Outside Lands 2011 | San Francisco | Review | Pics

Words by: Bryan Tobian, Dennis Cook & Chris Clark | Images by: Josh Miller, Dave Vann & Casey Flanigan

Outside Lands Music And Arts Festival :: 08.12.11-08.14.11 :: Golden Gate Park :: San Francisco, CA

Jump right to Dave Vann's pics here!

Jump right to Josh Miller's pics here!

Jump right to Casey Flanigan's STS9 pics here!


Outside Lands 2011 by Dave Vann
A sea of droopy Eucalyptus trees flutter and sway in the distance, fuzzy like a monochromatic Van Gogh painting of swirling grays set upon a canvas of an enveloping white-fog sky. As the misty morning creeps unnoticeably into afternoon, northbound traffic on 19th Street begins to thicken en route to the entrance of San Francisco's legendary Golden Gate Park. The park is a vast, tree-lined sprawl of rolling fields, meticulously pruned gardens and magnificent, winding trails leading three miles from the historically vibrant Haight-Ashbury district to the boundless sapphire expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Designed and manifested in the late 1800's by William Hall and John McLaren, the park is something of a modern marvel; a thousand acre floral and faunal ecosystem with local and foreign wildlife flourishing in the California clay terra. Even more spectacular is that this magnificent park was created out of what has been described as a barren, untamed stretch of sandy dunes dubbed suitably by the locals of the day as the 'Outside Lands'.

This mid-August afternoon, nearing the rebirth of California's yearly elongated Indian summer is the beginning of the park's 4th annual Outside Lands Music Festival. Officially announced this year by Mayor Edwin Lee as a city holiday, the festival is an ever-expanding hodgepodge of music, multimedia technology and local gastronomical and vinicultural fare. Rife with hip energy, it exudes a vibe different than the traditional large scale music festival. Perhaps it is the cool Mediterranean climate, the 10 pm nightly park curfew where everyone eventually returns to a bed and a shower, or the unapologetically high brow lineup of a class of music that rests comfortably on the nerdy fringe of mainstream. The air does not permeate sweat, sage and cigarette smoke, but smells of sweet Eucalyptus and trendy perfume; there is more designer wear than tie-dye and people complain more about poor quality of cell phone reception than the quality of party favors. The sub-bass booms of vaguely intelligible music can be heard from day one's hording entrance line as people swig down the last of their less expensive store-bought booze with anticipation, some cursing themselves for missing the first half of Collie Buddz as they matriculate through the gate. With each new entrant's passage comes a smile, a high five or two, and an excited promenade down the dusty trail to a thumping stage. (Bryan Tobian)

Dennis’ Friday Highlights

Environmentalists At Play by Dave Vann
K.Flay :: 12:45 PM - 1:30 PM :: Twin Peaks Stage

From the look of her, K.Flay is a slip of a thing who orders a soy latte in front of you at a café while thumbing through a dog-eared copy of a David Foster Wallace novel. But that ALL flies away when she jumps behind the decks and begins to rock the mic with great abandon. “Hey, San Francisco, you wanna go on an adventure? Yeah, me, too,” snickered one of the sauciest, most surprising finds at this year’s OSL. This ultra-DIY, give-it-away-to-the-kids underground SF phenom comes on with the winning, tongue in your ear headiness of great trip hop combined with verbal gymnastics somewhere between Buck 65, Portishead’s Beth Gibbons, Rakim and Kate Bush. She’s got major stage presence and an ease with even a large, early arriving crowd like the one gathered at Twin Peaks, but more importantly, she’s got great songs with irresistible hooks and beats. Joined by a live drummer at OSL, this firebrand proved one of this year’s MVP’s, a good time that lingered long after she took her bow. (DC)

