Thursday, August 23, 2012

Outside Lands, Day 1

* * * 1/2

If his set at Outside Lands was any indication, Beck knows what audiences want.  The unclassifiable rocker’s main-stage set was an energetic romp through all his best-known tunes, from classics like “Loser” and “Where It’s At” to new ones like “Gamma Ray” (from the criminally underrated Danger Mouse collab Modern Guilt) and a number of Guero and Sea Change classics.  It was a setlist that sounded like it was devised by a panel of the cross-faded audience members who would otherwise shout the names of the songs into the air, and many of these songs (especially “Loser” and “Golden Age”) were thrilling to see live.  Yet I certainly expected an artist with such an extensive and genre-defying oeuvre as Beck to throw in at least a few deep cuts--or at least “Debra.”

* * * 1/2

South African crew Die Antwoord came on like the elevator full of blood from the Shining, unleashing trashy multilingual rave-rap and grotesque visuals of indeterminate blood-spurting objects upon a thousands-strong mass of stoners, ravers, and unfortunate souls simply trying to enjoy their sisig tacos.  Yo-Landi Vi$$er will still be dancing through my nightmares ten years from now, flaunting her age-indeterminate frame at me while making noises reminiscent of a Japanese schoolgirl impersonating Alan Vega.  Yet for all their unapologetic trashiness, their set still felt like a breath of fresh air.  This was truly a “who the fuck booked these guys” sort of set, with the band fully taking advantage of the festival setting to presumably scare the shit out of any non-psychopath who hadn’t come to Hellman Hollow specifically to see them perform.  Plus, Die Antwoord play the sort of music that was seemingly designed for the festival setting, with massive bass and lyrics that were generally comprehensible when they were sung/rapped in anything even closely resembling English.

* * * *

Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra specialize in one thing and one thing only, which you can probably guess by looking at the band’s full name.  If their name is any indication, the extremely tight Brooklyn crew are an Afrobeat band for the sake of being one--but at Outside Lands, they played with a fiery energy that went far beyond the simple emulation of classic Fela.  If Antibalas wasn’t the most original act at Outside Lands, they were among the most technically adept and certainly one of the most fun.

* * * 1/2

Though they weren’t quite as spectacular as the first time I saw them at the Great American Music Hall in 2011, Washed Out (the most Pitchfork-approved band of the night) were nonetheless excellent, easily adapting their sunny electro-pop to the foggy climes of San Francisco.  As with Beck’s, Washed Out’s songs didn’t stray far from their studio versions live--which may have been a good thing, as evidenced by a rather dull, electric piano-driven version of “Feel It All Around” (“the Portlandia song,” as at least one audience member loudly noted).

* * *

I don’t know what about Justice’s set was so underwhelming.  They had the visuals in check, with the giant glowing cross and the Marshall stacks and the ‘70s-hard-rock-band attire.  With the exception of their unnecessarily drawn-out version of “D.A.N.C.E.,” every song sounded as powerful (if not more so, as was the case with “Civilization”) as on their studio albums.  The crowd was completely into it.  But for some reason, I left Justice severely wishing I’d listened to my friend’s 50-something dad and gone to see Neil Young instead (and not even because what I could hear of Neil Young was particularly good, though I’m sure his set was amazing).  I think the culprit was simply that I didn’t feel like dancing.  This is music that must be grooved to to truly be felt, and for whatever reason (excessive food intake, walking around, dancing during previous sets, not being on molly) I felt incapable of doing much more than a wavy dance.  (The rating here applies to my experience, not the music, which would merit at least three and a half by itself.)

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