SAN FRANCISCO — The Weeknd put on a headliner-caliber show to close out the first day of Outside Lands on Friday.
It’s hard to believe the Canadian artist was just another YouTube singer only eight years ago. His polished neo-R&B vocals were accompanied by a driving bass line, surrounded by a dizzying array of lights. While lacking Metallica’s pyrotechnics or the animations of Gorillaz from years past, the staging was definitely up to the festival headliner standard.
He played to the crowd, drawing massive cheers for singles like “Can’t Feel My Face,” “Often” and “Party Monster.”
“Loser,” Beck’s first big hit from 1994, probably shouldn’t have gotten as popular as it did. It was vastly different than other music of the era and also profoundly weird. He definitely shouldn’t have followed it up with an even bigger success with 1996’s Odelay and its even weirder hit single “Where It’s At.” He would probably agree that his 2014 album, Morning Phase, shouldn’t have beat Beyoncé and Pharrell Williams to the Grammy for Album of the Year.
But despite the unlikelihood of essentially his entire career to this point, Beck is still here, and he still drew one of the biggest crowds of the day despite being up against headliner The Weeknd.
“I’ve got to play a few of these Outside Lands over the years so I feel kinda like part of the family,” he told the crowd between songs. “I think I was at the first one, actually.”
(He was, playing at the inaugural Outside Lands in 2008. He was also part of the 2012 lineup.)
Beck’s song choices skewed more recent, including recent single “Wow,” off 2017’s Colors. He also kept with a tradition and covered Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” after his song “I Think I’m In Love.”
Other acts we loved Friday:
Nashville’s Margo Price may be a force in country music, but she channeled Janis Joplin in Golden Gate Park, wearing flowery bellbottom pants and round amber-tinted sunglasses above a single braid that laid atop one shoulder.
She and her six-member band were firing on all cylinders from the first notes of “Don’t Say It,” off 2017 album All American Made. They seamlessly transitioned into “Leftovers,” a brand new track on which she sang about “spending life on your knees,” and that prompted whoops and hollers from the fans in the front row. “Tennessee,” of her 2016 breakthrough LP, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, turned the temperature a few degrees hotter yet.
Throughout, Margo Price let her band, which includes her husband on lead guitar, shine. But her twangy golden voice tied everything together perfectly. Her set continued with “A Little Pain,” during which she played ringleader, prancing around stage and getting down on her knees. An early high point came with a cover of CCR’s “Fortunate Son,” and “Four Years of Chances,” which she dedicated to her former boyfriends.
“Who here hates themselves?” Billie Eilish asked a packed crowd at the Lands End stage early in her set, introducing “idontwannabeyouanymore,” a downbeat waltz off 2017 album Don’t Smile at Me. “This song’s for you.”
It may have taken a couple of songs to adjust to Eilish’s self-deprecating personality, but once that happened, her stage presence and performance made sense. The singer-songwriter also happened to have injured her right foot four days earlier and was wearing a corrective boot. You’d think that would keep her grounded at Outside Lands, and it would make you wrong.
Eilish ran, jumped and high-kicked her bad foot song after song.
“Wow, my foot hurts like a bitch!” she said at one point. “I’m in a lot of pain and really out of breath.”
She also had her guitarist perform a song, while she presumably rested her foot. When she returned, she covered Darke’s “Hotline Bling” on a ukulele, and then resumed dancing around on new single “You Should See Me in a Crown.”
Carly Rae Jepsen
Most years, one of the Outside Lands headliners is a retro act (think The Who, Paul McCartney, Elton John) and the act largely sticks to the hits. The closest we get to a retro act this year is Janet Jackson, and if her recent shows are indications, she is not sticking to the hits. What’s a radio-loving fan to do? The answer on Friday was Carly Rae Jepsen, who unleashed a torrent of catchy hits on the Twin Peaks stage, much to the delight of fans.
Jepsen kicked off with the ’80s-tastic “Run Away With Me,” with that killer sax solo that only M83 has been able to use as successfully in recent years. Jepsen, who is going through a blond phase, wore all white (it is before Labor Day, so she didn’t break any rules). “Emotion” came next, and then “Gimmie Love,” she pointed out fans and melted hearts. “First Time” blended into “Boy Problems” as Jepsen danced by herself, with two backing singers and near her band. It was one sweet bite after another. “When I Needed You” followed, and then of course “Call Me Maybe,” and both songs incited sing-alongs.
