From the first notes of FUTUREBIRDS set down in Hellman Hollow on Friday at high noon to the Stevie Wonder-led singalong “My Girl” closer on Sunday, Outside Lands 2012 was a resounding, across-the-board success. The peak-level quality of music, setting, food, drink and weather in Golden Gate Park all contributed to making this thing a delight for all five senses. Wine Lands, Comedy Tents, Choco Lands, Beer Lands, gourmet food offerings and killer street art offered enough side appeal to make a break in the music action something to worth making time for. Being a newcomer to the fest and the city, I was initially drawn in by what was arguably the year’s most impressive and stacked festival lineups. By the time we exited the Park on Sunday night, my extremely high expectations for the weekend had been obliterated.
Throughout the weekend, festival goers were greeted by cool and comfortable Nor Cal weather and periodic blankets of the Bay Area’s trademark fog through the exceedingly idealistic woodland layout – a setup that expertly utilized the park’s natural beauty to create some rather picturesque daytime vistas and a wondrous nocturnal mystique, particularly within the well-accentuated and uber-cool Choco Lands area. The still-young event, in its fifth year, has unquestionably established itself as one of the nation’s premiere music festivals and is a must-stop at some point for those who don’t mind the crowd sizes at the U.S. mega fests.
Outside Lands 2012’s unofficial orientation session appropriately came early at the nicely-tucked Sutro Stage when Brooklyn-based comedian/singer/beatbox extraordinaire Reggie Watts improvised his way through a set that meshed comedy and music – showcasing his pristine and soulful singing voice quite well amidst jokes, banter and loop pedal wizardry. This kind of fun, light-hearted mélange is exactly what a festival’s for and Watts read his audience like a book, delivering a bout of hilarity that got this thing moving in the right direction right from the get-go.
Beck’s set was heavy on earlier offerings, replete with mellow acoustic Sea Change material (dedicating “Lost Cause” to Adam Yauch) and a whisper-versed “Where It’s At” that produced the day’s first big dance party moment at the main stage. Any other performer maintaining such a staid, aloof temperament would likely be panned for not bringing enough energy, but Hansen’s cool cat persona and wry sense of humor compliment his music well – nothing is forced and he’s a one-of-a-kind. Beck’s set came on the heels of an intimate show the previous night for the lucky few who snagged tickets to see him at Bimbo’s.
Foo Fighters, another 90’s-born juggernaut, played to the largest crowd of the weekend in an oddly-placed slot before Neil Young & Crazy Horse, kicking the crowd energy into full-blown hysteria in a way that only Grohl & Co. are capable of. Drummer Taylor Hawkins needs to be cloned so future scientists can replicate his energy source, there just isn’t a parallel in rock music today.
Young’s set lost a good portion of the crowd early on, focusing on intriguing protracted, feedback-heavy guitar experiments like the opener “Love and Only Love” and other 10+ minute compositions for the first hour, before digging into more engaging classics like “Cinnamon Girl” and “Powderfinger” that received their deserved attention of the thinned-out crowd. However, credit and artistic legitimacy must be given, for Young didn’t do the festival-pandering, robot fest set thing by delivering canned radio-friendly versions of his hits. The payoffs for those standing at attention were plentiful and it was rewarding to see an band of Crazy Horse’s advanced age still innovating, pushing boundaries and breaking new ground as a live force.