2008 Outside Lands Festival: Day 2 – [Live]

Tuesday, 09 September 2008

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

According to Google Maps, the distance between the eastern end of Speedway Meadow (where the box office was located)and the western end of the Polo Fields in Golden Gate Park (where Radiohead had just played the first-ever night concert just a few hours before) is just about eight tenths of a mile. This means that by the end of Saturday's festivities, I'd walked upwards of five miles in the park alone; tack on the walk to and from Outside Lands and I was definitely pushing seven. So with so many bands on the schedule for the day and so much ground to cover (literally) it's inevitable that choices had to be made—acts like M. Ward and Cafe Tacuba were sad casualties of this. Other acts like Primus and Goapele got caught on film but not in my notebook, and the Walkmen put on a great show but although my photographer is an ironman and has the battlescars to prove it, he couldn't fly from photo pit to photo pit. So fair warning.

But before the miles started adding up, Los Angeles' Everest mounted the mostly-neglected Presidio Stage (seriously, every set I saw here was sparsely attended, and those crowds were often just spillover from the Sutro Stage at the other end of Lindley Meadow). The five piece, whose members have clocked time in Sebadoh, the Folk Implosion, Earlimart, Mike Stinson, Slydell, John Vanderslice, and the Watson Twins (to name a few) combined some damn good driving drumbeats and the Win Butler-esque qualities of singer Russell Pollard's voice to crank out some grin-inducing roots rock like “Into Your Soft Heart.” They played a few more off of 2008's Ghost Notes and were really getting into the groove when I had to skip off down to the other end of the aforementioned meadow.

I've never liked Devendra Banhart, and while I wasn't dragged kicking and screaming (although the 'skipping' might have been a lie) to watch his set, I was basically there with the mindset of an editor—“people will want to read about this”—and not a fan. So it caught me by surprise just how enjoyable he and his band were. It was playful and a lot more rocking than I expected, with songs completely in Spanish, Devendra grinning and shimmying in his faded and battered LA Lakers t-shirt—apparently even Bay Area natives like Banhart can't bring themselves to support the Warriors—and proclamations of how happy they were to be in the city. He even threatened to cut his set short to make sure he didn't miss any of Liars, who were setting up about a half mile away. Between songs like “The Good Red Road” and “Seahorse,” Banhart proclaimed his love for Tom Petty and his reluctance to bust out into his normal freedancing in his hometown. As I left to try and catch Liars shortened set—I seriously doubt Banhart had time to catch any of it—the band pulled out an unexpected, yet completely fitting cover of Mungo Jerry's “In The Summertime.” Not only was the atmosphere perfect and the performance tight, but if you've ever seen a Mungo Jerry video (look on YouTube), Devendra Banhart and co. could completely pass for Jerry's band. It's no surprise that right about then, the sun decided to poke through the clouds for a few.

A quick walk around the backside of the festival led to Liars, who had just launched into their first song. Playing from the smallest stage of the festival put a serious cramp in the spastic frontman stylings of Angus Andrew, downgrading any antics to just twitchy. As they moved through “Hold Hands and It Will Happen Anyway” and on into "We Fenced Other Gardens With The Bones Of Our Own," there was a mixed reaction from the crowd, many of whom were browsing the various 'green' booths surrounding the stage. Not even Andrew's cries of “Let's Freak Out” before the band played “Freak Out” could incite much interest. That's not to say it was a bad set—the band was tight and entertaining, and made the most of their time…it's just that the crowd—apart from the diehards who pumped fists and screamed along, pressing as close to the stage as the barriers at the back of the photo pit would let them—didn't seem to get it.

Next up was Lupe Fiasco, who ended up being the only artist I saw all week who didn't start on time—the delay due to the fact that the band was picking girls out of the crowd and giving them backstage passes. The live band setup kicked off with a flute intro that led into “Kick, Push” as Fiasco bounced across the stage in all black, shouting call-backs to the crowd and generally playing kid in a candy store. The audience roared when they heard the opening strains of “Hip-Hop Saved My Life,” but before he finished “You My,” we had to leave. The delay meant that staying any longer would cause us to miss the first of two acts that I was really excited to see.

That first act was Regina Spektor. Standing in the same spot (and with much of the same crowd) as Beck the night before, Spektor spent her first song sans piano, tapping out a heartbeat on the microphone as she sang “Ain't No Cover.” When she remarked “there's so many babies around with those big headphones, it's painfully cute!” you could practically hear the assembled mass swoon. To say Regina Spektor is crushworthy is a no-brainer, and when you are hearing her voice soar as she ran through her catalog, you can't help but think “damn, she's talented.” The set ranged all over her discography, with a heavy focus on Begin to Hope—“On the Radio,” a version of “Apres Moi” that was partially in Russian—and Soviet Kitsch—“Poor Little Rich Boy” and “The Flowers”—and quite a few unreleased tracks. Between stints at the piano, she strapped on seafoam green electric guitar and ran through “That Time” and “Bobbing for Apples,” whispering her between-song banter like a giddy little girl.

On the other end of the spectrum, whisper-wise, were The Walkmen. Playing the same stage as Liars had earlier in the afternoon, the Brooklyn boys got a better response from the crowd, although you'd never expect the clean-cut ones to get a better response from San Francisco than Liars' art-school chic. Almost everything that Hamilton Leithauser and friends played was off of the new You & Me, including lead-off track “Donde Esta La Playa” (“it means 'where is the beach'” Leithauser quipped) and sure-single “In the New Year”; in fact, the only song I recognized from another album was “Thinking of a Dream I Had.” There was almost no banter—which was a bonus, since some overzealous soundguy cut the set early—just the occasional pause as the trumpet and trombone accompaniment came on and off stage as needed. The short set mainly served to emphasize Leithauser's tendency to sing with his entire body—stretching, elegantly flailing and pleading with the heavens, and occasionally screaming his vocals.

The tail end of Ben Harper's set served to cap off my evening; the photography gods, who deigned to smile upon Ground Control for Beck and Radiohead's sets (you had to have additional permission to shoot the acts) didn't bless us with a chance to snap pictures of Tom Petty. But back to the Innocent Criminals, whose jammy rendition of Bill Wither's “Use Me Up” saw Harper running back and forth across the stage, jumping around and fist pumping, not unlike Sharon Jones did the following day (and the fact that I only caught two songs of hers is something I continue to regret). A plaintive “With My Own Two Hands” echoed through the massed crowd long after Harper and his band left the stage for Tom Petty.

As I left, I realized I was one of the few walking away from the stage, and if even half of Harper's audience stuck around to see Petty—whose set you could hear from apartment windows in the neighborhoods surrounding the park—then the headliner was in for a huge crowd, and he made a bunch of fans by bringing out Steve Winwood during the set (just because I wasn't on site doesn't mean I stopped listening, ya dig?).

For More Information:

Ben Harper:
The Walkmen:
Regina Spektor:
Lupe Fiasco:
Devendra Banhart:

Walkmen – “In the New Year” – [mp3]
Liars – “Freak Out” – [mp3]
Devendra Banhart – “Sea Horse” – [mp3]
Everest – “Rebels in the Roses” – [mp3]
Goapele – “Go! Find a Way” – [mp3]


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