Outside Lands | 08.22.08 – 08.24.08 | SF

Words by: Dennis Cook, Kayceman & Ari Bendersky
Images by: Susan J. Weiand, Dave Vann, Michael Weintrob, Heather Barlin, & Jeff Kravitz

Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival
08.22.08 – 08.24.08 :: Golden Gate Park :: San Francisco, CA

Outside Lands 2008 by Michael Weintrob
Outside of New York’s Central Park, there may not be a more world famous outdoor public space in America than S.F.’s Golden Gate Park. Ground zero for the Summer of Love and all things stereotypically ’60s Frisco, Golden Gate Park, like the rest of the city, is a wild sprawl, full of unexpected hollows, weird obstructions and twisting pathways. Unlike many more planned out places, San Francisco is organic, rising up in fits and spurts, each street an incongruous trail of multicultural/multi-era variety, a 40-year-old family pasta joint next to an ’80s Chinese laundry next to a brand new cell phone hut run by Hungarians. Spend time on a Muni train or wandering the architectural wonderland downtown and you’ll hear, in just a few blocks, a blur of languages – French, Spanish, Hebrew, Russian, Hindi, Portuguese, Italian, Farsi and, of course, English are all commonplace.

Fittingly, the inaugural Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival possessed many of the city’s polyglot charms, throwing out a highly varied mix of options limited only by the constraints of time and distance – both of which weighed heavily on one’s experience. Given the physical vastness of the park, the tight set times (40 minutes was the average) and sixty-five acts on six stages to choose from, one inevitably made some choices based on practicality over personal tastes. As much one may have wanted to dive into the Afro-Latin-Jamaican stew of say Manu Chao on the main Lands End Stage, they likely let the idea slide if they were at the opposite end of the site watching The Black Keys on the Twin Peaks Stage and knew a 15-20 minute walk, at a good clip and hopefully with little resistance from the sizeable crowd, awaited them. That said, we at JamBase built up our calf muscles this past weekend to give you the lowdown on a festival with all the makings of an annual keeper.

FRIDAY, 08.22.08

Howlin Rain – Outside Lands by Dave Vann
Unquestionably the single biggest attendance of the three-day fest due to, well, arguably the biggest rock band on the planet headlining (and if one ever doubts S.F.’s hipster radar they need only have seen the range of toddlers to tattooed 20-somethings to full blown geriatrics lurching towards the main stage for Radiohead to know it cuts across all generations here), the opening day revealed some of the logistical kinks to be worked out (more on that later) but came out swinging, musically speaking.

Howlin Rain – 5:00-5:30 – Panhandle Stage

When Ethan Miller screamed, “Lord, have mercy on my soul!” it sent a chill stronger than the rising ocean breeze up our spines. As kick-off acts for a fest go, the Rain is a good one, even when hampered by a too-brief 30-minute slot. Super charged by cosmic organ, courtesy of Joel Robinow on a borrowed full-size B-3, the band offered up soul rock peppered with bright flecks, ragged hope amidst a sometimes funereal rush full of sun bleached bones and hamstrung promises. Like the MC5, Howlin Rain is rough but thoughtful, hellbent for leather and technical as jazz musicians (when they wanna be). The brevity of their performance only reinforced its open-handed slap, a nifty, stinging blow that set one in motion for the rest of the night. (DC)

Cold War Kids – 5:25-6:10 – Sutro Stage

Cold War Kids – Outside Lands by Dave Vann
Shuffling into the festival grounds on Friday afternoon one could sense the electricity and hear the music long before seeing a stage. Walking through the eucalyptus and soaring cypress groves winding into Golden Gate Park it was a beautiful entrance propelled by the booming, full-bodied sound in the distance. After getting our tickets (which proved remarkably easy when we arrived around 5:00) it was Southern California’s Cold War Kids who would be the first band of the fest for yours truly. Arriving in time to hear one of the band’s strongest numbers, “Hang Me Out To Dry,” there was already a very large crowd packing into the area and actually even seeing the performers on stage was quite difficult. Sight lines aside, the tent revival, hand-clap, gospel-baked set closing rocker “Saint John” was enough to spark a few fans into heavy dancing and proved a strong finish for a band that is certainly on the rise. (Kayce)

