Outside Lands | 08.28-08.30 | S.F.

Saturday, 08.29

Loop!Station :: 12:00-12:40 p.m. :: The Barbary

The Barbary :: Outside Lands 2009 by Weiand
Just the sort of wood floored, stained glass saloon one could want in a town where months of gold mining could be lost in a single night of cards, carousing and canoodling, The Barbary, a "spiegeltent" or "magic mirror tent" imported from Belgium, showed off Bay Area talent all weekend. Hosted by the Vau de Vire Society, the air conditioned, largely seated space offered a respite from the summer heat and a great opportunity to catch some homegrown treasures. To wit, Loop!Station, who are probably correct in their claim of being the world's only live looping voice and cello duo. I entered thinking I'd find a small choir of ladies and instead discovered just Robin Comer, a potent, intoxicating vocalist, and Sam Bass, who pulled WAY more noises from a cello than I ever imagined possible. Often marked by drone and drift, their music is a slow seduction that required some patience to really understand. However, their emotive, intense, interesting approach ultimately left most impressed. (DC)

Infantree :: 12:00-12:40 p.m. :: Panhandle Solar Stage

Quite the hodgepodge, Infantree initially struck one as quirk-grass with hickey harmonies, acoustic guitar and banjo playing off electric keys and trap drums, but soon more indie rock currents emerged and their set ended with some blippy Caucasian reggae. Not sure what to make of this band. (DC)

The Dirtbombs :: 12:45-1:35 p.m. :: Twin Peaks Stage

Extra Golden :: Outside Lands 2009 by Weiand
Caveman percussion pummel called us closer, followed by serrated guitars that stretched hamstrings to unleash forgotten pogo instincts. A beat, a noisy swirl, a totally human moan and then it all exploded into an all-encompassing sound that retains the rawness of the garage but handled by folks way more clever than newbies just picking up their instruments. Formed in the early '90s, this Detroit institution and adored underground perennial rattled and rolled with the same moxie as The Sonics, early Roxy Music and Brian Eno and others that keep rock nasty and tough and glued to the dance floor. Watching The Dirtbombs leap, kick and snarl, one felt like they'd been delivered to the fountain of rock's origin, a place where this music is still a bit dangerous and exciting and unpredictable, inspiring us to twist and shimmy as they went up, down and every which way. (DC)

Extra Golden :: 1:35-2:15 p.m. :: Panhandle Solar Stage

"Sometimes you eat, sometimes you get eaten." Sage advice offered to a mostly listless audience at the start of this stunning African/American collaboration's set. Beaming in full sunlight, one basked in their interwoven mixture, a fractal basket forming in real time to hold together stinging African accents and the rough edged mores of urban Chicago. Hearing them again for the first time in almost a year, I found their cross-continental hybrid had grown even more together. Eventually, after some playful shaming from the band, most people hopped up and moved a bit, which only makes sense when music this quicksilver smooth and original is passing over you. (DC)

Raphael Saadiq :: 2:05-3:05 p.m. :: Lands End Stage

Eric McFadden Trio :: Outside Lands 2009 by Weiand
Strolling onto the plush green grass of the Polo Fields main stage area with the warm sun (though thankfully a few degrees cooler than Friday) shining down and Raphael Saadiq belting out buttery R&B tracks while talking about Hurricane Katrina, it felt a little like New Orleans' Jazz Fest. With his remarkably tight, sharp dressed band that included horns and a back-up singer, combined with his super-pro skills as a frontman, Saadiq's set was a prime way to roll into the second day of Outside Lands. (Kayce)

