SAN FRANCISCO — Touting her new record, High As Hope, Florence and the Machine played her first U.S. show Saturday at Outside Lands with the new material, a new stage show and a more urgent plea for her fans to create a better world than the one they currently live in.
The production was the first noticeable aspect of Florence and the Machine’s set. It consisted of light-colored wooden planking in a structure that could have passed for the front of a church (one of the modern, hip ones that forego a cross for some fancy architecture), but was likely the inside of a sailing ship. Three rows of sail-like white sheets repeatedly defended an old back up to the roof of the Lands End stage.
The energized Florence Welch avoided saying the current U.S. president’s name aloud, but alluded to him, and Brexit, numerous times through out the set.
“The little things you do make a difference,” Welch said between songs, after saying her heart hurts for the condition the world finds itself in right now. “You matter, and you can make a difference.”
While Welch dedicated new song “Patricia” to Patti Smith, she pointed out the middle third of the cut is about someone else.
“Oh Patricia you’ve always been my north star,” she sang. And then about “a man who loves only what he can grab with two hands.”
Her ferver to unite fans bordered on abrasive at times. During “Sweet Nothing,” her song with Calvin Harris, Welch asked fans to get on each other’s shoulders, which she is wont to do every once in a while. But on the ensuing tracks, she added to it by asking them to hold hands with a stranger, to hug a stranger and to tell a stranger they loved him or her. The intention was good, but there were multiple people visibly uncomfortable by the command, as well as strangers trying to take hold of others’ hands.
“Now I’m going to tell you something that will make you feel comfortable,” she said. This turned into a request hide all cell phones for the climax of “Dog Days Are Over.”
This, while early in the Florence and the Machine set, was the climax. There were other highlights, such as Isabella “Machine” Summers’ tinkling keyboard play on “Sweet Nothing,” an energized “Cosmic Love” and “Ship to Wreck,” the U.S. premiere of hit singles “Hunger” and “Big God.” But the show also seemed to stagnate at times. Not from Florence Welch, who skipped, twirled and dashed from one side of the stage to the other, but because in a decade, she hasn’t introduced new elements to her performance.
Her voice? Outstanding. She didn’t miss a note (again). Her passion? Still there, and more so. Her band? Strong as always; ever-present without stealing the limelight. In fact, someone seeing Welch for the first time was treated to peak Florence Welch. Her new songs were as strong as her older ones, if not too sonically similar. After countless passes through the Bay Area, it would have been pleasant to be surprised. That’s what was missing.
Other acts we loved Saturday:
Hopefully, many Florence and the Machine fans who arrived at Golden Gate Park early on Saturday got a chance to see the hugely talented Londoner Freya Ridings. Though not quite as outgoing as Welch (that comes with experience), Riding was a wonder to behold on the Panhandle stage, which she dominated with only with a keyboard (and an assist from a sparkly sequined overcoat.
Ridings is reminiscent of several artists, including Welch and Tori Amos, and delivered her lofty songs of heartbreak and loneliness like they were the most important message concertgoers would hear Saturday. Her set consisted of a handful of her own songs, such as “Ultraviolet,” “Love Is Fire,” “Signals,” “Why Do I Do This” and “You Mean the World to Me,” which she dedicated to her mother. She also performed a tender cover of Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps,” which she said helped her through a difficult breakup.
Somehow, Ridings got a large amount of people nearby to be quiet and just listen, which is no easy task at Outside Lands. She concluded with the reserved “Lost Without You,” which at times sounded like she would flip a switch and cover Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughtta Know.” That didn’t happen, but Ridings is talented enough to go from a straight edge ballad to powerful declaration.
The psychedelic rockers from Japan were by far the surprise of the festival, pulling people in from all corners of the park as word of mouth spread through the early afternoon crowd.
They drew their sound and their visual aesthetic from the late-era Beatles, right up to featuring an electric sitar masterfully played by Ryu Kurosawa, but included a hard rock edge that modernized the sound. While some throwback bands lean on being a tribute, Kikagaku Moyo merely takes inspiration, blending other branches of rock to make it their own.
