Outside Lands 2021: The best and worst of Friday and Saturday

Outside Lands, Outside Lands 2021

Attendees walk under the windmills at Outside Lands in San Francisco on Oct. 30, 2021. Adam Pardee/STAFF.

Usually, I write up the best and worst of each day at Outside Lands. This year I’m combining the first two days into one. Why is that? Well, for one thing, I’ve spent the last 20 or so months cooped up at home sitting in front of a variety of screens, so I’m not as physically fit as I used to be. And I wasn’t physically fit before. It was a low bar and I slid right under it.

The other reasons? I complain about them below. No spoilers now, I don’t want to give up the goods right up top.

Best: Lizzo. Just… Lizzo. Read my writeup of her set for specifics, but it cannot be overstated how great a performer Lizzo is. As cold as it was—though mercifully warmer and less damp than Friday night—she kept everyone warm through sheer force of will.


Lizzo performs at Outside Lands in San Francisco on Oct. 30, 2021.

It’s hard to put into words how good her set was. I’ve seen a lot of acts in the years I’ve been covering Outside Lands, and a lot more for other non-festival concert reviews, and that hour and a half has to rank among the best. The way she can bend tens of thousands of people to her will seemingly effortlessly only makes me hope she doesn’t decide to use her powers for evil. Because none of us would stand a chance.

Worst: The Strokes. As good as Lizzo was? Friday night’s headliner was the opposite of that. I had no idea what to make of frontman Julian Casablancas but I knew I didn’t like it.

First off, Julian, I know it’s tradition to encourage the crowd to cheer, but if it doesn’t work, just let it go. Don’t keep trying. Don’t resort to begging. Don’t try shaming them or asking if the PA is on. It’s just sad. Let it go. If people don’t like you, they don’t like you.

The Strokes

The Strokes perform at Outside Lands in San Francisco on Oct. 29, 2021.

Second, I know San Francisco is rapidly losing its reputation as the center of the liberal universe as venture capital money twists and corrupts it into an unrecognizable mass of ultracapitalist libertarianism, but it’s still not the audience that wants to hear a rant about vaccine and mask mandates. The only reason you got a half-hearted smattering of boos rather than a resounding wave of them was because the sound mix was so bad most people couldn’t understand what you were saying.

All day I heard people marveling to their friends and often total strangers how bad The Strokes were. To sum up the general impression, on the shuttle to the festival Saturday morning, the person in front of me Googled “julian casablancas drug problem,” which says a lot more than any review could.

Best: The HU. Every year, I seem to find one act from outside the United States to latch onto and champion, but this year I had that band in advance. I’ve been a fan of The HU since I discovered Mongolian folk metal a few years ago and I was excited to finally see them live.

The Hu

The HU performs at Outside Lands in San Francisco on Oct. 29, 2021.

They did not disappoint. They were incredible. As good as their recorded songs are, they don’t stack up to hearing it in person. Apparently throat singing is one of those things that you just need to be present for to get the full effect of, and the electric morin khuur may be my new favorite instrument.

Seriously, listen to their stuff. What in the world are you waiting for?

Worst: The decision to schedule a music festival in San Francisco in October. Seriously, have the organizers even been to San Francisco? When it’s in the summer, the fog rolls in when the sun sets and it gets slightly uncomfortable. On Friday the fog rolled in at about 2 in the afternoon and it only got more and more unbearably cold as the day went on.

In terms of temperature, yes, it was only in the low 50s. The rest of the country scoffs at that. But you know how people talk about a dry heat? The rest of the country gets a dry cold; San Francisco gets a very, very moist cold. A full day of frigid fog chilling you to the bone only compounds on itself, getting colder and colder as the hours drag on. By the end of The Strokes interminable set, my phone wouldn’t even recognize my fingers as human digits.

Can we never do this again? I may lose a finger to frostbite next time.

Best: Poor planning by the attendees. Festivals are not, generally speaking, known for their copious amounts of clothing. Halloween is also not known for its modest attire. You give young people an excuse to wear skimpy clothes and they’re gonna take it, give them two at the same time and they’re gonna absolutely run with it.

What I’m saying is Friday’s most popular Halloween costume was “not legally naked.”

Outside Lands, Outside Lands 2021

Entertaining AND practical!

Then the chilling fog rolled in. Oh, how they were unprepared. Oh, how us old people laughed and laughed. I wouldn’t be surprised if the merch tents all sold out of massively overpriced sweatshirts, because each person probably had to buy two just to keep from succumbing to hypothermia. At one point—and I am not making this up—I heard a woman shout at the top of her lungs, “MY NIPPLES ARE GOING TO CUT THROUGH MY SHIRT!”

Sure, I started to feel bad for the ones with thousand-yard stares after sundown who still hadn’t gotten properly dressed, but most of the time it was comedy gold.

Worst: Speaking of people, there were so many people.

Outside Lands, Outside Lands 2021

A large crowd makes its way to the Sutro Stage at Outside Lands in San Francisco on Oct. 29, 2021.

Maybe it was just the nearly two years of plague-induced solitude, but I’d swear the festival was way, way more crowded than in previous years. [Gokhman note: Nah]. The crowd at 4 p.m. on Friday seemed as big as the crowd for the Saturday headliner usually gets. Walkways on Saturday were jammed up to the point of impassable by 2 p.m. It was utter madness.

I know we’ve been cooped up, but does everyone have to show up at once? Because it’s wildly inconvenient. I really don’t need that! Here’s hoping it clears up for Sunday, or the second and final edition will just be one 1,500 word rant about overpopulation.

Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.

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