Outside Lands is finally back. The crown jewel in the Bay Area’s yearly live music experience finally returned to Golden Gate Park. Three days of music, food, and escape for everyone from hippies to tech bros. Unable to return during their typical early-August dates due to pandemic-related restrictions, the festival was slated for a unique space on the calendar. Halloween, the unofficial landmark holiday of San Francisco, collided with the last day of Outside Lands 2021. To absolutely nobody on the entire planet’s surprise, San Franciscans came dressed to the nines in costumes of all shapes and sizes all weekend long and many of the artists, of course, followed suit both in fashion and spirit.
The early hours of a Friday at a festival typically means waiting for a large chunk of the crowd to get off work before making their way to the park. East Coast hip hop act 070 Shake was not willing to accept that as an excuse to play to a silent crowd as she got the most from her audience. Starting off with a steady and bass-heavy hitter “Morrow,” Danielle Balbuena was quick to call the audience out for not matching her energy. “You guys are being so boring!” she screamed to the lackluster crowd “You’re all vaccinated!” she claimed before jumping off the stage and into the pit to rile her people up and setting a standard of excellence for the rest of the day's lineup to follow.
San Francisco’s unofficial mascot, Karl the Fog, rolled in just in time to see Sharon Van Etten perform. As she took the stage, Van Etten kicked her shoes off on her way to her microphone and began her set with “Jupiter 4.” Picking up a sunburst-designed Fender guitar, she changed the tempo while she played “All I Can” with incredible passion. Calling attention to the large crowd that had gathered to her stage, and packed so closely during a global pandemic, she remarked “Thank you all for risking your lives to be here.” She closed with a duet with a friend she has gotten particularly close with over the last couple of years, bringing Angel Olsen up to the stage for a long hug and a duet of their collaboration “Like I Used To” before Van Etten blew a kiss to the audience and humbly walked off.
These days it is a little unusual to see a jam-band perform at a major festival, much less on the main stage during a later time slot, but Houston trio Khruangbin captivated tens of thousands in the audience while paying homage to the aesthetic that felt very San Francisco. Opening with an upbeat hit “Time (You and I)” the band quickly got the crowd grooving and in the mood for their unique style. Disco balls hung from the rafters, giving the stage a throwback vibe that jived with the mood of the show. The audience sang along with the lyrics to “Lady and Man,” loudly repeating the words “I went to college. Could have been a doctor, could have been a lawyer.” In a bilingual performance, Khruangbin switched from English to Spanish as they performed “Pelota” before performing a long instrumental medley for the majority of the rest of their set that included snippets of ACDC’s “Back in Black,” Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets,” Luniz’ “I Got 5 On It,” and The Sugarhill Gang’s “Apache” in spectacular jam-band style.
UK Psychedelic Pop act Glass Animals blew the entire festival away with an immersive and nostalgic experience. In the half-hour leading up to their performance, a retro computer loading screen displayed behind them counted down to the start of their set, an aesthetic befitting the lyrics in many of their songs, recalling the simpler times of a few decades ago. The crowd went ballistic when the band finally took the stage to open with “Life Itself.” Lead singer Dave Bayley worked up a sweat running around the stage showing massive amounts of energy from the start, taking full advantage of every inch of the room he had on the spacious Lands End stage. “This is freakin’ massive! I’ve missed this so much, but music is back!” before playing “I Don’t Wanna Talk (I Just Wanna Dance)" to no one’s displeasure. “Have you taken your drugs yet?” Bayley asked the audience before playing arguably their most psychedelic hit “Gooey.” Any seasoned Glass Animals fan is familiar with the band’s history of pineapples at their shows, and this show was no different. Picking up a pineapple that had been sitting at the front of the stage all show, Bayley motioned to a nearby security guard and requested “I’m not allowed to legally throw these anymore, so if you could kindly hand this to the lady dressed as a pineapple” pointing to a woman in a pineapple onesie standing by the barricade before the band began “Pork Soda.” No festival would be complete without surprise performances by top-tier special guests, and Glass Animals’ set would satisfy this need fully, bringing on rapper Denzel Curry to perform his part in their song “Tokyo Drifting.” After finishing their song, Bayley pointed to Curry and proclaimed “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, best rapper in the world.” Taking a beat to take the moment in, Bayley announced to the crowd “This is the biggest crowd we’ve probably ever had. It was a bit nerve-racking at first, but I fucking needed it” before ending the set with “Heat Waves.”
Tenured New York rock band The Strokes closed out the Friday program in Golden Gate Park as technical issues plagued the much-anticipated performance. Fans had waited well over a year since the initial announcement of the band on the festival’s lineup, but they would have to wait a little longer as the band was more than 15 minutes late to take the stage. The dim lighting was expected by those familiar with their set, but the low and muffled sound took everyone by surprise as audience members could barely make out the lyrics to their opening song “Call It Fate, Call It Karma.” Lead singer Julian Casablancas was not amused with the technical issues and was even more miffed with the lack of audience enthusiasm, as a result, remarking “This is the quietest of the largest shows I’ve ever played.” He teased the audience “you guys talk amongst yourselves while we finish this song.” Upon realizing that the volume was in fact much lower than he had initially thought it would be at this show, he remarked half-jokingly “Am I deaf? Is it crazy low? Is this PA on?” Prompting the audience to chant “Turn it up!” as the band half huddled to themselves to figure out a solution. Casablancas asked the audience to be patient with them as he commented “Our sound guy Gus is notorious for damaging eardrums, so I’m sure it’s some San Francisco law bullshit.” Clearly disgruntled throughout the rest of their set, Casablancas kept walking off stage in the middle of their songs in between his vocals. The general level of frustration left audiences wondering if there would in fact be an encore after the band walked off stage, but they did eventually come back out to play “The Adults are Talking” and “New York City Cops” with Casablancas walking off stage after his final vocals, but before the instrumentalists had finished their parts.
The angst of the final hour of the day did not negate the copious positives, and fans left energized through the tunnels taking part in the sacred Outside Lands tradition, screaming part of the lyrics to Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend” howling “You! You got what I need! But you say he’s just a friend! But you say he’s just a friend!” throughout their final few minutes at the venue, anticipating the coming days with every breath.
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