Beck's "Loser" was an anthem for the disenfranchisement of Generation X. In the early '90s, we expected to have less of everything -- income, opportunity, security, etc. -- than our parents. We were led to believe this was unprecedented in the history of the United States. We were the Nothing Generation, and we would sing it loud and proud.
Flash forward to 2012: College grads are indebted to a financial system that's hijacked the entire planet; good jobs are crazy-hard to find, sustainable careers nearly unthinkable; adult-age children into their mid-20s (at least) still live with their parents. In other words, it's the same as it ever was.
We haven't listened much to Beck since his last appearance at Golden Gate Park in 1996 at the Tibetan Freedom Concert. Back then he was rocking his post-"Loser" white-boy-in-a-white-suit act, making happy-funky time. If his performance at Outside Lands was any indication of what he's up to now, it's not much worth listening to. We hear he's a Scientologist. Maybe that explains the lackadaisical energy. He doesn't care anymore. He's already booked his first-class suite on the mothership to carry him home when the time is right.
Here's the thing: Music that matters has urgency, hunger, attitude. Beck's show had none of this. It was a yawn, despite his chill grooves on tunes like "Black Tambourine" and "Devil's Haircut," despite his blues-rich cover of Bob Dylan's "Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat," despite his nod to Neil Young (the evening's headliner) with a capable rendition of "After the Gold Rush," despite his once-novel rap-folk genre mash, despite his once-novel Casiobeats, despite playing slide guitar (how can anyone make slide guitar boring?!), despite the buoyant stage presence of his bass player with the Jewfro, despite his heartfelt ballads. When he played "Loser," a tune that has managed to remain relevant for nearly 20 years, it wasn't Beck who made the song groovy; it was the kids in the crowd singing along. That's a testament to We, the People: Generation X, Generation Y, the 99%, the li'l bitches who still live with their moms -- not Beck. And he knows it. He doesn't even have to try. But no effort means no reward. -- Sam Prestianni
The unofficial award for best free swag of this year's Outside Lands goes to Palo Alto-based streaming radio startup TuneIn, which gave out (non-exhaustive list) sunglasses, shoulder bags, and a classily rendered T-shirt that pokes gentle fun at our local love for anachronism: a four-by-four grid of illustrated objects with unexpected captions. Under a turntable, the word "iPod." Under a typewriter, the word "emailer." Under a Helvetica type sample, the word "cursive," and under a saw the word "music." The legend at the bottom: "San Francisco 2012."
As non-invasive marketing gestures go, this one was pretty savvy -- you know what TuneIn is now, don't you? -- but there's another edge to that sword: meme fatigue. The same logic that makes it a really good idea to seed your brand at a music festival, where a lot young people with sophisticated cultural opinions and disposable income show up to see and be seen, is what makes a weekend like this one into a sort of battle royale for new contenders in our collective cultural conversation. It's fly or die for your twin Waynes T-shirt, your elliptical declaration of nerd cred, your off-kilter observation scrunched awkwardly into Obama's campaign aesthetic. This is where they were meant to be, these ideas that somebody loved enough to emblazon on a T-shirt or tote bag (or, sure, beer cozy) so that they might be spotted in the wild and elicit a thumbs-up, a knowing nod, a retweet. And a music festival brings an audience of tens of thousands of people, most of whom like at least some of the same things you like. Where else is your Han Shot First shirt going to get the exposure it deserves?