Outside Lands | 08.22.08 - 08.24.08 | SF

SUNDAY, 08.24.08

Jackie Greene - 1:00-1:45 - Lands End Stage

Outside Lands by Vann
Like a young Bob Dylan coming to connect with the other folkies in San Francisco back in the day, Jackie Greene's presence on the main stage was a welcome, nostalgic addition to the festival. The Monterey native moved up the coast and now lives in the city that spawned the psychedelic rock movement, and he pays homage to that scene in his songs. Kicking off the final day sharply at 1 pm, Greene played selections off his latest album, Giving Up the Ghost, initially amid rolling fog and an early afternoon chill. A few songs in, he stepped up to the mic and started strumming the early guitar notes of the Grateful Dead's "New Speedway Boogie," sending a message to fans: Don't mess with the house the Dead built. As he sang the line, "Now I don't know but I been told/ it's hard to run with the weight of gold/ Other hand I have heard it said/ it's just as hard with the weight of lead," a ray of sunlight broke through the fog. Then more joined it, and the crowd danced harder. It was as if Jerry Garcia himself was smiling down on the Polo Fields, the place where thousands of despondent Dead Heads came to pay their last respects to him in 1995. But today was Greene's day, a day to spawn a new era of Bay Area musicians, and he did it beautifully, whether playing electric or acoustic guitar or strapping a harp to his mouth. Greene is among a crop of newer singers that hark back to the glory days of San Francisco yet remain firmly planted in the now. (AB)

ALO - 1:00-1:40 - Twin Peaks Stage

Steve Adams - ALO - Outside Lands by Weiand
The boys of the Animal Liberation Orchestra haven't played together much in 2008, so perhaps the largest top of the day crowd showered affection on the quartet as they launched into a ditty about filling our cups from the bottom up. Just a few minutes in their world and one wonders if ALO won't one day write a worldwide hit, a song ubiquitous on radios everywhere, a three-minute jewel that makes millions smile. The potential sure as hell already exists in these warmly buoyant music makers, who were positively jubilant about creating together again in one another's company. With three solid singers, multiple songwriters and high-level chops all around, ALO communicated their delight, both in the songs and in being together, to all assembled, which is a cool trick if you can pull it off. While not all that far removed from the mainstream, they better most of what's on air by swerving into unknown territory without a hitch, giving the experimental the welcoming bubble of a hot tub with "edible orchid flowers" floating on the surface. Initially, not a fan, I have been converted in recent years and found myself truly diggin' their swerve on Sunday, which speaks volumes about their music's intrinsic charm and gravitational pull. (DC)

Culver City Dub Collective - 1:40-2:10 - Panhandle Stage

This Southern California group is the inheritor of a broad spectrum of reggae styles, drawing water from '70s roots reggae, SoCal Sublime style, early Black Uhuru, spacey Augustus Pablo and the inviting, full horns of '60s ska. They've smoothed out the edges but kept some nice details etched in black within their easygoing schema. With a female vocalist that stirs memories of a young Marcia Griffiths and a trombonist with the suave flow of the great Rico Rodriguez, the Dub Collective were a swell way to welcome the first hints of actual sun of the festival, which was largely shrouded in S.F. summer fog the majority of the time. (DC)

Stars - 2:15-3:00 - Twin Peaks Stage

The Mother Hips - Outside Lands by Dave Vann
Montreal's Stars is one of those bands that has a large following but unfairly doesn't have mainstream success. Maybe that's for the best - that way, those of us in the know, get to enjoy them so much more when they play smaller, intimate venues. That's what it felt like on Sunday afternoon when Torquil Campbell, Amy Millan and the rest hit the Twin Peaks Stage in Speedway Meadow on the eastern end of the festival. It didn't hurt that the sun was blazing hot and nary a fog bank could be seen. The indie rockers - who are part of the Broken Social Scene family - never fail to put on a great live set. Millan is one of the hottest female rockers on the scene, and Torq is one of the most spirited frontmen. Whether he was dedicating a song to Barack Obama ("as long as he doesn't become a cock like the rest of them") or she was dedicating one to "all the plastic bottles," Stars' music and persona is always playful, fun and lively. It was also a nice plus that we stopped at the Winehaven Tent on our way over, where I discovered an incredible rosé by Peay Vineyards. Its crisp mouth-feel and hints of strawberry and watermelon were the perfect accompaniment to the heat-filled Stars set. (AB)

