The Outside Lands Music And Art Festival: The Black Keys, Paper Diamond, Girl Talk

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

As festival-goers flocked into gates on Saturday for a second helping of Outside Lands, gone were the patchouli-scented, dreadlocked masses that had been flailing around and singing along with Friday headliner Phish. In their place were more than a few 17-year-old American Apparel hippies with designer sandals and flowers in their headbands. I also observed a much greater prevalence of tattoo sleeves, thrift-store duds and ironic moustaches. There were significantly more people here than in 2010, as I became acutely aware when I had to juke around a chick holding two beers and a slice of pizza, bound over multiple blankets occupied by canoodling couples and hack my way through a stone(r) wall of people only to realize I’d traveled maybe 10 yards.

I finally managed to Nintendo my way through the human obstacle course to reach the media tent, where I caught the last few minutes of a press conference and got to ogle OK Go frontman Damian Kulash, one of the several artists and local foodie icons being interviewed. I then turned my attention to the Black Keys, who had just taken the stage. I never thought two dudes could create so much noise, and it became clear that the Keys were made for festivals. Despite consisting of just vocalist/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer/producer Patrick Carney, their instruments rolled into the Polo Field like a massive four-wheeler at a monster-truck rally. From the balcony of the press tent, I could see tens of thousands of heads packed together, stretching back for a good quarter-mile. All of them were chanting along to the band’s bluesy “Howlin’ For You” and crowd-surfing during “Tighten Up.” Throughout their set, the duo proved they were much more than just a soundtrack for movie trailers and Ford F-150 commercials.

Pretty Lights protégé Paper Diamond, the electronic/hip-hop/dub-step disc-scratcher from Colorado, unleashed an energetic performance for a crowd that probably saw Pretty Lights play at Outside Lands last year. The throng of girls in furry animal-eared hats and boys wearing aviator sunglasses at 8 p.m. skewed young, which probably contributed to the high number of crowd-etiquette transgressions. Note to future live-music audience members: When grooving in tightly packed quarters, do not jump up and down, even if the lyrics are instructing you to. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten elbowed in the face because you can’t keep both feet on the ground.

When I tried to mind my own business and soak in Paper Diamond’s glitchy beats and deep, fuzzy bass, I was sandwiched between two random guys who were definitely interested in more than a waltz. One of them, sporting a crew cut and a boozy expression, assumed that since we were both from the same neighborhood in San Jose we had a deep emotional connection going on. “What’s your name?” “I like how you dance.” “You have gorgeous eyes.” “I love your red hair.” “What’s your name?” I spent a fair portion of the set doing the groove-and-dodge shuffle and swatting his hand away from my waist.

I arrived on the scene 10 minutes before Girl Talk was to play, and the Speedway Meadow was already more congested than a Los Angeles highway at rush hour. To top that, the line for the Porta-Potties was 12 deep, but I had no choice. At least I could still catch a view from where I was standing. When Girl Talk bounced up onstage and cried, “How y’all feelin’ San Francisco?” dancers swarmed on to the platform, and the mashup artist let loose remixes of Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga. Maybe to take their minds off relieving their bladders, or maybe just because they couldn’t handle not dancing, all of the people in line started grinding up on each other, swinging their arms and waving glow sticks. I’ve never had so much fun waiting to pee.

Girl Talk kind of reminded me of the times I was forced to attend my sister’s cheerleading competitions, and every single team choreographed their pom-pom thrusting to Jock Jams. The samplings and mixes of top-40 artists were a far cry from the articulate indie-pop instrumentals and naval-gazing lyrics of the Shins the night before. But if you were looking to have some “wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care” kind of fun on Saturday night, this was where you needed to be.

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.

The Outside Lands Music And Art Festival: An Intro

For the second consecutive year, I get to post nonchalant Facebook updates throughout the weekend about how I’m chatting up bands in the VIP cabana and logging inventory of all the free swag I’m accumulating at the Outside Lands Music and Art Festival in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park today through Sunday. I’m anticipating this year to be even better, now that I’m a semi-established NorCal girl.

Last year, as you may recall, I managed to maneuver my trusty cobalt Camry, “Blue Steel,” to the complete opposite end of the Bay before finally arriving at the park. This time I fully expect to make it to the festival without incident, unless you count me self-mutilating with a Starbucks stir-stick as I languish in Friday-night traffic on the 101.

Dubbed “the world’s only gourmet music festival,” Outside Lands dishes up a bill that is first-rate and diverse, food and vendors that are uniquely San Franciscan and activities aplenty to occupy your time. Skeeball at the Barcade? A kinetic playground? Complimentary glamour shots at the onsite salon? (Most people tend to wear the same plaid flannel for three days straight at these things, but at least they’ll have fabulous hair.) I’m almost more excited about the skeeball than I am about the music. And I’m definitely more excited about the skeeball than I am about Phish and its obligatory three-hour jam session.

