With all the Furthur fans cleared out for Day Two, Outside Lands became noticeably younger and way more crowded. This is largely due to amount of refreshingly original line-up that covered the stages that day. With 2010 buzz acts The Soft Pack, Janelle Monae, and Mayer Hawthorne as well as indie-rock heroes Phoenix, Empire of the Sun, and Kings of Leon; Day Two was shaping our to be very impressive. Not to mention the legendary Al Green, who seemed to draw the biggest crowd that day.
Before I dive into the music, I have to mention the presence of Wine Lands, the many varieties of food served at the festival, and this guy in the picture above. While you may have paid $10 for Jalapeno spiced calamari or $5 for a cup of Philz Coffee, there was no doubt that Outside Lands did not have what most call Carnival food. I got addicted to Pacific Catch’s Hawaiian poke and Baja shrimp ceviche while I indulged on several cups of 2008 Iron Horse Unoaked Chardonnay. And then there was whatever this guy above was doing. I didn’t try any of his drinks but the kids seemed to enjoy him. I just don’t feel comfortable with a guy serving drinks and wearing protective eye gear at the same time.
To kick off the day I caught Americana folk band Little Wings at the Panhandle Stage. Led by the very whiskered Kyle Field, Little Wings played a brief yet very energetic set to a small mid-day crowd. Listening to Little Wings you wouldn’t expect Kyle to roll and jump around on stage, but that didn’t stop him from doing so. The band played a variety of stripped down acoustic ballads as well as a few raw garage rock tunes not too far off from anything you’d hear from Devendra Banhart. Little Wings started the day out nicely with an odd yet interesting set.
[mp3] Little Wings – Scuby from Soft Pow’r (2007)
After Little Wings, it was a short walk to the Twin Peaks stage to catch The Soft Pack. I have been listening to their self titled debut album for a good few months now and had big expectations for this charming and simple beach-punk band. They sounded tight and very polished however not as driving and enthusiastic as I wanted them to be. Maybe it was the chilly overcast weather or the fact that they were performing at 12:45pm; whatever it was it seemed like the powerful and simplistic sound wasn’t matching what I was watching on stage. I’m willing to give them another chance though.
[mp3] The Soft Pack – C’mon from The Soft Pack (2010)
Next was the crowd drawing Mayer Hawthorneat the Sutro stage. That trademark nostalgic unadulterated, pure, soul that Mayer is know for came out with humor and a magnetic charm. The real treat was about 10 minutes into his set, as a group of attractive dancers (known as the Mayer-ettes) pranced out and danced along to a few songs. Dressed in a full gray suit and black rimmed glass, Mayer powered through his soulful set along with a little story about getting mistaken for Michael Bublé in the nearby Amoeba Records. This sparked him to roll right into the incredibly catchy Maybe So, Maybe No, to much of the crowd’s delight. Not to mention it brought the sun out. I have to say it was quite inspiring to see so many young people finding his music enjoyable.
[mp3] Mayer Hawthorne – Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out from Just Ain’t Gonna Work Out 7″ (2009)
After Mayer I caught a few songs from Australian rockers Temper Trap. I try and try but can’t find the appeal that Temper Trap draws in. I’ve heard their recorded material and don’t find it terribly original nor different from anything I’ve already heard this side of your normal power-pop group. I figured that their set would change my opinion but despite their high energy and very passionate performance (as well as the crowd going utterly nuts over them), it kind of felt like I was watching someone performing karaoke with an enormous amount of dedication but still sounding like…karaoke.
Oh lord oh mighty! Janelle Monáe blew the roof off! Clearly mastering the art of funky R&B all the while dipping into other genres without you even knowing what hit you. Janelle arrived on stage with her back to the stage and twisting around mid-song, busting a move like a young and smooth James Brown. Her voice was exhilarating and disarmingly fragile which noticeably froze the audience in a trace-like state. Were we witnessing something special? The beginning of a truly revolutionary artist? Whatever it was, anyone there to see Janelle dance in that 80s-era Jackson style while singing in that celestial voice knew that they were lucky to catch this amazing artist.
