Saturday at Outside Lands is like Las Vegas if every corporate convention descended on the strip at once -- and every casino had ten hours' worth of headliners all day. It's shoulder-to-shoulder crowded, bands everywhere are competing for people's attention, and a sense of entitled celebration pervades. It's a minor miracle that everyone makes it out alive.
Naturally, sandwiched between the chaos this year were some stellar sets by bands both young and established. Here were our highlights.
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1. Con Brio
Regular KQED viewers will remember Con Brio from our video of the San Francisco seven-piece playing Stevie Wonder's "Livin' for the City" inside their tour van while driving across the Golden Gate Bridge. At Outside Lands' Panhandle Stage on Saturday, Con Brio turned up the energy to 11, commanded a huge crowd, and tore through a sizzling set of uptempo funk and soul that did the Bay Area proud. After the band's nimble, magnetic frontman Ziek McCarter ended the show with a series of backflips and James Brown splits, a newly won-over fan stood on the barricade and shouted, "That's it! That's the best performance you'll see all day! Shut down the festival!"
2. Anderson .Paak
Once again, the small Panhandle Stage delivered on Saturday with the Southern Californian R&B singer, rapper and multi-instrumentalist Anderson .Paak, whose recent album Malibu is a rich swamp of soul destined for many year-end lists. His job on Saturday night was essentially to justify people's decisions to skip the first half of huge-name headliner Radiohead, and after seeing him singing, rapping, dancing, telling stories and drumming up a storm, I can't imagine anyone regretted it. It'll be interesting to see what the future has in store for the guy; he's got nowhere to go but up.
Halsey's evening set fell somewhere between the intricate indie balladry of Sufjan Stevens -- winged and elegant on the Sutro Stage in the afternoon -- and the EDM mayhem of Zedd, who headlined the Twin Peaks stage with gut-rumbling drops and face-singing pyrotechnics. Hers is the kind of electro-pop one can get behind: she grew from troubled teen years of bipolar disorder and bad boyfriends to a tightly organized style of songwriting and production, and in Golden Gate Park, won over a rapt crowd.
The cryptic press release arrived earlier in the week, announcing a pop-up show of E-40 and Warren G performing one song together outside the Heineken tent. It had all the makings of yet another sponsored bit of hype -- would it really be just one song? As it turned out, E-40 did "Tell Me When to Go," "Choices," "Function" and more, a seven-song blast of Bay Area love to a gigantic mob that was already smashed like sardines 20 minutes before Vallejo's royal son (and professional Mother's Day card signer) hit the stage with guests Nef the Pharaoh and Warren G. Note to festival organizers: get E-40 on a larger stage next year.
I distinctly remmeber, eight years ago on the first night of the very first Outside Lands, thinking that Radiohead was far too creative and strange for a giant field full of people to genuinely love. But theirs was a rare success story of the weird kids winning, and in their return performance Saturday night, both the weirdness and the crowd seemed more subdued. Part of this may have been to a semi-exodus partway through when Zedd took the stage, which speaks to EDM's enduring popularity, but part of it owes to Radiohead playing mostly new material. Two-thirds of the way through, we started getting "Everything in Its Right Place," "Idioteque," "Let Down" and other older classics, and the energy changed. As we left the festival during Radiohead's encore, we discovered a hill full of people sitting outside the gates near Spreckels Lake, listening for free to "Paranoid Android" and "Karma Police" and appearing even more excited than the crowd in the Polo Field. Go figure!