PHOTOS: An Electric Return for Outside Lands with Tyler, the Creator and More

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Tyler, The Creator performs at Outside Lands on Friday, Oct. 29. (Estefany Gonzalez)

“This really is beautiful,” Tyler, the Creator wondered out loud in the silence in between songs. “The fog came in, that shit was cute. And the trees,” he said, looking out into the thousands of faces jostling in the muddy grounds of Golden Gate Park on Friday.

It was true: there was something especially beautiful about the scene set by the first day of Outside Lands. Sometime during Puerto Rican synthpop duo’s Buscabulla’s set the fog rolled in, like the Bay’s natural smoke machine. The haze wrapped around the glowing mushroom sculptures and windmill decor, giving everything an autumnal, Ren Faire look. This was the first time the festival, usually held in August, has taken place this late in the year, and even the park dressed appropriately for the season.

In this special Halloween edition of Outside Lands, the festival continued its tilt away from its indie rock origins to its current big-tent incarnation, with acts as disparate as Glass Animals, Kaytranada and Sharon Van Etten sharing space in the lineup.

Here’s who impressed the most during the opening day of the festival.

The Crowd at Outside Lands on Friday, Oct 29. (Estefany Gonzalez)

Flo Milli’s short but mighty raps

I arrived to Flo Milli’s set after checking out Khruangbin, the Houston trio whose psychedelic, dub-inflected instrumental rock got an initially stiff and awkward audience reaction—this isn’t the Acid Test era of San Francisco anymore. The crowd at Flo Milli, however, was bouncing and screaming her tagline (“Ho, Flo Milli Shit, ho!”) over bass so deep that it made my ribcage vibrate like a tuning fork.

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Flo Milli’s debut album, and so far, her only album, has exactly 30 minutes of music on it, so it was hard to imagine how she would fill up the 40 minutes of her allotted stage time. It turns out, she chose to perform a lean, 20 minute set with only her biggest hits. But, hey, it’s hard to complain when the crowd could sing every word of her schoolyard-taunt raps at the top of their lungs.

The Soul Rebels perform at Outside Lands on Friday, Oct. 29. (Estefany Gonzalez)

The Soul Rebels brought NOLA to the Bay

This New Orleans eight-piece bass band was a surprise hit with festival-goers. Sure, they don’t have the Gold records or Billboard toppers, but who cares when they’re this good? They’re NOLA through and through: their set is accompanied by B-roll featuring the band posing in front of shotgun houses and shopping in the French Quarter. Everyone was dressed up in their best George Clinton funk outfits, and they played their original work mixed in with crowd-pleasing covers of Ice Cube and Thundercat. Though they’ve headlined their own tours for years, some fans know The Soul Rebels as a backing band for other people’s concerts. But at Outside Lands, they showed they can hold their own as a main act.

EARTHGANG performs at Outside Lands on Friday, Oct. 29. (Estefany Gonzalez)

EARTHGANG’s stripped-down set wowed without distractions

No vocal backing track. No razzle-dazzle. Olu and Wowgr8, the duo behind EARTHGANG, kept it simple: a static logo on screen, one DJ and themselves. I admit, I wondered how these two minor stars managed to secure a prime-time slot on one of the big stages, but they made me swallow my words. By the end of the night, the word on the shuttle bus was that they had Friday's best set.

Their recipe for success is simple: get the crowd hyped, get the music going hard, and then let their talent rip. I mean, these guys are the equivalent of kids who go on America’s Got Talent and tear through “Flight of the Bumblebee” on the violin—they’re rap virtuosos who aren’t afraid to show it off. Triplet flow, double time, freestyle: EARTHGANG could switch it up on a dime, which they did on almost every track.

They even premiered a new single, “Ghetto Gods,” and everyone can check it out via surreptitious upload on YouTube.

JPEGMAFIA performs at Outside Lands on Friday, Oct. 29. (Estefany Gonzalez)

JPEGMafia didn’t water down his weirdness

The last time I saw Peggy was at 2018’s Treasure Island Music Festival, where he played an early slot on a tiny stage to maybe 50 people. And those 50 people were really into it, thrashing and crashing their bodies into each other like football players on the line of scrimmage. At one point Peggy jumped off the stage, started moshing just as hard as his fans, and looked like he was about to fight one of them (his backstage team seemed to talk him out of it).