[mp3] Janelle Monáe – Tightrope (feat. Big Boi) from The ArchAndroid (2010)
So after Janelle and Mayer, I was in quite a soulful mood. This made catching Al Green at the Lands End stage that much more special for me. After seeing Stevie Wonder pull off a flawless set at Bonnoroo this year, I stopped questioning on whether or not these 60s era soul singers had the same enthusiasm they used to have in their prime. Al Green’s performance that day was no exception. He effortlessly pulled out all the classics like Let’s Stay Together as well as a sweet cover of Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman. What really stood out during Al Green’s set was his contagious ardency and lovable joy of purely being on stage. He carried himself as if he was saying, “See what I’m doing now? I could do this forever and I love all of you.” Not to mention he was tossing roses to the audience as they were promptly torn to shreds by eager fans. He’s still got it people!
I was going to catch Chromeo after Al Green but I found myself so addicted to Janelle Monáe’s style that I wound up watching a short acoustic set at the Chase Lounge. For what lacked in energy compared to her prior performance at the Sutro stage was made up for sheer intimacy. She played a cover of Charlie Chaplin’s Smile and pulled off an emotional version of Cold War, which I believe she can’t perform without getting a bit teary eyed. Another breathtaking show from this respectful artist.
After Janelle I made it just in time to see Phoenix play their last show in San Francisco for a while (as they mentioned on stage). This was the second time I’d seen the band, however this time was way more animated and blazing. Vocalist Thomas Mars must have ate his Wheaties that morning because this guy was all over the stage, leaping into the crowd several times, and tossing the mic stand like some kind of French acrobatic performer. The band played mostly songs off the critically acclaimed (and one of my favorite records of last year) Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix but didn’t shy away from older hits like 2006′s Long Distance Call and 2000′s Too Young. A very fun send-off from this genuinely enjoyable band.
[mp3] Phoenix – 1901 from Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009)
I am not ashamed to say that I love both Nas and Damien Marley. So when I heard about this inevitable collaboration, I was excited to hear the undeniably palpable chemistry these guys have. Well if you enjoyed their latest effort Distance Relatives, you probably would enjoy their set at this year’s Outside Lands. Both performers seemed extremely cheery and snappy throughout their very entertaining set. While they played mostly songs off their recent release, they did not shy away from playing Road to Zion (from Marley’s 2005 album, Welcome to Jamrock) as well as Nas ripping into Made You Look and Marley performing one of his dad’s famous tunes, Could You Be Loved. A fresh addition to this already impressive Sunday line-up.
[mp3] Damian Marley & Nas – Strong Will Continue from Distant Relatives (2010)
Once Nas and Marley wrapped up their set, I had some time to reflect on whether or not Empire of the Sun should have had an earlier set and let Nas and Marley headline the Twin Peaks stage instead. Not only has Australia’s Empire of the Sun just started playing shows in the US (their first was August 6th 2010 at Lollapalooza) but with only one record out and a dismal following here in the states, one would think that everyone would flock to Kings of Leon and then call it a night. Well that was not the case here. While they may have had half the audience as last night’s Strokes show, Empire still drew a sizable crowd that was mesmerized by a captivating and imaginative show from this eccentric band. I guess all that popularity from performing in Australia has built up enough funds to create a stage show that included synchronized dancers in various costumes and props (including ‘light guitars’…awesome), a enormous screen projecting various cosmic images, and a light show to match. While their set was limited to the only record they’ve released, 2008′s Walking on a Dream, they successfully pulled off a satisfying closing performance for the festival.
[mp3] Empire of the Sun – Half Mast from Walking On A Dream (2008)
So how was the festival overall? Well it definitely wasn’t as monstrous as 2008′s line-up (Radiohead, Tom Petty, Jack Johnson, etc) or as unique as last year’s (Mars Volta, Tenacious D, Pearl Jam, etc) Outside Lands still pulled off an impressive and risky line-up boosting some near-perfect performances. I don’t know the future of Outside Lands after this event but I hope for more surprises like Janelle Monae, Mayer Hawthorne, and Gogol Bordello.
Good job Outside Lands, see you next year!