The Original Meters :: 2:50 PM - 4:05 PM :: Lands End Stage

As Jim James once chimed, “We are the innovators. They are the imitators.” If ever four gentlemen had a right to sling that one it’s The Original Meters - George Porter Jr., Zigaboo Modeliste, Leo Nocentenelli and Art Neville - who put on a clinic on the meaning and tactile voodoo of funk in their afternoon set. Hearing the cats who originated this sound grin and strut their way through what amount to standards in New Orleans (and anywhere else folks carry their water) was an utter delight. These guys swing so freakin’ hard AND make it look as easy as walking. Neville laid it on thick n’ greasy at the organ while one of the poppingest rhythm teams of all time danced with one another, rusty razor guitar slicing through it all as Leo flexed in all the right places. The sense of mutual appreciation onstage was endearing, and it was met by equally effusive waves of affection from the continually swelling midday audience who moved happily to the artful string pulling of these masters. (DC)

Release The Sunbird :: 12:00 PM - 12:40 PM :: Sutro Stage

Hard to imagine a nicer glide into a day of music in Golden Gate Park than this freshly minted side project for Rogue Wave’s Zach Rogue. Touring behind their quietly knockout debut album Come Back To Us (released July 26), this was only the third gig for Release The Sunbird, and while they’re still clearly getting their road legs under them, there’s so much going on to charm and stroke one’s senses that the hiccups mattered little. A touch pastoral, a touch pop and altogether uplifting in an really unforced way, their sound lured folks downfield from the new entrance spot to the festival, an intoxicating finger beckoning them closer along the breeze. A closing cover of Talking Heads’ “Road To Nowhere” put a skipping bit of punctuation on a set that bodes really well for this gently powerful new group. (DC)

Bryan’s Friday Highlights

MGMT by Josh Miller
Lotus :: 2:15 PM - 3:05 PM :: Twin Peaks Stage

Even though the early afternoon sun was nowhere to be found and it wasn't nearly dark enough to see their usually stellar light show, Lotus presented a most enthusiastic performance at the vividly dressed Twin Peaks stage. The venue is tucked in the back of the Speedway Meadow with large surrounding hills that encapsulate the band's huge, resonating thunder, exploding it outwards into an expansive field. The quartet's style blends straight ahead instrumental jazz with rock 'n' roll and a myriad of electronic genres. Their sound is a smooth interlacing of guitars and synthesizers over funky-cool jazz-rock drums that are melded delicately with driving dance beats. Since the Friday afternoon audience was only packed in loosely past the soundboard, the extra real estate gave more ability for fresh legs to dance and flow freely to the ever-evolving syncopated bass lines of Jesse Miller. As the set progressed, the band gave a nod to their electronic capabilities with their synth-pop jam “The Surf,” complete with swirling vocoders and catchy synth harmonies. The full-on wompy attack that followed eventually eased into the laid back crowd pleaser “Spiritualize.” This breezy ditty allowed guitarist Mike Rempel to show off his chops, picking airy melodies over silken grooves. As the tune waned, again showing off the group's wares, brother Luke Miller played a rap sample, to which the band jumped in with distorted, rock guitar stabs, filter sweeping synthesizer and edgy rock drums for an energetic finale of “Bush Pilot.” (BT)

MGMT :: 4:35 PM - 5:45 PM :: Lands End Stage

The electro-pop rock crew MGMT took the stage to the delight of the heavily populated Land's End stage on the Polo Field. The band was bookended on their platform by two psychedelic Warhol-esque video animations whose vibrantly morphing pictures played along perfectly with the music. “Electric Feel” had the crowd singing and dancing fervently before switching up the pace into the eerie twang of “The Youth” accented by ethereal organ-like synth pads. To end the set in grand style, the band broke into their 15 minute, multi-genre voyage “Siberian Breaks.” The song starts with a gypsy feeling, minor chord progression that settles into an Irish folk beat. A tremblingly slow and cautious build leads to a triumphant release before recapping with the gypsy style outro. (BT)

