The first-day festivities at San Francisco’s massive Outside Lands Festival in Golden Gate Park offered a model mega-fest environment. A ballet of buses, bikes and walkers kept transportation flowing as smoothly as the free water, and the abundant, cheap food and booze. Thirty-six bands on seven stages drew at least 25,000 throughout the day and the weather proved pitch-perfect.
Incubus lead singer Brandon Boyd couldn’t escape the curse of being a vocalist on the main stage of Outside Lands opening night. Where headliner Eddie Vedder had a tickle in his throat, Boyd had a frog. Standing at the center of a band renowned for its larynx-driven histrionics, Boyd could only plead with the boozy crowd to sing along to “Stellar” and “Drive” as he hoarsely half-sung the notes. Touring their best-of album Monuments and Melodies, one had to respect the Calabasas, California chart monsters — blown out voice and all — for delighting the ebullient crowd, who basked happily in the mid-70-degree sun.
“Anna Molly” and a mangled Prince cover had Boyd drinking red wine right from the bottle. “I told my friends I was sick and they all said the same thing. ‘Get drunk,’ ” he said. “If I lose my pants by the fifth song, don’t hold it against me and don’t tell anyone.” The pants stayed on, no one looked offended and Incubus fought through their one-hour set without killing anyone’s buzz.
As a counterpoint, Brooklyn post-punk quintet the National turned in a broody, cryptic and riveting one-hour set mid-afternoon on the second stage, augmented by a brass trio that included French horn. Vocalist Matt Beringer, clad in a smart grey suit, cut a stark figure amidst the shady eucalyptus grove. Showered and blue-blazered, he intoned deeply and strutted on “Mistaken For Strangers” from 2007 critical darling Boxer. “How are you all doing?” Beringer drolly asked the throng. “It’s nice. I just killed a bug. On my nose.” His rock talk suited the understated portent in powerful, tight, numbers like “Cold Fever Girl” off debut LP The National and “Baby We’ll Be Fine” and “Abel” from Alligator.
With Built to Spill buried in the early line-up at 2:30 p.m, even SoCal fuzz rock upstarts Silversun Pickups were paying respect. “Built to Spill is one of the best bands of all time,” chanted lead singer Brian Aubert during the beginning of the trio’s 4:15 p.m. main stage set. Their adept hour-long performance introduced thousands to their walls of fuzz like “The Lazy Eye” and “The Royal We” from their debut LP Carnavas and 2009 follow-up Swoon. The band seemed genuinely taken aback by the football fields of fans. “Hi way back there, Holy shit! We’re really happy to have all of you here — it’s so gorgeous it’s just stunning,” said Aubert. “San Francisco. Golden Gate Park. It’s pretty hard to find a place half as fucking beautiful as this city. Especially today.”
In other news, Q-Tip dedicated his set to the recently deceased DJ AM. Los Angeles’ Autolux opened the proceedings with a haunting, furious 1 p.m. set. And San Francisco local favorites the Dodos pounded out new material from their much-anticipated release Time To Die.
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