Black Mountain – 5:30-6:10 – Twin Peaks Stage

Far more beguiling live than their studio efforts (which have their own quasi-nostalgic charms), Black Mountain proffered trippy, dirty rock with a high vocal soar and chest thumping low end. There’s an undeniable Zeppelin feel to a number of elements but give ’em credit for actually nailing Zep’s heaven storming ways. And in concert they slathered on a really seductive musk, something animal and nostril flaring, full of keyboard spice and the elongated groan of muscled up ’70s art rock. Black Mountain have the density and hunka chunka mojo of some long lost classic rock group, some weird formation of ex-members of Fairport Convention, Amon Düül, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and Family, all under the tough fingered influence of Hawkwind. In terms of atmosphere, unexpected musical turns and overall mood, Black Mountain’s nicely heavy set wanted for nothing. (DC)

The Felice Brothers – 6:10-6:40 – Presidio Stage

The Felice Brothers – Outside Lands by Susan J. Weiand
After this set, I’d question anyone’s musical instincts if they didn’t take to The Felice Brothers, who went some distance beyond “good natured” into “raucously inviting.” The intimacy of their studio work is more heartbreakingly present live, an immediate, emotional jab that hits your heart and loosens happy and sad tears. No shit, people, these boys played their mutt style – a grand stewpot of roots rock, ragtime, folk and country elements – with such passion and abandon that it reminded one of their own humanity and the fragility and beauty of those around them. It’s was also a foot stampin’ good time, a chance to pour whiskey in your whiskey while the accordion danced and the drummer jumped from behind his kit to lead us in sooty gospel chants. Stirring both resounding quiet (“Mercy”) and freshly off-the-hinges chaos (“Frankie’s Gun”), The Felices made the most of their brief stage time, and left more than a few new fans in their trail dust. (DC)

Manu Chao – 6:15-7:15 – Lands End Stage

It was upon leaving the Cold War Kids to head over to the main stage for Manu Chao that the sheer number of people in the grounds started to sink in. Trying to get from the Sutro Stage to Lands End was almost impossible. The path between these two stages just wasn’t big enough and it wound up making more sense to either hop the fence and trek through the woods or walk the roughly half mile to a completely different entrance on the other side of the grounds to avoid the cluster fuck. As trying as it was getting from Cold War Kids to Manu Chao, one could only wonder the horrors awaiting the crowds packed in for the superstar tandem of Beck followed by Radiohead (which went down on the same two stages slightly later). This transition from the overflowing Beck scene (which caused me to miss almost his entire set) into Radiohead proved to be perhaps the single biggest problem Outside Lands would face all weekend. However, one’s efforts were rewarded if they ventured through the mass of bodies to see the French-born, Latin rock hero Manu Chao. This cat isn’t just leading a band, he’s leading a movement. His passionate cries of freedom (sung in Spanish, English and French) were met with screaming fans of every color that knew every word and were not afraid to dance. Moving from straight forward reggae to Clash-influenced punk to hip-hop and searing guitar solos, Chao’s band was impeccable. Not to be overlooked in this ensemble, the full horn section punctuated the percussion with exclamation points, while the bass player seemed capable of a sixth-gear overdrive that sent the jumping crowd into hysterics. As good as Manu Chao was, it was starting to be very apparent that getting situated for Radiohead was going to be an issue and it was time to go gather the troops and get a spot for Thom Yorke’s twisted eyeball show. (Kayce)

The Black Keys – 6:50-7:50 – Twin Peaks Stage

Manu Chao – Outside Lands by Jeff Kravitz
This is bloody sexy music. This thought hit me as I watched giggling young thangs peel away layers as Dan Auerbach (vocals, guitar) and Patrick Carney (drums) dragged their black snake moan into the big city, giving it hairy, white boy anxiety and straight-leg denim kick. Considerably less subtle than their albums, the live Keys rolled with the he-man boogie of Rick Derringer and Pat Travers. It’s like steam heat filtered directly to one’s nether regions, the lasciviousness of Buddy Guy harnessed into post-modern laments built around loose notions like “strange times” or a “psychotic girl.” As enjoyable as they were, one couldn’t avoid the growing disparity between the sonic advances of their recent Attack & Release and the concert experience. As successful as they are as a duo, the practicalities of performance mean a slight dumbing down of their growing sophistication. If ever a band cried out for a keyboardist who could also pinch-hit on bass, second guitar, tambourine, etc. it’s The Black Keys. While they never sounded less than full, it was hard not to imagine what might be if they broke out of their existing format. (DC)

