This is the third 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.
When I woke up Sunday morning and began packing up for my long trip to Golden Gate Park, I realized that my exhaustion had progressed into a widespread soreness, especially around my shoulders, which was probably created by lugging around a camera bag all day, for two days straight. I really considered not going.
When I finally did arrive, I walked straight to the Barbary, where Sir Patrick Stewart, AKA Captain Picard, had taken the stage and began making jokes in iambic pentameter.
Improvised Shakespeare: If only Shakespeare had a character named “Lord Taintwhistle” who made whistling noises as he walked, he might’ve had another hit on his hands.
All kidding aside, the improvisers in the Improvised Shakespeare Company (which includes Thomas Middleditch of the HBO show Silicon Valley) pull off the amazing feat of being funny while speaking mostly in iambic pentameter. It’s not that being humorous using olde English is so mind-blowing — Shakespeare’s comedies, when done well, can be very funny — but improvising a storyline and all the requisite jokes while speaking in a clearly outdated fashion is truly a skill worth admiration. (And though Stewart, as funny as he is, isn’t a comedic actor per se, he still held his own on the stage with guys who make people laugh for a living.)
Woods: New York City’s kings of lo-fi “Weird folk” have definitely evolved from their early bedroom recordings into an outdoor festival-ready indie band. Though I only caught a few songs near the end of their set, what I caught was full of dynamics and these dudes showing off their chops. There were quite a few bros with their shirts of dancing in the crowd, which I took as a sign of success for this group’s change in direction.
Chvrches: I was sad to learn early in the day that Ireland’s heavy synth pop trio Chvrches missed their flight to San Francisco that morning, forcing the band to cancel their performance on the main stage. It was really disappointing, especially since the group’s mix of angular synth riffs and Lauren Mayberry’s angelic vocals held a lot of potential for a great show, especially at ear-splitting volumes. Just watch the video below and you’ll see what I mean.
Cappa Regime: To be honest, I really don’t know anything about this group but I knew I should take a second and see what the Heineken-sponsored “House” was like and I was glad I did. In the main dance area, the sound and visuals were both overwhelming and wonderful. The DJs known as the Cappa Regime did a fine job of getting the crowd to move their butts and throw their hands in the air at three in the afternoon, but it was the visuals — colors melting down from the top of the dome in different patterns — that was what impressed me the most.
Country Barnett: I had some time before Courtney Barnett’s at the Panhandle stage, so I tried to make my way over to the Twin Peaks stage to see what Plume was all about. Sadly, the crowd was so big, I couldn’t get anywhere close enough to see what the band looked like, even on the big screen! The sea of the Plume watchers stretched so far, it practically reached Barnett’s stage.
After talking to one of the nice stage crew workers, Barnett bounded onto the stage, grabbed her guitar and plowed right into her set. What followed was a set of sloppy, noisey rock and roll that felt more like rowdy Australian pub than American music festival. It was quite surprising, as her recorded output is very quiet and delicate-seeming, while her live show comes with teeth barred.
Thinking back, I realize now that it shouldn’t have been a surprise as Barnett comes from Australia, which has a history of producing the world’s best and most aggressive rock ‘n roll — AC/DC, Rose Tattoo, Coloured Balls, the list goes on — and Barnett’s live act seems to have been bred in the same environment. And that’s a good thing, as it felt like a breath of fresh air in the cloud of synthesizers that was this year’s Outside Lands (or at least most of it.) I made sure stay through her set before running over to see Spoon.
Spoon: Spoon frontman Britt Daniel appears to be the torch bearer for songwriters trying to compete in a DJ/Producer world. It’s like he’s one of the most battle-proven in the war to demonstrate that a man with a guitar can still be relevant.
Though it sometimes sounds like Daniels borrows vocal lines from Paul Simon, Spoon has consistently sounded like Spoon, and that’s over eight albums.
One final note on Spoon — these guys are veterans of the festival circuit and were probably the only band on this year’s lineup that I was certain would bring a great show. Playing to thousands of critical audience members seemed like just another day for the band and the quality of their playing reflected that. Not to say that the band didn’t work their asses off to win over the crowd; no, it’s just that they made it look easy. (Then again, I bet having good songs that people really like helps.)
The Flaming Lips: I’m kinda sad that the first time I saw the almighty Flaming Lips it’s after they’ve been tainted by controversies involving headdresses and drummers who speak out of turn. But then I saw Wayne Coyne’s amazing outfit and I forgot all those hassles the bands was having.
How to describe Coyne’s dress? Well, at first I thought the combination of the glittery face paint, a suit that made Coyne’s skin look like muscle tissue and an overcoat with holographic tassles made him look like an undead Marc Bolan. On further reflection, I feel Coyne’s look was more akin to the Goblin King in the movie Labyrinth if he was played by a crazy homeless person.
The festival circuit has been amazing the Flaming Lips. They are a well-oiled machine and they’ve managed to make each show seem like a one-band Burning Man festival, but with a better soundtrack.
There have been many versions of the Flaming Lips over the years and sure, I’ll admit that I might like their older material. But I love this version of the band for sure, because it means that thousands of get to listen to the musical magician of Steve Drozd, who is a truly under-appreciated studio wizard and the band’s Swiss Army knife.
After three days of battling exhaustion and wild variations of Bay Area weather, I’m still glad I went to Outside Lands, though my intuition tried to fight it. Now it’s time to go hibernate for a few days.