Live Review & Photos: Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival, August 10-12, 2012, San Francisco

Metallica at Outside Lands Festival 2012 – all photos by Sylvia Borgo

The Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park featured many indie rock up-and-comers, as well as established acts like Neil Young, Metallica, and Stevie Wonder.

In addition to music — the publicized lineup plus small pop-up concerts — the August 10-12 festival also featured gourmet food vendors, a “Choco Land” of desserts, free ice-cream from Ben and Jerry’s, and corporate promotions (Intel gave away computers and
Toyota hosted several bands in a small concert/interview forum).

Owl and Bear correspondent Sylvia Borgo was on the scene, and here are the highlights.


White Denim: The Texas band — which opened for Wilco in San Diego in January — performed its brand of guitar centered jams early on Friday, and could be heard soundchecking as concertgoers arrived. Set highlights included “Street Joy,” from 2011’s D.

Two Gallants: The duo of Adam Stephens (guitar/vocals/harmonica) and Tyson Vogel (drums/vocals) played its signature blend of Rod Stewart-meets-The Black Keys, with Stephens’ raspy voice pleasing the crowd on songs like “Nothing To You” and “Steady Rolling.”

Fitz and The Tantrums: Set highlights included “Breakin’ The Chains of Love,” “Winds of Change” (where Fitz had the crowd wave their hands in the air) and a cover of Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams.” The L.A. neo-soulsters ended with “Moneygrabber,” and Noelle Scaggs pumping up the crowd by saying, “All the ladies in the house, make some noise for yourselves!”

Beck: The 90’s hit-maker put on a somewhat unremarkable show and also paid tribute to Adam Yauch: “First time I played these fields was because of Adam Yauch back in 1996…for the Tibetan Freedom concerts he put on. I’d like to send this song to him.” Oddly, the song was “Lost Cause.” Overheard in the crowd: “Beck looks like David Spade.”

Foo Fighters: When introducing the band’s set, Dave Grohl said “I can’t do too much talking because we don’t have a long time to play. And the sooner we finish, the sooner I can see Neil Young.” Setlist included “White Limo,” “All My Life,” “The Petender,” “One of These Days,” “Best of You,” “Everlong,” and “Aurora” (Grohl: “It used to be our favorite song”).

Neil Young: In traditional Neil fashion, the godfather of grunge played mostly new stuff, and plenty of ten-minute jams.


Zola Jesus: A little intense, a little spooky, a little emo, Zola Jesus (a.k.a. Nika Roza Danilova) had a stage presence was reminiscent of Sinead O’Connor.

The Be Good Tanyas: Frazey Ford introduced one song with, “I wrote this song for my draft dodging parents.”

Sean Hayes: For Hayes’ set, the front row was mostly made up of swooning women wearing feathers and capes, panda hats, tight jeans, and bikini tops, all dancing along.

Alabama Shakes: Brittany Howard treated the Outside Lands crowd (“Wow, there are so many of you here!”) to her incredible voice. Every song was a crowd favorite, but attendees went especially crazy for “Hold On,” “Rise To the Sun,” and “Be Mine.”

Portugal. The Man: Crowd favorites included “Got It All,” “All Your Light,” and the band’s In the Mountain in the Cloud hit “So American.” At an interview in the media tent, Zach Carothers (bass, vocals) and Noah Gersh (guitar, vocals, percussion) talked about how much they admire The Wu Tang Clan, and how it was a huge honor to have RZA remix “All Your Light.” Zach and Noah also talked about how they were forced to put away their fears of doing television spots after Conan O’Brian personally asked to have them on his show.

Explosions in the Sky: The Texas post-rockers put on a fantastic performance; at the end of the set, one band member said, “Thank you for coming out to see us. I hope we see each other again and again.

The Kills: Throughout the set, lead singer Alison Mosshart paced from one end of the stage to the other, eyeing the crowd like a tiger. The duo put on an awesome performance, and its inspired and passionate brand of hard rock was an appropriate introduction to headliners Metallica. The Kills played “Baby Says,” “DNA” and their big hit, “Future Starts Slow.”

Metallica: James Hetfield kicked off Metallica’s set by saying, “San Francisco, the boys in Metallica are very pleased to be playing in the backyard of the greatest city…Let’s play some old stuff and see if you’ve been around long enough you know Ride The Lightning.” Hetfield is a funny guy onstage; after one song, he asked the crowd, “You like that song? Should we play it again?” In another moment, he said in a self-deprecating way, “Are you having a good time this weekend? Yeah? We’re here to ruin it for you.” Metallica put on a full mega-show with three massive towers of flames, fireworks, lasers, fog machines, and balloons.


Fun: James Hetfield’s kids joined me in the photo pit on a special pass while the 2012 hitmakers played “Why Am I the One?” “All Alone” and their smash single, “We Are Young.” Fun also covered The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and afterward, the lead singer said, “There is no where else I’d rather be.” Fun’s fans knew the words to basically every song.

Franz Ferdinand: The Glasgow band played “Right Thoughts! Right Words! Right Action,” “No You Girls,” “Can’t Stop Feeling,” and its biggest hit, “Take Me Out” (where everyone in the crowd pumped their fists in the air). Franz Ferdinand also inserted a bit of Donna Summers’ 1970s hit “I Feel Love” into its set, with lead singer Alex Kapranos singing a falsetto in between songs. At their end of the set, drummer Paul Thomson threw his sticks into the audience.

Regina Spektor: As Ms. Spektor took the stage, one audience member yelled, “Marry me, Regina.” Spektor sang the set’s first song at front of stage a cappella, with the rest of her songs performed on piano. Set highlights included “The Calculation” and “Samson.”

Jack White: In typical fashion, the ubiquitous rocker came out immaculately dressed — wearing an oversized black coat, suspenders, a fedora, black pants, and boots. White’s band consisted of an upright bass player, a violinist, two synth players, a drummer, backing vocals, and of course, guitar. Highlights included “Black Math,” “Top Yourself, and “We Are Going to be Friends.” For “Seven Nation Army,” the audience went wild, pumped fists, and sang the chorus “Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh.” At that point, the crowd surfing began.

Stevie Wonder: The Outside Lands headliner really knew how to engage the crowd, and Wonder proved that he really is a consummate performer. For his set, he played hit after hit: they just kept coming. The 62-year-old Wonder sounded great and played for two hours, and his band consisted of a horn section (trumpet/sax), drums, four back-up singers, two guitar players, a bassist, two keyboard players, and two percussion artists. Wonder played mostly his own songs, but did also cover Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet it Is” John Lennon’s “Imagine,” The Beatles’ “She Loves You,” and Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel,” which he introduced by saying, “For Michael, up in heaven. I want you to hear this right here.”

Key Stevie Wonder quotes:

  • “God says love everybody. I truly feel like we have to come together as a nation. We can’t just talk about it and not be about it.”
  • “Are you all okay? Can I slow down now?”
  • Introducing “Superstition:” “Do you like the blues? When I was a little boy, I heard this guy do this blues thing.”
  • “I’ve been blessed in my life to have seven children. God bless all of you and all the mothers of the world that make it possible. It’s all about the children. Fellas, sing this: ‘Making children is good, good, good.'”

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