The Mother Hips - 2:25-3:10 - Sutro Stage

"This is the sound/ Let it bring you down." Carving us a slice of "Honeydew," the Hips slowly built a great set amongst the trees. While many in attendance were well acquainted with this local S.F. treat, it was fun to see the light go off for newbies. Like a heat wave rolling over us, they, to borrow the words of one of their selection, served up "a Sunday service blended with some homemade sin." In terms of two guitar, bass and drums classic rock formations, The Mother Hips are the equal of anything that's come before. That seems overblown until you hear them cut loose, which they eventually did on "Magazine," where the plaid coat and white Indian frock wearing Tim Bluhm regaled us with the tale of one "anorexic young upstart" who "cut down on her baby fat the fun way," while his guitar intertwined and clashed with Greg Loiacono's focused picking. Many pieces seemed like hits that never were, so readily appealing and original that they must have been a success somewhere, somehow. Even on a fairly sleepy "Del Mar Station," Bluhm was feeling his guitar oats throughout, taking lil' nicks out of surfaces and grinding into the corners with real flair. "Time Sick Son of a Grizzly Bear," "Colonized" and their theme song all went down silky smooth; well executed, quasi-epic tunes that still felt personal as hell and offered glimpses into the authors' heads and hearts that tugged at our own. (DC)

Bon Iver - 3:10-3:50 - Presidio Stage

Bon Iver - Outside Lands by Dave Vann
Quite possibly the single most moving set of the festival, Bon Iver, full band version, took Justin Vernon's hyper personal debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago, into the open air, cutting through the usual chatter of small talk and cell phone conversations, to draw listeners into a real experience and not simply another live set. The honesty at the core of Vernon's songs rang out in a quiet voice and delicately wielded instrumentation in a way that was as potent and attention grabbing as power chords and shouted slogans. The ensemble respected the solitary vibe of the studio versions but conjured something that filled the open space with a chill inducing emotional mist. Watching Vernon and company work recalled early '70s Joni Mitchell taking her own diary-rich compositions into thicker, more complex group territory on Miles of Aisles. Like Mitchell, Vernon is too true, too naked, to be anything but genuine but also a craftsman interested in complications and expansions. He had us singing "Oh my my" and "what might have been lost," making us participants in the evolution of his work. New tune, "Blood Bank," shows increasing shadows paired with beefier, more expressly rock forms, starting with the Craig Finn-like, "Well, I met you at the blood bank/ We were looking at the bags." "Creature Fear" closed the heavenly set with the kind of guitar fury one associates with Crazy Horse, further evidence that this folkie is ready to plug in. His was a wonderful, truly amazing hour of music. (DC)

Andrew Bird – 3:35-4:25 – Twin Peaks Stage

Andrew Bird - Outside Lands by Dave Vann
By Sunday everything was working. The crowds were the right size, the routes to and from stages were more well known and the sun was even poking out. Sunday was also easily the most stacked day of music, full of difficult decisions and overlapping sets, but luckily, if you didn't mind darting around you could catch pieces of everything and all of anything you wanted. Personally, I was living the dream as I saw all of Stars, 90-percent of Bon Iver (one of the best sets of the weekend), 90-percent of Andrew Bird, the end of the Truckers, all of Broken Social Scene, half of Panic and almost all of Wilco. Now that my friends is a serious helping of some of the best music on this planet, and the ability to see them all is what a festival is truly about.