As is customary for psychedelic bands, their songs segue into improvised jams that double the length of the song or more. These are where guitarist Daoud Popal shines. Able to seamlessly phase between Jefferson Airplane style psychedelia and Deep Purple style hard rock, he brought the elements of the jam together.
Canadian R&B and hip-hop singer-songwriter Jessie Reyez has an awful lot on her mind, and she’s a sharer. Opening up the Twin Peaks stage on Saturday, Reyez targeted demanding exes on “Fuck It,” abusive relationships on “Shutter Island” and “Gatekeeper,” which is about how a music industry executive promised Reyez a career in exchange for sexual favors.
The impassioned song had Jessie Reyez losing her voice and struck home as she screamed that the #MeToo movement isn’t new. Following the song, she said she came close to quitting music altogether when that happened, and it created a spiral of depression.
Reyez was often brash in her language and gestures, but she clearly meant for them to drive her message home.
She also performed “Sola,” her first Spanish-language single, which she released just the day prior. The sensual ballad, which she sung in a lower register, proved she can do that type of song just as well. She also performed “One Kiss,” which she wrote for Dua Lipa and turned into her first No. 1 hit.
Atlanta rapper Future, despite being up against headliner Florence + the Machine, drew a crowd of people about an eighth of a mile deep. That’s not an exaggeration; we measured.
The mass of fans got what they came for as he put on a raucous, visually flashy show. He may be the only non-nerdcore rapper to incorporate multiple Windows blue screens into a set, and he’s certainly the only one with a tunnel that shoots lasers.
The set opened with “Same Damn Time” featuring just Future and his DJ, but a few songs later as he began ASAP Ferg’s “New Level,” he brought out four backup dancers. (He managed to perform his part of a collaboration with someone who wasn’t there by muting the audio to let the audience sing the chorus.)
He also gets props for giving shoutouts to “the Bay Area” rather than “San Francisco” like most other artists. It’s a very minor touch, but there’s something to be said for tailoring it to the audience rather than just inserting the city’s name in canned stage banter.
Lizzo is at once a modern performer, using her voice and her body to spread body-positive ideas, and a throwback to early ’90s R&B acts like Salt N’ Pepa. Backed by two dancers and a DJ (all women), Lizzo proceeded to shake her booty in every which way while singing about her life, her love of boys, her love of shaking booties and most importantly, her love of herself.
Buried in her set was a hilarious tale of losing her cell phone (“Phone”), self-love anthem “Scuse Me,” sassy anthem “Good As Hell” and a brief cover of “No Scrubs.”
To give you an idea what Daniel Caesar’s music sounds like, by the end of the second song, couples were spontaneously making out in the crowd. By the fourth song, strangers were making out. Based on an overheard conversation, it’s possible at least one child was conceived.
In the tradition of Usher and D’Angelo, Caesar’s smooth R&B can cause mass swooning. His archetypal crooner’s voice and unobtrusive but complex instrumentals practically demand romance. And the wistful looks from most of the women and many of the men in the crowd speak to the fact that he was in top form.
Broken Social Scene
Canadian indie rock stalwarts Broken Social Scene performed as a nine-piece band Saturday, with birthday girl Ariel Engle and Brendan Canning switching off on lead duties.
“Were still living it, and we still love you,” Canning assured some enthusiastic fans. BSS’ 10-song set included “Protest Song,” “Cause = Time” and “Hug of Thunder,” the title track of its 2017 album. Throughout, Broken Social Scene was tight, without wasting the contribution of anyone on stage. Like Florence and the Machine and several other artists, Canning spoke of troubling times and making things right.
“We like to write songs about the struggle because we feel the struggle,” he said before introducing “Halfway Home.” The band closed with the terrific older cut, “Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl.”
Scottish trio Chvrches was not the closer, performing third to last. While not the Lands End stage, they may be getting close to reaching that level. All 13 songs they performed were a non-stop electronic jolt to the system, from “Get Out” to “Gun,” “Graffitti” and “Under the Tide.” Chvrches released a new album this year, and the newer material, which made up nearly half of there set, added an extra coating of sugary pop to the band’s electronica buzzsaw.