Eric McFadden Trio :: 2:05-2:45 p.m. :: The Barbary

EMT played The Barbary every day of the fest and mostly to packed houses. Just before their Saturday set, Kitten On The Keys played quality burlesque behind the piano, singing songs about her snatch and greeting McFadden with, "Hello, sexy man! I heart you more than bagels and cream cheese." EMT hit like a heatwave, a blur of unwholesome sound that took your knees out from under you. McFadden (guitar, vocals), über-bassist James Whiton (a real force of nature with seemingly no end of extraordinary vision on his instrument) and drummer Doug Port wrangled flamenco, hard rock, gypsy jazz and more into an utterly cool whole. Their brute force sometimes hides what not-simple-at-all music is happening, much like the more complex bits hidden within The Stooges' raging. The swing between fierceness and hushed observation would flop in lesser hands, but with some of the strongest songwriting and playing happening in the S.F. area today EMT soared mightily. (DC)

Groundation :: 2:20-3:05 p.m. :: Presidio Stage

Dengue Fever :: OL 09 by Weiand
More one-drop rich than Midnite, I was drawn in by Groundation's Mighty Diamonds style harmonies, tempered by welcome feminine energies. Unlike most roots reggae being made by newer groups, this feels honest and not just a recreation, a genuine effort to move the genre forward a bit. Groundation did so with jazz inflection, Cuban accents and engaging builds, creating reggae traditional enough to appeal to traditionalists but fresh enough to snag picky sourpusses like me. (DC)

Dengue Fever :: 3:10-4:00 p.m. :: Sutro Stage

It was evident from the start that this always-fun band has moved a fair distance from their Cambodian Rocks origins, with their opener carrying echoes of '70s Ethiopian pop with sax and Farfisa dancing in the wings. It took them three albums to introduce songs in English – powerful, compelling lead singer Chhom Nimol sings primarily in Khmer – so for the majority of us the vocals are a mysterious quantity to be enjoyed as another instrument (nothing wrong with that either!). However, when Nimol began one tune a cappella one didn't need to understand the words to know we were dealing with a real powerhouse. One new cut had a spook house shiver – what one expects to find at an after hours shindig at Disney's Haunted Mansion – that burst into a surfy sing-along with a suddenness that left one a little disoriented. It's getting harder to pinpoint where this Los Angeles band is headed from tune to tune, but it's all pretty effective, right down to one piece that could be the theme song to a Bond film set in Cambodia. (DC)

Portugal. The Man :: 3:10-3:50 p.m. :: Panhandle Solar Stage

Looking like they'd jumped from a vinyl sleeve circa 1972, Portugal. The Man showed equal facility with gutsy classic rock and feeling drenched ballads. There's a lot of buzz around this band, who drew a big crowd, but based on what I caught I'm not entirely sure why. Sure, it's nice to see real men cry while organ and emotional guitars whoosh around them, and it's never a bad thing when folks put their foot on the amp and just rock it out. Perfectly decent rock 'n' roll but not much to report beyond that. (DC)

Mastodon :: 3:55-4:55 p.m. :: Twin Peaks Stage

Mastodon :: Outside Lands 2009 by Vann
Starting with The Dirtbombs and ending with The Mars Volta, the Twin Peaks Stage was a psychedelic hard rock fan's little slice of heaven. And right in the middle was the heaviest and baddest of the bunch, Mastodon. No matter how many times you've seen these metal gods they always seem bigger, louder and better than you remember – and if it happens to be that special first live encounter with Mastodon chances are you either run towards the light with glee (and earplugs) or run away in fear. Certainly a divisive band at a festival with Dave Matthews Band and Black Eyed Peas headlining across the way, Mastodon wound up winning over many skeptical music fans with their virtuosic playing. Superhuman drummer Brann Dailor and bassist Troy Sanders made the park shake with sludge-metal rhythms as the twin guitar hysteria of Brent Hinds (definitely the best face tattoo of the weekend) and Bill Kelliher twisted into impossible shapes. Mastodon has slowly been inching towards a slightly more accessible sound for years and these efforts are evident in moments of fist-pumping power rock, the addition of a keyboard player (which adds a moody Floyd vibe), banjo intros, whammy bars, a lot less screaming and increased tempo dynamics. Another note worth mentioning about their set, it never stopped. From the first note till the last lick the sound never broke. Much like the jam band tradition, there was never a moment of dead air as every song transitioned into the next with a jam segue, loop or just a bit of distortion. This was clearly one of the best sets of the weekend. (Kayce)

Jason Mraz :: 3:50-4:50 p.m. :: Lands End Stage

Saturday's main stage lineup was custom made for folks that get their listening cues from VH1/MTV and major chain stores. That's just fine, for what it is, but Jason Mraz was seriously the lowest lowest common denominator music I've come across in forever. I entered his set as he ordered "a table at the gratitude café," just the first of many lines that made me physically wince. It's never my goal to be unkind to musicians, and Mraz's band were total pros that played slickly but well, but Mraz's music seems designed from the outset for TV show montages and department store backgrounds, asking little to nothing of the listener and always aiming for the widest possible mainstream appeal. Obviously, I'm not Mraz's target audience and he really seemed to make a huge amount of people sway. But, his calculated, mincing stage persona, hipster Bing Crosby hat, unctuous attempts at blue eyed reggae and many other elements rubbed me so very, very wrong. (DC)

Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue :: 4:00-4:45 p.m. :: Presidio Stage

Os Mutantes :: Outside Lands 2009 by Weiand
Already well situated in a happy pocket when I arrived, Shorty and his men delivered their typically excellent style of funk 'n' soul, which always strikes me as similar to getting one's toast or coffee delivered to them just how they like it – a basic hunger fulfilled in a way that makes you want to order up more. Shorty seemed a stronger lead singer than the last time I'd seen him at High Sierra, and his skill as a bandleader only keeps growing. Introducing one number, he said, "I wanna see if Pete [Murano, lead guitar] can give us some chicken grease. I'm talking New Orleans pot pie chicken grease." And it sounded even better than that finger lickin' description! Nice one from a rather reliable young band. (DC)

Os Mutantes :: 4:50-5:50 p.m. :: Sutro Stage

Brazilian superstars and adored U.S. hipster icons, Os Mutantes rolled out an intoxicating set that highlighted pretty much the cream of their catalog ("Jardim Electrico," "She's My Shoo Shoo" and "Tecnicolor" being standouts) while offering promising new material that hints that their story isn't finished yet. Founder/guitarist/singer Sergio Dias, decked out in a royal blue jacket that suggested some religious office, lead his young, enthusiastic band through an exciting, very pleasing performance accented by some Stephen Stills-esque guitar workouts by Dias and killer, rock chick vocals from Zélia Duncan, who more than gives original female lead singer Rita Lee a run for her money. (DC)

Bat For Lashes :: 4:55-5:35 p.m. :: Panhandle Solar Stage

Playing on the smaller Panhandle Solar Stage. where bands were relegated to shorter 40-minute sets, Bat For Lashes was a bit of a mixed bag. Coming off Mastodon's metal rage, it was difficult to transition into the singer-songwriter vibe of Natasha Khan (aka Bat For Lashes). She has a gorgeous voice falling somewhere between Bjork (if she were from this planet) and Feist, and her little band was adding the right touches, but it just wasn't particularly engaging under the circumstances. But, a healthy crowd was gathered and something tells me that in a different environment the whole Bat For Lashes thing might unlock before my very eyes. (Kayce)

Black Eyed Peas :: 5:40-6:40 p.m. :: Lands End Stage

Black Eyed Peas :: Outside Lands 2009 by Weiand
"Put 'em up!" was the oft-repeated instruction that welcomed me to the Peas' set. A decent enough muddle of club musics, at least they stretch beyond the usual Ibiza/North American tributaries for Latin and Caribbean touches. But, their clean room/studio perfection made them sound about as alive as the blowup robot that loomed over them onstage. There was far too much auto-tuning going on (curse you Lil' Wayne!) but they are very active performers (dressed like cyberpunk pimps & hoes) who excelled at reaching and stimulating the now-massive crowd assembled at the main stage. I only made it through part of their set before the creeping feeling that I was watching a band created at Westworld became too strong to ignore. (DC)