Radiohead – 8:00-9:55 – Lands End Stage

The crowd was overwhelming. They were coming from all sides and all angles – climbing trees, scaling hills and squishing into any tiny free space. Even just actually getting into the main stage area at the wrong time proved a huge obstacle for many, and this was only compounded when roughly 5,000 people crashed the gates and darted into the sea of people. Radiohead is arguably the biggest band on the planet and they had the honor of being the first act to ever play a night show in Golden Gate Park. The resulting mass of people made for an even more intense scenario than perhaps anticipated. Although I’ve heard mixed grumblings from plenty of very reliable music aficionados, I was flat-out blown away. Perhaps it’s because this is the only Radiohead show of the tour I was able to see (so by default clearly one of the top couple shows I’ll see all year), maybe it was the thick, humid air that made every sound stick in place, or maybe I’m just completely under their control and unable to get off my knees and stop bowing to the throne, but I’m still trying to fully comprehend the weight of their performance and the mind-cracking vision of this band.

Radiohead – Outside Lands by Kravitz
Starting off with the glitched-out stutter-beat, deep bass and smooth guitar melody of “15 Steps,” they followed with “Reckoner,” another song off their 2007 release, In Rainbows. Unfortunately it was during the third song, “Airbag” where things got hairy. A big track off 1997’s OK Computer, this is a fan favorite for sure and it physically stung when the sound cut out partway through. Unaware of exactly what was going on (because their stage monitors were clearly still working), the band kept playing as the crowd stood open-mouthed wondering if this was somehow part of their gig. The sound crashed back on about thirty-seconds later and although it was a major hiccup, we were back on track…until the fifth song, “All I Need.” When the power cut for about a minute people really started to freak out and I saw more than one person literally having a hard time drawing breath. Admittedly, this was a difficult start to the show, but it was endearing to see how well Yorke and the band handled the situation, laughing it off with some dry British humor: “Okay, who spilled their beer in the plug” (or something to that effect). And while it was a rocky entrance, the band played thirteen more songs (22 in total) and ripped a hole through any third eye that happened to be open.

Time and again, I was shocked by how heavy it was. And it didn’t matter if it was loud or soft, fast or slow, every move was massive and heavier than hell. This is dark, strange music that often dwells in the same scary part of town The Mars Volta hang out in. Tracks like “National Anthem,” “Idioteque,” “Paranoid Android” and “Just” were huge, experimental slabs of electronic-colored rock that could easily sneak up and pop you in the mouth if you weren’t paying attention. These guitar-heavy, fist-pumping moments were balanced with the somewhat rare “Talk Show Host,” the haunting “Exit Music (for a film),” a delicate “Karma Police,” a gut-wrenching “Fake Plastic Trees” and a beautiful, soaring “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi,” which truly felt as if it was taking place under water.

It was remarkable how the band was able to make a giant field with 50-70,000 people feel intimate, but somehow they pulled it off. Each song was saturated with emotion and dripping with possibility. When it was meant to evoke fear or pain, it did. When the mood shifted to desolate isolation, you felt it, and when it was time to rejoice and swing us back to this time and place, they did so with ease. Radiohead holds tension in the air and manipulates moods unlike any other act out there. This is difficult, super psychedelic, often uncomfortable and abrasive music that is complimented with one of the greatest visual components to ever tour. The lights themselves are incredible, but its those huge, crystal clear, creepy, voyeuristic, live-feed screens placed at weird, often disturbing camera angles (like the one close up on Yorke’s eye), that really set them apart and lend a bit more insight into just how weird these blokes are. Each song is given its own identity, completely broken down and assigned its own colors, patterns, screen footage and feel. This is by far the most impressive visual representation of sound I’ve ever seen, and it’s part of what makes Radiohead so bloody special.

During the five-song encore that concluded the two hour show, we were treated to a particularly special moment when Yorke broke out of performer mode and cracked up laughing while sitting at the piano for “You & Whose Army?” It was a rare, intimate look at one of the most captivating frontmen of our generation, and it was hard to not feel closer to him because of this human crack in his larger-than-life persona. With the sound issues and the simple nature of playing a festival as opposed to a regular gig on tour where you have all day to set up, etc, there was no way this was going to be the “best Radiohead show ever,” but by the time “Everything In Its Right Place” stopped twitching through the speakers it was clear why Radiohead is simply the best band in the universe right now. (Kayce)

Radiohead – Outside Lands by Jeff Kravitz
Continue reading for Saturday coverage of Outside Lands…

