Saturday, August 10, 2013

Outside Lands, Day 1

Apologies for lack of photos, my camera died almost immediately after arrival.

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The first full set I saw was by Seattle’s Band of Horses, best known for their anthemic “The Funeral”--the only song they played I knew.  Though they were a solid band, they were the sort of group I felt I should have researched prior to seeing and were not quite interesting enough to capture my attention as a casual festival-browser coming in blind.  However, I am strongly interested in delving into their music in case I ever see them again at another festival (not unlikely given their hippie appeal and consistent pace of releases).

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The National’s set was a strange experience, to say the least.  Like Regina Spektor last year, the National’s music was entirely incongruous with what is generally expected of a festival act--but worked extremely well.  In stark contrast to the jammy, fun-loving Band of Horses, the National played melancholy music that hung over the crowd like a dense fog.  Stately singer Matt Berninger encapsulated the group’s aesthetic, wandering aimlessly across the stage and sipping from a bottle of white wine while not crouched over the microphone.  There can only be so much gloom at a vibey summer festival, and the National’s set dragged on long enough that they just became depressing after a while.  But at their early-to mid-set best, they were truly excellent, balancing atmosphere with crowd-moving rock rhythms.  

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Thirty years after collaborating on some of the biggest records by the biggest names in post-disco pop music, Nile Rodgers is once again one of the world’s most pre-eminent producers thanks to a little record called Random Access Memories.  Many animal-hatted EDM fans could be seen at the crowd, indicating that Rodgers’ work with Daft Punk was the main reason his band Chic was able to secure a gig replacing the notoriously flaky R&B singer D’Angelo.  But Chic didn’t play any Daft Punk songs, opting instead for a mix of their own songs and other Rodgers-affiliated work, such as Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” and David Bowie’s almighty “Let’s Dance.”  Perhaps the most impressive thing about Chic was how much they sounded like a timeless ideal of Chic rather than a middle-aged disco relic.  Though they played with the effortless confidence of veterans, there were moments where they sounded like the most relevant band in the world--a statement that might not be as far from the truth as one might think.

* * * * 1/2

Paul McCartney was my first Beatle and I had no idea what to expect.  I was as prepared for a predictable set of the most boring stadium schmaltz ever as I was for one filled with immortal pop gems penned by one of the most influential and brilliant musicians to walk the earth in the last century.  With the exception of a few sappy Beatles and Wings cuts, the answer was almost unequivocally the latter--and even some of the throwaways had a way of being profound.  “All Together Now,” an oft-forgotten pseudo-kid’s song from Yellow Submarine, became a massive psychedelic sing-along complete with trippy Q*bert visuals; “Lovely Rita”’s gorgeous vocal descent defined absolute bliss for the few brief seconds it lasted.  The surprises never ceased--“Yesterday” with the Kronos String Quartet, a bizarre ukulele version of “Something,” a live signing of two ecstatic fans’ arms.  But the best moment for me was “We Can Work It Out,” one of the Beatles’ all-time best songs and one of the most effective live--the time switch was far easier for the stoned crowd to process than the one in “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite” (which he also played, but a bit more awkwardly given that it was originally sung by John). 


I came in on the second-to-last song of Surfer Blood’s set; they played “Swim,” a great pop song, and another one I couldn’t identify.  They didn’t sound particularly tight and John Paul Pitts was very noticeably off-key, but their amateurishness complimented their music.  I saw snippets of the Men’s set but couldn’t identify any of the songs despite having heard their first two records; their music didn’t catch my ear enough for me to have any interest in lingering.  


Good day, but crowded and surprisingly dry.  I had trouble deciding whether to stay towards the front after the National to wait for Paul or to head to Chic and lose my spot, but I feel I made the right decision.

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