Headliner Paul McCartney closed out the first of three days at the Outside Lands with a long, brilliant set Friday, while other acts showcased what makes the music and arts festival a true gem.
Looking over the crowd of tens of thousands cramming Golden Gate Park’s Polo Field for what in six years has become one of pop music’s major events, even the world’s most famous living rocker needed a moment to take in the scene.
McCartney then treated the masses to a bevy of Beatles and Wings classics that have made the whole world sing for decades, and likely influenced some acts at this year’s festival -- once again a jam-packed mélange of rock, soul, world, acoustic and dance music on four stages throughout the park.
The joy of discovering new performers remains the festival’s great pleasure. On Saturday, one delightful new breakthrough came during the tremendous set by Bombino, a Tuareg guitar player from the West African nation of Niger.
But on Friday it was all Sir Paul.
Some of the highlights of the more than 30 Beatles and Wings tunes he played included “Eight Days a Week,” “Paperback Writer,” “Band on the Run” and “Live and Let Die.”
They were a contrast to the lower-key-yet-affable rock acts on main Lands End stage earlier Friday.
About 1 p.m., Chicago’s Smith Westerns began with catchy indie pop rock, closing with the single “Weekend.” Lead singer Cullen Omori told a smaller group of fans “good morning” (his loose pants looked kind of like pajamas) and wished them well.
On Saturday, Bombino appeared with a tight five-piece band built around the intertwining guitar work that characterizes the Malian blues of Vieux Farka Touré and Tinariwen.
But Bombino dials back the vocals and emphasizes the guitars, which were joined in this instance by a haunting lap steel player. It made for music both instantly catchy and thoroughly propulsive.
Perhaps no performers more ably filled the Polo Field than the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Singer Karen O performed as if campaigning to be named the festival’s most electrifying performer, and she may well have succeeded Saturday night. From the moment she graced the stage, she was larger than life -- looking like some postmodern Queen Nefertiti in a suit and hat that glowed alternatively gold and purple.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers closed out the festival Sunday, but not before another full day of music.
In a dusty hollow between two of the main stages, Dr. Flotsam’s Hell Brew Revue performed its brand of “Metal Hee-Haw” on the banjo and mandolin, covering classics like the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated” and Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell.”
Second-time attendee Dawes delivered a tight set of uplifting anthems reminiscent of a high-energy, alt-country Bruce Springsteen come by Harry Chapin.
Vampire Weekend was an inspiration. Its nuanced but often frail recordings would not have suggested that it could dominate an outdoor venue the way that it owned the Polo Field.
And Willie Nelson played his standards, perhaps the greatest song catalog of any living songwriter, to an adoring crowd at the Sutro Stage.