SATURDAY, 08.23.08

Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet – 1:00-1:40 – Sutro Stage

Fleck & Washburn – The Sparrow Quartet by Weiand
The Sparrow Quartet cut a fine picture, all nattily dressed, lined up in a neat row of chairs, hands full of antique-looking wood, wire and steel. And then they play and give your insides a lil’ flutter. At least that’s how things went at the Quartet’s day opening set at the Sutro Stage in Lindley Meadow, which played host to some of the biggest non-main stage acts. Washburn’s unique, sweet ‘n’ sour voice began with the lure, “Everywhere I go/ I look for you/ Do you look for me?” As their pace increased song to song, accompanied by the unmistakable cannabis specter that meandered in the park all weekend, one felt swept up by their new acoustic music, as daring in its way as the Punch Brothers, simply another inspired commingling of seemingly disparate elements – Chinese folk and Kentucky bluegrass, New Orleans small group jazz and atmospheric indie rock – likely to widen the scope of what everyone considers fair game for a string band. What’s so stunning about the Sparrow Quartet is how pleasurable their music is despite being so musically rigorous. Layers and sympathetic vibrations replaced the usual soloist mindset, and as the notes swung around the globe, these four made it look easy. (DC)

Goapele – 1:00-1:40 – Twin Peaks Stage

Everest – Outside Lands by Dave Vann
Knowing less than nothing about this young nu-soul upstart (other than the hype that describes her as such), I wandered into Goapele’s pretty haze and kinda dug it. Think a more sativa-minded Mary J. Blige with less New Jack Swing and more dub accents. “Happy birthday to all the Leos out there. I’m a Cancer,” chirped Goapele (pronunciation unknown – Go-Apple? Go-ah-pell-y? Gooop-el?). An astrology nod wasn’t her only connection to the 1970’s since her set included a cover of James Brown’s “Cold Sweat” (complete with “give the drummer some” solo) and “Don’t Be Shy,” which had the ring of a Norman “You Are My Starship” Connors electric slow jam. Looking a bit like the daughter of Bow Wow Wow’s Annabella Lwin in a lovely summer dress, Goapele offered quality uplift, comfort soul bolstered by positivity infused pronouncements like, “This is for anybody working for their dreams, working their ass off, making money or not, this is for you.” (DC)

Everest – 1:40-2:10 – Presidio Stage

These Los Angeles rockers have all the fundamentals in place. Even hearing their stuff for the first time, as I did at this set, it’s apparent that they’re dead good musicians who know how to write songs. As basic as that may seem, it’s actually rare for new bands to comprehend what constitutes a full, engaging song. That said, Everest piled on interesting shifts in mood and tempo, and a fierce sense of dynamics that kept your ear glued to them, never quite sure when the whispering would end and a grumbling cry emerge. One hears all the good things in ’70s FM rock in them, from the pleasant duel of acoustic and electric guitars to the vaguely confessional lyrics, which often dealt with dreams, letdowns or the other things that haunt us in great and awful ways; you know, the real shit we all wrestle with and need songs to help us survive. Everest played a bunch of fine ones in this mode (“Rebels In The Roses” had a particularly beautiful shimmer), capable of strummy bedsit stuff and gigantic Neil Young-ish warble, including a hellaciously satisfying feedback fueled number near set’s end that warned us, “Don’t make promises you can’t keep.” I can sincerely promise I’ll be listening for where this band goes next. Great first impression, lads. (DC)

Devendra Banhart – 2:15-3:00 – Sutro Stage

Devendra Banhart – Outside Lands by Weiand
Dev and his Spiritual Bonerz settled upon us like lazy smoke, gathering into a soft reggae shuffle cut by razor sharp guitars and skyward moans. Presence the boy has, and he’s backed by one of the more interesting rock ensembles going, including members of Vetiver and Priestbird and all dudes interested in messing with sound, bending the edges of things, seeing what they can see within a tune. What this afternoon performance showed is how well they serve Banhart’s songs while still doing all their poking around. In fact, as fine as this band was last year, it was apparent how much more they inhabit the tunes from Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon, which comprised the majority of the setlist. There’s a bit more muscle on things now. Their bellies jiggle a bit longer on the funny parts and they’re more comfortable laughing at things whilst they rawk, very much the descendants of The Faces. Wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them set up a bar on stage one tour like Rod, Ronnie and Ron once did. Highlight was a delightful reading of “Shabop Shalom” followed by an inspired cover of Mungo Jerry’s “In The Summertime,” done without irony and thus infinitely pleasing in the flower powered setting. Even closer “Long Haired Child,” though still rushed a little, as it has been for a couple years, hummed with purpose.(DC)

