powerful to hear and see. The stage was bathed in red, then green, obscured in smoke, and lit up like daylight as the performers cast gargantuan shadows against white backdrops. They played tracks like “Came Back Haunted,” off their upcoming album Hesitation Marks, but made sure not to skip classics like “The Hand that Feeds.” They closed, in typical NIN fashion, with a haunting, ethereal version of “Hurt,” as scenes of war, death, and suffering played out on projectors behind Reznor, immortalized under a single spotlight in center stage.