Music festivals are all about surviving the elements with an unwavering, stupid smile. Coachella has its stinging heat, Bonnaroo has its mud and stench, Burning Man has its omnipresent dust. Outside Lands is no different; here at the Polo Grounds of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, we have an annual date with Ocean Beach’s non-summer. And we disregard it.
But enough about the weather. The music still matters most.
White Denim, 12:05, Sutro Stage
This is why you get to festivals early. Friday’s eager beavers were rewarded with a tour de force set from the upwardly mobile Austin foursome White Denim. The template is simple, old-school and delicious: Two warping guitars riff off one another in alternately jammy explosion of edge and ambition, while bass and drums happily reside in the background. “Anvil Everything,” a typically dizzying journey with rewarding hooks at every turn, set the tone for a super sharp, uber-rockin’ set. “Street Joy” was another delight, a cool bluesy brew of a slow jam, the sole break from a set full of shredding.
Tanlines, 1:30, Panhandle Stage
Can some benevolent San Franciscan just give these guys keys to their place? Their OL gig was the fourth time they’ve played SF, and they’ve barely existed. Their debut album Mixed Emotions caught on quick with the electro-inclined. Their sunny disposition and aesthetic fought the weather nobly. Percussionist/funnyman Jesse Cohen engaged the crowd more than a few times, applauding the general assembly for our commitment to sunglasses, before getting a mid-day dance party started — no easy task at 1:30pm.
Reggie Watts, 2:35, Sutro Stage
There continues to be no one exactly like Reggie Watts. Part comedian, part hip-hop freestylist, part beatbox wizard, full-on street philosopher, Watts is infotainment at its pinnacle. Don’t be fooled by his class-clown look — a Sideshow Bob ‘fro, suspenders hiking up his too-short pants — all of it’s a cover for his cool-kid wit and thoughtful charm. His freestyles were a revelation to witness, with a stream of consciousness that you’d expect most freestyles to have. But for all his deep-tissue philosophizing, this line about SF stood out: “Burritos are good here / it’s not a stereotype / it’s just a fact.” Respect.
Beck, 4:30, Polo Field
As much as I’m absolutely smitten with Beck and his mold-breaking ways, his festival sets tend to underwhelm. That’s really a function of having hit singles that are dumbed down for mass approval. Nothing bores like “Summer Girl” and “Where It’s At” for the umpteenth time. The deep cuts are where Beck’s idiosyncrasies come out. And unfortunately the festival format doesn’t lend itself too well to diehard pandering. But whatever, it’s Beck in the flesh. Give it up for one of the few mainstream champions of thoughtful, innovative rock.
Die Antwoord, 5:25, Twin Peaks
So this is still happening, eh? The shock value has worn off, at least to these ears. Some were entertained, but as a colleague pointed out, the dudes sounded like Fred Durst at his worst. Pass.
MSTRKFT, 7pm, Twin Peaks
Ravers, start your engines. In what was essentially a warm-up for Justice, MSTRKFT tried its damnedest to steal the show. As far as modern house DJ outfits go, the Toronto-based duo takes the mind-fuck route to party-starting. One friend had a thought: “It’s like Chemical Brothers on mescaline.” Sure. The only thing cramping their style was the lingering daylight, which never helps trad electro. But it still did the trick of getting the juices flowing for…
JUSTICE, existing outside of the time space continuum, Twin Peaks
Here are all my notes: “!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”