When it comes to pre-show buzz, this year's Outside Lands, which promoters hope will fill Speedway Meadow and the Polo Fields on August 14 and 15, 2010, seems jinxed. First there was the incident a few weeks ago when Sunday's headliners, Kings of Leon, walked off a St. Louis stage after playing just three tunes. Their hasty exit was the result of being pummeled with pigeon excrement from an unappreciative flock of flying rats living in the venue's rafters. One bird almost managed a perfect swish into bassist Jared Followill's mouth -- that's roughly what some critics say the Kings have been depositing into their fans' ears for a couple of albums now.
As if the images of pigeons crapping into the mouths of rock stars wasn't symbolic or disturbing enough, a fan video of Furthur's Bob Weir surfaced the other day on YouTube. Videos of rock bands on YouTube are hardly new, but rarely has a live, on-stage trainwreck been so painfully documented. In the video, Weir completely botches a cover of that classic cowboy song by Marty Robbins, "El Paso." Back when he was playing with the Grateful Dead, Weir routinely lost his way on songs, even ones he'd written, but this felt different, sadder. Here's hoping the teleprompter is working properly in time for Furthur's headlining set on Saturday.
So what's left? Well, plenty, actually. For Saturday, I'd probably start the day at 12:45 at the Twin Peaks stage in Speedway Meadow, where Freelance Whales is scheduled to play. I like their lush, quirky and sweet sound. After that, I'd make my way to the Lands End stage at the Polo Fields by 3:05 to catch Gogol Bordello, who are beyond awesome, although I've never seen them before the sun has gone down. If too many people have the same idea, no matter: just stay where you are and wait for Levon Helm at 3:45. After battling throat cancer, the former member of The Band is doing some of the best stuff of his career, as a Grammy last year for Dirt Farmer attests.
Next is either a scramble to hear the Rebirth Brass Band at 4:35 at the Panhandle Solar stage on Speedway Meadow, My Morning Jacket at Lands End at 5:00, or Tokyo Police Club at 5:25 back at Twin Peaks. Cat Power takes the same stage at 7:05, but after a recent show in New York she apologized to the crowd for "the bad performance," so maybe that would be a good time to break for dinner. Phil Lesh and Bob Weir follow My Morning Jacket at 7:25 and are scheduled to play until 9:55. The Strokes are doing a shorter set at roughly the same time at Twin Peaks, but I'd rather take my chances on Weir.
On Sunday, seeing everything on your list may be even tougher to pull off. Neo-soul sensation Janelle Monae commands the Sutro stage in the Polo Fields at 3:05 (her latest album, ArchAndroid, scored an astounding 91 at Metacritic, second only to the reissue of Exile on Main Street). You're going to have to leave her set early, though, to see the extended entourage known as Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros at 3:40 at Twin Peaks. I love all that whistling, the jangly guitars and the loose groove -- some of their stuff reminds me of that Moldy Peaches tune at the end of Juno, which I hope is taken as a compliment.
After that, you can hang out and wait for Chromeo, a cool duo that gets a lot of jumpy techno out of one guitar and an array of keyboards. Or sprint to Panhandle Solar at 4:30 for Garage A Trois, which features Skerik on saxophones and Marco Benevento on keys, then hustle back to Twin Peaks for Chromeo. I'd skip Phoenix at 5:55 since they precede Kings of Leon, which seems kind of redundant. Instead, save your energy for Social Distortion on the Sutro stage at 6:55 and end the weekend back at Twin Peaks at 8:25 for the trippy pop-tronica of Empire of the Sun.
Outside Lands happens on August 14 and 15, 2010, in Golden Gate Park. For tickets and information visit sfoutsidelands.com.