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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Outside Lands Day One: The Strokes' Sloppy Charm, Furthur Covers Floyd, and My Morning Jacket Draws Things Out

Posted By on Sun, Aug 15, 2010 at 11:02 AM

Furthur - CHRISTOPHER VICTORIO
  • Christopher Victorio
  • Furthur
The Strokes - CHRISTOPHER VICTORIO
  • Christopher Victorio
  • The Strokes
The Saturday lineup included purveyors of druggy dance beats (Pretty Lights), old-timey, brass-tinged boogie (Levon Helm told us to get our dancing shoes on), a few indie characters, and a regrettable helping of self-indulgent jam rock. With the charm of Julian Casablancas' drunken, precious mumbling and the secret weapon of an Is this It-loaded set list, the Strokes pretty much stole the day.

Gogol Bordello, though, sent a hefty early afternoon crowd into a fury with their relentless gypsy-punk. Every song seemed to build bouncing rhythms up to a "hey! hey! hey!" with the crowd shouting along and waving fists in the air. 


Gogol Bordello - CHRISTOPHER VICTORIO
  • Christopher Victorio
  • Gogol Bordello
The New York band has enough members to be a soccer team, and all of them would run to the front of the big stage during the climaxes to amp up the audience. That might be the sole job of some members, along with looking cool: between bassist Tommy Gobena's Hendrix T-shirt, drummer Eliot Fergusen's mohawk, dancer/percussionist Elizabeth Sun's makeup (it looked like a more intense version of this), and frontman Eugene Hütz's gangly presence, the band's look was as loud as its sound. The Strokes have never done anything as energetic as Gogol Bordello's live show.

The early afternoon masses danced hard to Pretty Lights, whose elastic, muscular electronica sounded every bit as intoxicant-friendly as its name would suggest. I saw a group of kids heading down from the entrance area to survey the whole, big scene at the polo fields, realize that Pretty Lights was on, and take off at an ecstatic run straight towards the big blob of revelers. Outside Lands has something for everybody, I guess, and the dance/electronic acts drew a lot of fans to their stages. Bassnectar was the subject of a lot of anticipatory mutterances through the early part of the day, but when Lorin Ashton hit the stage, his long, black locks made him look more like a metal dude than a beatmaker. 

Bassnectar - CHRISTOPHER VICTORIO
  • Christopher Victorio
  • Bassnectar
The crowd swelled at first -- you could have measured this music on a Richter scale -- later dissipated when a stage fuse broke, and eventually reassembled to continue gyrating and bouncing a dozen or so black beach balls near the stage. The set ended with a remix of Metallica's "Seek and Destroy" that had the song's pointy thrash metal riff circulating around a giant orb of bass. If there's a better bid to get rock fans into dance music, I haven't heard it.

Outside Lands this year consists of two main areas. The largest is the polo fields, which has two looming stages and a mall-sized array of vendors and sponsor tents. The second is Speedway Meadow, and to get there, one walks down a grassy and somewhat dusty strip named the "Panhandle" on the Outside Lands map. There's a big stage at the far end of the meadow, where the Levon Helm Band was putting grins on the faces of a surprisingly mixed-age crowd with crisp Americana.

Levon Helm - CHRISTOPHER VICTORIO
  • Christopher Victorio
  • Levon Helm
Helm, the 70-year-old former drummer for the Band, brought a sizeable band with a four-piece brass section, and led the group through such classic standards as "Long Black Veil," and the Dead's "Deep Ellum Blues," on which Helm came out from behind the drum kit to play mandolin. The band closed with the Band classic "The Weight," with members trading off singing the verses. Levon sang the "Luke's waiting on Judgement Day" verse in a hoarse but heartfelt voice that won lots of applause.

My Morning Jacket took over the big polo field stage for 90 minutes in the late afternoon, and I felt every minute I spent watching its set of soupy classic rock. The band's drawn out songs made a reasonably pleasant background music, and for much of the time, that's what they were. Standing fairly close to the stage, I looked around during one jammy moment and found everyone around me chattering.

