Mike Ness of Social Distortion had a message for the thousands gathered yesterday afternoon for the second and final day of the Outside Lands festival in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park: "If you missed Al Green today, you missed it all," Ness said from stage with a rasp. "You missed the boat."
It was true, even with Kings of Leon, Phoenix, Chromeo, and Ness's Social Distortion bringing their best. (Foodies in attendance — the festival paired wine and food tastings with the music — probably would have highlighted the chicken and waffles at the Farmer Brown’s Little Skillet booth.) Beaming, Reverend Al delivered an hour-long soul service, stepping onstage in his Sunday best and immediately tossing long-stemmed roses to the crowd and declaring, "I love, love, love, love, love, love!" Green performed his aching, definitive take on the Bee Gees’ "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" just as the sun broke through the haze for the first time over the weekend, then pivoted to rock with Roy Orbison’s "Oh, Pretty Woman." Singing with a big band that included a trio of female vocalists (his daughters), he followed through with a purring "Let’s Stay Together" (a No. 1 hit in 1972) and "Here I Am (Come and Take Me)," which eventually erupted into a storm of voices, brass and beats.
Last night's headliners, Kings of Leon, worked up a different kind of passion with their torrid southern rock and polished soul hooks. The band's set spanned their whole catalog, with a stirring take on the Pixies’ "Where Is My Mind?" as a bonus. A seething, shimmering new track, "Pick-Up Truck," fell right in with their large-scale recent songs. For all the affection the crowd showed for material from the first two albums, including the muscular "Mary," the biggest cheers greeted the hits, 2008’s "Sex On Fire" and "Use Somebody." Those anxious, searing songs led into a set-capping explosion of fireworks.
Phoenix drew a huge festival crowd to their energetic set (just as they did at Coachella this year), with fans spread out almost to the next stage. For "If I Ever Feel Better," singer Thomas Mars climbed a tower of speakers and spilled out his lyrics in a rush, hurtling along the band’s dance groove. They closed the hour-long performance with "1901," the climax of which had their two drummer/percussionists coming off of their stools.
On the opposite end of the grounds, amid the park's trees, the playful electro duo Chromeo flashed their strobes into the daylight for "Don’t Turn the Lights On," and played a sliver of Tupac’s "California Love" to set up the peace-loving "You’re So Gangsta."
For serious punk attitude, the festival had Social Distortion and their tattooed frontman Ness, who slashed at a golden Les Paul guitar to give tough old favorites "Mommy’s Little Monster" and "Ball and Chain" a hard, muscular twang. He billed the confrontational "Still Alive," off the band's upcoming album, as being all "about survival and nothing else." Fortunately, the reality of Outside Lands wasn't so stark — after two days of genre- and generation-crossing music (plus chicken and waffles), Al Green's joy summed things up best.