Nestled in a forest far, far away from civilization (also known as Golden Gate Park), nearly 200,000 people came together to partake in San Francisco’s largest music festival. Outside Lands 2014 was the biggest yet, filled with overpriced ~organic~ gourmet foodstuffs, impeccably dressed twenty-somethings, and sporadic miniature dust storms that left you feeling like you were totally #roughingit amidst all this #nature.
Admittedly, the omnipresent port-a-potties and gigantic speaker towers marred the fairy forest illusion, but they served as a constant reminder of why we’d all come: three full days of live music.
First up on the Twin Peaks stage was Bleachers, the summery, bouncy, infectiously catchy brainchild of lead guitarist and vocalist Jack Antonoff. Bleachers is even better than Antonoff’s previous work with fun., and his once tiny side project has started to garner public attention as a high-energy blast of well-made indie pop. Furthermore, I’ve got to give their on-stage presence some credit: Jack Antonoff rocked a daring pair of short-shorts, held up a nice rapport with the audience, and was totally pro at brushing off a few embarrassing sound problems (the speakers cut off for a heart-stopping minute or so, but Antonoff and Co. kept on going like nothing phased them).
Bleachers was also a prime opportunity for people-watching. Outside Lands is full of hip, stylish youths who make the daily trek out in festival fashion’s traditional uniforms: too many immaculate braids, patterned headbands, lacy dresses, and heeled boots to count. Doing my best to find the most eye-catching of them all, I give you the Outfit of the Day (and if I had to guess, the common fashion patterns of Day One were something along the lines of “shiny” and “blurry dance moves”):
(The lull between sets at this point was the perfect time to meander through the park and check out some booths on our way to the main stage. Tempting artisan food trucks and foodie sites such as Baconland (your one-stop spot for variety bacon sticks and chocolate covered bacon) and Choco-land (where your sweet tooth’s cavities could get cavities) served as worthwhile distractions. We also passed Wine Lands and Beer Lands, but any place that sold $9 glasses of Sutter Home moscato was just (hypothetically) reminding broke college kids to (hypothetically) sneak their own in from Safeway (hypothetically! Cannot stress how hypothetical this is because that would be totally wrong and no one has ever, ever done that. Ever.).)
The main stage (Lands End) was already swarming with fans waiting, eight hours in advance, for the Kanye West show. We lounged, starting on our limited rations of baby carrots and Goldfish before the next set: the self-professed FUNKLORDZ and leather jacket clad Chromeo.
Now, before jumping into their Outside Lands performance, I’m going to acknowledge the elephant in the room: I’ve never been able to tell if Chromeo is totally serious, but their music comes off as… incredibly sexist. If you listen through their latest album — a collection of groovy, dance-ready tunes lovingly entitled White Women — there’s a very good chance that you’ll be struck with the urge to promptly write a series of impassioned Jezebel articles on the depiction of women in pop culture. It’s easy to argue that Chromeo’s brand is based on the facelesssexualization of women because they work so hard to make it look like it (take, for example, their instruments of choice: a twin set of keyboards propped up with female mannequin legs).
During the show, they constantly toed the line between sincere and slimy: take, for example, the duo’s genuine enthusiasm to make this the best show possible, translating all their material to befit a live performance and asking us to fill in parts of songs… which was then countered by the realization that what you were singing was actually a bit offensive. Or when they both stood up and took a bow, actually gawking for a good minute or two at the size of their screaming crowd and humbly endearing themselves to you (even snapping a photo for themselves)… only to remember them having said things like, “Can more ladies get up on some shoulders? It’s a nicer view when we’re looking out towards the back.” It was a series of “…what?” moments like that throughout, subtle but crucial for that supa’-cool-don’t-care-smooth-talking-ladiezzz image they were projecting.
Thing is, though, their act is just so over the top, so over-theatrical and full of iconographic references that that it’s hard to determine if it’s genuine or some kind of meta-ironic-satirical act. A part of me really hopes it’s the latter, because arguments regarding subject matter aside, you can’t really deny it: Chromeo has some very, very good music, and if their entrance (walking out of the wings amidst a booming, god-like electronic “CHROO-ME-OO-OHHH-OH” chant) is any indication, they know it, too. They threw us one hell of a dance party, bringing the funk as promised with autotuned voices and reflective guitars and disco ball lights… but I just couldn’t help but feel that slight twinge of guilt when head-bobbing along.
Disclosure’s second-to-last set at Lands End was one of the most buzzed about shows of the entire weekend. I’ve been lucky enough to have already seen Disclosure live, but that wasn’t about to stop me from missing out on their Outside Lands set (and getting the chance to finally—finally—buy myself the clearly overpriced yet absolutely necessary band shirt of my dreams).
Other than the headliners, Disclosure had the day’s best scheduled slot: right in the middle of the magic hour, when the sunset is just right on the horizon and the swirling golds and pinks and blues start to fade to nighttime. It was an electrifying hour as the music marched ahead into the evening.
What makes every Disclosure show so impressive is the fact that their sets have very little to do with themselves. Their take on live performances is to make sure that their work stands on its own—their booming music, their face stencil logo and their audience are much larger entities than the Lawrence brothers alone ever could be (even if they are the ones pulling the strings). Sacrificing almost all stage presence in favor of noise, visuals and dancing is a risky gamble for any artist, but placing themselves on stage as small and unimposing musical conduits rather than spotlighted stars of the show is evidence enough that they’d rather have their success result from merit alone.
