2008 Outside Lands Festival: Day 1 – [Live]

Tuesday, 02 September 2008

This is coverage of Day 1 of the 2008 Outside Lands Festival. Click for coverage of Day 2 and Day 3 .

There are some moments when I’m so overcome with love for my City by the Bay that I have to sort of pinch myself just to make sure it’s real. Friday night—as I stood less than a football field from Thom Yorke singing “Karma Police," the cool summer fog rolling in from the ocean and blanketing the park, everyone around me (old and young, hippies and hipsters, mom jeans and leopard-print hot pants) singing damn near as loud as they could—I was pinching myself hard enough to leave bruises.

Yes, it was that good.

Surrounded by my very closest circle of friends, I walked over to the show—perhaps the best perk ever while living in the Outer Sunset—and breezed in. No lines for us! Smoke (barbecue and otherwise) hung thick in the air, and the eclectic crowd moved in every possible direction: toward lengthy lines for ID checks, into the vibrating mass closest the main stage, through the throngs waiting for the bathrooms. Golden Gate Park is a second home of sorts for me, and never before have I seen her expansive fields full of so many people.

Steel Pulse was playing as we arrived, bobbed our heads to the reggae beats and proceeded toward the smaller Sutro stage for Cold War Kids. People speckled the low hillside and thousands more were grouped in front of the stage, which, unlike the main stage, had no screens and therefore no view to speak of. The SoCal quartet’s Led Zeppelin-like, bluesy indie rock perfectly suited the ‘70s vibe—bell-bottomed teens tripped and danced while they played a few older favorites like “We Used to Vacation” and much of their upcoming September LP Loyalty to Loyalty.

We left as the last notes of CWK’s set were ringing through the park and headed toward Manu Chao on the main stage. Unfortunately, we didn’t get far. This festival was the first of its kind in San Francisco, and with more than 100,000 people in attendance, it was expected that a few mistakes were to be made. I was willing to forgive the ridiculously long bathroom lines, the sound problems that plagued a couple of sets (and especially Radiohead’s), the huge public transit mess that occurred when everyone wanted to leave at the same time. But I was seriously bummed about getting stuck in 45 minutes of claustrophobic hell, trying to squeeze through the choked and backed-up passageway from one field to the other, packed like sardines with a bunch of uber-aggro stoner concert-goers who started throwing punches and knocking over the perimeter fences and stomping through the un-landscaped park. Super scary—I thought I might be part of one of those rock show stampedes you read about in the papers. But we made it to Manu Chao and all their up-tempo ska beats and high energy “Hey! Hey!”… just in time for the last few songs. Our tentative plan had been to head immediately back to the second field to check out Beck, but after the time wasted just moments earlier, we opted out.

Instead, we thoroughly enjoyed a set by Lyrics Born. Rallying fans kept Manu Chao on stage later than they were supposed to be, and Lyrics Born and his crew was on the stage at the other end of the field, building anticipation and waiting for their turn. As Manu Chao finished the last few notes, the indie hip hop mogul and his gang busted into an all-out set to a small crowd (most everyone was watching Beck) who actually had the space to dance. I can’t verify who was backing him, but there were definitely some other Oakland-based hip-hop celebs throwing down with Lyrics Born. “Differences” and new single “I Like It, I Love It” were highlights, but it was a great energy all around since everyone who was there was obviously enough of a fan to skip Beck for their show.

However, those who did brave the crush (or just hung out following the Cold War Kids to catch a couple of songs from Upstate New York's the Felice Brothers) got to see Beck Hansen and his band at the top of their game and towards the end of their summer festival season. Swarms of fans who had tried to catch Manu Chau (or just a decent spot in line for the bathrooms) came streaming back over the hill and into the Speedway Meadows clearing, often down hills that had been previously blocked by a cyclone fence. The assembled crowd began chanting and cheering fifteen minutes prior to the set, letting up a roar anytime someone milling around in the wings got too close to stepping out on stage. When the set finally did start, the band launched straight into “E-Pro,” and what followed touched on nearly every album since Mellow Gold. Though it was peppered heavily with Modern Guilt tracks like “Gamma Ray” and the title track, Beck didn't hesitate to play to even the slight fans, pulling out old favorites like “Where It's At” or turning a corner on a shambling, dirty blues right into “Loser” territory. He may not pull out the old breakdance tricks, but there are a few others up Beck's sleeve, including an always welcome cover—this one was a Dylan song whose title I didn't catch—or arming the band with 808s for a rendition of “Hell Yes” that mixed the Guero version with tinges of the “Ghettochip Malfunction” remix. Thankfully, the festival's organizers made sure that the sound quality of the entire festival was spot on, which meant that even on softer stuff like “Lost Cause,” the concert-goers who decided to split the difference between Beck and Manu Chau/Lyrics Born could hear clearly from their spots atop the originally cordoned-off, tree-covered hill.

And as the sun was lowering and people started heading back over to the main stage for Radiohead, Lyrics Born wasn’t even winding down. In fact, before finishing the last couple of tracks, he shouted something about them supposedly needing to cut their set short, but retorted, “This is home, and we cut our set short for no one!” Take that Thom Yorke.

So… Radiohead. Does it even matter what I say about them? If you were there, or if you’ve ever seen them live, you know that Radiohead is more an experience than a band. I’d heard this before and took it with a certain amount of skepticism, but I’m officially a convert. When the guys finally took the stage, those who weren’t close enough to see—which was admittedly most of the audience—could enjoy the show through the screens on either side of the stage. For the other bands they’d simply shown footage of the performance, but for Radiohead the screens showed a four-way split screen of obscure artistic angles: close ups of Yorke singing into the mic, pull-away shots of Jonny Greenwood on an assortment of instruments, Phil Selway’s foot pounding the bass drum. The quintet’s combined atmospheric noise permeated the foggy Sunset evening—Yorke’s ethereal falsetto floating just above the base laid by the others. To say it was haunting is to put it lightly; it stopped time. Songs flowed into one another as colorful lights played off the screens and the backdrops. The set list included hits from across their discography: “Karma Police,” “Fake Plastic Trees,” “Bodysnatchers,” “National Anthem” and more. But honestly, I feel like they could have been improvising over the names out of the phone book and I would have been just as moved.

But maybe it was the atmosphere. Maybe I’m so in love with my city and specifically my park that it was like having Radiohead—and all the remarkable performers before them—play at my home. And really, wouldn’t that be the ultimate?

For More Information:

Lyrics Born:
Manu Chau:
Cold War Kids:

Radiohead – “House of Cards” – [mp3]
Beck – “Gamma Ray” – [mp3]
Lyrics Born – "Hott 2 Deff" – [mp3]
Cold War Kids – “Something Is Not Right With Me” – [mp3]


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