SAN FRANCISCO — The sun had gone down on first day of the Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival, and yet, the crowd at the Lands End main stage, where headliners LCD Soundsystem closed out the day, was, well, sparse for the time of day. At the nearby Sutro Stage, Beach House managed to fill just half of the field in front of them. Where had everyone gone? To the Twin Peaks Stage, where rapper J. Cole amassed a crowd of many thousands and was a clear runaway winner for the day’s main attraction.
The day was not one of the festival’s all-time greats. Chicago indie pop quartet Whitney, for example, amassed a large early crowd but couldn’t get any strong reactions. “Our band sucks,” drummer-vocalist Julien Ehrlich said. And later, “It’s too early.” But highlights could be found throughout if one knew where to look. Here are RIFF’s favorites from the day.
J. Cole steals top billing – Twin Peaks Stage
The North Carolina native performed a range of songs, included selections from his most recent album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, and lesser known songs, including “Lights Please” and “In the Morning.” He pleased the massive crowd with hits “Crooked Smile,” “Power Trip” and “Planez.” The latter is actually a Jeremiah single on which he’s featured. J Cole also brought out fellow Dreamville artist Bas. the two performed two songs: “Lit,” from J. Cole’s The Warm Up mixtape and “Housewives.”
LCD Soundsystem loves us, doesn’t let us down — Lands End Stage
The New York band brought its festival-headlining reunion tour to the Polo Field to cap Friday’s events and showed why it’s so good to have them back. The visual accompaniment helped sell the music, with the Big Apple skyline illustrated silhouette for “New York, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down” or a flurry of lights for the big finish to “Home.” Lead singer James Murphy wasn’t the day’s most energetic presence, but he and the band brought the old favorites, including the day-ending Aughties classic “All My Friends.”
Beach House ends the day in a haze — Sutro Stage
The Baltimore duo took a sunset slot as the temperatures dipped into the lower 50s, but Beach House rose to the glorious occasion with a set of moody dream pop that matched the dreary, overcast evening. “The sun’s going down,” lead singer Victoria Legrand said. “It was never really out, but it’s going down.” At one point, she clutched her hair by the sides and pulled it in front of her face to presumably warm up her nose. Her voice fared better than the weather, reaching the low notes and climbing up to the highs.
Foals demolish with proper rock — Sutro Stage
The only time the sun seemed to come out all day was during Foals’ mid-afternoon stint on the Sutro Stage. The British band had energy and groove, confidently delivering one solid track after another. “Mountain at My Gates” projected strength while “Spanish Sahara” built to a tasty climax. For the final track, singer Yannis Philippakis climbed down into the photo pit and then dove into the crowd, but Foals didn’t need those kind of theatrics in order to make their set a memorable one.
Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats make thousands dance — Sutro Stage
The blues and soul band’s namesake was the charismatic draw that powered Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats to a strong showing Friday. The Denver-based singer showed fancy footwork, perfecting a stutter-step slide. “Make America dance great again,” read a sign from the crowd that Rateliff acknowledged. As the set ended and the crowd walked away to other stages, a collective hum-along to “S.O.B.’s” catchy refrain caught on for hundreds. This left those just showing up for Beach House wondering whether they had just missed something great. (Yes).
Wet warms our hearts — Sutro Stage
Kelly Zutrau, Joe Valle and Marty Sulkow so quickly put its audience in a trance that we didn’t know what hit us. With her slightly gravelly, scratchy voice, Zutrau mesmerized as the fog tolled in (and the fog machines helped). At times, one could hear a pin drop between vocals. At other times, the screams were overwhelming. Zutrau reciprocated, saying San Francisco was her favorite place to play. “It’s so amazing to hear so many people singing along to that song I wrote a really long time ago and think anyone would ever hear,” she said after performing “These Days.” “So amazing”
Caveman makes us feel nostalgia – Sutro Stage
Ever wonder what the Bruce Springsteen-era Killers could have done if they perfected that sound? They would have sounded like Caveman, for starters. The New York band, playing without their keyboardist, who’s recovering from some malady at a hospital, didn’t miss a step. Frontman Matthew Iwfanusa and guitarist James Carbonetti stole the show one sharp guitar tone at a time. Battling an early morning chill, Iwanusa joked, “It’s awesome to be at Outside Lands. I don’t think we’ve been back for a whole four years.”
Che Holts’ photos
Roman Gokhman’s photos: