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Monday, August 15, 2011

Outside Lands Day 3: Arcade Fire, Mavis Staples, Major Lazer, and tUnE-yArDs Deliver the Magic One Moment at a Time

Posted By on Mon, Aug 15, 2011 at 12:04 AM

Mavis Staples and Win Butler playing "The Weight," one of the most memorable moments of Outside Lands' last day. Photos by Christopher Victorio.
  • Mavis Staples and Win Butler playing "The Weight," one of the most memorable moments of Outside Lands' last day. Photos by Christopher Victorio.

Outside Lands Day 3

August 14, 2011

Golden Gate Park

Better than: Just another big concert.

There's something almost magical about an unambiguously sunny summer day in the western reaches of Golden Gate Park, and on Sunday, for the final day of Outside Lands 2011, an unhindered shining orb lent the proceedings a merry surreality.

The beautiful weather seduced Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler, whose easygoing charm made for two memorable moments on the main stage. Early in the afternoon, Butler sang with soul legend Mavis Staples on a thrilling cover of the Band standard "The Weight." Later, when his own group took over for the finale, Butler gushed over how he'd spent his day. "This is one of those times where we have to actually pinch ourselves," he mused after the band opened with a rousing "Ready to Start." He later quipped that, "I got to sing with Mavis Staples earlier, so I can die a happy man." Those who witnessed the song -- which made the crowd go, well, apeshit -- might've felt the same way.

If this Grammy-winning indie rock band wasn't dramatic enough -- and with eight musicians frantically bouncing among instruments onstage, you could argue it was -- the setting made its show even more so: On the final night of this festival's fourth year, the moon slowly arose out of purplish twilight, seeming to come out to watch the Arcade Fire. It was so large and luminous, festival staff even put it on the big LCD screens for a minute.

  • Christopher Victorio
  • Arcade Fire

So with that drama in the sky, the band blasted out some of its best-known songs with its trademark excess of enthusiasm. Many in the crowd near the front knew every word, knew even when to hum -- unprovoked -- for dramatic effect, while the band ran through "Rococo," "No Cars Go," and "Crown of Love." The enthusiasm near the front was overwhelming and infectious, and the band obviously felt it. Butler treated the audience like friends. In the middle of the brooding "Suburbs," he changed some of the lyrics about wasting time: "I know I'd love to waste it again, in a park in S.F. with my friends -- oh wait, I'm already there!"

  • Christopher Victorio
  • Arcade Fire

The vibes felt similar at the start of the day, when Oakland art-pop breakout tUnE-yArDs found itself greeted by a swollen and adoring crowd on the Sutro stage. Band leader Merrill Garbus appeared in a purple dress with a white streak of paint across her face, looking every bit the cult icon she's on her way to becoming. She builds up each tUnE-yArDs song piece by piece, with drum and vocal loops, some of which are immediately recognizable, and some not. But when the slamming groove of "Gangsta" hit, the audience convulsed with joyful recognition, dancing along to what felt like heavy funk rolling off of bass player Nate Brenner's fingers. "Powa" took things up even farther from there, with Garbus reaching -- and nailing -- a falsetto climax that demonstrated just how powerful and wide-ranging her voice is. Some of the songs of tUnE-yArDs' newest album, w h o k i l l, have already been modified with new sample parts; "Bizness" even got an extended solo from both of the sax players onstage. And it was clear that after months of touring on these new songs, Garbus now has the live performance sampling better under control than she did at her S.F. record release party in April.

The focus, though, is still on movement: There was no question Sunday that the strange pieces of tUnE-yArDs' music -- dramatic vocal moves, sharply distorted ukulele, groaning bass, and wailing sax -- all add up to what is basically wild dance music, a sound that's bewildering and satisfying at the same time. It went over well. "This is the biggest crowd we've ever had come see us at a festival," Garbus noted happily. Walking out, many seemed to be shaking their heads in giddy disbelief.

We appeared back on the Polo Fields just in time to catch Butler singing with Staples on "The Weight," a torch-passing moment that as well captures the spirit of the festival as anything this weekend. But Staples sounded great on her own too, with a voice whose creaks and corners carry a true sense of soul. "I'll take you there," she promised with her final number, and she certainly did.

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Ian S. Port


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