The Outside Lands Music And Art Festival: Best Coast, The Shins

MAGNET’s Maureen Coulter reports from the 2011 Outside Lands Music And Art Festival in Golden Gate Park.

It was 80 degrees, and I was in that borderline-perspiring mode as I left sunny San Jose. Not 45 minutes down Highway 280, the creeping fog enveloped the city of San Francisco and eclipsed the sun like a Tom Cruise apocalypse/alien-invasion film. I should have figured it wouldn’t be a “quintessential San Francisco event” without the fog. However, it failed to put a damper on anyone’s spirit. As I drew closer to the festival, the giddy energy grew as palpable as the mist.

I had been self-conscious about the fact that I didn’t have time to wash my hair before I left, but it became clear that I was better off than many of the folks there because I was wearing shoes. Many of the Friday festival-goers were there for Phish, which translates into a lot of hula-hoops, grimy, hand-sewn Grateful Dead patches and clusters of people camping outside of the fence. They may be homeless, if you don’t count a VW bus with a mattress in the back.

While last year I enjoyed the full array of VIP perks as MAGNET’s resident Outside Lands correspondent, this year media were exiled to their own press tent, where bespectacled, shaggy-haired writers in threadbare Toms could gaze longingly at the adjacent VIP tent where ladies and gents were swishing their wine and posing for photos that will end up in the high-society pages in San Francisco magazine.

Best Coast—the L.A.-based, lo-fi, surf-rock trio—played to an adoring crowd of girls who looked like they were the chair of the feminist club at their liberal-arts college. Lead vocalist and primary songwriter Bethany Consentino has the tough-but-glam girl thing down, with a conversational, gravelly voice wrapped up in a cute dress. It’s kind of like what Courtney Love had going on for a minute during her 17th comeback effort for Hole’s Celebrity Skin. The band’s songs are simple and generally poppy. If Telekenesis had a therapy session with the Raveonettes and convinced them to have a more positive outlook on life, Best Coast would be the result.

“This is the best coast!” Consentino declared mid-set. I just hope none of the band’s tour stops includes New England. She’ll either have to retract her loyalty or be subjected to flying cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon and Red Sox paraphernalia.

Zach Braff really did have the right idea when he chose two Shins songs for the Garden State soundtrack way back in the early ‘00s. In spite of the fact that frontman James Mercer has been occupied laying down tracks with Danger Mouse in Broken Bells and his “main” band hasn’t put out a new record in almost five years, listening to Shins songs again is like catching a waft of your high-school boyfriend’s favorite brand of cologne: Memories come flooding right back.

The Shins played an extremely precise mix from each of their previous albums, and their slight melodic detours and Mercer’s Christina Aguilera-style vocal liberties enhanced the overall performance. When they announced they were playing a new song from their impending album, about 20,000 phones werewhipped out. (At this point, you’ll probably find a bunch of grainy videos of the track on YouTube). The preview was a tantalizing appetizer stuffed with funk guitar riffs and a danceable beat. “Sea Legs” featured a throbbing bass that likely rearranged my internal organs and devolved into a jam-off session with Phish, which was playing at the other end of the park. (The Shins won, in my opinion.)

As I waded through the sea of swaying dreadlocks and compostable cups and made my way to my car, the road looked like the first stage of the Tour de France after the gun just fired, with dozens of concert-goers on bikes peddling back into the city to pass out and do it all over again.