And if the crowd was any indication, then it worked. Disclosure have made a name for themselves as artists who have been continuously producing high caliber work on every front (and for their newest, check out “The Mechanism”), and that’s exactly what they give to people who make it out to their shows. Once again, the Lawrence brothers killed it.
(By the way, they totally closed with “Latch,” and, I swear, it still hasn’t gotten old. Check out the [[shaky camera phone video below]] for proof that this song has deftly avoided the common fate of the overplayed summer hit. I dare you not to dance along.)
At this point the evening was coming to its peak, and suddenly the realization that both Kanye West and Alex Turner would be within the same one-mile radius as me hit hard. My entire group was both terribly exhausted and indecisive about acts, so after a water + bacon break we made the decision to run from Kanye to Arctic Monkeys about halfway through.
Kanye West (first half)
EXT. LANDS END STAGE – NIGHT, ABOUT 10 MINUTES LATER THAN SCHEDULED
Complete darkness. Enter FOG, both Karl and machine-made. Stage screens suddenly come to life in a series of FLASHING LIGHTS, red and white. Enter, from stage right, lone FIGURE clad in glittering diamond facemask.
As the crowd’s suspicions are immediately corroborated by KIM KARDASHIAN’S Twitter feed, the lone FIGURE is none other than KANYE WEST. A single spotlight falls on him.
Open with “Black Skinhead.” With $4 chocolate-covered bacon in hand, your dashing Arts Review CONTRIBUTOR and FRIENDS run from BACONLAND to LANDS END. Cue wild dancing. Cue verse of “I Don’t Like.” Cue “Mercy,” and the crowd goes wild.
LITERALLY EVERYONE IN EARSHOT
–Lamborghini Mercy; your chick, she so thirsty—
Cue “Clique,” which seems to go as planned until music abruptly stops. We can hear KANYEmuttering along the lines of “naw, no, no” over the crowd’s growing dissent. Seemingly out of nowhere, he begins to talk about public image.
You know it’s crazy, ‘cause, uh, sometimes, when I read the press or some Google alert or some shit, it makes you feel or think that… people don’t like me or something.
But they don’t know what season they living in—it’s Yeezy season… and I got my clique. (yells) That’s all y’all! Y’all my motherfucking clique… So I want y’all to say it with me!
KANYE proceeds to continue with “Clique,” and crowd screams at the top of their lungs.
—Ain’t nobody fucking with my clique, clique—
Lights flash. KANYE takes off his mask.
—CLIQUE, CLIQUE, CLIQUE—
Set continues with excellent renditions of “New Slaves” and “Power.” But then—
KANYE (interrupting “Power”)
Okay, okay, I’m not feeling this. Not feeling it. I was gonna save this for the finale, but we’re doing it now—I want all y’all to get into some big circles now.
KANYE then proceeds to tell the crowd to get into large circles and mosh when the beat drops. He opens “Blood on the Leaves,” but interrupts and starts over a few times because some circles are not, in his opinion, large enough.
RANDOM CONCERTGOER NEARBY
Nuh-uh, Kanye, that’s too much fucking work! (sits down, nearby crowd members drunkenly applaud her)
KANYE manages to make it about two minutes in before abruptly switching to “Stronger.” Continues with “Runaway,” interrupts with a line that quickly becomes one of the most tweeted quotes of the festival.
Put your fingers to the stars. Because after Kanye’s show…
There is a slight pause, likely for dramatic effect.
…you are all stars.
Newly christened as stars, the crowd goes crazy. Show continues with “Diamonds of Sierra Leone.” It is around this time that your Arts Review CONTRIBUTOR and FRIENDS make a mental note to catch his next show in the area and walk off to KANYE performing “Heartless.” They are on their way to catch the last half of the set across the park, the one and only—
Arctic Monkeys (second half)
The Arctic Monkeys’ talent was almost too much for the smaller Twin Peaks stage—crystal-clear, fresh-off-the-record musical talent that could be heard through the fairy forest festival grounds. Alex Turner dominated the stage in his now-trademark leather jacket and slicked back greaser hair, going so far as to pull out a comb brush back some non-existent strays. The crowd picked up every cue, from synchronized clapping to waving their glowing phone screens in the air during some choice ballads. The band was perfectly choreographed with a slight rugged, swaggering edge—it quickly became apparent that the Arctic Monkeys were veterans at this “festival performance” thing.
But even though there was talent to spare, it was clear that this set was fueled by nostalgia. It was the kind of performance that reminds you buying your first CDs and singing loudly in your room and makes you feel like you’re rediscovering your love for music all over again.
Personally, I have harbored a deep-set love for this band ever since the release of “Your Favourite Nightmare,” the album that defined 7th grade as the point of my life where I started to develop the first inklings of musical autonomy. Their music went on to mark quite a few adolescent landmarks for me: starting high school, prom (ha), my first kiss, driving for the first terrifying time, graduation. They shared what they made for us to use in our lives as we saw fit, and getting to watch them assemble these songs right in front of me felt like my relationship with their music was finally coming full circle.
Judging by the rest of the crowd, who was yelling along to “Old Yellow Bricks” and “Fluorescent Adolescent” and their more recent tracks off of “AM” just as loudly as I was, I don’t think I was alone in feeling this way. It was a moment of mass catharsis, and it was beautiful.
Arctic Monkeys closed with “R U Mine?”, leaving behind an open stage and a satisfied crowd. I could not imagine anything topping this.
But, then again, we still had two days left to go.
READ PART TWO and PART THREE.