For day two at Outside Lands I experimented with bike parking, forgoing the bike valet service for my own lock and a chain link fence near the polo field entrance. Many hours later, it was confirmed: best idea ever.
I arrived at the festival just before the end of Zola Jesus' set to find the Lands End stage even larger than I remembered. A U-shaped ramp jutted out from the main stage, ready for two hours of Metallica later that night. From what I saw, Zola Jesus started the day with a bang. Their closing number had the drummer pounding out a Phil Collins-esque beat while singer Nika Roza Danilova sung in low sultry tones. The song ended with her repeatedly smashing the crash cymbal, double-handed, ringing the day to clanging attention.
As more and more people filed onto the Polo Field picnic blankets were lifted in favor of standing. A group of floppy-haired young men filed onstage. Australia's Tame Impala were up. I can't imagine the average age of Tame Impala band members is over 30, but here they were, channeling psychedelic groove rock from an era well before their time. Each song triggered a game of "sounds like" in my memory banks: Blondie's "Call Me," anything by XTC, the Kinks, even Of Montreal. This unplaceable familiarity possibly detracted from their otherwise engaging show -- listening became a personal challenge to place influences and similar sounds, rather than a pure appreciation of the spacey rock at hand.
Following this, I journeyed over to the Sutro stage to hear the relatively new group Alabama Shakes play what they term 'roots rock.' To my ears, there was nothing to differentiate these songs from soul tunes of the '60s. Which isn't to say they weren't great performers. Lead singer Brittany Howard delivers her lyrics with soft hums, harsh growls, and everything in between, creating plenty of opportunities for dynamic builds. Alabama Shakes produced the first truly danceable music I heard all day -- and the crowd responded appropriately.
Though I originally planned to next see Explosions in the Sky, on my way to the Twin Peaks stage the crush of people between me and my destination dissuaded me. Saturday was way more crowded than Friday. I also had a hankering to hear something completely different than the guitar-heavy first half of my afternoon. Staking out a spot for Big Boi turned out to be a great idea.
Due to "technical difficulties" last year, Big Boi's set at 2011's Outside Lands turned into a brief (and by all reports strange) impromptu stand-up routine by Dave Chappelle before the performance was outright cancelled. This year, the rapper and crew assured the audience, "if we're gonna do it, we're gonna do it right." OutKast has been on hiatus since 2007, but Big Boi performed a number of their greatest hits, including "Ms. Jackson," "So Fresh, So Clean," "B.O.B. (Bombs over Baghdad)," and "Ghetto Musick." Backed by music videos and a flashing Big Boi logo, the OutKast songs were missing their more melodic half. Big Boi relied on the audience to fill these gaps, laying down his rhymes with incredible speed and fluidity. His solo material was equally well received -- 2011's loss was definitely 2012's gain.
Nearby, at the Panhandle stage (the coziest of the bunch), local garage rock foursome Thee Oh Sees were delivering upbeat, moshy tunes to a much smaller, but possibly even more enthusiastic audience. Lead singer and guitarist John Dwyer screeched and whooped, his hair completely obscuring his eyes. In fact, everyone in the band was exceedingly fun to watch. Dwyer's vocal style, especially with keyboardist Brigid Dawson's backup, was reminiscent of The B-52s' Fred Schneider. Or, The B-52s' Fred Schneider if he listened to a lot of the Melvins and lived in the Marina. If that doesn't sound good, believe me, it is.
By this time -- 6:30 pm -- it was cold. The fog that never really lifted was getting thicker and wetter by the minute. With a choice between Norah Jones and Passion Pit, I chose warmth. I found it within the tightly packed crowd at the Twin Peaks stage, but Passion Pit's pop wasn't as mood-lifting as I'd hoped. It definitely didn't make me forget my tired feet. Perhaps I'd been alone at Outside Lands for too many hours without a personal supply of hard liquor (as did most people around me). For brief moments at a time, the band did achieve their full electropop sound and carried the whole crowd into boppy good cheer. But even without the band's help, I remembered a crucial element of large music performances: crowd camaraderie. As people pushed and shoved, jockeying for a better view of the misty pink stage, each group of strangers became a unit, banded together by proximity and their attempts at keeping everyone around them in good humor, enjoying each other as much as the music they came to see.
The one Passion Pit song I kind of wanted to hear echoed over Martin Luther King Drive as I biked home, a fitting close to a full day. It's title? "Sleepyhead." One more day to go -- here's hoping for just a little sunshine to match everyone's good spirits.
Outside Lands continues August 12, 2012. For more information visit sfoutsidelands.com.
Related Outside Lands 2012 Posts:
- Day One at the 2012 Outside Lands (KQED Arts)
- “Outside Lambs”: A Moroccan Oasis Within Outside Lands
- Outside Lands: 5 Craft Beers You Must Try at the Festival’s New Attraction, Beer Lands
- Outside Lands 2012 Photos: Food, Art, Music & People
- What I Learned at Outside Lands 2012 (KQED Arts)