Outside Lands 2013: for the love of music

Last weekend I attended Outside Lands for my third year in a row. For me, Outside Lands stands as one of the highlights of my year and is a time for musical discovery and a celebration of music. To say that I was blown away by the musical talent on display doesn't even come close to doing it justice.

For those that aren't already familiar with Outside Lands, it's a three day music festival held in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. There are four stages ranging from mammoth size boasting crowds of tens of thousands to tiny with audiences numbering around a few hundred. There are big names and small names alike, forming a sort of choose your own musical adventure. There is also wine and very good food (all local) on display. While the festival itself is only 5 years old, there is a long history of music in Golden Gate Park. Perhaps most importantly, or at least most symbolically, the field where the main stage is located is the exact same location of the Human Be-In, which is largely considered as the precursor to the Summer of Love.

Friday, the first day, was probably my favorite day, and I certainly listened to the most music that day. After I got to the park and got settled, I listened to Houndmouth, a bluesy rock group that sometimes teeters on the edge of bluegrass. I am hooked and have already listened to their debut album twice since then. After that, I listened to The Heavy; imagine hard rock mixed with soul and a well versed knowledge of pop music history that comes together perfectly. I will certainly be listening to them some more. Being a punk fan, I listened to The Men for a while afterwards, but I didn't really get into them (perhaps it's because I'm into SoCal style punk, and they are distinctly New York). No worries, because up next was Twenty One Pilots, who were amazing! Imaging Jukebox the Ghost (or Ben Folds Five if you're not familiar with JtG) mixed with Eminem and the occasional electronica thrown in for good measure. It's a crazy combination that works amazingly well together. They were definitely the most interesting and risk-taking group of the festival. I listened to Daughter next, whome I already knew about and love. They played an awesome set, although unfortunately it was marred by some technical problems at the beginning. I also briefly listened to Zedd, but wasn't impressed. He has a few good songs, which I had previously heard, but most of his set was rather uninspired House. The final show for the day, though, was none other than Paul McCartney. McCartney knows how to put on a show, and I would have never guessed that he is 71 watching him on stage during his 3 hour set. Hearing so many Beatles songs that I grew up listening to being sung by the original singer was positively transcendent. It wasn't just me either. Hearing tens of thousands of people all singing "Hey Jude" together was a truly magical moment, one that I will never forget. Hearing Helter Skelter live gave me a new appreciation for just how intense that song really is. This concert was, without a doubt, the best concert I've ever attended.

Saturday was a pretty amazing day as well. First up was Gary Clarke Jr.,an amazingly talented guitarist and vocalist. This guy can really play! At Outside Lands, his style was very reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix, but I talked with another guy who was familiar with Clarke and said he normally has a more bluegrass style compared to what he played that day. Either way, I was blown away! Up next, I listened to Young the Giant. I like Young the Giant and have listened to them before, but their live shown takes on an entirely new dimension, much like the Black Keys! I then listened to a group I hadn't heard before called Thao and the Get Down Stay Down. They were a lot of fun with several catchy tunes and some unique genre blends. The second to last group I heard on Saturday was the Yeah Yeah Yeahs who, like Young the Giant, I had listened to before but were so much better live! They were one of the most hardcore bands I heard at the festival, which I wasn't expecting. The final show for the day was Nine Inch Nails. I wasn't expecting them to live up to the standard set by McCartney the night before (and they didn't), but their show was a really good counterpoint to McCartney's. NiN made heavy use of lighting and setup, which was absolutely fascinating! The opening reminded me of Chroma, of all things, because of their use of stark contrast lighting. I never thought I would compare NiN to a ballet before! As expected, they were awesome! They played a lot of their well known songs, of course, and hearing tens of thousands of people singing "I wanna fuck you like an animal" in concert was a delicious sort of irony. They ended the night perfectly though by playing Hurt, quite possible their deepest and most meaningful song.

For the final day, Melissa was able to go with me and we decided to check out some of the other things on offer at Outside Lands. We spent a lot of time at Wine Lands checking out some new wineries. In addition to some old favorites, such as Long Meadow Ranch and Hess, we discovered a number of new wineries. One of my favorite wineries I had never tried before was Peay, who had a delicious Pinot Noir. After a while, we listened to Vampire Weekend, who was an absolute blast live! Every year there is usually one group that is nothing but pure unadulterated joy, and this year that group was Vampire Weekend. We ended the festival listening to Kaskade. We're both huge fans of Kaskade, but were someone disappointed in his show. He tended to mostly play house remixes of his stuff, instead of his originals which we thought were better. I guess he was trying to cater more to a live clubbing like experience. He still had a number of fantastic songs though, and we got to hear some stuff off of his new upcoming album.

All in all, it was another fantastic year for Outside Lands. And this time it wasn't freezing cold! I have so much new music to listen to it will take a month to get through the backlog, yay! I already can't wait for next year.