Outside Lands 2011: Saturday Recap

Second day's the charm for better weather. (Kris Cheng/treeswingers)

Saturday was the opening day the fest should have had. The rare sunshine worked wonders on the crowd’s brain chemistry, making the teeming Polo Field buzz with friends hustling from one end of the park to the other, oft bemoaning their cell service carrier of choice (note: Verizon seems to be losing). Headlining acts on the two major stages made the Speedway Meadow trek bearable, and top to bottom the Lands End and Twin Peaks shows made Outside Lands Day Two a formidable one.

Organizers, apprehensive from the Big Boi Debacle Friday, breathed a sigh of relief as headliners performed their hearts out on the main stage. Arctic Monkeys did their British rock justice, The Black Keys were perfect in tandem and Muse brought out the heavy-duty lasers. Saturday was as equally sold out as Friday, but the sunshine and the weekend made the 60,000 people much more noticeable. With Sunday sold out too, the fest is looking at nearly doubling attendance since last year. And if The Decemberists and Arcade Fire do their jobs tonight, the fest can put another check in the win column.

A few recaps of Saturday’s highlights after the jump…

Right now they're singing and drumming, respectively, but the Stone Foxes pride themselves on being able to switch roles easily. (Kris Cheng/treeswingers)

It shouldn’t have been so easy to get to the front of The Stone Foxes‘ audience, but a set that starts before 2 p.m. is bound to have lots of room to mill around. But for those who came close enough, the set from the San Francisco-based quartet was a righteous sternum-shaking performance of gritty, loud rock. So local it hurts (they’ve recorded in a house in the Sunset), the band proved what fun it can be to truly be excited about performing at Outside Lands. “This is crazy,” drummer Shannon Koehler kept saying. “It’s the tastiest treat a man can have — except ice cream, because ice cream is delicious.” But they had walk to back up their talk too, busting through their own hits and shredding on a cover of Slim Harpo’s “I’m A King Bee.” And when Koehler abandoned the drums to blaze out his harmonica next to his brother’s slide guitar, audiences found themselves in the midst of the steamy South and so happy to be there.

It shouldn’t be surprising that OK Go, the kings of the viral video drew such a large crowd at the Lands End stage. For even though their discography may be standard pop-rock, who hasn’t whittled away an afternoon watching them skate on treadmills or trick out a Rube Goldberg machine? The set was an equal mix of their three LPs and it was the type of fun-loving crowd that would cheer whenever the grandma in the front row appeared on the big-screen. Singer Damian Kulash, making electric blue sexy, descended into the crowd of “fucking dirty sinners” for a solo rendition of “Last Autumn Leaf,” and the band even invited their original guitarist, Andy Duncan, now presumably a dad, on the stage for oldie “Get Over It.” In their most endearing moment, the four Crayola-colored dudes donned white gloves and clacked their way through “Return” on the “instrument that god himself invented – the handbell,” Kulash announced. A mic stand may have been knocked over and the melody was indecipherable, but people laughed along anyways.

Matching hairstyles? Check. (Kris Cheng/treeswingers)

Portland-proud Starfucker (aptly listed as STRFKR on the stage sign) came out mid-afternoon onto Twin Peaks stage and immediately began flopping their almost-identical haircuts back and forth — sides cut short, bangs long. Without much chatter, they indulged the crowd in favorites like “Bury Us Alive” and the inimitable “Rawnald Gregory Erickson the Second.” But the band’s already washed-out vocals failed to rise above the guitar lines that run along the same melody, turning the set into a flood of mostly-instrumental jams. The dancing crowds, however, seemed content to bounce around during the surprisingly warm afternoon sun to the band’s particular breed of dancey not-quite-pop.

Australian disco-pop songstress SIA was the feel-good alternative to the Arctic Monkeys in the late afternoon. With her expressive voice and poppy tracks, you’d never had known that just last year she was on a touring break due to her diagnosis and treatment for Graves’ disease. The blond singer’s between-song banter was sassy and confident, and though she hasn’t cracked the U.S. market, the response for 2010’s We Are Born song “You’ve Changed” was a joyous dance pit. Considering she beat out Mary J. Blige for the featured vocal spot in “Titanium,” off David Guetta’s album due at the end of the month, you’ll be hearing a lot from SIA soon.

