All weekend long, All Shook Down writers will be rounding up the best of the Outside Lands music festival. Here's our report from the festival's first day.
Okay, wait. How did we let Justice get away with appropriating the cross?
There were probably other questions worth asking surrounding the French duo's headlining set last night (for instance, "what does Neil Young's stage setup look like?"), but your correspondent didn't make it much past this one. It was most potent before the set even began, before Xavier de Rosnay and Gaspard Augé took the stage and played about 20 seconds of a digitally tortured "Star Spangled Banner" (which, wow), while a huge field densely packed with people stood screaming rapturously at nothing but a large glowing cross. It was also pretty potent toward the end of the night, when in lieu of inter-song banter de Rosnay and Augé struck poses and just stayed frozen in place, like Times Square performing statue people, and someone in the crowd wearing a decidedly messianic white tunic stood hoisted above the crowd, arms out like... well, you get the idea.
As the frozen-pose bit suggests, there's something slightly cat-and-mouse about the way Justice control a crowd. So much the better for music like theirs, which is well-proportioned proto-dubstep clash-house electro-whatever: they excel at letting you sink into a groove and forget the broader setting for a few minutes, then remind you who's boss with a giant, ground-shaking wall of scaly bass rattle. It's not all dark and menacing, as has become de rigueur for that sound: there's some happy bounce to it, some of that bizarro Jackson-5 vibe that made their breakout single "D.A.N.C.E." so approachable.
Which song they did play, naturally, stretching it out into roughly 10 minutes of power-flexing contortion, complete with at least three dramatic flatlines-and-revival sequences. There's something affirming and not entirely benevolent about doing this with your best-known song, making it familiar but not at all the same: it's the same display of mastery as above, letting the gag teeter on the edge of tedious before reeling it back in. It got old around the third time, but got new again when the duo interpolated a single snatch of Jay-Z's "On to the Next One" into the song's backbone sample; the next time around it didn't even peter out, just transitioned totally unceremoniously into a new song. ("D.A.N.C.E." was the gesture-song of the set, but the highlight was "Civilization," from last year's Audio, Video, Disco, which sounded way better than it does on record.)
And sure, it's good to be king, or in this case, given the circumstances, some manner of divine mouthpiece: it's good to be able to work a massive crowd with such self-assurance, such unabashed hamminess, and such literal power behind you that you can accentuate certain musical points with grills of stadium-strength floodlights so bright they can temporarily invert night and day. It's good to be able to pay people to underscore a particularly overdue bass break by shooting a coordinated rainbow stream of glowsticks into the crowd from various corners (at least one assumes money changed hands to bring that one off); it's good to have a Macintosh Plus's worth of light show effects, bordering at times on stroboscopic mind control, to play out behind you just so there's no mistaking what you're capable of. Justice are nothing if not responsible and fun about it, but man, that cross -- commentary or coincidence, if you were looking for megachurch overtones, they were almost literally blinding. But fair enough: Maybe dancing with strangers in the park, and the whole three-day economy that goes with it, is its own kind of worship. -- Daniel Levin Becker
Walking down the hill into the Lindley Meadow, the first thing we see in the brightly lit mist is a rotating pair of speaker horns. As it turns out, those things make a beautiful vibrato -- as if the noises that Andrew Bird makes need to be any more beautiful. At first the mood is quiet reverence. The strings of lights have just turned on throughout the park, and the fog is blowing in. Alternating between plucking and bowing his violin, Andrew Bird's icy melodies fill the quiet air. But it's his impeccably pitch-perfect whistle that sets our shoulders back and puts a silly smile on most of the faces we see.
That theremin-like whistle, and the audience's quietude, awakens a gopher in the grass below foot, which pokes its head out of its burrow to scramble for snatches of grass. The crowd circles the critter reverently. "It's a mole rat... I didn't think they had those here, " whispers a bearded twentysomething in Ke$ha-esque war paint. Just then someone breaks the circle, and steps inches from the hole, to the horror of the crowd. "It's a nuisance," he says matter-of-factly, "Haven't you seen Caddyshack?" The gopher disappears into the ground, shutting out the world of Andrew Bird with inches of fresh dirt. The crowd fills the circle, and turns to face the band again, the holiness of their communion with nature fading fast.
As if he senses this, Andrew Bird begins what he calls "the old timey portion of the show": violin, acoustic guitar, double bass, and drums played with brushes. Immediately the mood gives way from icy veneration to warm folksy swaying from the crowd. The melodies lose their classic beauty and pick up some of the gypsy folk that is Bird's other stock-in-trade. "Would you hide in the hay with me?" he sings as the audience claps in time. Somewhere through miles of fog, the sun is setting. -- Cody Nabours