As usual, the weekend came and went faster than we would have liked. The people of San Francisco are heading back to their loft offices to create new technology for the world, but with a little bit more flare. Outside Lands 2012 was a success. A festival as unique as this city would have to consciously try to fail for the event to flop. An estimated 200,000 spectators showed up to experience the best street art, food, beer, wine, and culture the city has to offer.
Friday was a rather tame day for the festival. It was later clear to me that a large contingent of those who would make it out for the festivities were actual residents of San Francisco. People were at work and arrived much later in the day. This differs from many festivals where the journey to the grounds is as much of the story as the festival itself. However, riding the 5-line home from work showed the immense number of LA kids who showed up in shorts, tank tops, and cut off belly shirts expecting the weather to be gorgeous down in Golden Gate Park. Silly LA kids, they didn’t know this city has fog. Lots and lots of fog. Oh, and did I mention it’s cold here? Like 55 degrees cold. It made for a very typical San Francisco weekend, at least as far as the weather was concerned.
Anyway, back to the most important part of Friday, the music. Upon arrival, Fitz and the Tantrums were on the main stage rocking out like, well, you know, Fitz and the Tantrums would. It was an interesting site at first. I felt bad for these guys. Going on early on the first day of a festival can’t be easy. The crowd wasn’t exactly scarce, but they weren’t exactly plentiful either. Everyone was still getting their bearings as to where everything was. Fitz and his Tantrums were almost like background music to the learning curve of the masses. Regardless, had the audience stopped and taken in the show, they would have caught a brilliant group of artists. Putting everything they had into “Moneygrabber” and “Don’t Gotta Work it Out,” the LA based band started to capture peoples attention by the end of the set.
After catching the end of Fitz and the Tantrums, it was time to wander aimlessly and learn about the festival grounds. Choco Lands lay back in the woods and would become one of the most important places of the weekend. Beyond the boundaries of the Choco Forest was Wine Lands and Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp. The valley that these two watering holes called home was ground zero for alcohol. Seldom was there a walk from the Twin Peaks stage to the Lands End stage that didn’t include a stop at one of these establishments. Closer to the main entrance was Beer Lands, which gave patrons the option to buy tickets and purchase beer that wasn’t available elsewhere in the park. Heineken and Sierra Nevada were plentiful, while other beers could only be purchased at the Beer Lands tent.
After a nice stroll of the grounds, Beck took the stage. Beck, clearly, has been around for a long time. This obviously wasn’t his first music festival and I personally feel like it showed, and not in a good way. I don’t know if this lies on the organizers of the event or the artist, and more on this later, but his performance seemed uninspired. Beck has always been the king of cool, right down to creating what seems to be his own language. However, Friday he seemed as though he just wasn’t totally into his performance. Showing little emotion, he nonchalantly played his hits from yesteryear as expected but it almost seemed as though he were just going through the motions. This may have been due to the fact that he was playing fairly early on the first day of the festival. This was an ongoing discussion throughout the weekend as well. It wasn’t just Beck either. Many felt the schedule was hastily thrown together. Having Beck play early, in front of a sparse crowd didn’t make a lot of sense. Either did having Sigur Ros, who’s music is beautifully performed but not exactly made for excitement, play on Saturday night and Skrillex who’s music is designed to excite the masses play Sunday night. Anyway, Beck could have been better and probably wanted to be better.
Following Beck, festival goers had a bit of a decision to make. Many wanted to see Of Monsters and Men, this person included. That being said, I took a gamble and went to see Die Antwoord. If you’ve never heard of this group, there’s probably some reason for it. A hip hop group that prides itself on their next level beats, these guys brought the house down. With raunchy lyrics, that raise eyebrows for many different reasons, Die Antwoord got the crowd going. Much of the crowd was there for the novelty value of the South African “ninjas.” You see, their lyrics and sound dance on the line between parody and seriousness. This is what makes them a must see. You are either laughing at their lyrics or grooving on some serious beats from DJ Hi-Tek. If you ever have the chance to see them, especially in a festival atmosphere, you must take the opportunity if for nothing else than to see exactly what I am talking about.