Stage prop central. (Kris Cheng/treeswingers)

Even though they were gracing the crowds of San Francisco, the Black Keys made sure we knew where their stomping grounds lay: a huge inflatable totem pole, dreamcatcher posed behind the duo’s setup, next to a thirty-foot high tire  – nodding to Firestone’s and the band’s shared hometown of Akron, Ohio. (Mayor Ed Lee even showed up briefly — here’s his tweet.) The stage props, as overwhelming as they were, were soon forgotten in the haze of rock that screamed off the stage. As the band — whose usual performances stick close to the record — loosened up by the end of the set, fans got to experience an energy-building jam through “Ten Cent Pistol,” and Dan Auerbach’s face while rocking out to “Howlin’ for You” can only be captured by this emoticon: 8D. They closed out with more drawn-out versions of hits like “I’ll Be Your Man,” finally giving fans a taste of what a band that too often tightens up (pun intended) instead of letting loose on stage could be.

Philadelphia neo-soul band The Roots cranked up the funky percussion, turned on the fog machine and proceeded to give one of the best performances of the day. The group, with decades of touring experience and a day job as Jimmy Fallon’s house band, are pros at putting on a phenomenal live show, and it showed. Tariq5 “Black Thought” Trotter’s flow was brutal and snapping over the blood-pulsing drum-work of ?uestlove and F. Knuckles, and in counterpoint, guitarist Captain Kirk Douglas’ backing vocals added a soulful R&B balance. Oh, and the man can shred a solo like no other, a skill that made their cover of Guns N’ Roses “Sweet Child O’ Mine” explode through the crowd. Also thrown into the set were covers of Nigerian activist Fela Kuti, “Bad to the Bone” and “Jungle Boogie,” though their original “The Seed (2.0)” was more than enough to get the San Franciscans grooving.

It’s complicated to call Girl Talk‘s set on Saturday night a performance: Gregg Gillis’s premade set rang forth over the crowd’s heads for over an hour last night as he acted as kind of hype man up on stage surrounded by 50-plus people on stage. Lights flashed, toilet paper rolls of streamers were thrown out over the crowd, audience members set off floating lanterns and sparklers as the set went through selections from previous albums as well as mashups incorporating newer radio hits like Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night” and Adele’s ubiquitous “Rolling in the Deep.” The ever-pleasing combination of poppy background chords over Rick Ross-like rap kept the party rolling as crowds sang along to snippets of hits from over the years — and gladly went “little bit softer now” and “little bit louder now” to a culmination over a mashup with the Isley Brother’s “Shout.”

There may be no live spectacle as capital-“E” Epic as England’s rock gods Muse. Their two-hour closing set was grandiose and aggressive and ambitious, even though the crew hasn’t released a new album in three years. Even the uninitiated could appreciate the space rock theater that Matthew Bellamy & Co. orchestrated – heck, if the movie Cowboys & Aliens was just a video of Muse live, it would have done much better at the box office. The songs off 2006’s Black Holes and Revelations turned the Polo Field into a laser-lit singalong, while the band did their best Queen impression with timed-fog pulses to the minor key operetta “United States of Eurasia.” Points of contention: the Brits appropriating Zeppelin’s “Star Spangled Banner” was a bit odd, and the cascading blow-up eyeballs in the encore were done much better by Arcade Fire at Coachella this year (potentially awkward artist tent conversation to happen tomorrow…).  But finale “Knights of Cydonia” absolutely smashed and even the horse-mounted police force could be seen nodding along.

Treeswingers’ Top Three

SIA- You’ve Changed (download)

The Black Keys- I’ll Be Your Man (download)

The Roots- The Seed (2.0) (download)

-Ellen, Kris & Marisa

 A version of this review will appear in The Stanford Daily.

2 responses to “Outside Lands 2011: Saturday Recap

  1. Seemed like all 60,000 were crowded around Girl Talk at the end, defecting from Muse…

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