Saturday, September 1, 2012

Outside Lands, Day 3

* * * 1/2

I started Sunday a bit late.  There literally wasn’t a single act I knew of or wanted to see until Jack White, so when I arrived I ultimately decided to stay by the main stage and watch Regina Spektor’s set.  Though I can’t profess to be a fan of Spektor’s music, it was certainly interesting to witness her music in a live festival setting.  The setup was minimal--a cellist, a drummer, a synth player, and Spektor on voice and keys.  Yet every note sounded so crystal-clear, every word so effortlessly comprehensible, that it was hard to imagine this was taking place at a festival with over a thousand people in attendance.  On the subject of the crowd, the audience at Spektor’s set was among the most diverse of any I witnessed--within a few feet of me, there were joint-passing hippies, an old woman who must have been eighty, a face-painted raver girl on her boyfriend’s shoulders, and a number of people waving inflatable sharks in the air.

* *

Maybe I just didn’t give Jack White a chance, or maybe everyone had already been to his surprise set in the forest earlier, but nothing about the main-stage set by the man hailed by many as the savior of rock n’ roll stood out to me.  The sound was sharp and tinny, as if the sound people were trying to replicate a garagey Third Man production, and the session musicians played as if they were boogieing for the first time in their lives.  Even “Seven Nation Army,” which can be a behemoth live if the version on the White Stripes’ Under Great White Northern Lights is any indication, sounded flimsy and insubstantial.  It was a set that could have rocked tremendously, but for whatever reason, it just didn’t.

* * * * *

Of all the acts I saw, Stevie Wonder was the only one (aside from Sigur Ros) who thoroughly met my expectations.  I came to Stevie’s set expecting a lively, energetic set featuring some of the greatest pop songs ever written, as played by one of the most technically proficient musicians ever to perform popular music.  As Wonder is one of maybe four or five currently active artists who might play a show fitting the description, it’s safe to say I got exactly what I came for.  All the classics were there, from “Higher Ground” to the earth-moving “Superstition” to “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” plus some deep cuts I’d never even heard and a truly moving tribute to Michael Jackson by way of “The Way You Make Me Feel.”  Wonder’s voice, keyboards, and band were every bit as funky (and frequently more so) as on record.  For two glorious hours, Wonder single-handedly made up for the rest of this comparatively sleepy day and every other less-than-satisying experience I had at the festival, from Jack White to a fast-fading romance to some asshole who told me “you’re not as high as you think you are” towards what was luckily only the beginning of Tame Impala's set.

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