I woke up the morning of Day Three to the collective cries of the online Outside Lands community, case in point being the friend who had woken me up with the tragic news. “Just experienced heartbreak for the first time,” he tweeted. “*sad face emojis*.”
The cause of so much discord and disarray? This:
Guys, we are so sorry that we can’t play @sfoutsidelands due Vancouver airport mess ups+a healthy dose of bad luck: https://t.co/6dMFh9XqtH
— CHVRCHΞS (@CHVRCHES) August 10, 2014
Yes, as it turned out, the highly anticipated CHVRCHES was AWOL for Sunday’s festivities, leaving a weirdly tame, open slot at the Lands End stage around the time that things should have been starting to get exciting over there (never fear, though: for all interested parties, they did announce a make-up September show, also via Twitter).
As disappointing as this was for us festivalgoers, there was still a silver lining to this: no schedule conflicts. I am a CHVRCHES fan (funky name spelling and all), but this meant we had the chance to see the other afternoon set at Twin Peaks in its entirety. And even though, for some unfathomable reason, he was slated to perform his DJ set + light show at 3 in the afternoon (OSL, what?), I was SO PUMPED to see the Australian wunderkind Flume perform.
But what I had failed to anticipate was what that same weirdly tame, open slot going on at a CHVRCHES-less Lands End meant for Flume’s set. Die-hard fans of artists scheduled to perform on the main stage later in the evening opted to stay to hold their spaces, but everyone else hightailed it over to Twin Peaks. Perhaps it is because this is coming from the perspective of a 5’2” spectator trying to make her way up to the stage, but this made for a rowdy crowd with the intent to party (selfies, Fireball shots and all) in an increasingly enclosed space. It was mildly frustrating at certain times.
Thankfully, though, Flume was phenomenal. Following the lead of electronic performers like Disclosure, he didn’t say much or go out of his way to be a spectacle himself, donning a low-key hoodie and not saying much (as compared to other DJ sets, see: Duck Sauce’s famed duck bills or Diplo’s hamster ball take on the stage dive or even Zedd’s stint as a rave god figure). He maybe asked us to clap in unison a few times and did the obligatory “It is so good to be here, (the Bay Area) (San Francisco) (Outside Lands)!”, opting instead for turntables, light show and visuals to serve as his main stage presence. I just really wish it had been dark out or it’d been an indoor venue or that the setting was such that we’d gotten the chance to see his signature hexagonal table lights/logo in action.
Regardless, this has got to be one of the best DJ sets I’ve seen in a while. He featured some of his sweeeeet Internet-viral remixes: a bit of the Major Lazer “Get Free” remix from his side project What So Not, a teasingly built-up live presentation of his recent Lorde “Tennis Court” collaboration, and closing with a nod to fellow Outside Lands performers Disclosure with his rendition of “You and Me”. Some people were getting so into it that they decided to skip the bumping around and instead crowd-surf to get to the front. In a failed attempt, one guy fell right next to me, his flip-flop grazing the top of my head. “Helllll yeah, bro,” he said to the stranger next to me, who appreciatively high-fived him and offered up some beer before going back at it when the beat dropped.
Oceania is slaying the electronic music scene: Flume, Empire of the Sun, Bag Raiders and Flight Facilities from Australia; The Naked and Famous and Broods from New Zealand, and even less-known underground artists like Mr. Carmack from Hawaii (yes, I was surprised to learn that Hawaii was technically part of Oceania, too). So it was fitting that the next set I caught was Cut Copy, yet another excellent Aussie synth-pop group up at Twin Peaks.
The show’s theme was “Free Your Mind,” after their newest album, and they put on an eclectic, musically spot-on performance that everyone seemed to be really into—some a little too much, maybe. I had the interesting experience of standing behind a middle-aged guy wearing a party hat set at a tilt, a-la unicorn horn. A bag of wine was dangling from his neck, violently swinging as he danced erratically to song after song (each declared as being his “ABSOLUTE FAVORITE JAM”). It was around when “Saturdays” came on that he suddenly turned, screamed at me to dance, and promptly guzzled down his wine to halfhearted cheers from the crowd around us. He spun around a few times and then danced his way further ahead, the only trace of him left being the faint “ouch”-es you could hear from people he poked with his unicorn hat.
I needed a break.
This hiatus point between Twin Peaks and the main stage led me to the standout Outfit of the Day. I actually bumped into this guy in the forest when passing the line at Baconlands. He didn’t say anything, instead having his friend play spokesperson. After standing in line for a photo of him, I asked where one would acquire such a suit. Instead of answering, he ate a Twizzler under his mask and just (presumably) stared at me.
(I feel obligated to comment on The Flaming Lips, who went on at around this point. I didn’t make it to their show, which I deeply regret if only because I missed the opportunity to catch what was, hands down, the best/trippiest stage dressing and costuming of the weekend. For a glimpse at the insanity, look no further than here, here, here or here.)
The Killers’ set was the last of the weekend.
At this point, I was exhausted. The entire show was sensory overload, a surreal blur of light and noise and Brandon Flowers’ impeccably coiffed hair (with just one tiny little Superman curl falling out of (into?) place). The whole thing was a dreamy barrage of indie hit after hit after hit, from the opener “Mr. Brightside” to “Smile Like You Mean It” to “Human” to “Somebody Told Me” to “A Dustland Fairytale” to “Read My Mind” to “Runaways” to “All These Things I’ve Done” to “Shot in the Dark” and, well, phew—with that, you have about ¾ of their setlist, not counting an incredibly emotional encore consisting of “Jenny Was A Friend of Mine” and “When You Were Young”.
This setlist spans over an entire decade, and the crazy part is that most of these melodies and lyrics are completely recognizable even if you haven’t taken a detailed look at the Killers’ discography. Most college-aged individuals can probably remember the ubiquity and pervasiveness of the “Hot Fuss” era, and can today still reiterate some of the Killers’ biggest hits, regardless of how fanatic you were about it—being a Killers fan has never been a prerequisite for recognizing the scope of their music and their domino chain impact on the indie rock industry. I can’t tell you the name of practically any album post-“Hot Fuss” (sorry not sorry), but you better believe I knew almost all the words to almost all the songs they performed that night. And if you, dear reader, had been there, you might have even sang along louder than I did. From their music to their fantastical light show to Brandon Flowers hitting every note with the precision of festival artist veterans, they just have that “unforgettable” effect on people. It was a touching way to end the weekend.
Flowers wished us all a very good night before running offstage. The overhead lights spazzed out one last time before going out. There was a collective sigh from the crowd before we began dispersing. Giant floodlights came on over the field, illuminating signs that led us to the exits. On those goodbye signs, Outside Lands spokes-mascot Ranger Dave thanked us profusely for coming to the fest. I couldn’t help thinking that, despite pricey ticket and worn feet, I also owed Ranger Dave a big ol’ “Thank you” of my own.
It was a satisfying weekend, one full of nostalgia, discovery and overindulgence. Three full days of simultaneous exhaustion and catharsis. You’ll crave the comfort of a bed and emote way more than you’d expect, but if you find yourself able to go, go. It’s one hell of an experience.
We began to shuffle through the park, past dark, empty stages, the iconic graffiti tunnels and port-a-potties. I remember turning around, wanting to catch one last glimpse of the fairy forest but only seeing the tops of bobbing heads emerging from the dark expanse beyond the tunnel. We were then herded through the temporary festival fence mazes that led us back out to the midnight streets of San Francisco. Back to the real world.
And just like that, it was over… till next year, that is.
READ PART ONE AND PART TWO.