Co-founded by Alan Scott of Another Planet Entertainment and midwifed by artists such as Radiohead and Beck in 2008, the weekend-long shindig is now in its fourth year. It now features headliners such as Grammy darlings Arcade Fire, Garden State survivor the Shins and indie phenoms the Decemberists, as well as local acts and bands that fly under the radar, such as the Limousines and the Stone Foxes. More than 70 artists and an estimated 150,000 music enthusiasts will descend upon the formerly undeveloped hinterlands of San Francisco, now home to various museums, city dwellers looking for a respite and, yes, tons of outdoor concerts.

“It’s a major project to put on a festival like this,” said Scott. “I mean, we are creating a city within a city.”

Organizers have assembled a Joey Chestnut dream spread of food with A Taste of the Bay Area, featuring distinctive local fodder that includes everything from 100-percent grass-fed frankfurters to falafel and schwarma sno-cones. The Decemberists’ Nate Query described it perfectly in a recent interview, “It’s, you know, foody nerd heaven.”

It wouldn’t be San Francisco without a little green, and I don’t mean the kind you acquire from the droopy-eyed hippies that line the pathway entering the festival. Conscious of its carbon footprint, Outside Lands offers bike valet and shuttles to and from the city center, as well as a solar-powered stage. “We spend an inordinate amount of time and money to be as green as possible,” said Scott.

With the swirl of activities, art installations, vendors and the inevitable acid-dosed, body-painted folks at the festival, it will be easy to get distracted from the reason I’m going: the music. Thankfully, the schedule is pretty manageable. The only time I forsee myself sprinting from one stage to the next, mid-set, is for the very last acts on the very last day. I’d rather not choose between Arcade Fire and Deadmau5, and I figure I could use the exercise after gorging myself on the plethora of smores, grilled cheese and gourmet pizza they’re offering with the Taste of the Bay Area brigade.

If you’re going, I’ll see you there. If not, I’ll be your Outside Lands bon vivant and bring you the taste, sounds, sights and (hopefully good) smells of the festival.

—Maureen Coulter

Live Review: Band Of Horses, Philadelphia, PA, Aug. 9, 2011

“Welcome to tonight’s version of the weirdest tour ever!” says Band Of Horses frontman Ben Bridwell of their last-minute show at the TLA on a rainy Tuesday night. The Seattle-based group had been on tour this summer with Kings Of Leon up until the July 29 show in Dallas where KOL’s Caleb Followill left the stage to “vomit and drink a beer” and never returned. The tour was soon cancelled, and while Followill and KOL are facing a shitstorm of bad press, Band Of Horses took it in stride: The band lined up a few club shows with its guitarist Tyler Ramsey opening with an acoustic set.

Keyboardist Ryan Monroe pumps up the crowd by playing the Rocky theme before leading into BOH’s signature soulful-yet-haunting harmonies, which fall somewhere between Neil Young and the Shins. Last year’s Infinite Arms has such a layered feel to it that you’re surprised when you see the band duplicate what you’ve listened to at home. By the second song, “The Great Salt Lake,” it’s obvious this is going to be a high-energy show despite BOH’s hazy, hypnotic sound. Equally impressive is “Cigarette Wedding Bands,” which showcases Monroe’s talent as he moves from keys to guitar. And not only does he play guitar on the song, he completely shreds it with a short-yet-ripping solo.

Throughout the first batch of songs—from whimsical and haunting to twangy and country—drummer Creighton Barrett is a hulking guy, and it seems at any moment he’s going to go Animal all over his kit. But he doesn’t. Despite his energy, he is incredibly controlled and steady. He hangs back on the more poppy, ‘70s-ish tunes like “Compliments” but delivers the same intensity.

On “The General Specific” (a standout because it breaks apart from the rest of BOH’s songs, lyrically and melodically; it’s more bubbly and country), Monroe rips another solo, on keys this time, that’s more Elton John improv than alt rock. Then there are the songs that could be love letters, like “Part One (Savannah),” which gets the crowd singing along, “You really caught me dear/At the bottom where I’d fallen.”

At the first three notes of “Is There a Ghost,” fans whip out their camera phones to record the band’s single from 2007s Cease To Begin, and they keep recording right into the next, which was recently covered by Cee-Lo Green: “No One’s Gonna Love You.” During clap-a-long “Older,” we get to hear Monroe’s voice alone, and it becomes clear while Bridwell’s vocals seem to define BOH’s sound, Monroe’s are really half of that unique quality.

As the set winds down, the band plays the gospel “Marry Song,” which sounds like a country slow dance at a joint with a sawdust floor. BOH finishes with another single from Infinite Arms, “Laredo,” graciously thanks the crowd and returns backstage. But fans aren’t budging, because they know what’s in store for the encore.

After a harmonica-heavy “For Annabelle,” the crowd is eerily silent, waiting for “The Funeral.” And when they finally get what they came for, I’m happy to see Barrett finally let loose, arms flailing wildly but still harnessing that same energized control that drives BOH’s crisp show.

—Cristina Perachio