Phish :: 6:30 PM - 10:00 PM :: Lands End Stage

Phish by Dave Vann
After each set the massive audience drains of those who need to refill drinks, use the restroom or go to another stage. This is the time when, like a salmon, one must swim upstream against the current of anxious faces, over blankets, backpacks, resting bodies and mounds of trash, finding the sweetest spots where the lights and sound can be best appreciated. A little bit of foresight and preparation are worth the opportunity to see the main event in full effect, especially one as viscerally stimulating as these innovators of improvisation, the legendary pioneers of the rock and roll cosmos - Phish. Vermont's Phinest took the stage at 6:30 sharp in high San Francisco summer style, donning leather and suede jackets, button down shirts and a sweatshirt to battle the chill. The four of them and the thousands of us embarked on a monumental, two set, three-and-a-half- hour romp through more than two dozen songs. And, while the most hardcore phans would cringe at the thought of 27 songs without any twenty minute explorations, each selection was performed with tight fidelity, stretching out for small jams and returning to Earth quickly enough to keep the attention of a mostly novice audience.

Highlights came left and right throughout both sets as the band and their fifth member, lighting designer Chris Kuroda, interlocked perfectly for a most synchronic performance. Overall, the entire show was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the weekend as an abundance of explosive solos by the virtuosic guitar Jedi, Trey Anastasio, revved the band into overdrive. Interplaying like a puzzle was the twinkling shimmer added by Page McConnell on his Yamaha concert grand with Mike Gordon's walloping bass grooves. Following them each with a different limb, the polyrhythmic Jon Fishman propelled the show like an engine from behind his percussion cockpit.

The encore began with the funky breakbeat allegory “Cavern,” which saw Anastasio and Gordon doing a little tongue-in-cheek unison line dancing, all while never missing a beat or change in the song. A final, majestic “Tweezer Reprise,” building in intensity with both the sound and lights, overloaded the audience with strobed perfection for a final mind blowing apex. With great fervor, the four Horsemen of the Jampocalypse belted out their final riff, Trey thanked the crowd, and they released one more concluding roar under halogen fireworks, adjourning their West Coast summer tour and the first night of Outside Lands 2011. The overflowing park exploded like a broken dam, releasing a tidal wave of people onto the streets of the San Francisco Panhandle to party in The City's maze of bars, clubs and concert halls late into the pastel twilight. (BT)

DJ Down Low Loretta Brown - Friday Late Night – Mezzanine

DJ Down Low Loretta Brown by Kevin Lee
Having been a fan of Erykah Badu since the early days of Baduizm, even before “Back in the Day,” Friday night’s Outside Lands late night set at Mezzanine was perhaps the highlight of the weekend’s festivities for me. Badu came to SF as her musical alter ego, DJ Down Low Loretta Brown, back in mid-April to much fanfare, but I was unfortunately out of town. This time around, I was happily able to see her back for one of the most memorable DJ sets I’ve encountered in some time. Playing at the festival the following evening at the Sutro Stage, Badu came to town early, supported by surprise special guest EPMD (Erik Sermon and Redman) who, unbeknownst to most, were prepared to slay the Mezzanine crowd before Badu even got close to the stage. Playing roughly a dozen tracks with Dave Chappelle hanging around close, the surprise arrival of EPMD was a delectable appetizer before the late night’s main course hit the stage.

By the time 1 am came around, the club’s throng seemed to be wondering just when DJ Down Low Loretta Brown would arrive. Not long after, Badu arose and the fervor in the then-packed club reached peak excitement. Performing a seductive, sensuously eclectic set selected from classic soul staples, old school hip hop and even some Prince, she flowed effortlessly throughout an hour-long set that was accentuated by the likes of Ghostface Killah and the Bay’s own E40 mixed in with more subtle funk and soul tracks. The result was a sweat-soaked affair that had people on the dance floor that attentively hung on her every track, much like seeing her in her more widely known incarnation of Erykah Badu. (Chris Clark)

Continue reading for Saturday’s highlights...

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