Liars – 2:55-3:30 – Panhandle Stage

Galactic with Dirty Dozen Brass Band by Weiand
What a glorious mess, all buzz and slash and flailing limbs! The vocals bite at you, and keep on snapping until they loose a hunk. Why then stand in their path? Well, it’s bloody exciting. I only know their music in the live setting, unsure how such a beast would sound caged inside a permanent record. In person, they chop at you with very loud guitars, bouncing you around with massive drums and muscle relaxing dub accents, wooing one’s inner demons and literally calling out for the Devil in what could be tribal music from Mars. Or inner space. Or Jung’s tomb. Or maybe just a dark, rhythmic imagination. Best just to let them work you duppy style. (DC)

Galactic’s Crescent City Soul Krewe – 2:50-3:50 – Lands End Stage

The once jittery funk new lions have settled/grown into a proper revue. There’s less urge for flash and speed and many more deep grooves along the lines of primo Isaac Hayes and Sly Stone, a group sound capable of both instrumental and vocal strength. Their ability to relax into the cut rather than bum rushing it, which in fairness they sometimes did in the past, made for a contiguously flowing afternoon concert that brought forth sunshine that the sky refused to offer until Sunday. A special mention for Ben Ellman, who may be the best pocket funk saxophonist since Gary Bartz was bustin’ licks with the Ntu Troop (the crate diggers will know what I’m talking about), and Stanton Moore, who looked like he might bust free of his skin during a drum solo that was equal parts percussion clinic and Carl Palmer’s vision of a second line shuffle. It’s a strong cocktail made by the merger of many potent flavors but tied together by a float of strangeness on top, an herbal accent with a monster kick hiding within pretty well known genre territory. Their music isn’t groundbreaking but they’ve figured out how to accent unique facets that make their own version of it stand out. (DC)

M. Ward – 3:40-4:30 – Sutro Stage

Nellie McKay – Outside Lands by Dave Vann
One fundamentally great song followed another; yet each was soaked in atmosphere, weather for his landscapes, which continually hummed with the original feelings/inspirations behind them. Ward wrestles with mortality and time (“If life is so short, why is the night so long?”) and comes out with tunes that help us march into the valley of the shadow of death, announcing, “God, it’s great to be alive/ Takes the skin right off my hide/ To think I’ll have to give it all up someday.” His is a subtle cult, deeply connected with his work but perhaps less anxious to share our discovery with others than we should be. M. Ward is such a treat, such a close-to-the-breast confidante that one reflexively clings to him. But, clearly he’s caught a fair number of us based on the number of folks belting out his pithy wisdom bursts, and one felt somewhat less alone in the world looking around during “Requiem” to find others singing, “He put his trust in a higher power/ He held his power like a holy grail/ He summoned all of his faith in the lifting/ It suffered all of his faith in the fail.” Each number was well arranged, different enough to be interesting but still comfortingly familiar. Lovely set. (DC)

Nellie McKay – 4:20-5:00 – Panhandle Stage

Only caught the last two songs of McKay’s set but feel confident in saying she’s slightly mad. That’s not a dig when the artist comes across like Randy Newman with a touch of mercury poisoning. Swooping from childlike whimpers to throaty, womanly growls and outwards to undead gurgles on “Do The Zombie,” McKay is what the phrase “singular talent” was created to describe. Dipping into show tunes, Billy Joel, Laura Nyro, Tom Waits and myriad other piano sitters for inspiration, she’s forged her own voice in a field that usually produces soft rock fluff, lounge clichés or overwrought Elton John-isms. Referencing, just in the few minutes I hung around, Joe Biden, Anton LaVey, Bob Dylan and Ralph Nader, there’s few boundaries in her crazed sway, and it’s always a ball to brush up against such charged particles. (DC)