My Morning Jacket - CHRISTOPHER VICTORIO
  • Christopher Victorio
  • My Morning Jacket
The song ended and the stage video camera panned along the front of the crowd where almost no one cheered -- or even seemed to notice that the music had stopped. The band members were certainly enjoying themselves, though. Frontman Jim James recalled playing on a forest stage at the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan called Field of Heaven. "I've always wanted to go back to that field of heaven, and this is the closest I've felt," he said wistfully. "It feels so good to be here with you guys in the field of heaven." 

For something a bit more tangible, I made the trek back to Speedway Meadows for a couple doses of the post-adolescent angst of Tokyo Police Club, which seemed to have attracted every person under age 23.

Tokyo Police Club - CHRISTOPHER VICTORIO
  • Christopher Victorio
  • Tokyo Police Club
The crowd mostly went crazy for the band's clangy, confessional pop, and the band members just seemed happy to be there. "I'm as excited as you are to watch Cat Power and the Strokes," said vocalist Dave Monks. The band then set off into the hurried pace of its last song, handing off vocal duties to the crowd at the climax, and fans knew every word.

Wolfmother - CHRISTOPHER VICTORIO
  • Christopher Victorio
  • Wolfmother
The early evening saw Wolfmother spew a racket that sounded like one extended medley of Led Zeppelin choruses. Cat Power purred out slow, intense whispers of folk and blues, while many sat on grass or tables and watched while eating dinner. The Cat Power cover of the Rolling Stones' "Sway" was a highlight of the band's set, which meshed (unfortunately but unavoidably) into Furthur's.

Cat Power - CHRISTOPHER VICTORIO
  • Christopher Victorio
  • Cat Power
Walking back into the polo fields to catch Furthur was an upstream swim against an onslaught of young people headed back to Speedway to catch the Strokes, who didn't go on for an hour yet. Upon arrival, I found the polo fields like some giant living room: Futhur's clean, precise jams ushered through the whole big oval, and the bright screens on the sides of the stage cast a familiar TV glow over the huge meadow.

Furthur - CHRISTOPHER VICTORIO
  • Christopher Victorio
  • Furthur
Many were sitting on blankets and tables to take in the set. Phil Lesh looked like a taut, weathered tree behind his giant six-string bass, barely seeming to register excitement or even a pulse, although many in the crowd were waving and dancing joyfully. A cover of Pink Floyd's "Time" sounded gorgeous, with guitarist John Kadlecik reproducing the song's soaring original guitar solo in full before the band took off on a merry jam.

It was the drunken Strokes' old songs, messy vibes, and 80's video game stage that stood out most at Outside Lands first day this year. The band tore right into "New York City Cops" -- a loose, punky tune that didn't make the band's U.S. debut after Sept. 11 -- and from there proceeded to play much of its rightly praised first album, including "Last Night," "Someday," and "Soma." 

The Strokes - CHRISTOPHER VICTORIO
  • Christopher Victorio
  • The Strokes
Band members colored outside the songs' rather well-defined lines a bit, but frontman Julian Casablancas was the most unhinged, and, as we learned from his between-song banter, probably also the most drunk. "Will you go to prom with me, San Fran-muthagrubbin'-cisco," his voice cracked in one of several moments of self-mockery. "I don't know who these guys are, but they're fucking wasted," he joked later. But Casablancas' imagined criticism was wrong -- everyone seemed to know who the Strokes were, and its greatest hits set went down with huge applause, determined dancing, and cameras high. The stage setup, which looked a fast moving tunnel at some points and like a Pac-Man and Tetris screen at others, helped the surreality of the night's final performance.
 
The Strokes - CHRISTOPHER VICTORIO
  • Christopher Victorio
  • The Strokes
The vintage vibes came with a pang of sadness, though: the Strokes' best songs are now nearly a decade old, and both of the headliners at Outside Lands' first day this year were reliving days of glory that have long since passed. Here's hoping some in the younger group of artists on the festival's second-day lineup will eclipse both the scrubby NYC hipsters and and the supernaturally skilled hippies of Saturday.

Follow us on Twitter @SFAllShookDown and @iPORT

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Ian S. Port

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