SAN FRANCISCO — The annual Outside Lands Music Festival kicked off Friday with Twenty One Pilots, The Lumineers and dozens of other acts performing on five musical stages, a comedy tent, a stage that combined the arts with food and drink demonstrations, a stage that celebrated cannabis and much more. Thousands of people attended the first day of the festival on a day when the sun came out early and kept Golden Gate Park unusually warm until nearly the very end of the day.
Drummer Josh Dun and singer, rapper, and multi-instrumentalist Tyler Joseph of Twenty One Pilots had no shortage of musical talent at their headlining set at the Land’s End stage. Dun was one of the better drummers of the day, and Joseph excelled as a singer, a bassist, a ukulele player and a pianist, and even had amazing flow as a rapper. He has a smooth speed to his raps that should even make Eminem jealous. And while they were certainly helped by the recorded backing track to fill in the gaps a duo can’t play themselves, the live portions were definitely the focus, which isn’t always the case.
The staging was also superb. After a song or two that most of the crowd couldn’t see due to the lack of video and the dense fog, Joseph performed standing on the roof of a burning car on the stage, which is definitely not something you see every day. While obscuring the view of the stage, the fog did add a dramatic effect to the lights and lasers, making the whole show seem more all-encompassing.
But then there was the down side: The stage banter didn’t always hit the mark, or really any mark. The first instance that evoked a palpable discomfort from the crowd was when the duo put a fan in the front row, wearing a gray tank top and headband, on screen and critiqued his style until the poor guy was visibly embarrassed. The topic was fashion, yes, but it’s never cool to single someone out, especially someone excited enough about the band to push their way to the front.
Later on, in the middle of a song, Joseph paused to split the crowd to a left half and a right half, told them to sing, went back and forth, then had everyone sing before resuming the song. It went on long enough that some in the crowd seemed surprised when they came back to the same song; with the delay, they assumed it was over.
But for every awkward misstep, Twenty One Pilots did something fun and unexpected to bring the crowd back. Brief covers of House of Pain’s “Jump Around” and White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” were an unexpected treat, with “Jump Around” especially a solid cover with the band’s unique spin. And after an extended group dance by the security guards that lost the attention of even some ardent fans, Joseph’s machine gun raps on “Morph” pulled everyone right back in.
If Twenty One Pilots had just cut some of the filler and added another song or two in its place it could have been a near-perfect show.
While festivalgoers seemed to migrate away from Twenty One Pilots, the Twin Peaks stage was shoulder-to-shoulder for The Lumineers. The Americana rock band played a healthy mix of songs from throughout its two released albums and its third, III, which will be released next month. And even though the newer songs carried heavy subject matter—of drug addiction and loss—that didn’t stop many from dancing.
Singer-guitarist Wesley Schultz and drummer Jeremiah Fraites were backed by a handful of other musicians who enriched the main duo’s sound from what could have been a roots take on the Black Keys. The Lumineers opened with “Sleep on the Floor” as three giant video screens in the shapes of shark teeth came alive behind the band. The song started slowly before the band shifted gears and sped up the pace.
Barn-burner “Cleopatra” followed,” as well as new mid-tempo cut “Life in the City,” with the shark teeth screens projecting metropolis skylines. Schultz explained how “Leader of the Landslide” was written for an unnamed family member.
“Ever since I’ve known her she’s been battling addiction,” he said. “We tried everything we could. … She ended up in jail, and she’s been homeless for a year now. … That doesn’t mean we don’t love her.”
The song was a space string ballad that again picked up speed after the first verse. By the following cut, the aptly titled “Scotland” (it had thumping percussion and a fiddle melody), The Lumineers were barreling along.
Schultz then acknowledged that the headlining slot was the band’s biggest crowd at a festival ever, but that he and Fraites would never forget their early years, which in San Francisco included playing Rickshaw Stop and Amnesia. All this was to set up the band’s set on an elevated B-stage that was encircled by the crowd. One by one the band ran down a security barricade and climbed a ladder to the top for “It Wasn’t Easy to Be Happy for You,” “Flowers in Your Hair” and their breakthrough smash, “Ho Hey.” The band’s guitarist climbed a decent amount up some scaffolding with his guitar, which he continued to strum like it was no big deal.
Afterward the rest of the band returned to the stage while the two leads remained atop the pedestal to play the foot-stomping “Ophelia.”