The next hour was an easy decision. The Foo Fighters were on the main stage and it was clear what band was being eyed as the arrival time for much of Friday. The lawn began to flow with people as Dave Grohl and company powered though just about every hit you can imagine. Everything from “Walk” to “Everlong” was on display. Grohl made it quite clear that he was excited to playing just before Neil Young, quipping, “We’ve got a lot of songs to play, the quicker we play them the quicker I get to see Neil fucking Young.” From there he throttled into more of the Foos hits. I feel as though the Foo Fighters are one of those can’t miss acts in rock and roll nowadays. Grohl loves what he does. He loves writing and performing so you know he is going to bring it 100% the second he steps onto that stage. Friday was no different.
The Foos were a bit exhausting. Following the end of their set, it was time to taste the cuisine that Outside Lands offered. As would be expected of this city, the food tents were eclectic and the food was incredible. My first dish was crispy macaroni and cheese bites from Andalu, a Mission staple. In it’s simplest form, I was eating nuggets filled with macaroni and cheese. Because I am not a food critic I can go no further than to say if you are ever visiting San Francisco, you must try these delectable bites. They went well with a side of Andrew Bird while waiting for Mr. Neil Young to take the stage.
Not long after polishing off my crispy mac and cheese bites, Neil Young and Crazy Horse appeared to a raucous ovation. I mean it’s Neil Young, how do you not lose your mind when a rock and roll god is standing in front of you, ready to grace you ears with the sounds of his Gibson. Young still has it. The man is 66 years old and I would still pay to see him as often as possible. Playing favorites such as “Cinnamon Girl” and “The Needle and the Damage Done,” Young and Crazy Horse mixed up the set well. There were jams that lasted over 10 minutes and there were new songs written by Young and Crazy Horse. The end all be all was hearing “Hey Hey My My,” the cap the night. He’s captivating, he’s exciting, and don’t ever tell him how old he is because once he realizes he’s pushing 70, he might think about hanging it up. Watching him Friday made me think that Neil Young still thinks he’s 25 years old and just getting started.
To further my earlier point, I think Saturday was less exciting than would be expected for a festival of this size. The crowd was larger, much larger in fact, than that of Friday. I later found out that people had found a nice little way to jump the fence and get in for free. I will chalk that up to the dedication of Metallica fans because there were a lot of them. I mean, seriously, a TON of them. I digress. The lineup Saturday was underwhelming and I think there were artists that performed on Friday that would have been more suited for a Saturday time slot. Fitz and the Tantrums and Beck would have made for great second day gigs, and I think Beck would have been more into it. That being said, showing up early on Saturday had its perks.
One of the first acts up was Sean Hayes. Hayes is a well-traveled folk musician who has never really cracked the big time but has a sufficient following in the Bay area where he has lived for the last 20 years. He donned a white suit and fedora and played some relaxing jams. It was the perfect way to kick of the second day of the festival. Though the grounds for the festival are relatively small, there was a lot of walking done throughout the weekend. Using my pedometer I realized I walked around 6 miles a day. Those who showed up for day 2 were most likely a bit tired after a long workweek and night of jamming with Neil Young. Sean Hayes fixed that by allowing everyone to sit down and relax.
After a quick stop to see Geographer, who honestly deserved more of my time, as they were incredible, it was back to the main stage to see Portugal. the Man. Having seen these guys before at a small club in Columbus, OH, I thought I had an idea of what to expect. I was wrong. Portugal. the Man can rock. Period. As expected, they played their newest hit “So American,” but I think it was their rendition of the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” that made their set so impressive. You wouldn’t typically expect an indie band like these guys to rip into a song like this but they killed it. The crowd was in a little bit of shock as well and there almost seemed to be a delayed response to what was happening. Once they realized “Helter Skelter” was taking place on stage, they did their best to replicate it off the stage with raucous excitement.
