Great way to kick off Day 3. Diego’s Umbrella’s lively, self-described “gypsy pirate polka” screamed for audience participation and got a great response from the early morning crowd at Twin Peaks. It was a roaring, enthusiastic set, and terrifically fun to watch. They announced plans to sign boobs after the show. Men, women or animals. Not sure if they followed through with this. It was also an excellently mixed performance. The band had three guitarists playing simultaneously but this was very well managed. The whole vibe was lighthearted and irresistibly entertaining. Diego’s Umbrella brought the Juerga fury, as promised. Our interview with Diego’s Umbrella on Saturday at Outside Lands is a MUST see, check it out here.
Wonderful songs with a heavy African influence. They sorta gave the feeling of a sea of sound. Tremendously warm. It wasn’t a particularly energetic or exciting performance, but it didn’t need to be. I kinda wish I’d been in the front row on acid or something, just vibing out. I feel like that’d be incredible.
The ensemble GROUPLOVE has put out one, six song EP, and has a CD coming out in early September. They played a condensed version of the festival circuit (Lollapalooza and Outside Lands) this year riding their hit ‘Colours’ the whole way through. This group, whose sound feels like Modest Mouse but with a heavy indie-pop overtone, played a tight set at the Panhandle Stage. Like many of the lesser-known bands at OL this year, they took this show as a important opportunity and played with a distinct feel and energy. Their set was surprisingly true to their recorded material. Simple drum beats of Ryan Rabin paired well with the lo-fi, one-note-per-measure bass lines of Sean Gadd. This easy-to-listen-to rhythm section set a good foundation for lead vocalist Christian Zucconi’s half yelling, half canorous melodies, which was backed by the steady and floating harmony of Hannah Hooper. The uncomplicated progressions, stable rhythms and quick, repeated lyrics made for either a danceable or nap-able set by this budding Los-Angeles based band.
The few who were able to stumble their way to the Sutro stage early on Sunday got an early look at Merrill Garbus’s tribal face paint as she, without the help of a road crew, set up her accompaniment. The self-sufficient attitude and facial adornment of Garbus– the proud creator of the band tUnE-YarDs– portrayed what this tribal experimental brainchild is all about. Garbus, her bassist Nate Brenner, and the recent addition of two saxophonists for the “w h o k i l l” tour absolutely blew me, and the rest of the audience, away. Garbus would start the song with a continuous loop of complicated drum-beats on her meager kit of a snare, a tom, and a few other random percussion instruments. Then she would pull out her jury-rigged electric ukulele, strum a few notes (just to hype up the audience) and start right in with her androgynous tone and simple, but masterful, lyrics. Highlights of her set included Bizness and Gangsta (which includes one of my favorite lines, “What’s a boy to do if he’ll never be a gangsta?”). The entire set was truly brilliant. This New England-based band burned off the fog in Golden Gate Park and set the tone for a beautiful send off day at Outside Lands this year.
TUnE-yArDs is a strong contender, along with Muse, for my favorite performance of the festival. For those of you who don’t know, the group is Connecticut native Merrill Garbus’s daring solo project. Much of the sound is composed entirely of Garbus’s unique, somewhat androgynous voice, which she does incredible things with. It’s not a sing-songy, angelic voice by any means. It’s more of a rough, powerful yell that’s incredibly pure and wonderfully in tune. She truly uses her voice as an instrument. At Sutro, she stood in front of a pedal board with a snare and a floor tom and just blew everyone away. She was accompanied by a bassist and two saxophone players but that was it. She did all the percussion and the lion’s share of the chords and melodies via sampling gear. That’s not an easy thing to do by any means. One mistake in a sample and it has to be done over again, otherwise that mistake is going to replay itself throughout the rest of the song. She basically made anyone who uses prerecorded samples look like a gigantic pussy. It was an incredible, jaw-dropping performance. If you haven’t seen her perform live, I’d advise you to look tUnE-yArDs up on youtube right now. She makes bold, sometimes atonal choices and it works great for her. It’s crazy in a really, really good way. I’m gonna go see her again as soon as I can.
Mavis tottered onstage for a quite religious hour-long set at Lands End. Her voice has dropped significantly since her glory days—now she kinda sounds like James Brown. Still, she has some incredibly classic songs, and she also drew from older soul tunes. “Wade in the Water” was particularly good.
