Getting into Outside Lands is no big trick -- after all, tickets are still up for the taking on the secondhand market. But once inside, how might a gentle music lover avoid missing out on the best of the fest and duck that pesky case of FoMO? Don’t get lost in a fog of indecision, stumble on the sprawling schedule with its five competing stages, and fall into a gopher hole of coulda, shoulda, woulda.
Instead, save yourself the hassle of wandering listlessly from stage to stage like a dissatisfied, bleary, beer-logged buffalo. Enjoy the fact that you will bear witness to some amazing must-see performers in the most beauteous, green and urban setting around. And absorb these solutions to some of the roughest schedule conflicts at Outside Lands.
Lake Street Dive vs. Leon Bridges vs. Robert DeLong
Which of these three things don’t belong? DeLong pops out here, with melodic, thumping synth washes and epic electronic beats. Consider him a kind of hook-laden Skrillex with a similar indie rock background and taste for high-wire drops. So the real tossup is between the snappy, pitch-perfect '60s-style R&B of the buzzy Fort Worth, Texas, singer-songwriter Leon Bridges and the powerhouse soul vocals of Rachael Price and her minimal indie band, Lake Street Dive, known for its cover of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.” This one goes to Bridges, a multitalented choreographer and dancer who decimated South by Southwest audiences and even took home a prize this year for his thoroughly throwback Sam Cooke-like vision.
St. Vincent vs. Alvvays vs. Glass Animals
Sorry, but is there a real conflict here between St. Vincent and Alvvays? Even if the breed of experimental/arty indie pop purveyed by the Grammy-winning St. Vincent, a.k.a. Annie Clark, chafes your hide in the same way, say, David Byrne’s does, you know that live, she’ll alvvays, I mean, always provide plenty of musical intrigue, guitar heroics, and forthright food for thought (also is she or isn’t she still dating supermodel/actress Cara Delevingne?). That’s in contrast to the simple and guileless joys of the Toronto combo Alvvays’ dulcet lo-fi. Perhaps more formidable competition for St. Vincent’s Clark is Oxford, England, ensemble Glass Animals, which come off like a blended family of airy R&B, knob-twirling indie, and echo-happy dubstep. So let’s agree that St. Vincent reigns, then rush over to Glass Animals to see if they’re breakout or just plain breakable.
D’Angelo vs. Mumford and Sons vs. Iration vs. Amon Tobin
This is a little like comparing apples and oranges -- and a tres leches cupcake and a fried cricket taco. Meaning, I can’t even. Just don’t hurt yourself fretting about whether you must check out the popular, pleasant, and very earnest folk-rock gents of Mumford and Sons, catch the Jawaiian-by-way-of-Santa Barbara reggae-rockers of Iration, or swing by R&B’s comeback kid D’Angelo. D’Angelo is the clear winner. After finding success at the turn of the century as the bare-chested beefcake of “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” off Voodoo and dealing with substance abuse, death, car crackups, rehab, and fat-shaming, the singer-songwriter returned late last year with the inspired, universally acclaimed and Pazz & Jop poll-topping Black Messiah. Praise be. Follow his set up with the evening’s only other real competitor, Brazil native and Marin County forest dweller Amon Tobin, who gives his dazzling ISAM 2.0 production a final spin before he moves on.
Toro Y Moi vs. Billy Idol
Who can resist a nice warm bowl of “Rebel Yell”? The '80s MTV darling is still flying that punk rock attitude, playing with glory days guitarist Steve Stevens, and praising the Kings & Queens of the Underground with his most recent 2014 LP. Yet Toro y Moi talent Chaz Bundick makes it easy to get distracted. Some may see the Berkeley bedroom musicmaker, artist, and graphic designer as simply the cornerstone of the so-called chillwave movement. But judging from his Les Sins dance music side gig, never-ending art projects, and his own imprint on Carpark Records, there’s just no putting Bundick in a corner. These days he seems intent on swirling his toe into a sparkling stream of poppy and funky prog rock -- witness the new Toro y Moi album, What For? Afterward, check either Bundick’s pal and DJ-round-town Giraffage or chill further with Deutschland roots-tronica outfit Milky Chance of “Stolen Dance” fame.
