Saturday may have been the only time in the history of mankind when someone could go from sucking in the helium-powered tunes of Passion Pit to being sprayed by the froth of Metallica frontman James Hetfield within the span of an hour.
By all accounts, Day Two at Outside Land was exquisitely random– a mindfuck of genres and sounds that screwed up any chance of us piecing together a cohesive narrative. Well, shit.
For organizers, their diverse offerings served an exact purpose: attract the most amount of people to Golden Gate Park as possible. Saturday’s crowds were a testament to that as elbow room became wrist room, health conscious San Franciscans nearly rioted due to a tofu shortage and traffic-jammed PortaPotties sent humans scurrying to relieve themselves on everything from bushes to art displays. Careful what you end up leaning against on Sunday.
Saturday’s crowds were unbearable–think, N-Judah at 5:30 after work on a Friday… during a nuclear explosion. The music, however, was a different story. Sure it was random, but quality was apparent throughout, from the early indie rock chain of Tame Impala and Portugal. the Man to the parlor crooning of Norah Jones. Geographer, decked out in all black and playing their hometown’s biggest festival for the first time were particularly impressive, drawing a huge crowd during an early set on the Twin Peaks stage.
Below are some recaps from Saturday’s performances:
If the crowds weren’t apparent on Friday, a pleasant elbow to the ribs from the thousands that packed in during the Alabama Shakes on Saturday would have been an early reminder. With what seemed like all of San Francisco filing into Lindley Meadow to catch the Athens, Alabama-band’s 3:50 set, the going got rough. Real rough. Fences were torn down, blankets were trampled and beer was spilled as hopped up Outside Landers continuously poured in from the single entrance, ironically, to the theme of “Hold On.” With the deficiencies of inter-festival pathways highlighted by the hype surrounding Alabama Shakes, audience members who had planned on arriving late to the set were reduced to standing near the pleasantly wafting portable toilets just to listen to a lick of lead woman Brittany Howard’s smokey blues voice. It was worth it. The 23-year-old former postal worker-turned-diva commanded the Sutro Stage with all the soul of a Southern matriarch. Looking like a school teacher behind spectacles and a polka-dotted dress, Howard and the Alabama Shakes had class in session, riffing on “Heartbreaker,” before leaning into crowd favorite “Boys And Girls,” a tale about a forbidden friendship. In the home of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, the Alabama quartet brought the perfect amount of countrified soul to Outside Lands. Somewhere up there, Warren Hellman is smiling.
Saturday’s setting didn’t seem the most hospitable for Explosions In The Sky. No, the weather was fine and the stage wasn’t too big. It simply seemed odd that the band was playing in broad daylight. While most of the band’s avid fans would argue that they’re best listened to in the dark recesses of solitude, Outside Land organizers scheduled the quartet for the middle of the day on the main stage, eliminating some of the mystique from Austin’s finest. Long on the festival circuit now, Explosions In The Sky are likely used to any set time by now. But for those who had seen the band close out Treasure Island Music Festival in the pitch black of San Francisco’s manmade isle, Saturday’s appearance came up more than short in the category for epicness. The disappointment, however, was not due to any form of musical quality. Highly rehearsed, Explosions In The Sky packed as many of their radio-unfriendly songs into the one-hour set as possible, with “The Birth And Death Of Day” and “Postcard From 1952″ taking the main stage speakers to a volume only matched by Metallica. Virtuosic in form, the three front guitarists led by Munaf Rayani rarely paused for a look up across the vast Golden Gate Park grounds, focusing on everything from intricate picking to the sliding of lighters across fretboards. But in the graying afternoon of San Francisco the romanticized feel of it all on songs like “Let Me Back In” felt cheapened, souring the performance of arguably the most talented group on this year’s bill.
After last year’s kerfuffle and no-show, rapper Big Boi had some big expectations to fill with his afternoon set. The turnout was large for the Georgia native, a testament to the cross-genre appeal of Big Boi’s partner act Outkast and San Franciscan’s love for vanity hip-hop. Big Boi was loud, he was aggressive, and naturally, he had videos of himself running on the vidscreen behind him. Mic in hand, the rapper bounced across the stage and ripped through wicked rap sections of “Mrs. Jackson,” “Bombs Over Baghdad,” and even over Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” Yeah, we all wished that his Outkast buddy Andre 3000 was there, but the crowd, who really just wanted to get funky, happily sang over the vocal samples.