The Decemberists were everything I expected and more. One word to describe the group’s performance at OSL is “refreshing,” since the sounds were typically light and flirty. The crystal clear singing of Chris Funk was supplemented by every member of the band at some point, but never to the point of muddling the overall sound. Varying levels of folk and rock were present in each song, with moments of hardcore rock and pure folk interspersed. “The Rake’s Song” was an epic addition to the set list, with heavy rock electric guitar and multi-layered drums and vocals filling the Polo Fields. It was an affront to some of my associations with folk as quiet and cute; the Decemberists were far from that. The details were everything with The Decemberists– the harmonica, melodica and light guitar licks on Why We Fight was subtle but essential to its catchiness. A great performance which I will savor until I can catch them live again.
As I entered the thinned out part of the crowd at Sutro for Beirut, a hipster-looking-kid walked by with his girlfriend and muttered “I’m feeling this.” Although there was a lot of movement away from the stage halfway through Beirut’s performances, it was only because people were eager to get good spots for the festival’s closers. Beirut’s performance was dominated by a heavy horn section. The sun set over stage left, which allowed chill colored lights to set a relaxed mood at Sutro.
Zach Condon and Beirut gave a worldly, well-balanced performance and rocked Outside Lands pretty hard. He strode out there with a trumpet, a half dozen other dudes and a ukulele and they played a gorgeous, understated set. It’s hard to classify Beirut into any one genre—I might even say their set was completely unique from any other at Outside Lands. The whole thing is driven by Condon’s easily identified mumble (and I say “mumble” in the best possible way) and floats over unconventional instruments like the melodica, the french horn and the tuba—each of which occupies a completely different sonic spectrum. They sauntered through favorites like “Postcards From Italy”, “Scenic World” and “Elephant Gun” (yes, of course they also played “Nantes”), and left the crowd wanting more.
I went into Deamau5′s set with the wrong expectations. Coming from Hard Summer Music Festival just the weekend before, my hopes were for an EDC-esque performance to close out Outside Lands. Immediately after his set, I wasn’t just disappointed, I was pissed. His build-ups were long and extended, but simply faded away instead of leading to a massive, skull-crushing drop. After a couple days of discussion with fellow Outside Lands goers, I’ve come to realize what set Deadmau5′s set apart. I love EDM, and perhaps the reason I love it so much is because more and more it is becoming the same. Even across genres within electronic music, the structure of tracks are almost identical. Not only did Deadmau5 play 90 minutes straight of exclusively his own produced work, but he did it in a unique fashion. While the set as whole was not my favorite, I have come to be thoroughly impressed.
Arcade Fire closed off Outside Lands in style. They created a conceptual performance based on their most recent release The Suburbs. Before Arcade Fire came on stage, the screens on stage and on the side of the stage lit up; a three minute video was played– with from an old footage commercial pitching the suburbia and clips from Spike Jonze’s music video for The Suburbs. The suspense was building, and I even saw a group of people running towards the stage in anticipation for the start of the set. This piece of history created a retro feel, which was supplemented by the high-end-thrift-store-looking costume that lead singer Win Butler was rocking and the decor on stage. For an eight piece band, the sound was focused and tight– layered but not overcooked. Each song had a different focus, on a different instrument and a different person. My favorite songs from the set were “No Cars Go” and “The Suburbs.” I was also enamored with “Haiti,” which was sung by Régine Butler in a mélange of Creole and English. Even though the light show wasn’t as ridiculous as Deadmau5, a pleasant surprise was the full moon rising above the stage halfway through the performance; a magical moment and performance to close out a great festival.
I know how everyone always talks about what a religious experience Arcade Fire is live. I wouldn’t be surprised if the columns next to this are gushing with enthusiasm at how incredible and life-changing their festival-closing set was. I know I’m gonna take some flak for this, but their performance just didn’t get me all that psyched. Win Butler’s voice was a little too angsty and the general sound wasn’t very well put together. It wasn’t a bad performance per say, but it did leave something to be desired. I didn’t even stay all the way through, switching to see Deadmau5 about 30 minutes into their set. This is coming from a dude who has followed them since Funeral back in 2004. Back when they were little-indie-band-from-Montreal Arcade Fire instead of Grammy-winning-superstars Arcade Fire. As much as I like them, it didn’t strike me as an inspiring performance by any means. I wasn’t all that close, so it’s possible I didn’t get the full, visceral experience—my brother was up front and had a great time—but from a distance I wasn’t especially captivated. Take my perspective for what it’s worth, but Arcade Fire failed to change my life and I’m not even sure if I’d go see them again.