2008 Outside Lands Festival: Day 3 – [Live]

Tuesday, 09 September 2008

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

Sunday afternoon had rolled around and the park was packed with people drinking wine, smoking pot (I can only assume they all had glaucoma), and talking about Burning Man. Welcome to San Francisco. As the sun set in the park, warm sweatshirts came out, and Johnson cooed, “I don’t want this feeling to go away” (on the song “Upside Down”); the crowd couldn’t agree more. But that's getting ahead of ourselves

Here’s a rundown of the afternoon:

1 PM – ALO

California groovesters ALO warmed up the afternoon at the Presidio Stage, performing “Maria” with a nice rollicking guitar and Adam Duritz-sounding vocals from keyboardist Zach Gill. When Gill switched to a mini-keyboard hooked up to a mouthpiece, guitarist Dan Lebowitz took over the mellow lead vocals on “Try.” The crowd of sweatshirted Bode Miller-looking surfer dudes cheered for the jamband-style guitar riffs on “The Gardener,” and set to dancing when the sun came out. Drummer Dave Brogan lent his throaty vocals to “Walls of Jericho,” and pleased the crowd with a reference to the Golden Gate Bridge.

1:40 PM – Nicole Atkins & The Sea

If you can picture a hipster Pasty Cline—a long-tressed 20-something in a flouncy belted black dress, black boots, and 80s-style sunglasses with a voice that seems almost too big for her small body—that’s Nicole Atkins. Backed by her band, The Sea, Atkins pleased a small crowd with songs from her Neptune City album, including the soaring and hypnotic breakup song “War Torn.” The band employed a nice honky-tonk keyboard on the ode to Asbury Park, NJ, “Carouselle,” and blasted “Cool Enough” with an extended guitar rock-out worthy of a ‘90s power ballad. The highlight of the set though was the waltz-y rhythm of the fist-pumping “Brooklyn’s On Fire,” which easily got the crowd chanting along.

2:15 PM – Stars

There’s a certain magic that happens when the voices of Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan come together. For devoted fans of the Canadian band Stars, the breathy and beautiful harmony of the two voices reached its peak toward the end of the set on “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead.” The set concentrated on songs from Set Yourself On Fire and In Our Bedroom After the War and the crowd was happy to sing every word to an upbeat guitar-ridden “What I’m Trying to Say” and dance along to “Take Me to the Riot.” There did seem to be something amiss with the sound during the set, noticeable enough that “One More Night (Your Ex-Lover Remains Dead)” came across as an odd cacophonous symphony rather than a sweet melding of sounds.

3:10 PM – Bon Iver

When Wisconsin’s Bon Iver played the first ultra-mellow strains of “Flume,” it was in front of a crowd that appeared to be equal parts North Face-clad hikers and super-hipsters, complete with requisite ironic accessories—grandma-style sunglasses, short-shorts, and (not joking) a piñata. Playing songs from the album For Emma, Forever Ago, Justin Vernon breathed Jeff Buckley-inspired vocals into “Lump Sum” and picked up a steel guitar for “Skinny Love.” On the road most of this year, Bon Iver is fond of audience participation on “The Wolves (Act 1 & 2),” encouraging the crowd to chant the line “What might have been lost” and then ultimately scream and freak out. Here it worked quite nicely. But it was the new country-sounding “Blood Bank” that really stood out, with Vernon rocking the keyboard and offering a happier sounding love story. Perhaps he is finally over Emma.

5 PM – Broken Social Scene

It’s anyone’s guess how many members belong to Broken Social Scene, and even during the course of a short set the numbers can easily fluctuate from six to 12 to… wait, is that dude in the band? Regardless of how many folks may be on stage, Broken Social Scene manages to sound amazing and complete. Joined by sometimes-members Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell, Millan teamed with Liz Powell to sing “7/4 (Shoreline)” while Campbell alternated between trumpet and back-up vocals. Andrew Whiteman (from Apostle of Hustle) also jumped on stage, wielding a groovy guitar on “Fire Eye’d Boy” and the whole band shook things up with soaring vocals and awesome electric guitar on “It’s All Gonna Break.” If there was one standout moment of the inspired set, it belonged to Amy Millan, who lent her angelic voice to “Anthems For A 17-Year-Old Girl.” Millan repeated a single phrase with perfect pitch over and over and over and over… she raised her arms and the sun peeked out from behind the clouds. Magical.

6:30 PM – Wilco

If the crowd was excited to see Chicago band Wilco, they weren’t bashful about expressing themselves. When an audience member yelled out his love, lead singer Jeff Tweedy responded, “We love you too random guy in the massive crowd of people.” Moving on to sing “Jesus, Etc.,” Tweedy motioned toward the random dude on the line “Our love is all we have” and everybody smiled. Wilco showed more than their humor, they also showcased some very nice metaphors (“your sorrow is sunshine”; “listen to my eyes”) on the crowd-pleasing “Company In My Back” and great keyboard work on “You Are My Face.” And if that weren’t enough, the killer guitar playing on “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” would have been enough to make the members of Pink Floyd cry.

7:40 – Jack Johnson

On the far end of Golden Gate Park’s Polo Fields, in front of a crowd of thousands, Jack Johnson simply strummed. Despite a whirlwind year (a best-selling album, magazine covers, a headlining spot at Coachella), as Johnson sang the lyrics to “Hope,” it became obvious that for him making music has always been about a man and a guitar. While Johnson’s critics point to the simplicity of his songs, so too do his admirers—and to a crowd filled with the latter, simple songs make for better sing-alongs.

While a member of his band played a bluesy upright player piano, the smiley surfer sang “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing,” infusing it with the melody from The Cars’ “Just What I Needed.” Drawing from four albums (five if you count the Curious George soundtrack) whose songs blend seamlessly together, Johnson excelled when he kept it clean and simple. Bumping the rhythm for “Go On” against his guitar, or singing merrily to the rockin’ player piano on “Do You Remember,” Johnson’s breezy, happy messages were more than enough to please the crowd.

There’s a certain quality about Johnson’s songs that sort of makes you want to drop your things and give someone a hug. As the sun went down, the crowd nuzzled together—perhaps it was the music was bringing them closer together. Or perhaps they were just cold. Either way, for a few minutes everybody felt warm and fuzzy inside.

For More Information:

Jack Johnson:
Broken Social Scene:
Andrew Bird:
Bon Iver:
Nicole Atkins & the Sea:

Wilco – “Either Way” – [mp3]
Broken Social Scene – “7/4 (Shoreline)” – [mp3]
Andrew Bird – “Heretics” – [mp3]
Bon Iver – “Skinny Love” – [mp3]
Stars – “Take Me to the Riot” – [mp3]
Nicole Atkins & the Sea – “Carouselle” – [mp3]
ALO – “Maria” – [mp3]


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