Teched-obsessed San Francisco got a little dose of anti-tech vibes on the opening day of Outside Lands.
Before St. Vincent stepped on stage, a computerized voice spoke: “Please refrain from digitally experiencing this set.”
St. Vincent’s Annie Clark—wearing a badass leather bodysuit and messily-painted, dramatic makeup—immediately launched into “Birth in Reverse” off her latest self-titled album. Her postmodern choreography and heavy guitar shreds stunned. Even before performing her diatribe against technology’s overwhelming place in our lives, “Digital Witness,” the message was clear: We are all robots, but Clark, wearing an “I own you and you know it and you like it and so do I” smirk on her face, is Queen Robot.
Remarkably, people listened that initial digital voice. Few phones came out during St. Vincent’s one-hour set. All hail the queen of indie rock! I am ready for St. Vincent’s reality to take over the world.
Last year, SN&R’s Nick Miller dubbed Outside Lands a great food and culture festival with really expensive background music. A similar thought applies this year—the edible spread, the comedy lineup, the return of the GastroMagic stage, the live art, the beverage selection and all the random little bonuses are still what make Outside Lands so special. That, and the totally reasonable end-time of 10 p.m. But unlike last year, the 2015 lineup successfully hits both big-deal names and critically-acclaimed younger talent, and Friday delivered the goods.
A huge crowd gathered in the early afternoon to catch gospel and soul singer Leon Bridges, the sort of performer that you are so excited to see get famous. He was signed to Columbia Records just last year while working as a dishwasher in Texas. His debut album dropped in June. Already, he’s a star—a heartfelt throwback to ‘60s-soul that just feels so damn good.
In the evening, the rave sticks all congregated around Chet Faker. His brand of electronica, including collaborations with fellow Australian producer Flume, moved at a sweet and sultry slow speed. The stoners all hit up Brazilian electronic composer Amon Tobin’s set for his film score-esque, grandiose soundscapes and corresponding striking visual show, mapped out on his giant cubic sculpture. If that doesn’t make any sense, click here.
But the greatest anticipation soared for D’Angelo. He was actually supposed to play Outside Lands in 2013, and that obviously didn’t happen. Up until the unexpected release of Black Messiah in December of 2014, the neo-soul singer had been on-hiatus since 2000, falling into alcoholism, developing drug habits and spending time in jail. Black Messiah quickly earned a spot on just about every music critic’s top 10 albums of the year lists.
With his new band the Vanguard, D’Angelo sounded and looked in prime form. The fans screaming “I’ve been waiting 15 years!” were very, very pleased. But I was honestly surprised the crowd, though mostly fervent, wasn’t larger. Was the bulk of the thousands attending Outside Lands choosing Mumford & Sons instead? Really?
In any case, it’s easy to get exhausted and overwhelmed at such major festivals. This year, I made it a point to check out Camp Grounded—inspired by St. Vincent and the technification of San Francisco and such. The theme at Camp Grounded is digital detox, with no phones or digital anything allowed. There were typewriters, pet rocks to paint, board games and a lovely yurt—so reminiscent of Burning Man—with free Japanese tea and surprise live music sets. I laid down near the feet of the Wild Reeds, a Los Angeles-based indie folk group, for some lovely three-piece harmonies, harmonium and banjo.
The intimacy and attentiveness remind you of why you love live music so much in the first place—as opposed to the crazy crowds, light shows and spilled beer. Pro tip: the Wild Reeds is playing at Camp Grounded Saturday and Sunday as well.