Steve Winwood – 4:10-5:10 – Lands End Stage

Steve Winwood – Outside Lands by Dave Vann
Today’s Winwood is a smoother creature than Traffic yet not as smooth as his Back In The High Life ’80s phase. He seemed supremely comfortable plying his peculiar brand of rock-fusion, a poppy thing complicated by jazz time signatures, Brazilian percussion and odd folk figures. That it goes down so easy is a wonder, and perhaps it’s just that time has softened the strangeness of his hybrid into something almost mainstream. He and his crack band are still too skilled to really live on commercial radio but they fake the lowest common denominator well enough to fool folks. Much of Winwood’s recent work has a positively charged direction, and even a downright gloomy gem like “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” bounced like Clapton’s revamped “Layla,” the pleasure for the musicians in a neat tune if not the original’s dark themes. Beyond specifics, it was a joy to watch Winwood strain and shake with sheer enjoyment at making music. That alone was worth planting yourself for a spell to enjoy a real veteran at work. (DC)

Café Tacuba – 5:05-5:55 – Twin Peaks Stage

Greeted by softly crazed whistling, I wandered into what quickly sounded like a Mexican wedding band that had swallowed Devo. Formed in 1989, these exponents of rock en Español are one of the hottest acts in the non-English speaking world. In San Fran, they played to a healthy though less than soccer stadium sized audience but the sheer gusto and showmanship of their set remained giant sized, perfect for filling up the outdoors and tickling the gray clouds hovering overhead. Lead singer-guitarist Rubén Isaac Albarrán Ortega sported long, braided pigtails and a white leather outfit that would win prizes at Oakland’s Player’s Ball, and the chicas up front swooned (yes, literally swooned) a few times as he emerged from his layers and eventually invited a pack of them to join the quartet on stage and “shake their bones.” Their mamas would have been suitably proud/embarrassed depending on their particular sensibilities.

Café Tacuba served up party punch spiked with curious electrolytes, spilling it around with a child’s glee. It’s not that they aren’t incredibly tight (they are) but it was obvious they dig wildness, unpredictability and unusual accents. Their sound ranged from Midnite Vultures period Beck to border radio oom-pah-pah (with melodica standing in for accordion). Just when you thought you had them pegged they’d toss out a pure Beach Boys vocal digression or tough electric guitar rant that washed down some of their more icky ’90s Latin rock touches (occasionally syrupy keys, cerveza swinging slogans, overly romantic passages). The crushing rhythm section and generally hyperactive imagination behind their tunes almost always bypassed the less successful elements, and as performers they ranked with the very best at this festival. I wouldn’t make too many predictions about what their next move will sound like, and if there’s a bigger compliment than that I don’t know it. (DC)

Regina Spektor – 5:15-6:05 – Sutro Stage

Regina Spektor – Outside Lands by Michael Weintrob
Starting her set with an a cappella reading of “Ain’t No Cover,” Russian born, Bronx bred Regina Spektor kept a strong crowd focused on her eclectic songs. Spektor’s quirky, piano-based, folk-rock-ethnic-pop could have been a difficult sell at a festival, but her knock-out piano abilities and star-quality stage presence kept the advanced San Francisco music fans glued to her every move. While the ideal setting for Spektor would likely be a dark jazz club with velvet drapes, she was impressive in the fog-covered open meadow of gorgeous Golden Gate Park. (Kayce)

The Walkmen – 5:55-6:35 – Panhandle Stage

Drawn over by the surge of press behind this band’s new release, You & Me, what I found was some pretty mopey music with incredibly overwrought lead vocals. That’s not such a bad thing, and I bet The Walkmen would have made a dandy American addition to the Factory Records roster if they’d been born 20 years sooner. Full of neat, circling electric guitars and a singer with an accent from some other place than the NYC they actually come from, The Walkmen played intense, very personal music that the journal writing crowd seemed to REALLY dig. I liked the post-modern, Wall of Voodoo-esque Western shuffle they interjected into a couple tunes, and I’m willing to say my lack of familiarity with their work outside of a pretty keen, if remarkably faithful, redux of John Lennon & Harry Nilsson’s 1974 album, Pussy Cats, could account for my lack of connection with their well played if overly emotional set. (DC)

Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals – 5:50-7:00 – Lands End Stage