A few more critically acclaimed albums later, and JPEGMafia’s gotten enough clout to score a prominent spot in Friday’s schedule. But even in the major leagues, Peggy’s punk-y, D.I.Y. ethos remains unchanged. If EARTHGANG’s set was stripped down, I’m not sure what to call JPEGMafia’s performance. There was literally nothing besides his MacBook and the man himself on stage. I mean, he had to walk to his laptop between every song to hit play on the next track. After his first song, a rough and unintelligible performance of “Jesus Forgive Me, I am a Thot,” he took a hard look at his computer screen and announced, a little sheepishly: “Sorry, everyone, I had two layers of autotune on.”

Not that Peggy’s experimental hip-hop needs an audio slip-up to sound harsh and dissonant. Parts of the audience kept on peeling off with every song, pushed away by the unfriendly sound (this is an artist, after all, that makes “Music to be Hated”). Who was left by the end of the set was the faithful Peggy fans, and for them, they wouldn't have it any other way.

Tyler, The Creator performs at Outside Lands on Friday, Oct. 29. (Estefany Gonzalez)

Tyler, the Creator embraced his evolution in a powerful closer

The less said about The Strokes, who played Outside Lands like they were their own cover band, the better. Tyler, the Creator was the better headliner of the night; he played a downscaled version of his critically acclaimed Lollapalooza set from July.

Like that earlier show, Tyler’s Outside Lands performance was a sentimental look back at his decade-long career, from his beginnings as an scrappy blogazine favorite to his current softboy pop star aesthetic. He dressed the Land’s End stage up in plastic rocks and projected pine trees to look like a lakeside pier, complete with prop speedboat rocking on fake water. It was all very reminiscent of “93 ’Til Infinity,” tapping into a Bay Area tradition of flexing on picturesque scenery.

Tyler was relaxed and casual during his set, chatting with his audience between tracks. “A lot of you found me through Call Me If You Get Lost, Igor, Flower Boy … but [there was] a time where [people] were cancelling me in real life,” Tyler said, referring to his controversial and now partially disowned early work. “Can I do songs from that album?”

As he went deeper into his back catalog, the scenery on stage got darker, from a sunny day to the evening to a starry night, and finally, during a performance of “She,” to a blank, pitch-black void. It’s a reflection of the complicated relationship that Tyler has with his past persona of a homophobic, misogynist edgelord—he acknowledges that it came from a dark place in his life, but he’s reluctant to distance himself from his breakout hits any further than that.

I’m ambivalent about this gambit, but I can acknowledge that Tyler’s stagecraft is setting a high bar. I mean, how many festival sets are artfully composed enough to allow a glimpse into an artist’s psyche? In the end, the sun rises on stage, and Tyler starts performing songs off his latest album, Call Me If You Get Lost. The message is clear: whatever you think about his past, for Tyler at least, it’s a new day—a fresh start.

Khruangbin performs at Outside Lands on Friday, Oct. 29. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Khruangbin performs at Outside Lands on Friday, Oct. 29. (Estefany Gonzalez)
The Strokes perform at Outside Lands on Friday, Oct. 29. (Estefany Gonzalez)
The Crowd at Outside Lands on Friday, Oct 29. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Madeline Kenney backstage at Outside Lands on Friday Oct. 29. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Moses Sumney performs at Outside Lands on Friday, Oct. 29. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Sharon Van Etten performs at Outside Lands on Friday, Oct. 29. (Estefany Gonzalez)
The Crowd at Outside Lands on Friday, Oct 29. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Tyler, The Creator performs at Outside Lands on Friday, Oct. 29. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Tyler, The Creator performs at Outside Lands on Friday, Oct. 29. (Estefany Gonzalez)
The Crowd at Outside Lands on Friday, Oct 29. (Estefany Gonzalez)
Glass Animals perform at Outside Lands on Friday, Oct. 29. (Estefany Gonzalez)
The Crowd at Outside Lands on Friday, Oct 29. (Estefany Gonzalez)

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