Written by DJ Melanchollie
In the land of laser lights, camel backpacks, and body glitter, time exists outside linear reality. The evening autumn air is sickly sweet with sweat and clouds of cherry flavored vape. Neon beams of blue, orange and pink light scatter through the thick mist as it coalesces with the plumes of smoke emanating from the crowd, drenching Golden Gate Park in layers of candy colored film. Walking amongst these cotton candy clouds, reality continues to skew to the Lynchian side as the ground begins to vibrate, and what seems like a boundless army of Guy Fieri’s apparates as though from thin air. Blonde wigs, so many blonde wigs – the sheer volume of frosted tips is staggering as eager heards of college kids sporting flame print and visor sunglasses press towards the main stage to chug beers and secure a spot in the crowd. The ground rattles on in fervent anticipation, feedback building, till it bursts and sonic waves erupt through the Golden Gate dreamscape.
Scenes from the first night of this year’s Halloweekend edition of Outside Lands’ were emblematic of the overall feel of the festival’s rapturous return – dreamy, delectable, and borderline surreal. After its Covid-induced hiatus, San Francisco’s premier music festival welcomed back huddled masses eager to drink, dance, and delight in the best of the Bay Area for the first time in over two years – a micro-millenia for disciples of live music like myself, and the throngs of Guy Fieri’s around me.
Under pressure to give fans a festival fix after a lengthy withdraw, Outside Lands delivered with a dynamic and diverse lineup that spanned staple headliners like The Strokes, Lizzo and Tame Impala, established Indie rock darlings Vampire Weekend and Angel Olson, dynamically ferocious rap sensations Tyler the Creator and Rico Nasty, and Alt-pop powerhouses Glass Animals and Caroline Polacheck.
The weekend kicked off with Friday’s stacked set of artists, featuring stand out performances like Sharon Van Etten’s emotional duet with Angel Olson. The pair performed their premier collaboration “Like I Used To”, a slow-burning ballad already steeped in empathy, as if they were playing catch with melody, bouncing sweet sounds from one end of the stage to the other. The song felt like an afternoon primer, instilling audience’s with the sense of homecoming that would permeate throughout the festival.
Crowds continued to pour into the park as the night progressed, with fans and fog flooding the Lands End stage as Glass Animals erupted into their indie electro-pop. Frontman Dave Bayley gave the hardest performance I’ve ever seen someone in a sweater vest pull off, drenched in sweat (understandably warm under his cozy top), bouncing atop a diving board that extended out over the crowd, singing fan favorites like “Gooey” and “Heatwave” directly into the audience. The zealous show starred more than bold outfit choices and TikTok hits, with the group bringing out special guest star Denzel Curry to perform his verse off their 2016 track “Tokyo Drifting”. The collaboration was an unexpected highlight that closed out an overall solid set, priming audiences for the night’s main events.
As the Glass Animal’s crowd quickly shifted from the frat bro’s in Guy Fieri costumes to throngs of Julian Casablanca wannabees clad in converse, shades, and leather jackets, I was faced with a real Sophie’s choice – elbow my way out of the mob and somehow astral project to the other side of Golden Gate Park in time for Tyler the Creator’s set, or stay put amongst the army of Lou Reed lookalikes and wait for The Strokes to hit the Lands End stage. Safe to say whoever thought it would be a good idea to pit two of the biggest headliners on the lineup against each other at the exact same time on opposite ends of the festival owes me Tyler tickets, cus at the end of the day, The Strokes are The Fucking Strokes.
Or so I’d hoped. Perhaps it was the FOMO from Tyler’s set or the fact that I’ve mythologized the band since I was 13, but The Fucking Strokes were Pretty Fucking Mid. Instead of viciously tearing into a voltaic opener like “Heart in a Cage”, they opted to open (20 minutes late) with a ghostly iteration of “Call it Fate Call it Karma” – a tender, beautiful ballad rendered flat and lackluster by wavering audio levels that continued to desecrate the rest of the set. The bombastic cumbia blaring from below my friend’s SF apartment hours beforehand, coming from what could only presumably be car speakers, sounded more sonically impactful than this headliner performance.