JJ Grey & Mofro :: 5:50-6:35 p.m. :: Presidio Stage

JJ Grey is absolutely one of the most soulful, ear-catching singers of his generation, and his songwriting and guitar work are dead solid, too. However, this set, like many others I've caught in recent years, was pretty much more of the same. Mofro has been stalled in largely the same comfortable place for years, where decent, if not especially noteworthy, backing players execute Grey's Southern tinged rock & soul pretty well. Nothing here is bad and most present clearly enjoyed this set, but one longs for Grey to be surrounded by musicians with as much ambition and natural talent as him. It'd be nice to see Grey pushed out of his comfort zone, where he might discover the x-factor that could move Mofro from being a nice but sadly predictable band into the richer territory hinted at within the existing framework. (DC)

TV on the Radio :: 5:40-6:40 p.m. :: Twin Peaks Stage

Playing their final show of the tour, and, according to lead singer Tunde Adebimpe, the near future, TV on the Radio made the most of their time. Starting with an ambient groove that found guitarist Kyp Malone on bass, the members eased onstage revealing the addition of a three-piece horn section (featuring Antibalas' Stuart Bogie). Instantly, the horns made their presence felt and they would prove to be the difference makers in a superb set. Often shaping songs more than just adding highlights, the horns gave TVOTR everything from a rough Motown soul grind to Afro-grooves to obtuse sax squalls, but nothing seemed out of place or overdone. Perhaps suffering from something like Eddie Vedder's end-of-tour vocal strain, Adebimpe stayed away from the delicate beauty he's capable of and gave a much harsher, almost punk vocal performance which helped keep the songs aggressive and tense. Everything was fuzzy with distortion but even when things would get heavy they always remained funky and danceable. Everything worked, but highlights included "Golden Age," "DLZ," "Dancing Choose," "Staring At The Sun" and the fierce mid-set combo of "Wolf Like Me" and "Red Dress." After a set like this one can only hope they don't stay off the road too long. (Kayce)

Deerhunter :: 6:40-7:25 p.m. :: Panhandle Solar Stage

The Mars Volta :: Outside Lands 2009 by Vann
Hustling from TV on the Radio to Deerhunter in much the same way I did for Bat For Lashes after Mastodon, I got pretty much the same underwhelming result at the Panhandle Solar Stage. Eager to check out Bradford Cox's experimental indie rock/noise-pop band, after TVOTR it just came off flat. The heavily processed, delayed vocals and guitar showed moments of promise but never seemed to take off and would often revert to repetition instead of exploration. When trying to wrestle Pavement and My Bloody Valentine into pop arrangements there's no question you might fail, and perhaps in a dark club with more speakers this could work, but in a field with little focus it didn't. (Kayce)

Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band :: 6:40-7:40 p.m. :: Sutro Stage

"Just two more nails left to go in this pine coffin," Oberst quipped cheerfully. For someone with such a gallows sense of humor, he was pretty damn uplifting. He seemed happier with this group than any of the Bright Eyes outings I'd witnessed, which made for lively, switched-on performances, beginning with a jammed out "I Got A Reason" and extending through a fine guest turn from Jenny Lewis and songs about love that makes your back hurt and sad lynch mobs full of national men who believe in God. In the live setting, the music was as memorable as Oberst's tremendous lyrics at one of Saturday's best sets. (DC)

The Mars Volta :: 7:30-9:00 pm :: Twin Peaks Stage

Working their mojo fast and hard like a spike to the vein, once The Mars Volta entered the airwaves there was no turning back. Abusive guitar passages full of strange notes and whacked-out effects tumbled along with Thomas Pridgen's destructo drumming while unsung hero Juan Alderete smothered it all in bass and frontman Cedric Bixler Zavala crawled around on his belly singing about "mental hygiene." And that was just the first song, "Goliath." After Cedric got back on his feet he grabbed the giant stage sign (which almost crushed him) and kicked the crap out of it before regaining his composure and remarking that it was very appropriate they were playing the Twin Peaks Stage, warning us, "Don't drink the coffee because there's a fish in the percolator."