Sandwiched between Explosions in the Sky and Metallica, The Kills had a tough slot. Undeterred, snarling frontwoman, Alison Mosshart, her dyed hair like a meteor, stalked across the Lands End stage with a vengeance. It was her second appearance on the Outside Lands main stage, the last time with Jack White in The Dead Weather’s 2009 show. Here, she was the total focus, gaining extra power on “Heart is a Beating Drum” with the support of two black-clad drummers hitting with the precision of Taiko professionals. With Mosshart writhing on the ground, the “Ohh’s” in the chorus of “Satellite” were eagerly taken up by the smaller crowd.
Michael Angelakos has a lot on his mind. On a long list of priorities, Passion Pit’s set at Outside Lands was likely not very high up there. Having cancelled a number of tour dates due to their frontman’s mental health concerns, the group from Boston kept their late afternoon Day Two appearance on their itineraries. It wasn’t for naught. Looking like they haven’t missed a step, Passion Pit began one of their rare 2012 appearances by slamming home infectious new single “Take A Walk” before rolling into “The Reeling.” With his emotional problems on his sleeve, Angelakos was able to momentarily set aside his issues and deliver the effervescent presentation we have come to expect from the past. Flailing his arms, stomping both feet and raising his mic stand high in the air, the singer put his high-pitched stamp of authority on the Twin Peaks stage, mixing in favorites like “Kingdom Come” with new offerings from sophomore release, Gossamer. Predictably, “Sleepyhead” prompted the biggest reaction–props to the wheelchair surfing crowd member–and closed out an hour where, despite blown out back speakers, people looked beyond the problems and focused on what we all came to hear: the music.
Local shredding heroes Metallica unquestionably won Saturday–and quite possibly the whole festival. It’s no contest when you’re up against a megaband that has pyrotechnic breaks built into a two-hour showcase. Non-metal fans (and let’s be real, most of the onlookers weren’t alive when the band was formed) were transfixed by the explosions and fireworks that punctuated the dizzying riffs of guitarist Kirk Hammett. “Do you want heavy? Metallica gives you heav-ay-aaaay,” pronounced singer James Hetfield, who, after three decades of thrash metal, seems like any affable oldster you’d find walking through Whole Foods. The band was genuinely ecstatic to be rocking the backyard of their hometown, blitzing through hits “Fade to Black” and “Battery” to a front row of old fans that definitely embarrassed their children last night. Distorted and projected through the fog, the plumes of fire and bursts of gunshot made it feel like hell itself was swallowing up Golden Gate Park on Saturday night. Metallica brought apocalypse in the form of “Seek and Destroy” to close their set. For them, there is no Day Three.
If Saturday’s crowd at Sigur Rós had the same mindset as mercurial frontman Jónsi, there would have been no one at the Iceland band’s closing set on the Twin Peaks stage. “If it were me, I’d be over there,” said Jónsi during one of the sets brief pauses, beckoning across the meadow toward the fireworks and flames of Metallica. While the decision was tough for the Sigur Rós vocalist, the huge numbers that forewent the pyrotechnics and aural attack of heavy metal were rewarded with audio beauty of grand proportions. Backed by a set of strings and black and white visuals that illuminated the faces of the crowd like a movie projector, the band from Iceland reached orchestral proportions. They opened with “Sæglópur” before transitioning into “Festival,” seemingly appropriate for the band’s current engagement. With a light drizzle falling on the crowd to remind the band of its home, Sigur Rós were at full force, Jónsi majestically whipping his bow across his guitar and uttering beautiful Hopelandic nothings in his characteristic falsetto. And for all the charm and allure, the performance was not lacking in power. Drummer Orri Páll Dýrason slammed floor toms to punctuate every breakdown, while the Sigur Ros singer proceeded to destroy every horse hair on his bow and shove his microphone into the photographer’s pit during “Popplagið.” We didn’t see Metallica break any of their instruments…
Treeswingers’ Top Three
Alabama Shakes- Hold On (download)
Passion Pit- Carried Away (download)
Sigur Rós- Sæglópur (download)
-Marisa, Ryan & Brian