San Francisco’s biggest music festival since 2008, Outside Lands once again delivered beaucoup bands, art, booze and food to 70,000 fans on each of the past three days in Golden Gate Park. Ranging wide from hot MCs like Chance the Rapper to indie-rock icons such as Sufjan Stevens, this year’s offerings nevertheless leaned most heavily in dance music’s direction: When sets by EDM kingpins like Major Lazer finished, waves of sweaty revelers spilled out in every direction in search of hydration and the next rhythmic high.
Little about LCD Soundsystem suggests they’re natural Friday night headliners: They’ve got unlikely frontman James Murphy, smarty-pants lyrics, esoteric musical references and long, long songs. But the newly reunited and still-sprawling Brooklyn band turned the Polo Field into an open-air disco through their emphatically human variant on ordinarily mechanized grooves. During the set’s sole ballad, “New York, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down,” Murphy held a climactic note like a true diva, and yet managed to lead the band into a version of “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House” so utterly primal and punk rock it suggested Iggy Pop and the Stooges.
The festival’s very first headliner back in 2008, Radiohead presented a hugely hypnotic lighting and video display befitting their surreal sounds Saturday night. Opening with A Moon Shaped Pool’s anxious “Burn the Witch” – while also reviving deep cuts like OK Computer’s sweetly crestfallen “Let Down” – Radiohead proved itself still capable of venturing way out on an experimental limb.
Since appearing as the house band of The Muppet Show back in the Seventies, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem have often parodied the hippie naivety of vintage Haight-Ashbury acts, so it was a major coup to have this legendary puppet band visit San Francisco in an outrageously elaborate one-time-only Sunday afternoon performance that culminated in the Beatles’ “With a Little Help from My Friends” complete with stage-filling mortal choir.
On vinyl, Miguel typically sings R&B with an intimate touch, but this Los Angeles singer’s voice, personality and stage presence proved massive that same afternoon. He and his white-clad band banged out soul with the ferociousness of heavy metal: Even his set-closing ballad “Adorn” was delivered as an anthem of major proportions.
Ex-Commodores leader and Eighties solo superstar Lionel Richie didn’t seem like the logical choice to close a music festival dominated by upstarts and intrepid innovators. Yet he delivered one massive sing-along smash after the other Sunday night. He may be 67, but Ritchie maintained a momentum of restless intensity, even during classic slowies like “Hello” and “Easy.” And when he finally got funky during “Brick House,” he and his powerhouse band seamlessly segued into and out of the Ohio Players’ equally fierce “Fire.” Their collective heat charmed countless young fans, even at the end of an uncharacteristically sunny San Francisco summer day.