Ben Harper – Outside Lands by Weiand
As if setting up the stage for the Democratic National Convention, which kicked off two days after this set, Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals hit the Lands End stage and got things off right with “Better Way.” This song has become a favorite of fans and a staple of BHIC live sets with its battle cry to change the world – just like Barack Obama is hoping to do. And, as with so many other sets from this hugely popular touring band, this quick ten song gig showcased some of the band’s best material, including the iconic “Ground On Down,” which put Harper on the map nearly 15 years ago. I’ve seen them play in small venues like Chicago’s Metro, where during Harper’s solo acoustic set you could hear a pin drop. These days, you’re hard-pressed to get them in such an intimate setting, but the band does its best to bring the audience close in. No matter how big he gets, Harper always takes a moment to look out into the crowd as they scream back at him. The set at Outside Lands was no different. He’s a man of the people, maybe not as humble as he was in the early years, but still appreciative nonetheless. And during songs like “Fight Outta You” and “Diamonds on the Inside,” BHIC turned up the heat. They covered Bill Withers’ “Use Me,” which they have come to adopt as a song of their own, working the slow-burning tempo, throwing down the soul and kicking up the funk. They didn’t close out the night – they prepped the field for Tom Petty. And despite the chill from the misty fog, people danced up a storm and kept each other hot – something Harper’s music has no problem doing every time he plays. (AB)

Two Gallants – 6:05-6:45 – Presidio Stage

Les Claypool – Primus by Michael Weintrob
The sepia folk duo days are behind this band. This is a tough rock ‘n’ roll animal today, armed with song talons that burrow deep. Beginning with a stunning read of “Seems Like Home To Me,” the emotional level was set high from the start. Singer-guitarist Adam Stephens sang, in a voice like a deep gash that never fully heals, “You could set me free/ You could ease my load.” The weight of personal responsibility and the lingering after-effects of our choices float heavily in the Gallants’ songs, and the sad, ringing guitars and tough rock drums of Tyson Vogel produce a combination that’s stirring, even unsettling at times. The term “folk rock” is bandied about a lot, but Two Gallants offered us a fine example of the sub-genre’s best traits on Saturday, the drifter ruminations of Woody Guthrie and lesser known minstrels beefed up by pounding floor toms and prickly electricity. With each turn, Two Gallants matures, refining their vision in ways that make what was already vibrant resonate even deeper. (DC)

Primus – 6:40-7:50 – Twin Peaks Stage

Darting to the other side of the grounds to check out Primus, I found Claypool had gathered a huge crowd at the Twin Peaks Stage. The mass of people certainly wasn’t surprising considering the rare nature (only four shows in the last two years) of a Primus gig, especially in Claypool’s home stomping grounds, but the intensity of the fans – while the sun was still in the sky mind you – was still a pleasant surprise. Watching guitarist Larry LaLonde and drummer Tim Alexander work with Claypool it was clear why the jam band crowd has flocked to Les (albeit many through his post-Primus work). These guys are incredible musicians, technically proficient but daring and into long-ass weirdo jams. As Claypool’s nasally, out-there vocals bounced next to his heavily-manipulated bass tones, it was a particularly bizarre, ten-minute “Harold Of the Rocks” featuring an inspired, Hendrix-esque guitar workout from LaLonde, the always enjoyable “Frizzle Fry” and a dark “My Name Is Mud” that fueled the crowd, inciting mosh pits up front during Primus’ last show until who knows when. (Kayce)

Cake – 6:50-7:50 – Sutro Stage

Cake by Dave Vann
Powered by some ancient radiation and nigh possessed with delivering a fine time, Cake showed themselves to be festival gold. Grooving to a rhythm that makes one think of Keith Moon drumming on top of a unicycle, they drank in their very warm reception and reflected that heat back to a crowd that knew most of the words to every song. That’s not too surprising given how much of this material they’ve been playing for years, and it may be time to write a new batch just to keep from becoming a nostalgia act. But, that said, they made every selection count and have honed their audience manipulation skills to Flaming Lips levels. That their version of “pop” is smart and quirky yet has made inroads on the airwaves is a testament to their innate catchiness, and it’s nice to see a band so aware of how lucky they are. “Greetings, we are Cake, and we’re here to serve you, not the other way around. We’re so glad to be here,” said leader-singer-gonzo conductor John McCrea, who celebrated getting Cake’s first album, Motorcade of Generosity (1994) out of the “steely claws” of their old record label by playing swinging indie oldie “Rock ‘n’ Roll Lifesytle.” McCrea led us in multiple sing-alongs, enthusing, “Beautiful voices getting louder and more powerful. Beautiful guitars. Ahh…” Obviously in love with his own thang, it’s easy to join him when the music is this baldly enjoyable, this eager to please, this flecked with craziness and righteous cynicism. And no set could be bad that includes a rollicking jog through “Sheep Go To Heaven,” which provided a potential festival motto; “As soon as you’re born you start dying/ So you might as well have a good time.” Cheers to that! (DC)