Now back to the amazing Andrew Bird. This is hyper-intelligent, artful rock with smart melodies, lyrics, structure and delivery, but it's never pretentious. Whether he's playing violin, guitar, singing or whistling (he's easily the best whistler in the game – just try to match this dude Peter, Bjorn and John!), Bird always serves the music. Not so much in style, but in approach and talent, Bird had me thinking of Elvis Costello. "A Nervous Tick Motion of the Head to the Left" was beautiful with its slow progression, symphonic strings and oscillating whistle, while "Plasticities" featured a violin excursion and pizzicato string plucking over a looped wall of sound with great affect. Often understated and dealing with details and restraint, towards the end of his set, Bird kicked into full rock mode and really let it fly with "Fake Palindromes" equipped with a pair of spinning speakers in the shape of an ancient stereo that created a Leslie effect. Following the onslaught of "Palindromes" the rock kept crashing down with show-stopper "Skin Is, My," which found genius drummer Martin Dosh manhandling his skins while Bird looped his violin, picked up his guitar for a feedback dance and then went back to the violin to close down one of the better sets of the weekend. (Kayce)

Drive-By Truckers - 3:55-4:45 – Sutro Stage

Tucker & Cooley - Drive-By Truckers by Dave Vann
You felt them arrive before you even spotted them, the rumble of some guitar powered dragster roaring to life hitting your tummy and legs. Jumping out of the gate with the one-two punch of "Marry Me" and "Lookout Mountain," DBT showed they intended to make the most of their truncated time. This is what John Cale once termed "dirty-ass rock 'n' roll" – untidy but eloquent in a bare knuckled way, absolutely committed to unvarnished honesty delivered with maximum chug. It didn't take three notes before I pulled my flask of whiskey from my back pocket and began saluting with total strangers. If you like the Truckers you're almost automatically fine in my book (there are exceptions for genuine fuckin' backwards, racist rednecks that sneak into the pack...). Patterson Hood announced he'd been at Outside Lands since the start enjoying a "San Francisco vacation" and said, "If you bumped into me and passed me a joint or bought me a beer, well, I thank you. And if you didn't run into me but would have passed me a joint or bought me a beer, well, thank you, too." He then added that he'd be making an appearance on the new Rachel Maddow Show coming to MSNBC soon, and that he'd be doing his part to bring some "Obama into ol' 'Bama," which got a huge roar from the leftie West Coasters. (DC)

Drifting away from Andrew Bird as his final notes rang over the Twin Peaks Stage I was off to catch what I could from one of my favorite bands, Drive-By Truckers. Arriving in time for the true story of "The Living Bubba" it didn't take long to switch gears and dive into gritty Southern rock mode. As the last words of "The Living Bubba" rang out of Patterson Hood's mouth - "Some people stop living long before they die/ Work a dead end job just to scrape on by/ but I keep living just to bend that note in two/ and I can't die now cuz I got another show" - you could see the faithful with fists in the air and smuggled whiskey bottles under their belts. The pace only picked up for newer song "The Righteous Path" with John Neff's pedal steel guitar slicing through the trees and fog, creating an eerie, haunting backdrop for Hood to lay into his guitar. "3 Dimes Down" found co-founder Mike Cooley all over his guitar, delivering his brilliant songwriting with his dirty mouth. Melting down the final portion of their set with a mean, growling "People On The Moon" which found Neff picking up a regular electric guitar for a three-axe attack, it was clear that the rock 'n' roll portion of the day was fully underway. (Kayce)

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals - 4:45-5:35 - Presidio Stage

