They came, they played, they kicked its ass. Outside Lands 2012 was a rousing success by any standards and the differentiation of artists in tow was astounding. Everything from hip-hop to metal to EDM to folk and everything in between, Outside Lands had something for everyone. And so they came from all around the globe to watch their favorite bands play under cloudy, foggy skies. Bands came to give their all to fans that may not normally get a chance to see them. These festivals provide once in a lifetime opportunities to see an oftentimes odd mix of talent that would be rarely seen in the same zip code, let alone same venue. It’s festivals like this that draw people from places like Japan, France and Germany to this little piece of the California pie.
Day one started off fairly innocuously as people were just getting settled. Fitz and the Tantrums were the first band we saw and they lit up the main stage, which was surprising considering they are a fairly new band or at least a bit under the radar. Well, no longer as they roared onto the Polo Field stage with the kind of ferocity that would befit an arena band. They played a number of their cuts, but of course everyone was waiting for their big song, “Moneygrabber,” which they saved for last.
After Fitz, we checked Beck before moving over to see Of Monsters and Men kill it at the Sutro side stage. We recapped that set over the weekend (Read about it here).
Friday came and went and as Saturday began the fog rolled in early swallowing the park whole. Sean Hayes was the first act we saw and we talked about that performance here. After that fine performance it was off to the main stage to catch a little bit of Tame Impala who have a great buzz about their upcoming second album Lonerism due October 8. The Australian band were methodical in their approach and rocked the large crowd, many of whom had little frame of reference to how good this band was.
Playing on the small Panhandle stage was Father John Misty, the new moniker of J. Tillman, former solo artist, former drummer for Fleet Foxes. The set was weird and extremely meta, almost a surreal vision of what Andy Kaufman would have been doing today, but altogether brilliant. It was full of wit, sarcasm and beautiful, melodic vocals that make him a must-see act.
Playing at 3:50 on the Sutro stage were the Alabama Shakes, a band with so much hype that the crowd quickly closed off the available space and people had to watch with binoculars from the other end of the park. The Shakes were one of the must see acts of the entire festival for many people and they didn’t disappoint with lead singer Brittany Howard howling out lyrics in a voice that most singers can only dream about. She flaunted her guitar playing and vocal prowess throughout their 50-minute set and at the end after nary a word said between songs, thanked the crowd and it was off to see Michael Kiwanuka who we spoke of here.
With Saturday in the books, Sunday was sure to be interesting. After checking in on fun. and their brand of pop rock, Trampled by Turtles took over for Tom Morello on the Sutro stage and wowed the audience with their bluegrass/punk style. A man standing next to me remarked at how surprised he was with their ferocity, but if you’ve been around this scene for a few years you know that it is emerging and is not your grandfather’s bluegrass.
What started as a bit of a lark to explore the finest music San Francisco had to offer turned into an experience that will stick with those that attended for a long time. There was a sense of real community and even though the oddities that seem to come out of the crawl spaces under the floorboards whenever there’s any big thing in the city were there, it was peaceful and mellow. The cold kept people close together and the bands brought them even closer. If someone were to ask me how music brings people together I need only point to San Francisco’s Outside Lands Festival as a sign that people can gather peaceably even with metal headlining and act like normal, caring individuals with a shared interest in experiencing their heroes do magical things. It’s the power of music and it’s wonderful.