By Ben Houston and Will Houston
Photos by Will Houston
Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival is not just a series of shows strung together through San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Beyond its music veil, it is a tapestry of unforeseen surprises and meaningful moments with the lovely creatures who attend and perform that make it a sublime staple of the Bay Area Kingdom.
We are a fortunate clan to get to experience such an eclectic palette of music, drink and attendees. Now please do yourself and us a favor. Throw on the ballad of “Baba O’Rlley,” pour yourself a fine ale and enjoy the tale of the Voyage to Outside Lands...
Outside Lands 2017
CHAPTER 1: The Year of The Rock
“Are you alliiiiiive?! And if you want to live forever, first you must die!”
-James Hetfield, Metallica
The heartbeat of a festival is a sacred thing each year. The creators must choose what kind of sound should beat the drum, and the fans who come are ready to dance along to it. For the big tenth anniversary of Outside Lands, they decided on the biggest sound possible - ROCK ’N’ ROLL.
Never in recent memory has one of the most sought after festivals in the US leaned so heavily on rock, but Outside Lands went there, grabbing Rock & Roll Hall of Famers The Who and Metallica who set the tone for a weekend filled with the instrumental and often rebellious sound.
Bands of alt-genres took the cue and brought sets that really banged the drum hard.
Alt-electronic rock group Alt-J provided a stunning spectacle from their three piece band on the Twin Peaks stage that we jumped over to midway through Gorillaz for a solid six songs including hit “Breezeblocks” and new jam “Deadcrush” that really had the finger on the pulse of the crowd and showcased the coolest production we saw all weekend.
Reggae vets Rebelution brought their killer horn section and absolutely ripped up the stage on Sunday night to the delight of the crowd that came for the stoney hits but left jacked up for the evening. They were one of the best surprise acts of the weekend.
Belle & Sebastian may have accidentally left their drummer at a gas station this past week on the road but they played a fun, high-kickin set for the crowd and James Vincent McMorrow had his indie rocker Pooh Bear voice cascading over the hill at Sutro.
CHAPTER 2: Gorillaz in the Mist
The chromatic torch-lit trees surrounding the Lands End stage field echoed the shrieks of the party primates that lurked below them. The misty night air made our neck hair stand on end but the beer that filled our bellies had our mind focused only on the highly anticipated performance. The empty stage was filled with an array of instruments, space for an army, and far too serene for what was to become the party of the weekend.
Co-founder and only lasting musical contributor of the group Gorillaz, Damon Albarn, took the stage with his band of bohemians accompanied by his backing on-screen cartoon band, and only truly then did Outside Lands get its rhythm going.
The often melodical, sweetly soulful, manic and sing-a-long worthy set made all realize it doesn’t need to be clean or cohesive, it just needs to be good. The most special moment came for the thankful crowd when the De La Soul joined on stage for “Feel Good Inc.” and the Bay Area’s own Del the Funky Homosapien surprised the crowd for his classic featuring banger “Clint Eastwood.” We sang every last drop of it loud, and boy did it feel good.
CHAPTER 3: King Metallica and the Royal Blood
Saturday was the pinnacle of the weekend, rising up from Golden Gate Park as the day wore on to the levels of Mount Olympus where rock-gods Metallica rode high above our mortal hand-horns on skull-adorned chariots of fire.
The true kings of the weekend had us headbanging so hard our necks were immune to Advil for two days and our ears were ringing with their hits. Old school fans got what they came for but lead singer James Hetfield (he is so cool) made sure to welcome the Metallica-show nubes and point out the youngsters in the crowd, ready to usher in the new era of rock.
This new era of rock showed its true potential earlier in the day with one of our weekend favorites and new discoveries, Royal Blood (thanks Outside Lands). Just two Brit gents, one on drums and one on bass, made the sound of a stampede of giants. They absolutely rocked and whenever they come to a festival near you their show is a must.
CHAPTER 4: Khaleesi Tove Lo and The Little Dragons
Friday the fires burned female. The pop warrior-babes Tove Lo and Little Dragon kicked the weekend into high-heeled gear and had us all bending the knee as we got down to their sing-a-longs from the bouncy “Ritual Union” to the revealing “Talking Body” (feat. Tove Lo’s little dragons).
Yukimi Nagano rocked a jelly-fish inspired neon green dress and hat worthy of the Kentucky Derby as she got weird with the crowd and her band, banging the drums and tambo to a crowd that wished they’d been given a night time set.
My crew’s favorite was popstar provocateur Tove Lo who made us all feel that tequila buzz a little bit more and wish we could be dancing closer to the stage. She was self-assured and seemed to be having a blast, teasing us as she bounced around in silver pants. I respect the confidence and the fact that her sexuality was not just a cheap gimmick but an ownership of her freedom and self-love.