Grace Potter by Weiand
"Is everyone feelin' San Fran-tastic?" quizzed Potter as she and the boys fired up their new fangled variation on classic rock. The Nocturnals literally jump back a couple decades to a time when soul and rock and country happily commingled on AM radio. "Oh Mary" fit the rising heat outdoors, full of phallic innuendo and charging bad cheer, a Tennessee Williams character transplanted to today's suburbs. Potter's voice grabbed most of us fast, though the rest of the band took a little while to match her speed. She's just SO into every aspect of her music, SO into pleasing and teasing, that it would be tough to always keep pace, but it was noticeable how it took about half the set for everyone to land on the same step. Once together, the full force of the band, a sort of heathen gospel choir for whiskey tippin' night dwellers, came to the fore, fully ramped-up by "Stop The Bus," a crunchy showpiece for Scott Tournet on raunchy guitar and harmonica. A new song highly reminiscent of the first Led Zeppelin album's blues mutations had Potter cooing, "Sugar, sugar, sugar/ You're just too sweet for me," before the tune morphed into the Stones' "Paint It Black," with the "girls in their summer clothes" gathered on the lawn. Points to the Nocturnals (and Devendra's crew) for preparing a juicy thematic cover for the setting; it's not everyday one performs in Golden Gate Park and the extra thought put into their sets was cool. Later, Potter moaned about being down on the floor, up on the sink and pretty much every which way while her lyrical lover got her singing, "Ooh, la, la, la, la, la" – as fine a euphemism for orgasmic release as err rock ever threw out. (DC)

Broken Social Scene – 5:00-5:50 – Twin Peaks Stage

When the last reverberating note of Patterson Hood's guitar stopped echoing off the bank of trees it was back to the Twin Peaks Stage for one of the most highly anticipated sets of the weekend, Toronto's Broken Social Scene. Boy did they deliver! A loose collective or rotating musicians, BSS has evolved into one of the most influential indie bands of the past decade (just look at Arcade Fire) and onstage it was just as glorious as on record. Featuring the current seven core members - Brendan Canning, Kevin Drew, Justin Peroff, Charles Spearin, Sam Goldberg, Leon Kingstone and Apostle of Hustle's Andrew Whiteman - the group swelled to at least twelve people including members of Stars and Land of Talk during this inspired performance. Starting with fan favorite "Pacific Theme" (played especially for San Francisco and our gorgeous Pacific Ocean coastline) the beautiful atmospheric sound washed over fans swaying to the familiar guitar melody. Following with "KC Accidental," another song off their landmark 2001 debut, You Forget It In People, the break-beat drumming, dissonant guitar swells and high-register vocal refrains pushed the crowd into ecstasy as the distant sun continued to warm us from the outside in. As the band crept into Whiteman's lush, heavily-layered "Fire Eye'd Boy," it was remarkable how loose yet tight this ensemble was. There were up to four guitars, multiple percussionists and a stash of horns all working together, free flowing but directed and focused. By the time they dropped into Brendan Canning's stellar new track, "Love Is New" off 2008's Something For All Of Us..., it was a full-bore dance party. Bumping with a subtle Afrobeat-disco hybrid, this track should find its way to a late night remix for sure. Continuing the theme of a truly overwhelming day of music, Broken Social Scene was damn close to the best set of the weekend. (Kayce)

Widespread Panic - 5:40-7:10 - Sutro Stage

JoJo Hermann - WSP by Michael Weintrob
JB inquired at the start, "Do you hear it comin'/ like a train out of control?" If there's a better metaphor for Panic I've never encountered it. They arrived with a dangerous air, a beast recently released from captivity, ornery and anxious for movement, claws sharpened by pacing their cage's concrete floors. In short, mean and looking for an excuse to unload some pent up energy. No show that begins with Jerry Joseph's "Climb To Safety" is likely to be bad, and this was, as I muttered several times at the end of their set, "some real good Panic." JoJo was in Stevie Wonder Music of My Mind mode, each lightning strike of inspiration followed by another just a few miles apart, enough time for you to forget how on fire the keyboardist was and then leap with realization again. His hits broke up the top soil on "Henry Parsons Died" and "Chainsaw City," leaving the rich dirt below exposed to JB and Jimmy Herring's hard swinging guitars. The looks on both their faces suggested bull riders giddy about how long they'd stayed on top of their animals, tough son of a guns who're still able to be surprised by themselves and one another. It was an especially fun crowd to watch from the hillside – so many fists pumped in unison, so many voices raised, so many people shufflin' in John Lee Hooker's boogie shoes fitted to them by Widespread. It was the only set at this festival where one sensed nubile flashing might occur, most likely atop some lug's shoulders, the show for the band and not the boyfriend. I had my eyes closed, just drinkin' in their dark blues a fair amount of the time, so if there was nudity I missed it, and so focused on the task at hand were Panic I suspect they would have, too. There's such a "Don't Tread On Me" attitude to this band, a calloused kinda freedom earned very slowly through hard work. Fittingly for such a vulgarly independent unit, they ran long, stretching out a really fine "Ain't Life Grand" at the tail of a "Surprise Valley" > "Blackout Blues" > "Surprise Valley" sandwich. Yeah, YOU tell Panic they need to stop and see what happens! (DC)

