The Outside Lands music and arts festival returned to San Francisco this past weekend for a fifth year of top-notch tunes and bites in Golden Gate Park. Put on by Another Planet, which is also co-organizing Las Vegas’ Life Is Beautiful festival, Outside Lands also offered a glimpse into what we can expect from this fall’s event, particularly when it comes to the nearly dozen artists shared between them. Here’s a look at who proved their festival chops this weekend, and why should check them out in Vegas in October:
Rap may have evolved into a different beast since J5 burst out of LA with their brand of alternative hip-hop 20 years ago, but the fully-reunited six-man crew proved that their one-two punch of sunny, soul-flavored melodies and verbal gunfight flow still very much has its place. Their set packed the main stage polo field late Saturday afternoon with a crowd that easily surpassed that of headliners Nine Inch Nails. A sea of fists pumped in languid unison to the command of MCs Chali 2na, Akil, Zaakir and Mark 7 even as DJs Cut Chemist and Nu-Mark tinkered on an oversized turntable set piece or a toy-sized 808. Think of their live show as less of a reunion tour and more of a refresher course on what cemented them as hip-hop greats to begin with.
Twenty One Pilots
The genre-jumping, in-your-face mess of rap-synthpop-screamo-baroque that is Twenty One Pilots may be an acquired taste, but they sure as heck know how to put on a live show. Frontman/multi-instrumentalist Tyler Joseph did everything from rap over an electric ukelele to leap off a grand piano to perform while standing atop the hands of fans in the middle of the crowd. All the while, drummer Josh Dun gleefully beat the crap out of the skins like an overgrown, over-sugared kid. This set will make you feel many things, but bored won’t be one of them.
It’s easy to take shots at a band like Vampire Weekend for their oh-so-palatable prep boy rock, but it’s more interesting to consider what an impressively well-oiled machine they are live. Ezra Koenig and co. ran through a tight, well-paced set that jumped around from sleepy, reggae-kissed favorites like “Diplomat’s Son” to the driving piano rock of “Unbelievers,” delivering each tune with harmonies and instrumentation as crisp and smooth as their sweater sets. As far as festival sets go, these boys are impressively hard to dislike; you’re best off grabbing a beer, kicking back and just taking it all in.
Warm and sparkling and augmented by lots of sludgy bass, the set by Derek Vincent Smith lived up to his stage name. As the sun set, kids gathered like moths around the cavern of light that was the stage, a tie-dyed LED explosion twirling in sync with Smith’s blip-soul sampling. Once the sun went down, Smith asked the crowd to switch on a function of the Outside Lands cell phone app, transforming their screens into glowsticks-cum-lighters. Look forward to this aesthetic overload at Life Is Beautiful, something far more expansive and visceral than anything that can be contained in the walls of a Strip nightclub.
What Dawes lacks in energy and originality on their records, they make up for live. During their Sunday afternoon set, the LA quartet proved themselves to be more than a love letter to ’60s Laurel Canyon folk, breathing life into dad-rock singles like “Time Spent in Los Angeles” and “From a Window Seat” with sparkling keyboards and extended jams that showcased some formidable guitar chops. It was a worthy reminder as to why Rock and Roll Hall of Famers like Jackson Browne and Robbie Robertson have hired Dawes as their live backing band on tours.