The vastness of Outside Lands Music and Art Festival is exciting, and overwhelming.
Reflecting music lovers today who expect genres beyond the traditional radio format, at Outside Lands Music and Art Festival, which began Friday in Golden Gate Park, concertgoers segued between somber indie rock, propulsive electronica, hip-hop, twangy bluegrass and more, all within minutes.
The effect was disconcerting at times — the lineup at Outside Lands can even be viewed as diluted, as if promoters were to please everyone — but it also was invigorating.
Friday proved that a wide and diverse range of offerings can make for a truly rewarding concert experience. Again drawing a bewildering mix of attendees, from teenagers to baby boomers, Outside Lands delivered a definitively successful first day. (The weather wasn’t even that nasty; it was chilly and foggy, but there have been plenty worse summer days in Golden Gate Park.)
At 2:30 p.m. Friday, Phosphorescent, aka Mathew Houck, took to the Sutro Stage to a sparse crowd that quickly grew as his weary, boozy renditions of Southern gothic folk rock filled the relatively secluded area. Houck’s damaged, cracked voice elicits immediate feelings of nostalgia and regret, but the audience seemed copacetic to his earnest performance. Yet when he and his band ventured on several lengthy jams, it energized the crowd and gave release to what could have been a suffocating, somber set. Plus, Houck got bonus points for performing wearing a T-shirt of his own band.
On the Land’s End stage, New York snyth-pop duo Holy Ghost played its upbeat, affirming electronic dance tunes. The group, clearly putting it best effort forth, struggled as it tried to rein in an audience on the huge headliner stage, but mostly failed to connect with an indifferent crowd.
It seems as though English electronic house/R&B duo Disclosure, veterans of the concert circuit (playing Coachella and Glastonbury) would have difficulty recreating their heavily-sampled, laptop-oriented tracks in a live setting. But brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence have assurance and confidence beyond their years, and their set engaged the massive contingent of fans at Land’s End.
Headliner Kanye West -- polarizing, captivating, and perhaps today’s greatest artist – continued some gimmicks from his ongoing “Yeezus” tour. He hid his face behind a mask and an array of disorienting light displays. He limited his trademark rants and performed gamely, although crowd petered out before his set was over.
Yet for all the focus on its variety, Outside Lands strongest act Friday night have been its most traditional. San Francisco native Mikal Cronin, playing power pop, only had 40 minutes at the tiny Panhandle Stage, but he made every second count. He and his three other members passionately thrashed about (and provided plenty of headbanging—there was hair aplenty), and by the end of his act, the audience clearly had been won over by his pretension-free performance. Cronin’s formula of two guitars, one bass and a set of drums isn’t exactly revolutionary nowadays (or maybe it is, given pop culture’s shift to electronic dance music), but his act proves you don’t need more than those components.
On its seventh year, one issue with Outside Lands remains: While Golden Gate Park provides a venue like few others in America, its layout doesn’t make it easy to see multiple acts, and it’s difficult to get from one stage to the next. Sometimes concertgoers have to leave performances early in order to catch an upcoming act on the other side the grounds. Still, griping about aesthetics of Golden Gate Park isn’t exactly the worst thing to complain about.