What’s likely to become a significant part of the set in the future, the heartbreaking new cut “Gloria” and the spooky and somber “Jimmy Sparks,” couldn’t quite match up the songs fans already knew by heart.
The members of Blink-182 who didn’t quit the band to look for aliens full-time (which is a thing that really happened) put on a great show for a very receptive audience as the fog rolled in over the Lands End stage. Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker were joined by Matt Skiba, of The Alkaline Trio, who replaced Tom DeLonge, the aforementioned aspiring alien-hunter.
They opened strong, playing classic “Rock Show” and their breakthrough 1999 hit “What’s My Age Again” second and third respectively. It’s not the usual pattern to burn the biggest hit so early, but fans who largely weren’t even born when 1999’s Enema of the State came out immediately lost their minds singing along, with several dozen people lingering back at the beer tent literally running toward the stage when they heard it start.
It also wasn’t a big deal since the band, as it turns out, has no shortage of potential singalongs even among a young crowd. “First Date” got a chorus as well, plus obvious candidates “Dammit” and “All the Small Things,” for which they brought out guest guitarist Carmen Vandenberg of Bones UK, who played circles even around the veteran Skiba.
Tying it all together was Hoppus, bringing the band’s characteristic humor between songs. Despite looking more and more like a suburban dad every year—understandable for a 47-year-old father—he consistently won over the audience with gems like, “Travis’ drumhead is broken, and I know how to fill time while he fixes it. I am a professional rock star after all. Watch this: Is everybody having a good time!?” and “We’re gonna keep playing music! And do you know why!? Because we’re contractually obligated!”
The audience even stuck with him through a fling with dark humor. He introduced “Adam’s Song” by telling everyone to stop smiling since it’s a really sad song. “It’s about me almost killing myself. Now you look like a bunch of dicks!” But he couldn’t keep everyone on the hook with everything, getting audible groans for the most dreaded of concert events: “You’re a great crowd. You’ve earned this bass solo!”
Over 40 minutes, ’90s alt-rock band Counting Crows covered all the hits casual fans would want to hear as well as throwing in a couple of deeper cuts. The band opened with “Round Here,” a tearjerker from its 1993 debut album, August and Everything After, and “Hard Candy,” the title track of its 2002 album. “Angels Of The Silences,” from 1996 sophomore album Recovering the Satellites, was a good chunk of nostalgia from that decade.
“Mr. Jones” came next and was the song that everyone recognized; some got up to dance. Others raised their cell phones. It wasn’t necessarily the band’s best song of the show, however. “Colorblind” showed a bigger range in emotion, with frontman Adam Duritz’s voice quivering over the cut. The latter half of the performance was highlighted by hit “A Long December” and the bluesy “Hanginaround.”
Top-40 pop singer-songwriter Lauren Daigle didn’t draw a huge crowd, but her powerful performance included covers of Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke,” Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up,” and a snippet of George Michael’s “Freedom.”
Her 11-member band included backup singers, a brass section—including a flautist!—and two percussionists. She opened with the gospel number “Still Rolling Stones” and “Look Up Child.” Despite the well-arranged instrumentation of the songs, it was Daigle’s rich, sandy (and sometimes raspy) voice that shined above. Daigle also sang happy birthday to one of her singers and then shared a story above how someone spat on her on a plane recently—”that woman needed a hug.”
Lil Wayne did not get off to the most auspicious start. While DJ sets to open a show are a hip-hop tradition, and while DJ T Lewis is pretty good, spending the first 20 minutes of a set scheduled for an hour on recorded music and hype raises some eyebrows.
Once Weezy himself eventually took the stage, things picked up and all was forgiven. He covered the spectrum from hits to deep cuts like “John,” “Don’t Cry” and “Rich as Fuck”—and of course “A Milli”—during a steadily uptempo show that kept fans moving. This was despite the man himself being surprisingly thoughtful; he opened and closed with surprisingly uplifting rules for life.
Especially notable is that he was backed by a live band, and it was really, really good. Guitarist Justin Lyons especially, shirtless in a brown top hat, absolutely shredded and would have been the highlight of a heavy metal show. The drummer was also impressive, providing beats hard enough to rap to, which is no easy task.
As is the law in 2019, Lil Wayne performed a remix of “Old Town Road.” Every artist is required to play “Old Town Road” at every opportunity.