The atmospheric Irish singer-songwriter played early in the day on the Sutro stage but pulled in a considerable amount of fans for the time. His songs, such as “A Closeness” and “All My Friends,” blended heart-on-your-sleeve acoustic folk (Kennedy is a protégé of Glen Hansard), with glitchy electronica and hip-hop production. It sounded a bit like Eddie Vedder leading Alt-J.
Fans cheered louder for the songs they knew better, like the Spotify hit “Young & Free,” the bluesy “Moments Passed” and “Glory.” On the latter song, Kennedy’s deep, guttural growl took the center stage, creating the feeling that the state of the world, or at least what was going on on stage, was completely dependent on the singer’s passions. Kennedy closed with “After Rain,” which he introduced as being about trying to find hope in difficult times. The song built slowly, and then much faster, into a joyful, cacophonous mess.
EDM duo Odesza drew a bigger crowd to the main stage than some headliners. Sandwiched between rap group N.E.R.D. and R&B superstar The Weeknd, it seemed like strange scheduling, but fans filled the Polo Field and loved every minute.
Fundamentally, Odesza is two guys—Harrison “Catacombkid” Mills and Clayton “BeachesBeaches” Knight—standing on a raised platform at the back of the stage behind audio equipment. But despite the inherently static nature of their genre, they put on a visually intense show. A drumline, a horn section and some guests supplemented the recorded music. And the visuals were incredible.
Chicano Batman is a band tailor-made for festivals. Between their matching throwback three-piece suits and the high energy of their performances, they’re practically designed to be as much fun to watch to as many people as possible.
Best of all, their sound matches their wardrobe. At its core, it’s a throwback to the Latin soul of the ‘70s, but it mixes a healthy dose of funk and rock, then modernizes it all so it doesn’t feel even slightly dated.
Needless to say, their set was great, though it should probably have been on a different day. They seemed somewhat underappreciated by the day’s much younger, much more pop-focused crowd.
RIFF’s contingent of writers covering Outside Lands are all men in our 30s, one of which has a wife and kids, so there are acts at the festival that just aren’t intended for us. One of those is Napa’s Olivia O’Brien.
The crowd seemed to be mostly teenagers, and they were utterly thrilled. Five minutes before her set, they were already chanting “OLIV-I-A! OLIV-I-A!” and two notes into every song, you’d think the Beatles just took the stage in 1964. For those of us who use the Beatles as an analogy, it misses our demographic.
All that said, it was a great set! The very enthusiastic crowd’s energy was contagious, to say the least, and her breakout hit “Hate U Love U” was fantastic. If she can own a crowd to that extent at 18 years old, her future is bright, and not just among the high school set.
Rex Orange County
Rex Orange County’s set should have been a disaster if it even happened at all.
As he told it from the stage, his band was bringing its tour bus here when it broke down overnight. They, along with all their equipment, were stranded on the side of the road somewhere. So he came on ahead with a guitar and a keyboard to try and do the show alone.
Despite the potential for a forgettable, probably mostly unrehearsed solo set, Rex Orange County put on a great show for a crowd rivaling the size of the main stage. There were technical hiccups; the lighting was clearly for a louder full-band show than one guy at a keyboard, and one person on a massive festival stage felt a bit like a talent show, but the music is what counts and the music was brilliant.
The Mountain Goats
We could talk about how good The Mountain Goats’ music was, and it was very good, but instead let’s talk about frontman John Darnielle’s world-class stage banter.
He eased into it, catching those in the crowd unfamiliar with his music a bit off-guard, introducing a song with, “This, like so many songs about desolation, was written in a Holiday Inn Express in King of Prussia, PA.” There were more than a few people in the back asking each other if they heard it right.
That still didn’t prepare the uninitiated for the next song intro, which was, in its entirety: “Hope everyone’s having a good time! This is a song about death.”
The icing on the cake, and possibly one of the best moments in festival history, was the shocked and horrified reaction of a woman who happened on the big screen when he introduced “Cry for Judas,” a song about the Biblical Judas, as being about “a sellout you have to kinda feel sorry for.”
