San Francisco's Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival


On the final song of their set at this year’s Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco, Ok Go frontman, Damian Kulash, directed the crowd to sing along with the refrain, “This too shall pass.”

“That was really good,” he said after the audience’s first attempt. “I mean, not as good as Portland, but they’re a really big music town. Oops, did I say something wrong?”

The crowd tried again.

“Now that, THAT was much better,” he applauded, “Better than Portland…Almost as good as L.A.”

San Francisco won out in the end. As the scenic epicenter of food, music, arts and technology in California, the city by the sea and birthplace of classic artists like Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin, has never failed to put forth good music. If this weekend past was any testament to the cause, the show will forever go on.

Nearly 60,000 people flooded the fields of Golden Gate Park to hear music from the likes of Muse, Phish, Arcade Fire, The Black Keys and deadmau5, among dozens of others. The skies in the cooler, Richmond District of the city varied from hazy to sunshine, with all clouds parting ways for Sunday’s final lineup. Eucalyptus trees surrounding the fields provided ample structure to house swings and art exhibits along with necessary shade for attendants perusing wine tastings, local restaurant stands and farmers’ markets.

Arcade Fire was certainly the act to catch and exceeded all expectations. The spectacular lights and videography draping the orchestral rock band’s stage added pulsating momentum to the band’s brilliant use of instruments. Win Butler stood strong as a frontman: happy to grace the stage, happy to amuse the crowd, and willing to share the limelight with his stellar team of artists. The independent group from Montreal played an hour and a half-long set to close the night, with all their best from The Suburbs and a handful of past favorites.

Other highlights could be expected. Muse proved their music stands tall on its own two feet. Their show was nearly flawless and sparked by the magic of lead singer and guitarist extraordinaire, Matt Bellamy, who not only was momentous as a musician, but an all around entertainer. The set featured high-energy renditions of crowd favorites, including the beloved and much-licensed hit, “Starlight,” ending the Saturday night show under a full moon over the park. Fans got a double dose of rock with The Black Keys performing immediately beforehand, their live work a perfect reflection of their records. Though the duo spoke little to the crowd, their unique immersion with music showed the powerful dynamic between the two, and depth of their skill.

The Shins played their first show in years, as headliners on Friday, singing most of their popular work and a few tracks off their upcoming record on Columbia. Also memorable were The Decemberists, giving a solid performance as the sun set in a cloudless sky on Sunday. The concluding piece, “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” included a very theatrical depiction by the band, who fell to the ground only to rise again with cheers from the audience.

But that was merely the big ones. What makes festivals like Outside Lands especially wonderful are the surprises—the acts you’ve heard of but aren’t quite familiar with, whom you opt to check out for a minute or two but end up staying for the entirety. There were many this year: Phantogram, The Vaccines and Toro Y Moi for starters. Indie rock and electronic have seemingly formed their own genre, and these rising acts all took their own spin on it, bringing everything from ‘60s funk to ‘80s pop into the mix. Ty Segall spun garage rock with a raging flair, headbanging and fueling insatiable riffs with his electric guitar and band of friends. Additionally, DJ Duo Major Lazer rallied up a mass of thousands in front of their afternoon stage show on Sunday, spinning a blend of electronic, hip hop, reggae, Afro-funk, and everything in between.

A personal favorite was British darling, Ellie Goulding, who killed it with an upbeat set of tracks off her debut album, Lights. The 24-year old popster rocked the stage, swirling her hips, jamming on an electric guitar, and holding the beat with a pair of bongo drums. Her recorded voice was nearly identical to her high pitched, fluttering live vocals, which bounced from high to low, hitting a range of octaves without the slightest rip. The best parts of Goulding’s show were the touches she dropped throughout, sparkles that gave the live audience a bit more than they would have heard merely streaming the record on their computers. Her track, “Salt Skin,” ended as she looped a few seconds of Kanye West’s hit “Power,” driving over it with a round of tribal drumming. And of course, she finished with “Starry-Eyed.”

There were a few low points: Big Boi failed to take the stage (Dave Chappelle offered words in consolation); the audio levels bounced occasionally on the two main stages; and Friday was fucking cold. But all in all, the festival was a success, set in the heart of a great, wide forest in San Francisco, and left very little to be desired.