Outside Lands ended on a particularly festive note on Halloween, which brought the most people out of the three days, the majority of them in costume. A group of guys wore bowties and diapers in what I gathered was a “man baby” costume. A couple dressed as a lit-up Golden Gate Bridge complete with tulle fog. There was an AOC in a “Tax the Rich” dress from the Met Gala, some KISS members, obligatory Squid Game contestants in tracksuits, space cowboys and many different kinds of aliens.
PHOTOS: Kehlani, Tame Impala Bring a Festive Close to Outside Lands
The scene was as close as a mainstream festival gets to what people imagine when they think of San Franciscans letting their freak flags fly and setting aside differences to have fun. These are the musical acts that stood out on the final day of the festival’s pandemic-era return.
Kehlani plays an intimate hometown show
Most people packed out the Lands End stage to see headliner Tame Impala, who sounded great but projected such distorted, trippy visuals that it was impossible to see what was happening on stage unless you decided to brave the crowds and get up close. The vibe at Kehlani’s Sutro Stage set at the same time was much more intimate, and she embraced it. “I know y’all came to a festival to dance and be crazy and mosh pit, but you know I make love songs,” she told the audience, which contained a notable number of couples in embrace. They began to sway when Kehlani sang the opening bars of the syrupy R&B track “Hate the Club.”
The Oakland native interspersed more recent radio singles like “Nights Like This” and “Ring,” her track with Cardi B, with earlier work that put her on the map. Tracks like “Distraction” and “CRZY” got big cheers from her hometown fans, many of whom have followed her since before her mixtape era. Kehlani performed with a full band, but rather than wow us with huge crescendos and guitar solos, they let her singularly warm voice be the star. The down-to-earth approach worked well, especially for the tender, queer love song “Honey,” which she introduced, in true Town fashion, by yelling “Where my gay bitches at?!”
Egyptian Lover works his vinyl wizardry
A DJ set from Egyptian Lover, an elder statesman of the first pillar of hip-hop, made a trip to the House by Heineken tent worth it, even if it meant missing the action on the big music stages. At his concerts, Egyptian Lover typically raps live and does tricks on his 808, but at Outside Lands he let the ones and twos do the talking. He spun b-boy classics from the electrofunk era he came up in, like “Planet Rock” and “Rock It, Don’t Stop It.” But he never played them straight, scratching, fading vocals in and out and creating a sonic collage by putting the needle to the groove. The 50 person or so audience was dancing it out—someone dressed as Mrs. Doubtfire was shaking their butt pads, a Squid Game guy was doing the most and another person twerked so hard they slipped in the mud.
Burna Boy leaves a powerful message
The mood was sunny during Burna Boy’s set at the Twin Peaks stage, where he performed with a full band that got the crowd winding their hips to Afrobeats. The guitarist played breezy melodies; the horns ushered in a celebratory atmosphere. Thunderous drums added gravitas as the Nigerian superstar sang in his big, booming voice, and rapped on tracks that shared a vernacular with American hip-hop. Within the uptempo set, some songs in Burna Boy’s catalogue introduced a darker edge. “20 10 20,” a song he wrote in response to Nigeria’s movement against corruption and police brutality, marked an especially powerful moment as visuals depicting the country’s colonial history flashed on-screen. “Put one fist up and pump that shit because this is protest music,” Burna Boy said.
Brittany Howard’s sunset groove
Outside Lands felt like Summer of Soul during Brittany Howard’s set, which took place at Lands End during the golden hour. Even though Howard performed on the big stage, she managed to convey the relaxed atmosphere of a block party. She and her band took their time to settle into the groove of each track, weaving together elements of R&B, funk and blues as the audience two-stepped along. Howard belted in her low alto, let out high notes in a falsetto and shouted impassioned ad libs in the vein of James Brown as gospel-style backup singers supported her with an angelic chorus. She ended the set with the uplifting track “Give It To Love,” a manifesto about kindness and connection that I’m pretty sure inspired everyone in the audience to do at least one good deed as they continued their day.