Los Amigos Invisibles - 6:55-7:35 - The Avenues Stage

Mike Gordon - Outside Lands by Dave Vann
Venezuela's Los Amigos opened up an aqua boogie discothèque in the middle of the Polo Field, drawing out the best parts of early Prince, '70s Latin rock, '90s trip hop, Spirits Having Flown-era Bee Gees and other quality booty activating ancestors for an enormously appealing sound that put most back fields in motion. In a nutshell, these Amigos dished up straight pimpin' seduction soundtracks with killer smarts to go with their pretty faces. Timbales worked the edges of the black rock funk guitar while whistling synths eroded what remained of our resistance. Even if you didn't speak a word of Spanish, the music told you, "Give in. Move what mama gave ya. Stop worrying about what that dude eating a chicken leg is thinking and just dance, motherfucker, dance!" And most of us did, throwing up our arms to the wild, electric sea creature keyboard runs and fluckin' sick, wah-wah muddled six-string attacks. Rare is the band that one can favorably compare to late '70s Parliament but Los Amigos are more than worthy, down to some classic material of their own like "Ultra-Funk" from 1998's The New Sound of the Venezuelan Gozadera, which went off like "Flashlight" to those in the know. These soul lotharios are festival dynamite. Organizers worldwide take note. (DC)

Mike Gordon - 7:10-7:55 - Presidio Stage

There's real hips to the body electric Gordo is moving around today. Swing, groove, what have you, isn't a trait I generally associated with Phish, at least not in the traditional up from the bayou strut implied by the words "funk" and "soul." Mike Gordon's new ensemble has more in common with say Return To Forever and the Dixie Dregs than it does his old quartet. There were even nifty echoes of late '70s Little Feat during their jazz-fusion phase. A lot of this vibe comes from guitarist Scott Murawski, who despite the many Trey comparisons really has a lot more in common with studio wizard and Steely Dan collaborator Larry Coryell or Southern fried technical magician Steve Morse (Dregs, Deep Purple) than Big Red. Swinging round unstable carousels and rickety rocketships, Gordon and his merry band (for their smiles truly were broad) played in a way that embraced even casual listeners, something Phish rarely did. This is perhaps the most overly inviting music of Gordon's career, yet it retains his quirks, his need to fidget in words and notes. One piece began with the ritual rise of bells and single string resonances, the drone of keys submitting to a cloudy, forceful bass undercurrent, only for the band to emerge into the sort of clean Latanismo that Al Di Meola made his solo bones with during the '80s, though Gordo's version was much less stiff and bolstered by multi-part harmonies. Each new chapter in his musical story reveals more facets of the intricate puzzle box in Gordon's head. The shapes we get each round may not align perfectly but the big picture only gets more interesting with time. This set was a real surprise for this non-Phan, and perhaps that speaks to this lineup's potential with other Phish outsiders, a real chance to build beyond the converted. Aces, Mr. Gordon. (DC)