With their punk energy meeting their advanced, intricate approach to music, The Mars Volta is creating some of the most exciting rock music of the day. Usually when something gets this technical it looses some soul, dries up and borders on prog, but here the juicy Latin rhythms and punk ethos never let that happen. However, influence and intent will only get you so far. It's the manner of execution and inspired implementation to create something new that makes The Mars Volta special. Putting these dynamics on display with tracks like "Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of)," "Drunkship of Lanterns" and new one "Luciforms," the band shifted effortlessly from amazingly heavy sections to pristine, tranquil moments of peace back to neck-snapping metal. As much as any other single aspect that draws fans to this Grammy Award-winning band, it's their ability to keep listeners on their toes, stringing them along through multi-part songs with impossible time changes that allow fans to get lost in the music. At Outside Lands we were swept up in the current with no idea how to get back to shore - a glorious way to close out Saturday night. (Kayce)

Goliath, Cotopaxi, Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of), Eunuch Provocateur, Viscera Eyes, Halo Of Nembutals, Drunkship Of Lanterns, Luciforms, Ilyena, The Widow, Wax Simulacra

Dave Matthews Band :: 7:30-10:00 p.m. :: Lands End Stage

Dave Matthews Band :: Outside Lands 2009 by Weiand
You know how you can tell you're truly big stuff? When news helicopters fly over your concert to get footage for the late broadcast.

I'm not sure how I avoided it but this was my first time actually watching DMB in concert. One just misses things in the busy, modern shuffle, and while up to speed on his radio singles and new album Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King, I came in with a pretty clear slate. And you know what? They were really good. "We'll start off a little stoney and then fizzle a bit," remarked Matthews, who's a very personable dude onstage with the rare ability to erase the obvious distance between the audience and himself in such a gargantuan setting. You just feel like he's talking to YOU and not just some random, amorphous blob o' people. He was also able to sell lines like, "Don't cry, baby, don't cry," in a way that made you dry your tears and snuggle into him, which the Roman Legion sized audience did with every song. He's also quite funny, throwing out zingers like, "You look beautiful tonight. What's that scent you're wearing? Is it Eau de Reefer?"

The band is serious business, too. The instrumentation, solos, etc. suggest a monster '70s jazz-fusion group that's suckled the teats of James Brown AND the '70s singer-songwriter brigade. Saxophonist Jeff Coffin is far groovier with DMB than he ever was with Béla, and moments in his playing drew strong comparison to Gary Bartz's work with Miles Davis. Tim Reynolds also proved a real treat, especially when the guitarist whipped out his Flying V and shredded with controlled abandon. But really the whole bunch of them onstage were hugely impressive, weaving melodies together with merit badge worthy knot-work.

I found this kinda ideal music for a summer evening in a world famous park as dusty rose tinted clouds rolled by and the temperature fell with the sun. Matthews' music is a warming joy buzzer grounded in the line, "Doesn't everybody deserve to have the good life? But it don't always work out." Dreams and mishaps, broad aspirations and laughter at our tumbles, these are the cornerstones of DMB, and even this outsider could see they do people a world of good with their music, especially when delivered with such clockwork proficiency and a stage acumen that knows just how to get jumbo crowds off. (DC)

Dave Matthews Band :: Outside Lands 2009 by Vann
Why I Am, You Might Die Trying, Don't Drink The Water, Stay or Leave, Spaceman, Cornbread, Lie In Our Graves, Alligator Pie, Shake Me Like a Monkey, Gravedigger, Jimi Thing (with Fergie and apl.de.ap of the Black Eyed Peas), You & Me, Ants Marching, Two Step
E: Stefan solo, All Along The Watchtower (Bob Dylan cover with Robert Randolph), Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) (Sly & The Family Stone cover with Robert Randolph)

Continue reading for Sunday's coverage of Outside Lands...

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