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – 7:55-9:55 – Lands End Stage

Tom Petty with Steve Winwood by Heather Barlin
Closing down the second day of the festival, Tom Petty’s set was a much different scene than the madness for Radiohead. Considerably smaller in numbers, older, packing more weed and less of the hard stuff, this group was relaxed. But, Petty’s fans were still passionate and the legend delivered the goods like he always does. Track after track was a golden radio hit, reminding everyone what a powerful tunesmith Petty is. “You Wreck Me,” “Free Falling,” “Refugee,” the brilliant “Last Dance with Mary Jane” and even the old Traveling Wilburys tune “End of the Line” were all performed in triumphant sing-along fashion. Unfortunately, the sound was still cutting out, and even forced an impromptu five-minute set break by Petty. But the class act that he is, Petty returned with “one of our favorite musicians in the world,” namely Steve Winwood. Having already played his own impressive set on the same stage a few hours earlier, Winwood was loose the moment he stepped up with guitar in hand for a very nice reading of “Can’t Find My Way Home.” Following the expressive Blind Faith staple, Winwood jumped behind the keys for his Spencer Davis Group hit, “Gimme Some Lovin’.” Both tracks were exceptional and featured extended jams by almost every band member. It was a nice touch to see Winwood go from guitar to piano but still maintain the same high-level interaction with Petty and the Heartbreakers, weaving in, out and above the fold with grace and confidence. Watching two of rock’s most royal elder statesmen square off and trade licks, staring with wide smiles and big eyes at each other, it was one of those special moments you try to lock in your memory. (Kayce)

Tom Petty – Outside Lands by Susan J. Weiand
Continue reading for Sunday coverage of Outside Lands…

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)


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
Continue reading for more images from Outside Lands…

Images by: Susan J. Weiand

Friday, 08.22.08

The Felice Brothers
Steel Pulse
Steel Pulse
The Dynamites feat. Charles Walker
Lyrics Born

Continue reading for Saturday pics from Outside Lands…

Images by: Susan J. Weiand

Saturday, 08.23.08

Dell Dome
Thriving Ivory
Abigail Washburn – The Sparrow Quartet
Devendra Banhart
Kaki King & Les Claypool – Press Conference
Carney – Press Conference
Regina Spektor
Steve Winwood
Steve Winwood
Stanton Moore – Galactic
Ben Harper
Ben Harper
Tom Petty
Tom Petty

Continue reading for Sunday pics from Outside Lands…

Images by: Susan J. Weiand

Sunday, 08.24.08

Dan Lebowitz – ALO
ALO Fans
Culver City Dub Collective
Sila and the Afro-Funk Experience
Toots & The Maytals
Vienna Teng
Sharon Jones
Pet Duck and Owner
Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
John Bell – Widespread Panic
Widespread Panic Fans
Dave Schools – Widespread Panic
Jeff Tweedy – Wilco
Nels Cline – Wilco
Wilco Fans
John Stirratt – Wilco
Jack Johnson
Jack Johnson Fans
Jack Johnson Fans
Jack Johnson Fans
Jack Johnson

Continue reading for more images from Outside Lands…

Images by: Jeff Kravitz

Thom Yorke – Radiohead
Thom Yorke – Radiohead
Manu Chao
Daniel Auerbach – The Black Keys
Tom Petty
Tom Petty
Ben Harper
Lyrics Born
Benevento/Russo Duo
Steel Pulse
Matt Nathanson
Black Mountain
The Coup
Donovan Frankenreiter
Cold War Kids
Ben Ellman – Galactic
The Felice Brothers

Continue reading for even more images from Outside Lands…

Images by: Dave Vann

Friday, 08.22.08

Howlin Rain
Lyrics Born
Manu Chao

Saturday, 08.23.08

Two Gallants
The Coup
Devendra Banhart
Mike Dillon with Galactic
Donovan Frankenreiter
Steve Winwood
Steve Winwood
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Sunday, 08.23.08

Gabriela Quintero of Rodrigo y Gabriela
Nicole Atkins
The Mother Hips
Patterson Hood – Drive-By Truckers
Bon Iver
Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
Grace Potter
Mike Gordon
Widespread Panic
Widespread Panic
Jeff Tweedy – Wilco
Jack Johnson
Jack Johnson

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