The Neighbourhood was not done any favors being scheduled between high-energy hip-hop acts P-Lo and Lil Wayne. The set was polished and true to the group’s material, and the fans there for the band were into it, but a steady stream of people flowed away from the stage throughout the show, and those that stayed seemed more interested in their own conversations than the band.
Lead singer and former child actor Jesse Rutherford, wearing a leopard print shirt that he unbuttoned and eventually removed over the course of the show, did his best to pull everyone back in with his crooning vocals, but circumstances again intervened. Either the microphone or the festival sound system couldn’t seem to reproduce his voice, leaving most of it sounding muddled.
In the future, they may be better-served sticking to their own shows where they can use their own equipment and draw their own fans. Either that or try to only book festivals where they didn’t make an enemy of the schedulers.
The Norwegian alt-pop artist was a whirling dervish. Imagine Florence Welch singing in a higher register and set to moodier arrangements, and you had Aurora. Wearing layers of sheer material, she spun from corner to corner, an unceasing fountain of energy on songs like “Soulless Creatures” and the warlike “The Seed,” from her June album, A Different Kind of Human (Step 2). She described the down-tempo “Runaway” as a song about being lost.
“I Went Too Far,” meanwhile, carried undeniable dance-pop elements as Aurora sang about a lover watching her bleed. The latter part of her set was a cathartic experience as she proclaimed her power on songs like “Queendom” and “Daydreamer,” the latter of which recalled Chvrches.
Bay Area rapper P-Lo set the Outside Lands record for most mascots in a set with both his own, Lil Stunna, and Oakland Athletics mascot Stomper, who went full hyphy on stage. He also set the day’s record for guest performers with collaborators Slimmy B, Jay Anthony and fellow HBK Gang member Kool John.
And the music was good too. After playing crowd favorites “Bblu” and “Feel Good” (without G-Eazy) early in the set, he covered the rest of the bases by closing out with hits “Same Squad” and “Put Me On Somethin’” (without E-40). He kept the crowd’s energy up by climbing off the stage into the photo pit then up onto the railing. He hit the limit of his powers, however, when he told the security guards to open the gates to the pit and they refused.
The biggest endorsement of P-Lo’s set is that the crowd grew as the show went on and word of mouth spread, filling more of the Polo Field than a 2:30 show usually draws.
The younger brother of Chance the Rapper may leave Outside Lands with a bitter taste in his mouth—his microphone was turned off mid-song, but for the 25 minutes he was onstage, Taylor Bennett showed how word-smithing runs in his family. The problems began as his set was supposed to start at 12 p.m.—and didn’t. For 20 minutes, his crew soundchecked and tinkered with sound. Bennett may not have realized just how late he was, because 45 minutes later—five minutes after he was due to be done—he and his band started “Dancing in the Rain,” and were cut off after singing one line. “It was the song I wanted to hear,” said one fan standing next to us.
So that was the downside. The upside? Pretty much every song Bennett was able to start and complete, including “Neon Lights,” “Be Yourself” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll.” His three-member band was up to the task, led by a talented guitarist who carried much of the melodies to Bennett’s R&B-inflected rhymes.
Because Bennett was late, the band that immediately followed him was, too. But Half-Alive let that slide right off its back. The Long Beach indie rock and pop trio was backed by a string duo, two trumpeters and dancers, and had something to celebrate.
The band’s other songs included “The Fall,” “Pure Gold” and radio hit “Still Feel.”
Bluesy folk-rock band Rainbow Girls opened the day at the Panhandle stage. With a slide guitar and a socially conscious message, they seemed right at home in San Francisco, which makes sense since they hail from the North Bay. They mixed their well-known covers like “Can We Keep This Love Alive” with new and unreleased music. The previous song included Leon Cotter of the California Honeydrops on sax.
One new song, “Compassion to the Nth Degree,” got an especially warm crowd reaction with lines like “I love you like I love white supremacy” and “I love you like I love Brett Kavanaugh.” Before the song, it was dedicated to its inspiration but, per the request of the dedicator, its subject will stay between the band and those in attendance.
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData. Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter. Follow photographer Joaquin Cabello at Instagram.com/joaquinxcabello. Follow photographer Holly Horn at Instagram.com/ShootintheDirt.