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Thursday, November 18

Outside Lands Festival August 14-15 2010 Golden Gate Park / SF, CA


Words: Sammy Martin
Photos: Greg Heffelfinger

The third annual Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival took place in Golden Gate Park over August 14th and 15th. Instead of putting on a three day festival as they have done the past two years; this year the festival was moved from Labor Day Weekend and turned into pre-burning man extravaganza of eclectic music, local artists and great food and drink.  A lot of what makes Outside Lands so fantastic is its location.  Nested amongst the beautiful backdrop of eucalyptus trees in the large polo fields and speedway meadow they narrowed it down to four stages instead of the usual six. This didn't stop them from bringing an amazing line-up to the festival.  With rare headliners such My Morning Jacket, Gogol Bordello, Kings Of Leon, Empire of the Sun and Furthur it was sure to be an amazing weekend.
Starting the day off early at 11am on Saturday the 14th, the first band to catch on the Solar Stage was the Whigs, a very punk rock indie based band that put together a nice short set. Nothing remarkable, but being an earlier show in the day they had quite the crowd.   Afterward Dawes put together a very inspired Grateful Dead influenced set-list. Coming off of a 3-month national tour they performed a very improvisational and rocking set.  Taylor Goldsmith, the singer, guitarist and songwriter really shines most when it comes to his vocals.  Each band member contributed equally, and played the entire show without a set-list.  This is how they perform their shows, listening to each other and letting the music ebb and flow from there.  Their second album will be coming out in the near future, and is being produced by Johnathon Wilson.

Gogol Bordello was the first big named band to put together an inspiring almost at times overwhelming show on the main “Lands End” stage.  Coined as a Gypsy punk band from NYC, their charismatic leader, singer and resident mad-scientist Eugene Hütz kept the audience transfixed as their rare and funky mix of instrumentation laid a perfect backdrop.  With accordions, heavy percussion, fast almost flamingo like acoustic guitar work it was a show not to be missed.  Hütz went from wearing a shirt, to a tank top to being shirtless as he made his way through a handful of songs from their long catalog, his raspy and storytelling voice always garnering more attention than the performance as a whole.

My Morning Jacket was incredibly impressive.  Playing rarely these days, it was a treat for all in the crowd to see them in full form. The sound at the “Lands End” stage was amazing and Jim James stole the show for sure.  Playing songs from Evil Urges all the way to their last album Tennessee Fire, they worked their way through a very impressive and head ling appropriate set.  Jim James proved himself to be not only a worthy musician and leader, but sonically he could not have sounded better.  Their mix of jam/indie rock penetrated through the sea of people that had filled the polo fields to see this elusive late afternoon show.  “Off The Record”, from their album Z, was a highlight, and made a fan out of many who had not heard them before.

Wolfmother, the Led Zeppelin compared rockers from Australia put together a super high powered set at the “Sutro Stage”, opposite the “Lands End” stage.  Playing through their catalog from their two albums, and showcasing a number of songs off of Cosmic Egg, their latest release, Andrew Stockdale's telltale falsetto pierced through the trees and meadows of Golden Gate Park.  Encoring with a high energy and drawn out cover of The Who's “Teenage Wasteland”, they could not have sounded much better.  Wolfmother can be really good at playing to the crowd and that’s exactly what they did.  Showman they have become and have a bright future as psychedelic rockers as long as they keep their creative juices flowing and their music fluent.  They finished their set with “Joker and the Thief”, probably their most popular song, an anthem worthy to stand in the same room as “Stairway To Heaven” but not quite next to it.

This year there was a lot more electronic music than in previous years, with big names like the local dub-step/ glitch producer Bassnectar who put on a bass heavy show from the Sutro Stage.  Same with the very famous and almost explosive Pretty Lights these shows were enjoyed by thousands.  To some the sampling could sound repetitive, but then to others this is exactly why they came, to see some of the best producers on the tour circuit these days.
Rounding off the electronic acts were Oakland’s Beats Antique, an all-inclusive live-tronica show; their set was short but captivating.  Aside from names like these spinning records their was a double-domed Heineken themed DJ Tent, it had corridors and lights projected from flat-screens to the ceiling, profiling a lot of local producers as well as better known names such as An-Ten-Nae, and DJ Dan, it was a place of gathering for all the electronica fans.