After getting a fill of Beatles covers, it was off to the Sutro stage to see one of the most bizarre events of the weekend. Walking over to the smallest of the “main” stages it appeared there was something significant taking place. The pass created to take people from the main area to the smaller stage was literally flooded with people. The Alabama Shakes were about to start their set. As I made my way into the clearing, all that was visible was a sea of people as far as the eye could see. The promoters forgot to tell the Outside Lands staff that the Alabama Shakes tend to bring a crowd. Not just any crowd though, they brought the entire festival to one of the smallest places in the park. There were people sitting in the trees to watch them play. Unfortunately, because of this crowd and the lack of anticipation on the festival’s part, the sound system wasn’t prepared to cater to that many people so I was unable to properly enjoy the performance. I did enjoy the site though. Kudos are in order for the Alabama Shakes for being a ninja and sneaking up on those who booked them.
When’s the last time you heard from Big Boi? Yah, that Big Boi, the multi-platinum artist from the ATL. Not recently? Yah, I hadn’t either until he showed up on the bill at Outside Lands. Nonetheless I walked over to the Twin Peaks stage to check him out, and thank the lord I did. Like many of our readers, when Outkast had their breakthrough I was entirely too young to go see them in concert. That conundrum was solved on Saturday, August 11, 2012. Big Boi gave the crowd what they craved. Pumping out “Rosa Parks,” “B.O.B,” “Ms. Jackson,” “So Fresh and So Clean,” and “Hey Yah,” it was just like seeing Outkast in the flesh. If this is his typical set list, I’ll be purchasing a ticket next time he rolls through the area, you can bet on that.
The Kills and Dr. Dog were fantastic fillers of time before the real attractions of the evening started. The sun had nearly gone down and the fog was getting thicker by the minute. It was the absolute perfect setting for Sigur Ros. The setting looked like the way a Sigur Ros song sounds. Serene would be the word to describe it. A patiently intent crowd sat in silence while the lights of the stage bounced off the park’s trees and the sky’s fog. It was almost as if the band belonged there, in that specific moment. I get the feeling that this is how everyone feels at a Sigur Ros show. Imagining them playing indoors or in the daylight almost seems blasphemous. It was so calming that I decided that, since it was Saturday after all, it was time to check out the festival’s one true headliner, Metallica.
Seeing Metallica after half an hour of Sigur Ros is like the scene in Pulp Fiction where Uma Thurman overdoses and John Travolta shoves the adrenaline shot into her sternum. From the most peaceful music on the planet to the earth shattering music of Metallica was an experience in itself. While not having been a huge Metallica fan throughout my life, I’ve always had a respect for them (With the exception of Lars Ulrich’s douchebaggery in dealing with Napster). It’s hard not to respect a band that has been around for over a quarter century and seen the ups and downs of success and drug addiction alike. Front man James Hetfield is now sober as a judge and the band can still bring it. Metallica’s stage presence was never in question and they didn’t disappoint. They took out all the stops with an amazing light show and fire cannons that would make Ozzie Osbourne blush. They played for over two hours and finished their performance with a barrage of fan favorites like “Seek and Destroy,” “Mr. Sandman,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” and “One.” It’ll be hard to forget seeing Metallica. While not the best during their entire set, which can be expected of a band pushing 50 and in the cold, wet San Francisco air, but they were still good. They were still Metallica and to be honest, nothing else matters, right? (Pun intended)
Finally, we come to Sunday. My feet were angry and my body was starting to have regrets after raging so hard, but it was time to make my way back to the park and I’m damn glad I did. On the surface, the Sunday lineup, with the exception of maybe Santigold, Big Gigantic, Skrillex, and Wolfgang Gartner, seemed like a rather tame day. Regina Spektor did what Regina Spektor does, look gorgeous, smile, and play incredible music. [fun.] was, well, fun. They played a pretty awesome cover of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” that got the crowd going pretty wild. Dispatch sounded great and played their usual array of hits as well. I apologize for moving quickly, keep up and you’ll be rewarded.
