Reviews written by Isaac Kaplan-Woolner [IKW], Victoria Holt [VH], and Morgen Schuler [MS]. Find Morgen Schuler's complete photo coverage of day 3 here, and Victoria Holt's complete photo coverage of day 3 here.
Everyone says that Outside Lands in cold. Everyone was proven wrong on Sunday. Sure, it’s San Francisco in the summer, so of course it started off overcast and agnostic. But as jazz saxophonist and composer Kamasi Washington took the main stage at noon, peeks of blue sky appeared on the horizon. It would continue to clear into a gloriously sunny day with perfect temperatures in the 70s. The final day of this epic festival in the heart of San Francisco was off to an auspicious start.
Washington represents the possibility of a resurgence of jazz in the 21st century. His popularity and interest among younger listeners is certainly aided by the fact that he did arrangements of Kendrick Lamar’s massively popular To Pimp A Butterfly. But considering that Washington drew a modest but respectable crowd to the main stage at noon on a Sunday shows that he is earning fans in his own right.
And indeed he should. Washington had solid chops on his saxophone, and had assembled a very tight group for this show. His recent triple album studio debut, appropriately titled The Epic, garnered much acclaim since its release in May, 2015. And Washington has been on a festival tour in support of that album (he comes to Seattle for Bumbershoot this Labor Day weekend).
A highlight of the show came when Washington welcomed the the stage, “the man who taught me everything I know,” his father, Rickey Washington. The elder Washington joined the band on alto sax, and it was a pleasure to watch father and son tradeoff and enjoy each other’s solos, as vocalist Patrice Quinn sang “The Rhythm Changes”. Keyboard player Brandon Coleman, aka Doctor Boogie, brought a funky joy to the set, as bassist Miles Mosley kept the groove locked in atop a beat provided by not one but two drummers.
The first set of the day was a shorter one, but Washington and band built accessible, groovy, and danceable tunes that drew in one of the more diverse aged audiences of the weekend. With soaring solos and fun interplay, this is a band to catch live. [IKW]
The Muppets' Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem
One of the oddball offerings of Outside Lands also turned out to be a surprise highlight of the entire festival. Next up was Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, yes, from Jim Henson’s The Muppets. Perhaps because it was unclear how a fictional puppet band would command the main stage, or perhaps it was because this was the first “live” show of the band’s 41 year history, but this set had a lot of buzz going into it. The main stage had a fairly solid crowd for their 2:30pm start time.<
The crowd cheered gleefully as Dr. Teeth, Animal, Zoot, Janice, Floyd Pepper, and Lips took to the stage. The stage, in this case, was actually a higher spot built atop the main stage that effectively hid most of the puppeteers movements. But even though some of the pupeteers’ heads and upper bodies were clearly visible at times, clad in all black with black mesh covering their faces, they quickly melded into the background. And the puppeteering was so top notch, the actions so lifelike, that is was easy to suspend disbelief and get swept up in the show. Floyd rested his thumb on his bass pick up as he bantered on stage. Janice leaned against his back and kicked a leg up high for a guitar solo. Animal raised his eyebrows high in exaggerated surprise. Muppets are magic.
The set was full of heart, humor, incredible puppeteering, and great music. They kicked off with their signature song “Can You Picture That” from 1979’s The Muppet Movie. Then they moved on to cover “San Francisco” by The Mowglies, “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, “Ophelia” by The Band. The puppets were joined by the full Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir for a soaring version of “With A Little help From My Friends”.
Between songs there was hilarious banter and humorous video skits that gave the puppeteers a few moments to reset. And the show pandered to its (mostly adult) audience. “San Francisco is never far from our minds,” said Floyd Pepper in his burned-out voice, “mostly because of persistent and unexpected flashbacks!” The backing music sounded live, but no band besides The Electric Mayhem was present. It seems likely that voices were performed live, over previously recorded tracks. In any case, this show was an absolute delight, and left the crowd smiling, laughing, and singing along.
