Remember when Kanye West played Arco Arena in 2008 and hollered “What’s up, Seattle!”? That was long before the Emerald City tried to jack the Kings, but it was still a dumb mistake. That gig was also the same day Kanye’s bodyguard threatened to kick my ass: I was waiting for His Westness outside downtown’s former Hangar recording studio, where he was laboring over vocal tracks for the 808s & Heartbreak album. A black Escalade (would Kanye ever roll in one of those today?) pulled up, a guy hopped out and he told me no “no photo ops.”
“I don’t need a photo-op. I just need a photograph,” I replied.
“That’s not going to happen, because you won’t even get that lens cap off,” he threatened (I already had my lens cap off).
This is what I wrote back then, and the reason I revisit it is because Kanye played almost his entire headlining set this past Friday night at Outside Lands in San Francisco wearing a mask over his face. Apparently he’s finally given up on trying to control his image and now just paper-bags his mug. (He actually wore a gem-encrusted spandex mask so that not even his adoring fans, of which there were about 50,000, couldn’t even catch a glimpse.)
Derrida would have a field day with that. But this is a music column, so let’s discuss the virtues of ‘Ye’s set. He opened with “Black Skinhead,” a bruising, perhaps even Death Grips-inspired track that made its way into the homes of white America via a Motorola commercial. Nevertheless, a killer tune. Too bad the rest of his nearly 90-minute set couldn’t keep up. “Blood on the Leaves,” an experimental ballad off the Yeezus album, was abandoned when ‘Ye wasn’t feeling it. (He played the song to close out his set, and tried to kickstart a mosh pit, but that didn’t work.) “Good Life” was uninspired. And so on.
The crowd, meanwhile, remained transfixed—or perhaps they were just jonesing for a Kim Kardashian sighting (she was there).
Final verdict: If Kanye and Jay-Z are the two biggest rappers in America, then a Jay-Z set crushes. Kanye’s too indulgent, too hit-and-miss with his artsy-fartsy noodling.
So, yeah, let downs abound at Outside Lands opening day. El-P and Killer Mike’s side project, Run the Jewels, felt one-note. Warpaint was like a 2008-era Sister Crayon on Quaaludes. And British megadance outfit Disclosure was so stiff and predictable—nearly the exact same set as at Treasure Island last year—the two brothers might have well been marionettes.
Winners of the day included Paul Johnson, whose house deejay set inside a giant air-conditioned dome popped; Chromeo (even though I’m not a fan); and a magician (seriously, this guy Jon Armstrong, who slayed with sleight-of-hand on a side stage).
But the festival was no downer. Another Planet, who puts on OSL, transformed Golden Gate Park into a food, music and drunk haven. I’d never been so happy to pay for a $13 Manhattan at the craft-cocktail lounge. Ditto the $9 Faction Pale Ale at “BeerLands.” Even the pork banh mi sandwhich, $8, delivered with crisp, salty pig; crunchy pickled veggies and good heat.
Outside Lands: a cool food and drink festival with really expensive background music?