16 August 2018 (gig)
18 August 2018
With each passing year, San Francisco’s Outside Lands festival becomes more of an institution. It’s truly a force to be reckoned with on the national festival landscape. Last year they passed the decade mark, and there are no signs of slowing down. While some festivals can see major declines in act size and quality, Outside Lands has remained consistent. It’s easy to see why. It boasts one of the world’s most breathtaking and iconic festival settings in Golden Gate Park. They continue to add exciting new features. And last but not least, their top tier talent never ceases to amaze.
Here are four of the top sets of Outside Lands 2018:
Shannon and the Clams - Twin Peaks Stage
Shannon and the Clams are local Bay Area legends. Formed in 2009 in Oakland, they’re one of the most prominent, consistently touring bands from the region over the last decade. They had a distinctly surf rock guitar sound on their earliest releases, and have subsequently expanded in to influences of garage, psych, and classic doo-wop vocals and song structures. At the center of the group is their frontwoman Shannon Shaw. You will be hard pressed to find a more powerful lead vocalist. Her impressive pipes have been on full display in 2018 with the band releasing their 6th LP, Onion, and Shannon releasing her debut solo album, Shannon in Nashville. It was recorded by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, along with a host of well known area session musicians, giving it a classic Muscle Shoals feel.
The band kicked things off on Friday as the first band to play the Twin Peaks stage at 12:40pm. Despite the early time slot, they had a sizable percentage of the field filled. “We have to be honest,” remarked Shaw, “We weren’t expecting this many people out!” Those who made it were not disappointed. The band ripped through new songs like “The Boy” and “It’s Gonna Go Away” which sounded right at home alongside classics like “Rip Van Winkle” and “Ozma.” Many attendees danced gleefully in ways befitting of the bands sound, and dressed in a style John Waters would admire.
N.E.R.D - Lands End Stage
N.E.R.D is commonly referred to as the lesser known project of the prolific Pharrell Williams. Considering he has reshaped pop music and hip hop production multiple times over the last two decades, that is no surprise. In a career filled with highlights, 2013 was a banner year, with 3 smash singles: “Get Lucky” with Daft Punk, “Blurred Lines” with Robin Thicke, and his solo single “Happy.” He followed that up quickly with his solo album, Girl, but then took a solid 3 and half year break before releasing his next personal project, N.E.R.D’s No One Ever Really Dies album, the group’s 5th LP. Over the years, the band’s influence has become more and more apparent. Their debut album, 2002’s In Search Of…, was not a commercial or critical hit at the time, but legions of young artists have professed their love in the years since. Top cultural influencers like Tyler, the Creator, The Internet, and Frank Ocean, among many others, have cited the album as a primary influence. Its fusion of genres opened up doors for these artists to keep moving Hip Hop and R&B forward in exciting new directions. It’s rare for a guest to make an appearance on Pharrell’s Beats 1 Apple Radio program, Othertone, without referencing it.
I expect many younger fans may have been expecting mostly smooth falsetto and Pop R&B beats after reading Pharrell’s name attached to the set. Those who got too close were hit with a jarring reality, physically. N.E.R.D hit the stage to the distorted guitar and angry verses of 2008’s Seeing Sounds freakouts “Anti Matter” & “Kill Joy.” Five songs in, after playing “Spaz” off the same album, Pharrell was dissatisfied with the crowd’s energy levels. He waited minutes on end until the crowd had formed three large circles, insisting on maximum energy. “Spaz if you want to!” as the chorus goes. What came next was a career spanning medley of Neptunes produced tunes, hitting new classics like Migos’ “Stir Fry” and Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright,” and all-time greats like Clipse’s “Grindin” and Snoop’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot.”
