Looking Back: Outside Lands, Day 2 & 3 – Arcade Fire, The Black Keys, Arctic Monkeys, OK Go, Beirut, Muse, The Vaccines
Now that we’ve have had more than a week to reflect on it, San Francisco‘s very own Outside Lands Festival 2011 was one of the best since the festival’s beginning in 2008. The impressive line-up of artists and bands, including major headliners like Muse and Arcade Fire, and the fantastic weather for most of the three days, attracted 60,000 festival goers for each day of the fest, selling out all three-day and single day tickets.
During the festival, we Tweeted and Facebooked, in addition to posting a pre-festival schedule of all three days with our top picks, as well as a rushed posting for Day One – “the cold day” – of the festival. That night, in the near-freezing cold, brisk winds and thick fog, tens of thousands of festival goers amassed in the city’s enormous Golden Gate Park, one of the largest and oldest urban parks in the United States.
During the day on Friday, there was no shortage of notable bands, including The Joy Formidable, Foster The People, Phantogram, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Toro Y Moi, Big Audio Dynamite, and Best Coast were popular shows. By evening, headliners like MGMT, Phish and The Shins made sure that there would be plenty of teenage girls, latte hippies and mid-life crisis urban hipsters packed into the Polo Fields and meadows of Golden Gate Park. Read more about Day One here.
We’re going to jump now to the closing headliners of the last day of the festival – Day Three, and provide an overview the daytime performances on Day Three. Following that, we have a review of Day Two.
Arcade Fire Rock the Park to Close Outside Lands 2011
The highlight of Outside Lands 2011 clearly goes to the nearly 90-minute closing set from the insanely popular Arcade Fire.
The hot Montreal indie rock pop band opened with the appropriately titled track “Ready to Start” in front of a massive sea of people as the full moon shone down on them on an unusually clear August night in San Francisco.
The crowd roared as the Arcade Fire broke into one of their most widely-regarded classics, “Keep The Car Running.” During the performance of the track, you could clearly hear the crowd singing along with the choruses to a song that helped propel AR from a Canadian indie buzz band to a band that now headlines major festivals around the world.
“Keep The Car Running” – Arcade Fire
During their fantastic set, that was enhanced by a light show, two jumbo screens and a terrific sound crew, Arcade Fire belted out tracks like “Rococo,” “Haiti,” “The Suburbs,” “Month of May,” and “Neighborhood.” For the encore, Arcade Fire performed “Wake Up,” and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains).”
“Sprawl II” – Arcade Fire
“Wake Up” – Arcade Fire with David Bowie (Live)
Earlier on Day Three: Lord Huron Junip, Grouplove, Beirut, The Decemberists, STS9, Wye Oak
Earlier in the day we caught the last half of the performance by LA-based band Lord Huron on the Panhandle stage. We were first were turned on to the band after hearing their commendable 2010 album, Mighty, so it was enjoyable to hear them play live songs like the title track from the album.
Right after Lord Huron, we turned to the main stage to catch the band Junip – one of our favorite ‘lesser-known’ bands of the past five years.
“Mighty” – Lord Huron
“Rope & Summit” – Junip
In back-to-back performances, we then returned watched hundreds of people crammed into the Panhandle stage area dancing and clearly enjoying the joyful tracks from LA band Grouplove.
The crowd was especially moved by the incredibly infectious single, “Colours,” a song that helped make the relatively new band a hit with music critics and fans alike, garnering them regular radio play on influential stations like Seattle‘s KEXP and making them one of IRC’s Breakout Bands of 2011 (look for that series coming up soon).
In 2010, the band toured with The Joy Formidable and were hand-picked to open a number of West Coast dates for Florence and the Machine. Grouplove will release their highly-anticipated debut album, Never Trust A Happy Song, in September.
While we were digging the set from Grouplove, we had heard that Arcade Fire’s Win Butler performed “The Weight” with the legendary Mavis Staples on the Lands End stage all the way on the other side of the festival grounds. Here’s a video from YouTube of the duet (although it’s a little all over the place, we appreciate being able to see something rather than nothing at all).
Other noteworthy performances that made Day Three such a hit included sets from !!!, Ty Segall, Major Lazer and Wye Oak. Before Wye Oak finished, it was time to hike back to the area around the Lands End stage for the set by The Decemberists, and then over to the Sutro stage for Beirut before returning to the Land’s End stage for the closer by Arcade Fire.
You Make the Sun Fry – Ty Segall
“Keep It Going Louder” – Major Lazor
“Civilian” – Wye Oak
By the time one of Portland‘s most famous “indie” bands (even though they signed to Capitol some six year ago), The Decemberists, took the stage, the crowds had swelled considerably. The popular indie folk rock band kicked-off their set with “July, July!,” followed by “Down By The Water,” from The King Is Dead.
The Decemberists also played a number of their older songs, including “The Calamity Song,” “We Both Go Down Together,” and “The Mariner’s Revenge Song.” Following The Decemberists, we hiked over to the Lindley Meadow to listen to Beirut‘s set on the Sutro stage.
“July July” - The Decemberists
“We Both Go Down Together” – The Decemberists
When we arrived in the meadow for the Beirut performance, it was jam packed with festival goers, while it posed a dilemma for the fans of both The Decemberists and Beirut; the only way to see each band, because of their overlapping set times on different stages, was to see The Decemberists first, and then leave early to see Beirut. And so that explained why there were so many people walking back and forth from one area of the festival grounds to another.
We opted to see be a little late for Beirut in order to catch more of The Decemberists on the main stage; admittedly, the bonus of the jumbo screen did help to make it more of an experience because the crowds of tens of thousands of people made it nearly impossible to get close to the stage unless you secured a good spot earlier in the day and just stayed there.
The setting for Beirut’s performance, in a gently sloping meadow encircled by giant eucalyptus trees, and just as day time was transitioning to dusk, was perfect for the band’s eclectic, baroque-style of worldly indie folk music. Beirut definitely attracts a certain type of fan that appreciates the band’s distinct Balkan folk sound fused with western pop music, where Zach Condon‘s trumpet playing and monotone vocals are at the heart of most songs.
The band played “East Harlem,” the first single from the upcoming release of new album, The Rip Tide. Other songs in the set included “A Sunday Smile,”
“La Llorona” - Beirut
A lot of the crowd starting leaving by the middle and towards the end of Beirut’s set; it seemed like an exodus, but we guess that people were going to get their spots for Arcade Fire and Deadmau5.
If you missed it, out coverage of Arcade Fire’s closing set is earlier in this post.
Day Two: The Black Keys, Arctic Monkeys, Sonny & The Sunsets, Ok Go, Starfu*ker, Vetiver
Some time around 2 p.m. on Saturday (Day Two), a mini-miracle happened – the heavy fog dispersed and soon disappeared altogether, revealing deep blue skies and golden, warm sunshine, something that is all too rare during the summer in the western half of San Francisco.
And also by this time, tens of thousands of people were filling the open spaces in the park, and in spots, all of the foot traffic was kicking up enough dust to cover you in it, but most people probably didn’t care as long as it wasn’t foggy and cool like it was on Friday.
The first full performance we watched on Day Two was the 45-minute set from one of the break-through bands of the year - The Vaccines. We love this band’s raw garage rock sound, and their debut album, What Did You Expect from The Vaccines, is spectacular, and easily one of the best albums of 2011, not to mention a strong contender for the Debut Album of the Year award.
The Vaccines kicked off their first major festival appearance with the track “Blow It Up,” followed by “Post Break-Up Sex,” and “Wreckin Ball,” “A Lack of Understanding,” and others like “Wolf Pack” and “If You Wanna.”
“Post Break-Up Sex” – The Vaccines
“If You Wanna” – The Vaccines
But something was not right from the get-go with their appearance on the Twin Peaks main stage that afternoon. Basically, it was the same problem that occurs at many large music festivals – that is, unless you are in the right place, the sound quality of a performance can be, well, not so good.
That said, the band pumped out a bunch of tracks from their debut. it was another breakout band of 2011 that we could check off on the list of ‘Bands Seen Live.’
The sound issue is especially the case with the DJ Domes on the Polo Field interfering with the music coming from Land’s End stage some 150-200 yards away. The constant heavy beats pumping out of the domes are loud enough that people furthest from the stage can barely here over the bass emitting from the domes. This clash of sounds is present at almost all festivals.
However, to the organizers credit, on the opposite side of the festival grounds, performances on the smaller Panhandle stage were scheduled in between performances at the much larger Twin Peaks stage one hundred or so yards away, allowing festival goers to see and hear performances at each stage without interference.
