The 10th anniversary edition of the Outside Lands music festival unfurled on a classically breezy San Francisco weekend where the damp fog never seemed to let up. There were other storms brewing, too: A Tribe Called Quest postponed their Friday night set, and then decided to cancel altogether, leaving many revelers frustrated and upset. (However, group member Jarobi showed up to give a solo performance alongside Bay Area ensemble Jazz Mafia on one of the small stages.) Tribe’s absence was the second this year; Queens of the Stone Age backed out on July 31st because of an unspecified injury.
Despite those issues, Outside Lands still had plenty to offer. There was a memorable set by hip-hop conceptualists Dr. Octagon (where scratching phenomenon DJ Q-Bert killed his rendition of “Bear Witness”), Kaytranada rocked with an alluring blend of deep house and soulful disco, Belle and Sebastian charmed with their quirky Scottish lyricism, Fleet Foxes created a surprisingly heavy rock bottom for their airy folk chimes, local rapper made good Kamaiyah earned cheers for her Yay Area anthems, and Survive (of Stranger Things soundtrack fame) both dazzled and perplexed its audience with an eerie, enigmatic half-hour of dense synth-wave. The side stages yielded unexpected delights, too, including a frothy set of high-concept booty bass by New Orleans performer Boyfriend and her ensemble of dancers that unfolded while a chocolatier built a cake sculpture.
Gorillaz headlined Friday night for the first concert of their 2017 tour. They pulled out all the stops by inviting nearly a dozen guests, from rappers Pusha T, Little Simz and Bootie Brown of the Pharcyde to Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon, whose shimmering, silvery dress cast a glow as she sang “Empire Ants.” (Little Dragon also performed earlier that evening.) The net effect was an overwhelming pop spectacle, with Damon Albarn’s steady presence to keep the audience focused. His stage patter frequently alluded to politics: He noted at one point that he had just been in South Korea and praised how “calm and relaxed” they had been, alluding that Americans shouldn’t get too overheated about the recent nuclear saber-rattling in North Korea. “Those factories are far away from you,” he said after singing his environmental dystopia, “Rhinestone Eyes,” and perhaps poking fun at the city’s wealthy tech economy as well. “Did you get my meaning?”
Earlier that afternoon, Sleigh Bells roused with a galvanizing set. Alexis Krauss sang like a post-millennial Pat Benatar, and even rapped occasionally like a fourth member of the Beastie Boys on “Bitter Rivals.” Meanwhile, Derek Miller slashed out crunchy metallic riffs that gave the music a bouncy yet edgy industrial edge. But Krauss was the center of the storm, and a buoyantly grinning host that proved infectious to anyone watching. She crowd-surfed and shouted out the girls forming mosh pits. “Oh man, this was really fun!” she shouted. Even if you weren’t familiar with songs like “Just Us Now” and “I Can Only Stare,” it was hard to stand still.
Saturday night belonged to Metallica. The pride of the Bay Area headlined in 2012 under slightly different circumstances: In the days before Oldchella, festivals like Outside Lands were mostly limited to trendy and up-and-coming acts, and many questioned why a legacy group like Metallica was there. In response, the thrash metal kings came out swinging, and KO’ed the gathering with a set of timeless hits that made everyone remember why they’re in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
This year, they spent as much time on new material from last year’s Hardwired… To Self-Destruct as they did on their unassailable back catalog, like “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” and “Motorbreath.” “That’s some Kill ‘Em All for ya, baby!” roared James Hetfield after the latter. Still, the biggest cheers were reserved for “Master of Puppets” and their final encore, “Enter Sandman,” which inspired thousands to sing along and bang their heads.
Outside Lands probably didn’t plan on nabbing one of the hottest comedians in Hollywood, but that’s what Tiffany Haddish has become, thanks to her breakout role in the critically-acclaimed summer smash Girls Trip. (Incredibly, she wasn’t even a headliner at the festival’s oft-overlooked comedy tent.) Her 15-minute set on Sunday was a gleefully raunchy affair. There were jokes about trying to pee in a jumpsuit and defecating in an ex-boyfriend’s Air Jordan shoes. “Revenge is a motherfucker. Sometimes it can be shitty,” she said to riotous laughter. “I know my ex-boyfriend, whenever he think of Jordans, he think of me.” But it wasn’t all poop jokes: Toward the end, she expressed gratitude for the film that has made her a rising star. “Larenz Tate kissed me on the shoulder twice. I was, like, ‘Hey!’ I started crip walkin’ and shit,” she said.
At the end of the festival, the Who took over the main stage, and even the mostly twenty-something crowd sang along to timeless hits, such as “Who Are You,” while Pete Townshend worked his ageless windmill guitar riffs. But it was Solange‘s set that truly stood out. Tucked away on a side stage, she and her ensemble bathed themselves in red light, and magnetized the audience with choreographed dance moves, unabashed twerking, and key cuts from last year’s chart-topping A Seat at the Table. When she hit a particularly high note on “Cranes in the Sky,” it felt cathartic, especially during a weekend that found numerous Outside Lands performers commenting on the tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“Before we do this next song, I want to say stay up. I know it’s been a rough few days. … You matter, you belong,” Solange told the crowd. Then she asked everyone to “just let it out and dance.” And when she performed “Losing You,” they did just that.