The Growlers - Sutro Stage
The Growlers are a Southern California institution. They have released 7 albums since 2009. Their most recent, Casual Acquaintances, dropped just 2 weeks before their Outside Lands set. It follows the career highlight of 2016’s City Club album, their first to be released on Cult Records. Cult is the NYC based label of Julian Casablancas, frontman of The Strokes and The Voidz, who also produced City Club. This fruitful partnership has extended to Casablancas making regular appearances at The Growlers’ annual SoCal music festival, Beach Goth (which is also a term that has been used to describe their music). Casablancas joined them on stage during their regular headlining set for a version of The Doors’ “People Are Strange,” a shared influence of the two.
The Growlers took the beautifully tucked away Sutro stage promptly at 6:40. The booking might be seen as curious given they were playing directly opposite fellow guitar rocker Father John Misty. But given FJM’s recent turn to the sullen and down tempo, most were left pleased with their choice. The Growlers pumped out the high energy staples from opening track “I’ll Be Around,” its funky, plodding bass line leaving not a single shoulder left unshaken. The members were split with three in all white with black stars and upside down crosses, and the others reversed. Their consistently ostentatious outfits are well suited to a group with such a sound all their own and vocals as idiosyncratic as frontman Brooks Nielsen’s. Closing out with the twitchy title track from 2014’s Chinese Fountain, the diehards and newcomers all left nodding their smiling faces.
Lizzo - Lands End Stage
Lizzo, born Melissa Jefferson in Detroit, grew up in Houston, but it was Minneapolis where she would make her name. She was 23 when she arrived, and quickly got to work making a name for herself in collaborative projects like The Chalice and Grrrrl Party. However, it was as a solo artist that things really accelerated with 2013’s debut Lizzobangers. It produced viral successes like her video for “Batches & Cookies,” and got her on national tours with local stars like P.O.S. and Har Mar Superstar. After another independent release in 2015, she made her major label debut with Coconut Oil in fall of 2016, and there’s been no looking back. Now a household name and a regular on the international festival circuit, there’s no ceiling for this gifted rapper, singer, dancer and charismatic frontwoman.
In addition to all of her onstage talents, Lizzo’s positive message has also inspired fans. She has the rare talent of being able to touch on social issues like race and body positivity without veering into preachy or corniness. It’s the larger than life personality and fantastic sense of humor that allows her to pull it off unlike so many others. There was nary a harder dancing crowd to be seen all weekend. That’s no small feat given her early Saturday 2:20 Lands End spot. By the time the hand claps kicked in on opener “Fitness,” even the most reserved of revelers were already swaying. Her cover of TLC’s “No Scrubs” was perfectly on brand and had the crowd in a giant sing-a-long. The set as a whole was one of the most communal sets of the weekend.
Here are some of the exciting updates to Outside Lands this year:
- Brand new to Outside Lands this year is Grass Lands, coming on the heels of California legalizing recreational Marijuana on January 1st, 2018. With that change, the state became the USA’s largest legal pot market. Accordingly, Grass Lands is the biggest new expansion on the festival grounds this year. Set Up like a Town Square with over a dozen stalls and shops, the 21+ area will drew a lot of foot traffic. “Budtenders” were there to educate. The Confectionary was selling their dozen plus baked items. However, all products onsite were cannabis free.
- Another new feature this year was D.A.V.E. The acronym is a reference to the mustachioed official Outside Lands mascot, Ranger Dave, standing for Discussions About Virtually Everything. Held in comedy tent, The Barbary, the speaker lineup included some heavy hitters. Gavin Newsom, the former Mayor of San Francisco likely to be elected as Governor of California this fall, spoke on Saturday morning. Local hero and Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart gave a talk. Popular podcast Stuff You Should Know also did a live taping.
- Tucked in the woods just north of the Panhandle stage, a small path took you to the smaller GastroMagic stage. It had the most eclectic mix of programming of the weekend. Celebrity chefs took the stage with top billed artists like Portugal. The Man and comedians like Rhys Darby (of Flight of the Conchords fame). Fans received free bites and were even invited up to the stage. Other notable speakers and celebrities stopped by too, from famous drag queens like Shangela from RuPaul’s Drag Race to well known scientist like Bill Nye!