Furthur finished off the night and did so with the best performance of the entire festival.  Coming out on the “Lands End” stage just as the trees throughout the festival became lit up with hundreds of multicolored lights they jammed their way into a very fluent and captivating “Cassidy”. At this point the music led the way, as Joe Russo's drumming was machine like and with Phil and Bobby holding down the fort, they segued into a drawn out “Loser” that really got the crowd pumped for a Bob Weir led: “Let it Grow”, from Weather Report Suite.  After “Grow”, they delved into a much improved and honestly impressive cover of Pink Floyd's: “Time and Breath Reprise”.  Both of these songs helped graciously by the vocals of Sunshine Becker and Jeff Pehrson, newer additions to Furthur. The mid section of the set was old school blues Dead, with Death “Don't Have No Mercy”, “Fire on the Mountain”, “The Eleven”, “The Other One” and more leading into two great epics: Terrapin Station and Phil Lesh's baby, “Unbroken Chain”. The songs were played with precision and an un-cloudiness, leading one to believe that Furthur has really become a tight unit over the past 6 months of touring.  Compared to the NYE shows in SF, they were whip-smart and sharp. Bobby was rapid on the guitar and Kadlecik really shined.  Phil held down the bass lines and when it came time for the show to wrap up, with an all audience included, “I Know You Rider” one couldn't leave unimpressed and even more importantly wanting more.

The second day was noticeably more packed than the first with people showing up to see Amos Lee on the main stage at noon, and artists like Grammy winning Janelle Monae.  The first high powered show of the day came from the jam grass-jugband trio of Trampled by Turtles, who posting up at the end of Speedway Meadow, really drew a full fledged dancing crowd to their up tempo songs and high energy performance. Truly a highlight.

Later, Al Green came out dressed to the gills and performed more of a soul-filled sermon than a show. His ability to still transfix an audience with his big smile and beautiful songmanship just goes to show that there are no limits to what a musician can do.  Al Green was the big daddy of the festival, maybe not the biggest name, but the most entertaining to watch, and oh so enjoyable.

Garage A' Trois wrecked it.  Completely and wholeheartedly. They came out one at a time, Marco Benevento, Skerik, Stanton Moore and the vibe wielding Mike Dillon and played as one.  With less than an hour to perform on the solar stage, their own personal form of acid jazz had people swarming from the larger stages to get in on whatever semblance of musical genius they created.  Moore of course held it down on the drums, Skerik's sax and showmanship is unmatched and Benevento, who can play the keyboard with the best of them, was remarkable.  Coming off of Power Patriot their latest album, this foursome only gets tighter.
Slightly Stoopid and Social D put on a par if not greatest hits like performances.  Nothing too remarkable, except for the fact they both have and had legions of fans surrounding their stages.  One will have to admit Outside Lands put together an eclectic lineup and it showed in the crowd, people from all walks of musical life.

Nas and Damien Marley performed as one.  A single unit mixing reggae and hip-hop with a strong political message, they came and delivered. Distant Relatives, their collaborative effort that was released this past May is jammed packed with powerful lyrics and heavy beats. Dropping back and forth between the two of them, trading off on verses and choruses, they won the crowd over with their spiritual “Only The Strong Will Continue”.  But every song was catchy enough to be pop, but real enough to have street cred and make you think a little deeper.  Message received.

The festival ended with two amazing acts, one outshining the other just a little bit, and both performing and the same time.  Kings of Leon have had the privilege to be headlining the festival circuit all year, from Coachella to Bonnaroo to Outside Lands.  They are ripe for the picking and even though it has been almost two years since their latest album release their southern-rock approach to grunge influenced pop music is remarkable and worth seeing in person.  If you know their catalog of songs and albums then you know that almost every song could be considered a radio friendly hit.  They didn't wait long to play these songs exploring the outer regions of their peppiness, they are a very well oiled machine a show worth catching. One time would be enough though.

At the same time on the other end of the festival, over a quarter of a mile a away was Empire of The Sun.  Coming out on the Twin Peaks stage, their stage setup was by far the best of the entire festival. This duo from Australia, who came out with a complete band, dancers and elaborate costumes have been compared to MGMT more times than they probably care to have been.  Just five shows into their first North American tour they played to the crowd, a sizable crowd considering Kings of Leon were rocking the main stage at the same time.  Luke Steele with his amazing vocal ranges came out dressed in kimonos and three feet high mo-hawks, while his drumming counterpart Nick Littlemore held down the chorus' and noticeably enjoyed playing to such an energetic crowd.  Dubbed as an electronic duo one would have to see their entire performance to see that these two are a lot more than that.  They are rock and roll, stage performers, producers and friends.  The bond between the two spread across the crowd as they double encored 20 minutes past their curfew ending the show with their chart topping “Walking On a Dream”.  Do yourself a favor and YouTube one of their videos, at the very least you'll be entertained. They get the title of best new band by far.

This years more compact Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival was incredibly well managed and put together.  With tons of activities and people coming from all walks of the life, the Sunset District of San Francisco was once again graced with a very successful and amazing festival.  From the mellow police presence to the organization of getting tens of thousands of people into the inner loins of the San Francisco peninsula, they did it all.  All one could ask for is more nighttime shows, but due to the close proximity of residential neighborhoods we had to make do.  And made do we did.