Day one at Outside Lands is always a little overwhelming, and this year was no exception. On a weekday when crowds have usually been thin in years past, everything seemed a little more crowded this year, with more branded “experiences” that came with FB- and IG-like admission and instructions for proper social media posting (a.k.a. free advertising), as well as DJ booths, arcade games, art walls, steampunk sideshows, pop-up shows and dozens more — each with its own hashtag, naturally. The message at big festivals is always a little anxious: This. Is. An. Experience. You. Are. Having!
Beyond the crowds and targeted #Millennial sponsorships, there happens to be some great music at Outside Lands. While our KQED friends over at Bay Area Bites have a rundown of this year’s food offerings, here’s what resonated with us onstage on Friday.
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1. LCD Soundsystem
After a long, slow building set, the reunited stalwarts of analog dance jams ended with a triple threat of hits: “New York, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down,” “Dance Yourself Clean,” and “All My Friends” — the latter culminating in a giant sing-along of “If I could see all my friends to-niiiiiiight!” Slicker and more polished than their last Bay Area appearance (on Treasure Island, in 2010), James Murphy & Co. proved themselves worthy first-day headliners.
Once a woozy electronic artist with effects-laden vocals and loops, the Canadian artist Clare Boucher underwent a more pop-oriented transformation with her latest album, Art Angels, and it showed in her exuberant set on Friday. With smoke machines, backup dancers and an excellent band, Boucher bounced and danced around the entire stage to a crowd that gave all her energy right back.
3. Duran Duran
Remember the ’80s? Outside Lands does too — they’ve recently taken to booking acts like Hall & Oates, and, coming this Sunday, Lionel Richie. (Will Michael McDonald be next?) In a seemingly perfectly timed late-afternoon slot, Duran Duran, led by the perpetually enigmatic Simon Le Bon, drove through a set of main-stage hits like “Hungry Like the Wolf,” “Wild Boys” and set-closer “Rio.”
4. Beach House
The Baltimore duo of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally thrive in close environments — witness their intimate show at the Mission District’s Gray Area Space earlier this year — so it was fitting to have them on the Sutro stage, whose naturally sculpted bowl seems to cradle the audience. Under a typically San Franciscan overcast sky, the band provided a welcome breather from the adrenaline on other stages, playing songs from their one-two 2015 album punch of Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars.
5. J. Cole
Despite playing at the same time as LCD Soundsystem, the rapper who went platinum with no features drew a huge crowd at the Twin Peaks stage, with the unison crowd filling in bars on songs like “No Role Modelz” and “Crooked Smile.” In a white hoodie and shorts, J. Cole exemplified the wardrobe dilemma present in the crowd, as well — people either came bundled for Candlestick-proportions of fog, or barely covered in hopes of sun.