After skittering into a rocky rendition of “The End Has No End,” Julian Casablancas himself interrupted mid-song to ask whether the microphone was even turned on, with the crowd roaring in agreement when asked if the volume was “crazy low”. Coupled with Casablancas drunken slurring of iconic lyrics, the early moments of the set truly felt more like a problematic soundcheck than a Strokes show. Meanwhile I heard Tyler’s set had a floating car, but oh well.
In spite of the dreadfully hollow acoustics, Albert Hammond Jr. still managed to carry the set, delivering mind melting moments of sonic rapture with his shredding solos, particularly during “Last Nite”. The intrinsic sentimentality of tracks like “Someday” and “You Only Live Once” also made for some pretty sublime highs despite some of the show’s unfortunate shortcomings. In the End (Has No End), the group’s ultimate encore with “New York City Cops” FINALLY managed to capture the grit, grime, and rockist energy you’d expect from The Strokes, with all band members, and audience members, coming together in a collective moment of musical frenzy.
On Saturday, Rico Nasty scorched the Twin Peaks stage with her perpetually electric stage presence and Harley Quinnian apparel in an explosive performance that kept the energy up through the late afternoon.
Later that day, Angel Olson’s sweet melodies off MY WOMAN, All Mirrors, and her latest release Aisles echoed throughout twilight in a performance that was as magical and moving as her emotional collaboration with Sharon Van Etten the day prior.
Vampire Weekend were the standout act of the night, delivering a dazzling performance with their sole show of 2021. A setlist full of fan favorites like “Oxford Comma”, “Dianne Young”, and “A-Punk”, coupled with the crowd-pleasing references to the Bay Area featured in “Step” made for fan service like no other, with the crowd collectively bopping to the band’s buoyant and baroque indie rock. Leading man Ezra Koenig and touring guitarist Brian Robert Jones made for an unparalleled dynamic duo, with the pair spearheading the band’s lush, live renditions of old classics. The headliner performance was a shining moment for the group, revealing the extent of the band’s range and evolution in the rich riffs and musical embellishments featured throughout the set.
The final day of the festival was marked by Yves Tumor’s enigmatic aura, melodic wails, and vicious riffs, as their genre defying rock fusion reverberated through the bones of festival goers, even before they descended into the crowd to confront audiences with the righteousness of their sound face to face.
To close out the festival, Tame Impala debuted their Slow Rush stage show to Golden Gate Park in a set that fused elements of their latest release with early works InnerSpeaker and Lonerism, as well as Currents, Parker’s primary breakout album that has dominated Tame tours since its release in 2015. It was refreshing to see their trademark brain bending visuals take new forms, as the set kicked off with a video intro narrated in the kind of pre-flight safety announcement voice you’d get from American Airlines – one that slowly disintegrated into broken pixels and fragmented vocal distortion. Graphics reminiscent of Aphex Twin album covers combined with cheeky quips about time liquidating into something less linear set the tone for the show as a thoroughly otherworldly experience.
Though they unfortunately did not bring out The Wiggles to collaborate on a live rendition of the “Elephant” x “Fruit Salad” mashup the childhood icons performed on Triple J’s Like a Version back in March, Kevin Parker and crew did pay homage to the living legends by dressing up in The Wiggles signature color-blocked lewk. Despite a missed opportunity for the cross-over event of the century, the rest of the performance delivered everything you’d expect from a Tame Impala show – laser lights, psychedelic visuals, and heavy reverb that swallow you in a sea of sound. Closing out their third Outside Lands, as well as the festivals 2021 Halloween debut, Kevin Parker professed his adoration for the Bay, proclaiming “I fucking love San Fransisco”. Me too Kevin, me too.
As festival goers inevitably began shoving commemorative t-shirts and half empty water bottles back inside their clear backpacks, tides of people funneled through the Grasslands tunnel, the portal between the ethereal landscapes of Outside Lands and reality – land of the overpriced ubers and languishing lines for the shuttle. But in that contested space between the extraterrestrial and the mundane, we all held on to the dreamscape as long as we could, with countless voices joining together in the dark to impasionalty chant Biz Markie’s universal bop “Just a friend”. Off pitch cries shouting out “oh baby you – you got what I need, but you say he’s just a friend, but you say he’s just a friend…” made for a moment of musical comradery that even rivaled the pits in the park.