Lauren Mayberry and Martin Doherty took turns talking about the first time their band was supposed to perform at Outside Lands, only to get stuck in Canada because of work visa problems.
“We finally fucking made it,” Mayberry said prior to the onslaught of synth waves on new track “Miracle.”
The ambient instrumentals of Scott “TYCHO” Hansen and his backing band gave Outside Lands a mellow break from a day of uptempo dance and hip-hop. The bass-heavy, largely electronic music could have felt at home as the score of a sci-fi movie, but the live band turned it into a worthy performance.
Unfortunately, if you didn’t see his set, you missed your chance. The set in Golden Gate Park closed out the tour and the setlist.
“This is the end of a chapter,” Hansen told the audience. “It’s the last time anyone will see this exact show before the next thing.”
Hopefully, the next thing will be just as good.
Jonathan Van Ness
Hairdresser, podcaster and television personality (Queer Eye) Jonathan Van Ness brought his radiant positivity to a packed Barbary comedy tent. Before bringing up special guests Michelle Wolf (The Daily Show) and Florence Welch of Florence and The Machine, Van Ness discussed his newfound fame, his thoughts on Outside Lands, and Beyoncé’s flower obsession. Van Ness has slowly become the millennial’s version of Mr. Rogers; he tells us we’re special because of who we are. Not the kind of special that breeds complacency or overconfidence, but the kind that make us feel like we are worthy of love and giving love to others.
During the guest interview with Florence Welch, the conversation turned to self-care.
“I could never wear makeup; I just end up looking weird,” Welch said.
“Makeup, shmake-up girl; I feel like you have your own special vibe, where you exude this spiritual vibrance from your core, and so many people have connected with that,” Van Ness replied, as fans applauded.
His ninja-like ability to turn even the slightest self-depreciating comment into a positive was impressive.
Bon Iver was a difficult band to pin down. Justin Vernon spent parts of the band’s performance with his back to fans, as if he was running a rehearsal. Bon Iver, with help from a five-member brass section, began manufacturing industrial noises, like a crunching machine, on set opener “Perth.” Vernon’s often heavily modulated voice creaked and groaned along for the duration of 16 tracks.
“Towers” was introduced as a “a song about losing your virginity” and was accompanied by images of flowers blooming.
“It’s OK, sometimes, to turn your cross upside down,” he said as a very brief introduction to “666 ʇ.” Some of the songs had an easy-to-follow melody, while others took more effect to discern. Later on, he asked fans to make a single death metal scream because he wanted to find out what it soundsed like and have it recorded for samples, though all of that could have been a joke we took seriously.
Like we said: Bon Iver was tough to pin down.
SoundCloud rapper Smokepurpp put on an energetic show despite not doing a whole lot of actual rapping; he shouted a line here and there over recorded tracks, but not with any apparent pattern.
His DJ encouraged audience interaction in an unusual way: Twice he stopped the music and wouldn’t start until the crowd followed orders. First he insisted they part down the middle—he called it “doing a Moses”—and left them like that. Later he wanted the world’s largest mosh pit so he held up the show for several minutes until members of an already-dense crowd moved out to make a bigger circle.
At the end of the show Smokepurpp jumped off the stage into the photo pit and walked away. His DJ hid behind his table until the song ended, then stood back up and left in the traditional manner.
We would really like to give a review to Jamie xx, but it wouldn’t be fair because, about 100 yards from the stage, we couldn’t actually hear the show.
The sound was mixed so low to begin the set that the crowd at that distance didn’t even realize it had started until someone noticed the lights. Then after a while, the bass was turned up so loud it drowned out what little of the music we could hear. After around half an hour when it became obvious it wasn’t going to get better the back half of the crowd, our writer included, gave up and left. There were other shows to see after all.
To the production crew’s credit, the mirror ball based light show was pretty great. Unfortunately, that was the only part of the show we got to experience if we weren’t right up front.
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/shawnTHErobbins.