* * * *
Due to various complications involving several friends and two guys calling themselves “The Party People,” I didn’t get to Outside Lands until around 4:30. The first full act I caught was Jurassic 5, a group I previously only knew from festivals--they seem perennially on the second row of festival lineups, but I’d never heard a single recorded song from them. Upon seeing them, this made a whole lot of sense. The songs the L.A. hip-hop crew (the only rap act at the festival) played wouldn’t be brilliant on record, but they’re probably the best live hip-hop act I’ve seen since Odd Future in 2011. The DJs contributed to most of the spectacle aspect of the performance, busting out turntable guitars and scratching an enormous, human-sized record during an epic competition that never had a clear winner. However, the group’s four rappers made up for their relatively limited verses with limitless, crowd-pumping energy and seamless transitions from one MC to another.
* * *
The next act up I saw was the fantastic Brooklyn indie-rock band Grizzly Bear. I sat down for their set, which may or may not have been a good idea--half of their material was well-suited for ambient hillside listening, while the rest demanded frenetic dancing and crowd involvement. Either way, I was slightly disappointed by their set, probably chiefly due to my disappointment with their recent album Shields. The material from Shields was, for the most part, unmemorable--I barely remember which songs from the album they played. The highlights came invariably from their early material, especially the songs from their excellent 2009 release Veckatimest and in particular their ubiquitous hit “Two Weeks.” Watching Grizzly Bear play “Two Weeks” was similar to watching Paul McCartney play “We Can Work It Out” (a likely inspiration)--its pop tightness was kept intact, but the energy and emotion with which it was played transformed it into an all-out jam.
* * * *
The act that caught me most by surprise that day was Griz, a 21-year-old Detroit producer who laid down one of the best DJ sets I’ve ever seen. There were really three elements of his set--classic songs (Otis Redding’s “Shake”), trappy hip-hop, and, most effectively, lurching moombahton beats that largely built off the template of Skrillex’s “Reptile” but replaced that artist’s maximalist sound barrage with clicks, cuts, and masterful use of empty space. Though I don’t know how his music would translate to record, Griz was rivaled only by the legendary Chic as the funkiest act at the festival.
* * * 1/2
I’ve seen Phoenix twice at Outside Lands; this year’s set was certainly inferior to the last, but more due to contextual factors than the band’s actual music. I was much closer to their 2010 set; in addition, they played much earlier last time, meaning that my energy was still at relatively peak level. However, it was a great set to at least witness--they fired off all their biggest hits from their massive 2010 album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, in addition to their best song, the monumental “Too Young.” This was the only act at Outside Lands who played a deep cut I was itching to hear--I was at least hoping for “Sir Psycho Sexy” from the Chili Peppers, but they’re all dads now so no chance.
I heard Youth Lagoon’s set on the way to the festival; it was allegedly amazing, but all I could hear was Trevor Powers’ piercing voice, which cut through the music so sharply I couldn’t tell if he was in tune or not.
Probably the worst day, though Jurassic 5 and Griz (particularly the latter) were both pleasant surprises.