CHAPTER 5: The Missing Tribe
A piece of the weekend was ripped out from under us as one of the biggest lineup draws, A Tribe Called Quest, postponed their Friday evening show unexpectedly. Perfect is boring I believe, but COME ON, couldn’t it have been a third-liner or something. According to a letter released to fans this week, after their Thursday night show at Red Rocks in Colorado, the group was feeling down and missing their fallen member Phife Dawg. The show could not go on.
Unexpected obstacles happen in life and music so they postponed the set until Saturday (more on that later), angering many fans on social media who had apparently traveled from far and wide that night just to see the recently reunited group who are on their last tour EVER. There was more than enough music to enjoy yourself for the day and weekend but nevertheless it was an unfortunate and unforeseen turn of events.
We send our love and hope their hearts are healed.
CHAPTER 6: Big Boi to the Rescue
We barely had time to mourn the loss of our fallen Tribes-men when out of the trees rode a red hooded man onto a hidden secret-set stage. Who was this mysterious outkast of the lineup? As soon as the beat to “ATLiens” started we all knew and those passersby walking to get food after Lorde’s recently-finished set crowded around to watch him play the damn hits with that crisp Big Boi flow. We needed some good hearty old-school rap after the loss of ATCQ and on a cold Sunday afternoon it warmed us and fueled us to finish up the long weekend strong.
CHAPTER 7: The Foxes and The Thundercat
Immersed in the glow of the golden stage lights, Fleet Foxes frontman Robin Pecknold couldn’t help but grin upon seeing the masses gathered along the grassy slopes before the Sutro Stage on Friday afternoon.
The excitement of the crowd as the band walked on stage seemed to clash with the somber horn intro that heralded the Fleet Foxes' entrance. After Pecknold took a sip of some ancient mountain elixir (or maybe it was just coffee) from a white mug placed on a stool, the Foxes struck up with a clash of steel strings and beating drums to lead in “I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar.”
After a nearly six-year hiatus, the Fleet Foxes were back and ready to show what their long-awaited album, Crack-Up, was made of. Following a bouncing rendition of Crack-Up’s second track “Cassius” and the introduction of a flutist, the set began to move into more familiar territory with a rendition of “Grown Ocean” from 2011’s Helplessness Blues and my personal favorite, “Ragged Wood,” from their debut LP Fleet Foxes (2008). After all these years, the Foxes were back from their long rest, and the crowd was ready to greet them when they did.
When it comes to cats and dogs, it’s easy to figure out whose side Thundercat was on.
Donning a bright-red Los Angeles Dodgers cap, Thundercat’s Stephen Bruner brought the Twin Peaks into the strange, funk-opera world of his acclaimed third album, Drunk (2017).
After being guided in by the falsetto croonings of “Rabbot Ho,” Bruner and the band dropped into his funk ballad written about his cat Turbo Tron, “A Fan’s Mail (Tron Song Suite II).”
Even in the photo pit, I couldn’t help but sing out “It’s cool to be a cat.”
Bruner’s fingers flowed across the strings of his gargantuan six-string bass with ease as he swayed back and forth, eyes closed.
With the accompaniment of pianist Dennis Hamm and drummer Justin Brown, the ride on Thundercat’s funktastic space cat adventure was as smooth as can be.
CHAPTER 8: Tribe Doesn’t Show Up Again...
...they didn’t give a good excuse for this one. So ya...
CHAPTER 9: The Who vs. Karl the Fog
The mists of San Francisco came to greet the stormfront of rock that was about to take over the Lands End stage to close out Sunday and the festival. Roger Daltrey microphone whipped through the air like a lightning bolt as guitarist Pete Townshend sent gusts of power as he windmilled the strings of his electric guitar.
The Who had returned.
After the first strike of their 1964 hit “I Can’t Explain,” the band kept delivering with a rendition of “The Seeker” and “Who Are You?,” “I Can See For Miles,” “The Kids Are Alright,” and “My Generation” just for a start.
By the third day of the festival, feet were sore, voices shot and the mind began to drift to the week ahead. But all that went out the window as Daltrey let out a roaring “YEAAAAAAAAAAAH!” as the band closed out with “Won’t Get Fooled Again” following three bangers that were “Pinball Wizard,” “See Me, Feel Me,” and, of course, “Baba O’Riley.”
“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” were the last sung words of Outside Lands year 10, and the roar of the storm passed on.
CHAPTER 10: And Then We Went Home and Watched Game of Thrones
It was awesome.