Fans hoping for their own chance to see this show in person may be out of luck. When Floyd announced, “this is the first stop on our world tour,” Dr. Teeth quickly jumped in with his smoky rasp, “Uh, correction, only stop.” It’s a shame, really, as the world deserves to share in this live Muppet joy. [IKW]
After brief technical difficulties - “Hey Outside Lands! We got there eventually!” - Hælos dominated the Panhandle stage Sunday afternoon. The day was sunny but windy, making a dramatic setting for singers Lotti Bernardout and Arthur Delaney to wail. Third founding member Dom Goldsmith commanded the keys behind them, and the London band was joined by two drummers and a guitarist. They played the songs “Dust,” “Earth Not Above,” and “Pray,” and Bernardout added an echo and distortion to her voice, keeping things interesting. [VH]
Third Eye Blind
One of the biggest crowds of the festival, by far, was the one that gathered before Third Eye Blind and stayed through Chance the Rapper and Major Lazer. Needless to say, if you wanted to get across or even move farther than your arm span on the polo field that flanks the main stage, you were pretty much out of luck. San Francisco’s native sons, Third Eye Blind, started up their set with “Faster”. It was surprising to see singer Stephen Jenkins stick to the back of the massive stage and rarely even look in the direction of the crowd. Perhaps he needed a warm-up, or maybe just wanted to connect with the band before launching into the set outright… either way it felt a little disconnected at first. Thankfully for the massive crowd anticipating this set, that all ended after the first couple songs; he ran to the edge and started singing right to the super fans that had pushed their way to the front. With awe in their faces and huge smiles on their faces they soaked it in like so much sunshine.
The songs performed Saturday were more of a loose interpretation of their produced counterparts giving the set a more unique and personal feel. I always respect a band that doesn’t simply go on stage, play songs as recorded and walk off, it happens all too often; that extra effort and love for the audience can completely change a live show. The band seemed completely at ease playing in their hometown and it was fun to see them loosen up even as they tried out a newly released song from their upcoming EP We Are Drugs, “Cop Vs Phone Girl”. Of course everyone sang along to hits like “Graduate”, “Jumper” and “Semi-Charmed Life”, but an unexpected addition to the set included a mashup of Bowie songs: “Young Americans/Heroes/Modern Love/Ziggy Stardust”, a theme that permeated the festival started with Duran Duran the day before. Their hometown embraced them wholeheartedly and reveled in the feel-good music on that chilly overcast afternoon. [MS]
Seattle native (well, Ravensdale, WA to be specific) Brandi Carlile played the Sutro stage. At first the crowd was a little sparse, but Carlile’s powerful voice soon pulled in a solidly packed audience. It turns out it was twin bandmates Tim and Phil Hanseroth’s 41st birthday, and the crowd sang them “Happy Birthday” after the gorgeous harmonies of “The Eye”, off her 2015 album The Firewatcher’s Daughter. While Carlile is a lead singer, she made it clear that the group is a band, and it is apparent in their tight interplay that these musicians and singers have been playing together for many years.
An emotional peak of Carlile’s set came before her song “The Mother of Evangeline”, about her now 2 year old daughter with wife Catherine Shepherd. “I’m proud to stand here in the post-Prop 8 city of San Francisco and talk about my family and our right to exist,” Carlile said to loud applause.
She closed the set with a beautifully wrought “Going to California”. It takes both guts and chops to cover Led Zeppelin, and Carlile has enough of both to pull it off in spades, plus an astoundingly powerful voice to boot. [IKW]
Chance the Rapper
A return to the polo field main stage was a return to a crush of humanity. For whatever reason, the Land’s End stage had by far the largest daytime crowds on Sunday than any other day of the fest. Chance The Rapper is a big draw, clearly, and he put on an excellent show to match crowd anticipation. Not only can he rap, but dude has a mean falsetto and can sing quite well at times.
His mic control is also something to be admired, as many MCs tend to shout or overdo it when live on stage. Coming off the high of his much lauded May, 2016 mixtape Coloring Book, Chance is man at the top of his game, and that was on full display at Outside Lands. A tight live band including collaborator and horns player Donnie Trumpet added oomph and immediacy to the highly musical hip hop set. [IKW]
The Sutro stage continued with a solid Americana and twangy rock theme as Alabama singer songwriter Jason Isbell played for a crowd very much enjoying the warm afternoon sunshine. Isbell got his start with southern rockers Drive-By Truckers, and has been carving a name for himself as an excellent songwriter and frontman in his own right since 2007.
He had a sort of modest charm to him on stage. “I have to tell you, it’s a hell of a thing to be sandwiched between singers like Brandi Carlile and and Ryan Adams,” joked Isbell. But his emotional and imaginative lyrics and solid guitar work proved he can more than hold his own.
