This is the first in a series of daily reports from this year’s Outside Lands from KQED Arts’ newest reporter, Kevin L. Jones. This is the first time Jones has attended the festival.
I should probably preface this by admitting that I’m not a huge fan of outdoor music festivals. I prefer to see bands in more intimate venues that don’t leave me vulnerable to the elements (I’m fair-skinned.) Of course I’ve been to my share of music festivals — in some cases it was my only opportunity to see some of my favorite bands — but nowadays I avoid them completely.
That being said, it makes little sense that I volunteered for this assignment — providing daily recaps of the events — because it means traveling two hours each way to stand in the sun and watch a bunch of bands I’m not too familiar with, only to leave before the headliners take the stage so I can write my article.
But I did, because somebody has to do it.
So, without further ado, here are my notes on the first day of Outside Lands.
Rayland Baxter: I started my Outside Lands experience with the feel good sounds of Rayland Baxter and his group from Nashville. Their tunes were mostly southern-tinged tributes to AM Gold classics, but they could also get pretty heavy, with one track sounding like if the Black Angels tapped into an early Black Sabbath riff. Also notable was Baxter’s anecdote about living in a friends backyard in Israel years ago — “I just ended up there” — in which he concluded by saying the current situation there was “a bunch of stupid shit.”
Aparna Nancherla / Garfunkel & Oates: Though it was already packed, a quick flash of my press badge got me into the Barbary to see the first sets of the day from comedian Aparna Nancherla and the musical comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates (they also closed out the day). It appeared that the crowd needed to warm up to Nancherla and her sardonic takes on real life, but by the time she started reading the messages she’s received via her OK Cupid account, the audience was hers.
It wasn’t long before Garfunkel & Oates took the stage and ripped through a set of hilarious songs about weed cards, getting older and “God’s loophole.” The duo — Kate Micucci and Riki Lindhome — have cutesy exteriors but had no problem going blue, though they also had a few stories about having to face their parents after performing such lewd jokes on stage and on their television show on IFC.
Bleachers: I love me some synth-heavy pop music and that’s exactly what Bleachers plays. The side project of fun’s Jack Antonoff, almost every Bleachers song is a sing-along that borders on being an anthem. Even dealing with power issues, the band soldiered on and made sure every audience member was singing their guts out. But for being a band with one foot planted firmly in ’80s new wave dance music, I expected wilder hair-dos.
Run the Jewels: I’m glad I left Bleachers early to catch Run the Jewels because Killer Mike and El-P were KILLING IT. El-P rapped during the set, “I don’t play music, I play R-A-P,” and he couldn’t have said more truer words. This was real shit, the kind of rap that rumbles your guts.
Their set showed me how amazing a rap show can be, especially if the bass is loud enough. If you think about it, rap shows are usually one or two dudes talking at breakneck speeds while another dude just stands in the back, fiddling with a computer or abusing a record player. But if the bass is so loud that it reaches brown note levels (like it was during Run the Jewels,) you can’t help but sway to the music like a drunk standing in strong winds.
Warpaint: Hailed as the coolest all-female band of right now, this band could easily become the Slits of the 21st century (which was the Slits until Ari Up passed.) Lots of great grooves carrying their unconventional, siren-song melodies that sound like they came from Bananarama if they had joined the Manson Family. Add some sprinkling of angular guitars and you got a good time on your hands.
Mikal Cronin: I’ve been waiting to see Mikal Cronin for a while now and his set did not disappoint. The bass player for Ty Segall, it’s hard to ignore that connection when listening to Cronin’s music, but Cronin likes to concentrate more on the melody side of the lo-fi psych garage that Segall is known for. Upon further reflection, Cronin’s tunes sound like if the Pixies had a singer who didn’t scream and the band was on Lookout Records. Throw in some serious feedback and guitar shredding, and you get the point. And despite the fact that they played the night before at the Independent, they still came at the crowd with a lot of energy, inspiring the only mosh pit I witnessed at the festival.
Disclosure: After watching Chromeo’s slamming, 4-on-the-floor set of dance tracks that were reminiscent of Zapp and early Prince, I braved the already packed crowd around the Lands End stage for Disclosure. I used to be quite the techno fan back in the ’90s, staying up late on Saturday nights to watch Amp on MTV to catch videos from Laurent Garnier, Coldcut and Roni Size, and Disclosure definitely gave me eletronica flashbacks. Didn’t cut a rug like I should’ve, especially since they played this jamming track:
Tegan and Sara: It’s been a long time since “Walking With A Ghost” but the Canadian twins Tegan and Sara have been prolific as ever. Though their new synth pop sound is a little “one note,” it’s because their voices are so dominating — each track has a catchy hook that only those two sisters can sing. But they were great this set, cranking out the kind of jams one blasts while driving a Ferrari at high speeds. The two sisters also looked cool as hell, I might add, even though one of them wore a black flight jacket — if she would’ve had a Chelsea, she would’ve looked like a skinhead’s girlfriend.
So concludes my rundown of day one of Outside Lands. Be sure to read my rundown of Day 2 and follow @KQEDArts on Twitter as I’m live tweeting from the festival.