Stevie Wonder was fantastic. As the Sunday headliner I expected him to bring his A-Game and he did, of course. Stevie played a couple of really neat covers as well as original pieces. Tossing in Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is” and John Lennon’s “Imagine” made for some unexpected moments in his set. He played his own hits such as “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” and, of course, “Superstition.”
If you’ve been able to keep up, I’m abbreviating Sunday because, to be completely honest, no one competed with Jack White. No one. Get me? Jack White strolled in Outside Lands and all but said, “You are all mine.” We were Jack. If you haven’t heard, Jack White is a monster. He’s been in 3 successful bands, the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, and the Dead Weather. He’s made solo albums. Did I mention he’s a monster? Moving forward. So, when Jack White plays festivals he brings his own merchandise vehicle that is typically parked in an inconspicuous location. You either need to follow his label, Third Man Records, on Twitter or wander around until you find it. That’s just for his merchandise. He’s as mysterious as his doppelganger Johnny Depp. I was roaming the grounds looking for the “Rolling Record Store” when I stumbled up on it in Choco Lands. Remember when I said this little haven in the woods would play a significant role for the weekend? Here’s where it happened.
There was a small crowd gathering in the area, which to most seemed like a normal thing because getting Jack White merch isn’t
easy to begin with. However, after purchasing a shirt I looked over to see a microphone and makeshift stage being produced in the woods next to the truck. My friends and I decided to sit tight for a moment. As more people began to notice what we had, people naturally became as curious as I was. Soon there was a decent crowd and a rumbling that Jack White was going to play a makeshift set in the woods prior to going on the main stage. I sat next to the truck hoping to catch a glimpse of the pale white rock god. While I waited, I turned to my right notice two golf carts pull up. While everyone else around me focused on if and when Jack White was going to show, they missed another legend of rock and roll standing next to them. Standing not two feet from the bulk of the crowd was Tom Morello. Yes, that Tom Morello. As in, “Holy shit guys it’s Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine.” He’s signed to Third Man Records as the Nightwatchmen and would perform in the woods a little later.
After about 15 minutes a white van showed up and out popped Jack White and his all female band, “The Peacocks” (his all male band accompanied him on the main stage). No more than 300 people out of the sprawling masses could have been standing there. He performed his solo hit “Love Interruption,” which he would later play on the main stage, “Broken Boy Soldier,” by the Raconteurs, and “Hotel Yorba,” a White Stripes hit that he would eventually play on the main stage as well. Fans were sitting in trees, climbing his merch truck, and sitting on shoulders just to get a peek at the growing guitar legend.
White’s performance on stage was equally as entertaining. He played “Two Against One,” which was a marginal hit on the mainstream circuits, but enjoyable due to the natural chemistry with Danger Mouse. Jack seemed a bit sentimental on this particular Sunday, as he chose a number of White Stripes hits including “We’re Going to be Friends,” “Same Boy You’ve Always Known,” and even ended his set with “Seven Nation Army.” It was somewhat comical that he played some of this older songs because much of the audience was in attendance for Skrillex later in the evening. There is a decent chance they had never even heard many of those particular songs due to their age alone. He also played a number of his newer songs off of his Blunderbuss album, “Love Interruption,” “Freedom at 21,” and “Take Me With You When You Go.” His set list was rather lengthy for the period of time he was allotted. I’ll give him credit, he knew he was there to melt faces and not to talk and that’s exactly what he did.
In all, Outside Lands was a phenomenal experience. Most festivals are a good time with a litany of great artists performing at high levels. The common complaint about these festivals is typically the heat. Outside Lands doesn’t deal with that. I found myself wearing a jacket and jeans the majority of the weekend. When the fog rolls in, you best be prepared. The food was incredible as well. I mean, where else can you get a bacon wrapped hot dog with sauerkraut called a Snoop Dogg? The beer, oh the beer. Seldom did you see someone with a Miller Lite or Bud Light. Everyone was enjoying the craft beers that the city has to offer. I would absolutely recommend this festival for no other reason than it’s in the great city of San Francisco. When you add the elements of the actual festival, it is a no brainer.
By: Mitch Inkrott
OurVinyl | Contributor