In addition to The Vaccines, some of Day Two’s best offerings were Sonny & The Sunsets, Ok Go, Starfu*ker, Vetiver, The Roots, and two of our favorite shows of the entire festival – The Black Keys and the Arctic Monkeys. The latter two bands were secondary headliners, if you will, just below the top headliner status of bands like Muse (a bit too commercial for us) and the remix guru, Girl Talk (a bit too unoriginal for us).
We considered The Black Keys and the Arctic Monkeys our top headliners of Day Two. The UK rockers, Arctic Monkeys, delivered one of the best shows of Day Two, with a energetic and electric set.
The band have come a long way since 2006, when they broke out in the states after the release of the album, Whatever People Say I am That’s What I’m Not. The band were really one of the first to benefit from the increasing influence of the Internet on the music scene.
Who knows if they would have been as popular as they were in the mid to late 2000′s without the help of sites like MySpace and dozens of popular music blogs that exposed the band to a wider audience outside of the UK, most particularly in the U.S. and Canada, where they still have a good-size following, although that following abated after the release of Arctic Monkey’s 2009 album, Humbug, which many critics and fans criticized because of the noticeable departure from the blistering rock and silly and sarcastic ballads that made them such a huge hit for at least two or three years (say from 2005 to 2008).
“Fluorescent Adolescent” - Arctic Monkeys
“Fake Tales of San Francisco” – Arctic Monkeys
But the band are playing live better than they ever had, and their set at Outside Lands was a perfect example of that. In front of tens of thousands of eager fans, Arctic Monkeys performed some of their best new and older tracks, including “Crying Lightning,” “Fluorescent Adolescent,” “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor,” and 13 others during their hour-long performance.
While the Arctic Monkeys were wrapping up there set on the Land’s End stage, music festival regulars, The Roots, were just getting started on the Twin Peaks stage way at the other end of the festival grounds. We wouldn’t have time to get all the way to the other stage to hear even 10 minutes from The Roots and still make it all the way back to the Land’s End stage to hear The Black Keys, so we just stayed put. We were not going to miss them for anything. Afterall, it’s not often that they come to town, so this was our chance to see one of the best garage rock bands of the past decade.
It was a bit surprising to see so many teenagers cramming their way enthusiastically through the crowds to get closer to the stage. Even more evidence that many of these young folks were true TBK fans was demonstrated by the fact that they sang along with the band’s older tracks (like “Girl is On My Mind”) just as much as they did with their newer songs (“Tighten Up”).
“Tighten Up” – The Black Keys
When they came out on stage to the roar of the crowd, the band kicked off with the song, “Thickfreakness,” as well as other great Keys’ tracks like “Busted,” “Howlin’ For You,” and the 15-song set closer, “I Got Mine.”
The duos’ raw guitar rock sound carried them through a 65-minute set. They belted one romp after another and the fans that gathered by the thousands absolutely loved it. Clearly, TBK were one of the best performances of the entire festival, and it is also clear that they have a much bigger following among music lovers under the age of 25 than we had previously imagined.
As time goes on, their status as one of the best alt/garage rock duos continues to solidify. It’s great to see there is so much love out there for stripped down, straight up, in-your-face rock, especially at a time when indie and alternative music have become more synth-centric in recent years, we will always seek out pure ole rock and roll – so long live The Black Keys!
“Howlin’ For You” – The Black Keys
“I Got Mine” – The Black Keys
As the crowds grew thicker and thicker on the Polo Fields, it was evident that they were gathering for the Day Two closer Muse. In typical fashion, Muse eventually came on and played a 105-minute show to the delight of tens of thousands of festival goers (even as we were leaving after the first 20 minutes). All in all, Day Two = the second successful day for Outside Lands 2011.
The one thing was clear about this year’s OSL fest compared to 2010 – it was much better – the weather, the line-up and yes the fact that the organizers put it back to three days after cutting it back to two days in 2010. The organizers calculation was correct – people wanted three days. Afterall, all three days of OSL 2011 were sold out.
Thanks to Hassle Media and the organizers, as well as all of the artists, crews, security and of course to the tens of thousands of festival goers, for making this year such a huge success. It still went by too fast, but you know what they say about time when you’re having fun.