Wilco – 6:35–7:50 - Twin Peaks Stage

Jeff Tweedy - Wilco by Weiand
Put simply, Wilco or Widespread Panic should have closed down the festival over Jack Johnson. I'm well aware of Johnson's draw, his headlining status at the majority of this summer's fests, the number of albums sold and the happy "send-em-off easy" vibe, but still, at least in San Francisco, the masses seemed to want Panic or Wilco on the big stage as the sun went away. This was one of the biggest conflicts of the weekend – Panic or Wilco? I elected to zip over and catch the beginning of a very strong Widespread Panic set before splitting to witness just about all of Wilco. Being pulled through trees and into the sea of people by the pulse of "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" and the swirling atmospherics and emotional heft of "I Am Trying To Break Heart," team Wilco was greased up and firing on all cylinders for their final U.S. show of the season. As the sun began to set on this perfect day, "Handshake Drugs" kicked into a huge spaceship jam with guitarist Nels Cline doing unhealthy shit to his poor guitar while Tweedy came in and out of the fray, complimenting and pushing Cline further into the stratosphere. "Jesus Etc." proved to be a nice breath of air before "Impossible Germany" exploded. Following a mind-breaking guitar solo from Cline on "Germany," Tweedy laughed as he quipped, "Pretty nice solo," before making some mention of Cline's "shlong" and then apologizing for this being a "family event." The train continued to crank down the tracks with a disgustingly distorted "Via Chicago" and a cathartic, push-pull guitar dynamic on "Hate It Here." Perhaps a tip of the hat to the huge local crowd, "California Stars" was a clear highlight with people dancing arm in arm, eyes watering and singing every word. The end of the set blew it open with "Walken," which was going along all nice and melodic until out of nowhere Cline stepped on his guitar, forcing a crack in the universe which dropped into a huge rock & roll ending with "I'm The Man Who Loves You." Wilco may not have closed down Outside Lands but they won the prize for best set on Sunday. (Kayce)

Conclusion

Jack Johnson - Outside Lands by Dave Vann
Like San Francisco itself, the first night at Outside Lands was crowded, too many people in too small a place. Out of the estimated 120,000 folks who came through Golden Gate Park last weekend, at least half of them showed up on Friday for Radiohead and the infrastructure just wasn't ready for the hyped-up, crazy-eyed masses. Not only did some folks actually miss Radiohead because of the intense, overwhelming scene, for those tons who did plow into the field, getting out was just as hard with cabs impossible to find and buses packed shoulder to shoulder and spilling out the doors. There were also the sound issues and general stress of the first day of an inaugural event. In retrospect, it probably would have been wise to test run the beast with Petty or Johnson on Friday and bring Radiohead in on Saturday, but such is life and routing issues along with a desire to have Radiohead be the first band to play after dark in the park created a less than desirable atmosphere for the start of Outside Lands. However, there's no denying the power of Radiohead and in the end it was truly an experience worth every ounce of effort. Saturday was a new world. After blowing out the system (literally) the night before, Saturday was easy-breezy and nothing but good times. After Friday there was concern that perhaps the festival just wasn't going to operate right, but those fears were laid to rest with the relaxed vibe and peaceful flow of Day Two. By Sunday, it was a well-oiled machine with patrons crisscrossing the grounds with ease, seeing bits and pieces of sets like a festival needs to be. And it wasn't only music that made Outside Lands special. There was high-quality local food like Maverick's mouthwatering pulled pork sandwich, real Mexican food, Hog Island oysters, organic produce, gourmet sausage, pizza, a California Winehaven, local artists and all the other fare you'd hope for. There was the interactive CrowdFire tent, plenty of recycling and trash receptacles and all the cups were made from compostable material. Best of all, we had the pleasure of spending an entire weekend in one of the most beautiful, natural settings this country has to offer, and it all went down with one of the best lineups of the summer. Like any huge project, there were growing pains, and it might be nice to see a few less bands and longer set times in the future, but the folks who made this event happen pulled it together and appear to have given San Francisco the type of exceptional, big name, sophisticated music festival it deserves.

Wilco - Outside Lands by Dave Vann
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