Tame Impala vs. G-Eazy
So easy. The East Bay-bred, best-dressed hip-hop heartthrob G-Eazy has a penchant for whipping off his well-considered shirts and nibbling at them, like it’s the only way to stem the tide of rhymes. That’s when he’s not rolling with E-40 at Warriors games and being industrious about his next LP, said to be due out later this year. A festival circuiteer like many others on this year’s Outside Lands bill, he’s also a rarity around the Bay these days. But I don’t think that can tempt me from the raw musical ambition of Tame Impala and the Australian psychedelic unit’s lush krautrocky sonic stylings. The group’s third album, Currents, offers up classic, custard-rich headphone music for an earbud age, skewing delightfully funky at one moment, deliciously Giorgio Moroder at others. Sorry, G -- gotta get wild with Tame Impala.
Kendrick Lamar vs. the Black Keys
Akron vs. Compton? Who doesn’t dig the big blast of blues rock that the Black Keys generate on stage? Honestly, though, what have Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney done for us lately, in terms of moving us past that sound? Last year’s considerably low-key, retro-spooky Turn Blue didn’t have the same impact. Let’s just say Kendrick Lamar still gets us hot, right here, right now. He’s our Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, our artful, naturalistic hip-hop diarist skilled at singing the song of himself, conveying the beat of his reality. And that reality keeps expanding. The jazz, and musings, got deeper and grew increasingly urgent with this year’s multilayered next step, To Pimp a Butterfly. So expect the trees to tremble and the gophers to freak when the flower-crown-, hoodie-, and bootie-bedecked hordes rush Lamar’s Twin Peaks stage.
Metz vs. Allal Las vs. St Paul and the Broken Bones
Picture this: you’ve just caught SZA, the lady who’s picking up and spinning the ethereal soul thread that FKA Twigs left behind. Where to next? You’re caught between the toned-down psychedelicists of Allah-Las, the old-school soul believers of St. Paul and the Broken Bones, and the loud rockers of Metz. Advice? Mix it up, harsh the overall mellow, and turn up the volume with Metz. The righteously abrasive noise-rock threesome invoke nothing less than classic Jesus Lizard, Shellac, and even NorCal’s late lamented Mayyors, with a cacophonous dollop of Birthday Party thrown in for chaotic measure. “Things fall apart” appears to be the overriding message of careening tunes like “Landfill” off the trio’s latest LP, II.
Hot Chip vs. Sky Ferreira vs. Ryn Weaver
What a toss-up. At this point, as the fest begins to wind to a foggy close, the strategizing cog in your noggin starts to shut down. The urge is to go with the flow. Your sweet and sinister Aunt Flo would definitely espouse quirk-folk femtronica songstress Ryn Weaver, an Argentina-born seductress with a taste for high-necked Victorian-style collars, intriguing percussive effects, and pop hooks (see “Octahate”). Flo’s aspiring club-kid offspring Waterfall would undoubtedly pick Sky Ferreira, who’s coming at that pop diva crown from a whole other synthpop angle: Ferreira’s bewitched by drum machines and '80s soul revivalists and charmingly overshares on social media. But guess what, Hot Chip gets the dip this time around -- and not just for the cut of vocalist-guitarist-multi-instrumentalist Alexis Taylor’s mega metallic pantaloons. The English band is bringing sexy, ecstatic acid house back, seasoned with a bracing sprinkle of pulsing krautrock, with its new recording, Why Make Sense? The worry-free dance party starts here.
Elton John vs. Axwell & Ingrosso
The temptation is to take your sopping-with-sweat Hot Chipped self straight to Swedish House Mafia spinoff Axwell & Ingrosso (really, this was essentially a way to ice out former Swedish House Mafia cohort Steve Angello, no?). Wedding anthemic hooks to larger-than-life flows readymade for the rave grounds, Axwell & Ingrosso could be an ideal way to bounce out of this year’s Outside Lands. But hold your horses, tiny dancer: Sir Elton John is nothing to scoff at. The 68-year-old pop icon can take as much of his sweet time as he wants between albums -- witness 2006’s The Captain & the Kid and 2013’s The Diving Board -- because he has written just so many remarkable songs. If you’re in luck, you’ll hear some of the biggest hits among them: “Bennie and the Jets,” “Daniel,” “Philadelphia Freedom,” “Rocket Man,” “Sad Songs (Say So Much),” “Crocodile Rock,” "Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word”... and that’s not even touching more recent Lion King history. Like a candle in the wind, we flicker toward his light.