If you attended this year’s installment of the Outside Lands Music Festival, you likely have already a list of your top favorite moments. But if you’re still trying to make up your mind, here are a few of ours to help you decide.
Mumford and Sons
Saturday’s headliners Mumford and Sons delivered a straight-up two-hours-long set of their hits and other tracks off new album, Wilder Mind. While many have knocked the new release for its lack of the instrument that brought Mumford and Sons to great heights (the banjo), the material blends seamlessly with the back catalogue. And because the older songs still feature the bluegrass instrument, the loss was hardly noticeable.
The alt-rockers returned to Outside Lands for the first time since the festival’s inaugural year, and Wilco delivered a set rich in material off just-released free album Star Wars.
St. Vincent made the biggest mark on Outside Lands on the first night. Performing in a jumpsuit with a plunging neckline that can best be described as “pure rock ‘n’ roll,” Annie Clark strutted around the stage and down into the front row of fans, making a statement that she could have been the headliner.
“Ooh, I love festival booths!” Violinist-dancer Lindsey Stirling said an hour following her set at the Twin Peaks stage. “All the local artists come out with their art or their clothing. So I’m really excited to go around and shop. Also, I’m so stoked to see Mumford and Sons.” Stirling likely had the most unique performance at the festival, combining elements of EDM with classical violin while dancing from one end of the stage to the other.
Leon Bridges makes the ladies swoon, and there were many ladies, and a packed Sutro Stage, to see the retro crooner. Wearing a felt burgundy fedora, pleated slacks and a plaid suit jacket, Bridges crisscrossed his still-fledgling songbook, with songs like “River” and “Smooth Sailing.”
Strand of Oaks
The name Stand of Oaks may invoke some folky trio perfectly suited to play an early slot at Outside Lands. The timing was right, but the Philadelphia band, all black leather, tattoos and long hair (well, mostly long hair) was not a typical festival early act. The melodic, guitar-drive sound got the crowd moving around rather than leaning side-to-side.
The Sam Chase
“We’re not Mumford and Sons, sorry to disappoint,” frontman Sam Chase declared before kicking off Day 1. Funny enough, until you listened to the lyrics, they could have passed for the London band. Those lyrics, however, showed that the San Francisco collective is a happier version.
King Kendrick ruled Day 2 of the festival. Performing with a full backing band, he quickly energized the crowd and kept the fire burning for the duration of his set.
What Kendrick Lamar lacked in physical firepower, the Bay Area rapper G-Eazy made up for with flames, sparks and smoke.
The ‘80s rocker Billy Idol looked terrific, but some of his songs have aged far worse than he did. The hits, like “Dancing With Myself” and “White Wedding” still delivered, but many of the other songs felt like filler during his set.
Angus and Julia Stone
They label themselves acoustic and folk, but at Outside Lands Saturday, backed by several other musicians, Angus and Julia Stone came off very much as a jam band. And something peculiar happened when the younger attendees began to dance and get in to the music rather than wandering away, which is what typically happens to a jam band at the festival.
As evidenced by her choice in outfits, Laura Marling flew to San Francisco directly from Tatooine. Over the course of her 40-minute set, the English singer-songwriter blew through her songs, infrequently acknowledging the audience in front of which she was playing.
One of the largest early-arriving crowds at the Lands End stage gathered to watch New York pop quintet MisterWives, which shares a lot of parallels with mid-career era No Doubt, right down to the way they dress and vocalist Mandy Lee’s on-stage pushups. Her voice is its own unique animal, however; a plush, velvety timbre that no one in attendance could resist. Several hours following the set, sitting down to discus their success so far, the band raved about meeting fans at the festival, and the great food available to them in San Francisco.
San Francisco quintet Heartwatch came to Outside Lands with several goals: To catch Tame Impala, Wilco, St. Vincent and Kendrick Lamar, and to challenge the latter to a game of chess, guitarist Eric Silverman said.
“The people watching has been spectacular – there’s just so many awesome-looking people here,” Silverman said Saturday morning. “And St. Vincent killed it yesterday. We’re just really stoked on that. Drummer Kern Sigala was most impressed by D’Angelo and the Vanguard. “They laid it down so hard, so tight,” he said. “They ruled that crowd. You could not deny the funk. You just couldn’t.” Vocalist Claire George said the D’Angelo set made her wish Heartwatch had horn players.
Alas, the plot for the Kendrick chess match just wasn’t meant to be, as Silverman, who had to Google how to play the game beforehand, forgot his chessboard.
Elton John had hits to burn, and he burned brightly through all of them. From “Bennie and the Jets,” to “Tiny Dancer,” Rocket Man,” Your Song,” I’m Still Standing” and “Crocodile Rock,” and everything in between, it was clear that he was the No. 1 draw at Outside Lands in 2015.
If the best indicator of a strong set is feeling like it’s over too soon, Sam Smith won that crown Sunday night. Smith breezed through 13 songs in under an hour, without any special effects or fancy stage production, but it seemed to last only 20 minutes.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the festival. Ferreira has been embroiled in controversy in recent years, but overcame any stigma to put on a really solid performance Sunday during which she simply appeared to be having fun. She debuted a new song and interacted with a devout group of fans in the front row, mentioning that it has been too long since she last performed at a festival.
Benjamin Booker was one of the most talented musicians on the lineup, but to better display those skills, organizers should probably have placed him before James Bay, in the way TV networks group newer shows with existing powerhouses. Those who stuck around after James Bay got to witness a plethora of invigorating blues-punk songs like “Wicked Waters” and “Violent Shiver,” as well as covers of Otis Redding and Furry Lewis.
James Bay’s Sutro stage performance was this year’s version of Atmosphere, or going even further back, Foster the People. In other words, it was standing room only for 45 minutes, and after he was done, it cleared out. It’s too early to tell if Bay has staying power, but first impressions were all smiles.
Alejandro Rose-Garcia, who goes by Shakey Graves, kicked off Sunday with a flurry of swagger and energy that was tough to top for most of the day. Performing by himself and with one or two backing musicians, he unleashed an avalanche of foot-stomping Texas noise.