One highlight among a fairly rocking set was Isbell’s quieter, aching love song written for his wife, “well, before she was my wife, that is,” he said. The song “Cover Me Up” off his 2013 album, Southeastern was recorded after a stint in rehab, and shows Isbell’s raw, emotional reflections on love and struggle.
At one point, Isbell invited “a good friend” on stage, who turned out to be Ryan Adams himself. Adams later returned the favor in his subsequent set. The two are friends and touring companions, and their cover of The Rolling Stones “Sway”, off Sticky Fingers. It was a couple of talented buddies ripping through a great guitar track on a sunny day in San Francisco in front of a fun and attentive crowd. What could be better? [IKW]
Woop da woop woop, dibidibidi, wineupyabodygyal, woop da woop woop! Oh, you wanted a review? Sorry, the electro-Caribbean earworms of Major Lazer are still having an effect. While there were other EDM offerings at Outside Lands, this was by far the biggest, with the Lands End main stage packed to the gills with party people. What was once a side project for superstar producer Diplo has grown to eclipse much of his other work, churning out one insistent future-dancehall dance track after another. Major Lazer’s “Lean On” with DJ Snake and MØ was, and is, a massive, undeniable pop hit.
Diplo wasn’t even behind the turntables for most of show, instead he ran and danced his way all over the massive stage, mic in hand to shout encouragement and instructions at the crowd along with co-producer and hype man Walshy Fire, while DJ and producer Jillionaire took care of rapidly mixing in and out of the many frenetic beats and samples. Many songs would be teased or sampled for just a few seconds at a time before being quickly blended into a new track. But unlike traditional dancehall sets, Jillionaire did not rely on frequent “pull ups”, where the record is spun back to the start, which can be disrupting to the flow of a dance party.
A sea of fans pumped fists in the air and jumped wildly as patois hooks, massive bass hits, and high chirps and synth horns rippled out over the polo field. Without a live band, the show relied on volume, energy, and spectacle, and it had a lot of each to offer. Massive pyrotechnic fire and fog cannons? Yup! Booty dancers to “wine up”and dagger? You know it! Surfing out on the crowd in a big inflatable hamster ball? But of course!
After a brief teasing sample of reggae great Johnny Osbourne’s “Mr. Marshall” on the Major Lazer track “Jah No Partial”, Diplo shouted to the crowd, “I wanna see everybody take off their shirts right now!” Many complied, pumping their shirts in the air until the drop, when, as instructed, thousands of sweaty dancers threw their shirts into the air. It was sort of like a drunken graduation ceremony at Bro University, and also a moment of pure exhilaration and fun. [IKW]
Ryan Adams & The Shining
One of the implicit purposes of seeing live music in person is the chance to see a performer go off script and improvise something totally distinct from their recorded material. Still, in today’s tight run world of major festivals, most sets run short and bands often stick to relatively safe territory.
North Carolina alt country rocker Ryan Adams was a notable exception. Adams was absolutely on fire Sunday evening, both musically and in his sharp, sarcastic wit. He has built himself a bit of a curmudgeonly reputation over the years (to put it mildly), but Adams now seems to play with that persona, goading the audience in a “get off my lawn you kids” kind of way. As the crowd clapped and hollered enthusiastically after “Let It Ride” (off 2005’s Cold Roses), Adams joked, “whatever, you hated that, stop it!”
With the Sutro stage adorned with a vintage soda machine, old arcade games, and comically oversized Fender amp props, the show had an ethos of one part parent’s garage practice space, one part Spinal Tap. And Adams himself seemed to toy with this duality, somewhere between shambling slacker and full on rock star.
As earsplitting bass from the Major Lazer show rolled down the hill into the Sutro bowl, Adams said, “somebody’s got their laptop turned up so loud right now!” He would make jokes about the EDM show next door a couple more times throughout the set, referring to them as “Major Blazer”. While this provided for some funny sardonic relief, Adam’s and his newer band The Shining played layered, satisfying rock and roll that itself stood in complete contrast to the preprogrammed beats they were competing with.
They tore though and uptempo take on his early hit “To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)”. And Jason Isbell came back on stage to add some killer guitar work to one of Adams’ signature songs “Oh My Sweet Carolina”. Adams seemed loose and tight at the same time, and even riffed an impromptu update on a song he made up on the spot in 2014 at San Francisco’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass fest about “Three Fucking Balloons”, now updated as “Goodbye to Balloons”, apparently in response to a crowd request. Once again he was able to so convincingly vanp on the improvisation it was hard to believe he was making the whole thing up on the spot.