Darnielle could probably hold his own in the Barbary comedy tent if he gets tired of this whole music thing.
Hip-hop, funk and rock group N.E.R.D. were as good as any headliner on Friday.
“Are we in New York, or are we in San Francisco?” band leader Pharrell Williams asked an enthusiastic crowd. William, vocalist Shay Haley and producer Chad Hugo were joined by several musicians and dancers whose faces were covered in black cloth like ninjas. With Pharrell euphorically running and jumping from one side of the stage to the other, Haley focused on delivering the songs.
Mikky Ekko had the honor and the misfortune of opening Outside Lands. So early on in his set, the crowd was not exactly massive. Fortunately, as the set went on, the crowd steadily grew, and he seemed to feed on the energy.
While Mikky Ekko, best known for his collaboration with Rhianna on “Stay” and 2015’s “Watch Me Rise,” did get the still-chilly morning crowd moving, it took work. But at least his frankly majestic beard probably kept him warm.
San Francisco’s Sweet Plot played an extremely energetic mix of blues rock, funk and even a bit of disco to start the festival on the Panhandle stage. The eight members, including two drummers, also covered Carlos Santana’s “Oye Como Va,” and played a couple of songs in the Motown vein, a la the Jackson 5. Between songs, the band turned on the charm, never missing a chance to compliment their hometown.
Comedian and actor (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) Chelsea Peretti, one of the three headliners at the Barbary comedy tent, performed a short but hilarious set that touched down on eating at the Olive Garden, her father finding her sister’s lingerie and spanking children. There was more, but not even repeating the jokes would do her the justice, so we won’t even try. San Francisco-born Al Madrigal performed after Peretti with a set centered on growing up in the City and how it’s changed from gentrification.
“I listen to true crime podcasts just for the real estate listings,” he said about looking for an affordable home. Another joke culminated after a long conversation about the plight of minorities: “I don’t know if any of you are old enough to remember when there were black people here?”
The Virginian singer-songwriter and her band are having a breakout year (RIFF chose her as an artist to watch before SXSW) and on Friday the band brought a dose of indie guitar rock to the pop and EDM-heavy lineup. After walking onstage and exchanging some pleasantries with fans who complimented her makeup and her bandmate’s hat, Lucy Dacus suggested, “Well, I guess we can just go ahead and start.”
She and her band started with “Addictions,” “The Shell” and “Nonbeliever,” off new album Historian. They were grungy, unpolished and raw, despite the sweetness present in Dacus’ voice. Dacus dedicated the bluesy performance of “Yours & Mine,” another new cut, to those who participated in the March for Our Lives.
“I’m just as good as anyone/ I’m just as bad as anyone,” Dacus sang on “Timefighter,” which was a barely reserved meditation on self-worth.
Quinn XCII walked onto the Lands End stage early in to a deafening scream. Accompanied by keyboardist Gregory Huegel and drummer Patty Anne Miller, who performs with Beyonce, he performed a kind of chill wave-fueled hip-hop. At one point, he hopped down from the stage to be closer to fans, riling them up further.
A few days following their Beach Goth festival in Southern California, the eclectic rockers made the trek north to perform their brand of surf, lounge, and sometimes, polka (the case on “One Million Lovers”). Trying to figure out what the band was playing was part of the fun. The band also wore overalls with matching star-shaped and inverted cross designs. Combined with their contrasting undershirts, they looked a bit like Oompa Loompas. We weren’t able to catch too much of their set, but one mid-set highlight was “Orgasm of Death,” a surprisingly non-lethal upbeat number.
The enigmatic electronic musician typically shrouds her face in her own hair, and that was the case on Friday. Instead, she often let her dancing do the talking. Up-turned corners of her mouth sometimes peaked out from underneath the dark hair as well.
Elohim’s set, while sticking to the EDM traditions, was a mix of two distinct sounds. The first was electronica in the vein of K.Flay’s EDM phase. The second was sugary dance pop. Songs like “Sensations,” “Sleepy Eyes” and “Love is Alive” (a Louis the Child song on which she guests) were able to combine the two into a truly entertaining mix.
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter. Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData. Follow photographer Joaquin Cabello at Instagram.com/joaquinxcabello. Follow photographer Shawn Robbins at Instagram.com/photo_robbins and Twitter.com/katarokkar.