The day started with White Denim on the Sutro stage shredding their hearts out in the lingering fog. For 32 minutes straight, they played without stopping more than a half-beat between songs, building relentless sonic attacks through cyclical crescendos and driving, rapid beats. White Denim projected stadium-sized rock off the stage to a crowd ill-fitting their gigantic sound. Given all this, vocals seem unnecessary, but White Denim delivered those too. Lead singer James Petralli swung from croon to growl, impressively and effectively. Their second-to-last-song and undeniable hit of the set, “Street Joy,” started soft and slow but built to an epic, rumbling finish. It’s a shame more people weren’t around for their performance — they set a high water mark for the rest Friday’s acts and I, in my limited ability to see and hear everything, couldn’t find their better.
With White Denim still ringing in my ears, I secured a pair of fluorescent orange earplugs and staked out space for Sharon Van Etten. After such a loud, high energy set, her confessional folk-tinged songs were a bit of a come down. Was it the sleepy bedroom nature of her music, or was she a lackluster performer? The answer came as she warmed up, and her light tone shifted into the spooky, haunting “Give Out.” “This song’s about moving to New York City for love,” she announced before starting. Then, as an off-mic aside: “You can throw up now.” After White Denim’s nonstop tunes, Van Etten’s between-song quips were charming, if self-deprecating. After “Serpents,” the first song she wrote for electric guitar — a darkly infectious melody — she shouted, “That song’s only three chords, anybody can play it!” Thankfully, it wasn’t just anybody up there, but Van Etten and her skillful backing band.
It was hard to leave the Sutro stage, especially since musician/comedian Reggie Watts was next in the lineup. With his hair swaying gently in the still-cool breeze, he climbed on stage wearing red suspenders and a rakish grin. For those unfamiliar with Watts’ act, he performs largely improvised musical numbers blending various styles (hip-hop, soul, beatboxing, spoken word, you name it) with the help of loops and hilarious self-referential lyrics. Watts was met with huge cheers and unbridled laughter. As clever and funny as he is, it’s equally fascinating to watch him build his songs onstage, adding each element in successive layers until he’s assembled something that doesn’t sound too far off from a studio-produced jam. Many of his songs addressed the Outside Lands crowd specifically. “You’ve got a long day ahead of you, pick your battles well,” he sang. There were also frequent references to antibacterial hand sanitizer.
I tore myself away to find food and drink, returning shortly to catch the first half of The Walkmen‘s set. Since I last saw them in a more intimate setting in 2006, they haven’t lost any of their fire. Incredibly proficient musicians, they started late, but strong. Lead singer Hamilton Leithauser howls into the microphone, veins popping in his neck, his body balanced against the tilt of the mic stand. “Thinking of a Dream I Had,” a standout from their 2004 album Bows + Arrows had the entire crowd moving, with many longtime fans singing along, choosing to remain for that moment with The Walkmen over the arguably bigger act one stage over: Beck.
Despite my brief foray outside of Lindley Meadow, I was unprepared for the scale of the Lands End stage. Starting at the far end of the Polo Field, Beck was nothing more than a gray speck in the distance, dwarfed by the two massive screens flanking the stage. While I worked at getting closer to the stage, everyone around me was dancing and singing along to “Loser.” It sounded good, but a bit tight, a bit shaky. Where was the flow? This continued until he got to songs from his 2002 album Sea Change, warm, ambient, wonderful numbers. Too bad the weather wasn’t warm and wonderful to match.
After one day at the 2012 Outside Lands Festival, I can advise all attendees to dress warmly! Even cooler than buying an official Outside Lands blanket is bringing enough layers to make it through a day of mercurial San Francisco weather. I can also advise attendees to veer from their pre-planned schedule. I accidentally caught the first half of Die Antwoord‘s rave/rap performance (featuring lyrics I cannot quote here) and must admit, I’ve never seen or heard anything quite like that before. Here’s to day two and all the aural discoveries ahead!
Related Outside Lands 2012 Posts:
- Day Two at the 2012 Outside Lands (KQED Arts)
- “Outside Lambs”: A Moroccan Oasis Within Outside Lands
- Outside Lands: 5 Craft Beers You Must Try at the Festival’s New Attraction, Beer Lands
- Outside Lands 2012 Photos: Food, Art, Music & People
- What I Learned at Outside Lands 2012 (KQED Arts)