Adams is fun, funny, and a hell of a performer and songwriter. He brings a fresh energy to his stage presence, and is very much on point, calling out his audience for specific attributes or actions. This set was another highlight in an excellent day of music. [IKW]
Lana Del Rey
The neon light of a sign declaring “Del Rey” bathed the crowd at the Twin Peaks stage as Sunday night came to a close. The band started up as a projection of stars rotated behind them. Once the celestial mood had been set, Lana Del Rey (born Elizabeth Woolridge Grant) emerged and sauntered towards the crowd as a chorus of screams erupted. With a gesture of almost regal proportions, Del Rey waved at her adoring fans. A crowd member in her early twenties remarked, “This is so spiritual right now: Lana Del Rey.” Another said, “It’s so weird that she’s just like, right there.”
Del Rey had fans wrapped around her finger as she floated back and forth across the stage. At one point, she descended a set of stairs to the front row, reaching out to shake hands and sign autographs. She stopped to take a selfie with a man and beamed. All the while, live video of her was projected onto the jumbotrons in black and white, echoing the aesthetic of early Hollywood movie stars on the red carpet. She was at once present and yet untouchable; in the flesh and yet transcendent of such mundane existence. She returned to the stage and plowed on as her dulcet tones filled the meadow, inspiring more than a few spontaneous make-out sessions.
During “Cruel World” from her third album Ultraviolence (2014), viewers got a glimpse behind the curtain. There was a tiny malfunction as the volume of the melody dropped dramatically, leaving Del Rey a cappella. It was a split second before it returned, and her face cracked into a relieved smile, momentarily breaking the illusion of apathy.
Other seductive favorites were “Cola” from the Paradise EP (2012), “Blue Jeans” from Born to Die (2012), and the title track from Honeymoon (2015). On popular song “Born to Die,” Del Rey kicked the tension up a notch. She switched out the word “kiss” to croon the phrase, “Let me fuck you hard in the pouring rain.” Del Rey cinematically flirted the line between glamour and danger, delivering a captivating closing set for the second largest stage of the weekend. [VS]
The main stage of Outside Lands 2016 was closed out by smooth soul and R&B star Lionel Richie. With much of the festival trending towards younger concert goers, it remained to be seen who would stick around, and what sort of an audience Richie would command when competing with pop sensations Lana Del Ray, who played at the same time across the park).
While the field was very noticeably less crowded than it had been earlier in the day, there were still tens of thousands of people standing in the polo field as the sun set. Many younger people have clearly adopted Richie’s music, perhaps by wading in to their parents record collection, and many of these younger fans were ready to sing along. People were literally wading through the trash, empty beer cups and detritus, left behind by Major Lazer’s rowdy audience. But attendees were all smiles as Richie took the stage and teased people with a sung greeting of, “hello!”
Richie was all smiles as well, and showed himself to be a fun, engaging, humorous and consummate showman. He goaded the crowd several times to sing along, and complimented them warmly when they complied. He joked with the crowd about the terrible wine he was served onstage, and that he would need to call security on the audience because they were so crazy. In fact, the crowd was happy go lucky, and ready to sing and dance one more time. Of course, Richie is known for many slow burning romantic numbers as well, and the cameras zoomed in on couples to display on the big screen in an almost kiss-cam like way.
While several of Richie’s hits are undeniably dated and cheesy, he also has retained a commanding and powerful voice. The band played hard, and he seemed to carefully plan the setlist to keep energy and attention as high as possible, while still working in his signature ballads.
“Tonight I have one job to do,” he said after the first few songs, “I am here tonight to play all the hits!” To which the crowd roared its appreciation. And indeed he did play one crowd pleaser after another. Those hits included several from his Commodores days, including “Easy” (which got a reggae reworking), and “Brick House”. Other uptempo Richie hits like “Dancing On The Ceiling” and several others got an almost group karaoke treatment, with many of the lyrics displayed on screen to aid the audience in a singalong.
He closed the set with the undeniably fun “All Night Long” at the somewhat ironic stroke of 9:30. And with one more dance number, Outside Lands 2016 came to a close. People wandered off into the cool night, many humming one catchy earworm or another. [IKW]
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