The crowd was older and tamer yesterday. No wholesale destruction of chain link fences, no claustrophobic clusterfucks trying to get across the endless expanse of festival ground, no scofflaws streaming into the VIP section to taunt the fools that squandered $700 a ticket for nicer bathrooms and a slightly more refined environment in which to purchase over-priced wine and beer. No, things seemed to run smoothly after that initial shell-shock of day one, with its chaotic tenor and reports of public transportation meltdowns for those who stayed to the bitter end.
Outside Lands is about as far as you can get from the hippy spring break of Bonnaroo, whose Superfly promoters this event shares. Camping isn't even allowed. Instead, there's a “Wine Haven” tent where you can sample a voluminous array of vino, numerous gourmet food vendors and even a stand hawking BBQ'd oysters. Judging from the quick once-over I gave them, the oysters seemed fine, but really, few more dicey moves exist than ordering shellfish at an outdoor music festival. That's the gastronomical equivalent to drinking a bottle of MD 20/20, picking up a hooker and swerving past a police station.
Instead, I opted for a super-burrito from Zona Rosa in the Haight and walked into the park just in time to catch the set from Liars, playing on the tiny Panhandle Stage in Speedway Meadow. I've never seen the Australian weirdos before and judging from the off-kilter eclecticism of their albums, they seem like the sort of band where you never know what sort of set to expect. But in their too-short 35 minute performance, they definitely impressed me, running the gamut from noisy, garage band Stooges-type riffs, hypnotic Can-like grooves and all-out full bore thrash. If there was a problem with the set, it had little to do with the band itself. Ultimately, bands like Liars aren't really festival bands meant to be compressed into a half-hour where you play the singles, nod your head politely and get out. They seem like the sort of band that thrives in smoky, cave-like spaces, where they can stretch out their jams and lock in. But it was over before that had the chance to really happen.
Help! This Jacket is Cutting Off the Circulation to my Neck
Next was Lupe Fiasco, whose set solved fears that The Roots' fan-base would disintegrate were a gigantic fireball of Mojo magazines to ever come to earth and incinerate ?uestlove (this being contingent upon a Ghostbusters I-like scenario where like Ray Stantz, the Roots drummer is forced to confront destruction from the thing he loves most). In the two years, since Food and Liquor confirmed his place as one of the best young rappers on a major, Lupe's turned himself into a masterful performer.
I haven't seen Kanye's “I Am The Great Neon Gatbsy” tour, so I can't really speak definitively, but as far as what I've seen, Lupe might be the best performer in rap right now. His backing band is funky and loose, his set-list is strong and as a front-man, Lupe is wildly charismatic. He scatters across the stage in this sort of nimble, tip-toed glide, in perpetual motion, throwing his arms towards the crowd, rattling off tongue-twisting rhymes, a total ham but rarely histrionic. The largely melanin-free crowd went beserk, hippies kicked around hacky-sacks during “Kick Push”, the brah contingent got their hip-hop quota, their sorority girlfriends sang the hook to “Superstar.” It was kind of gross actually, but Lupe was great and even if I still don't want to smoke a blunt with the guy, I'm sold on him as one of the best rappers of his generation.
But on this bland and bitter Bay Area day, the biggest draws seemed to be Dinosaur rock. After Fiasco, I caught about thirty minutes of Steve Winwood, ex-frontman for Spencer Davis Group, Traffic and Blind Faith. This being San Francisco and there always being a ready supply of aging hippies ready to wax nostalgic and teenagers ready to pretend, the Winwood set went how you'd expect: lots of fluttery dancing, half-rembered sing-a-longs and joint-smoke poured out for all those that couldn't be here. At 60, Winwood's voice is still as powerful and incredible as it was when he was a teenaged prodigy and really, I won't lie, I was just lying in wait for “Dear Mr. Fantasy.” When he closed the set with a 10 minute version of that most famous Traffic cut, I was a happy man and ready to head for shelter during the three three hour gap between Winwood and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. After all, I was starting to do that Thriller stagger again, my legs as wooden, rickety and useless as Mitt Romney. So yeah, I missed Ben Harper, Primus and Cake. Then again, last time I checked this isn't the year 1995.
Hey, When Did David Spade Learn to Play Guitar?
So Petty. You can't hate Tom Petty. It's practically impossible. You can be apathetic about him. You can find his songs overplayed by Classic Rock Radio. You can even hate those ridiculous hats the guy wears. But Petty himself, is practically impossible to loath. Petty and the Heartbreakers are the ultimate “pretty good” band. Their Greatest Hits is rock-solid, their live set proves that Mike Campbell is probably one of the ten most underrated guitarists ever and also, that these guys benefited heavily from being a good, popular band during a decade in which most major label rock was mostly unlistenable, well unless you're Cam'ron. Spandau Ballet, anyone?
The Heartbreakers' head-lining set was what it needed to be. Slick, professional, filled with the songs that everyone wanted to hear. During “Free Fallin,” I half-expected people to start sparking campfires and roasting marshmallows. Mid-way through,, they brought out their Palaeozoic peer, Stevie Winwood, to play the old Blind Faith song, “Can't Find My Way Home,” and followed it up with the old soulful Spencer Davis Group staple, “Gimme Some Lovin.” It was a fitting touch and by the time Petty finished with the one-two combo of Van Morrison's “Gloria” and “American Girl,” they'd eloquently stated their case. I might never be a Petty die-hard, but you've got to respect them. They certainly deserve their fanbase and judging from the crowd that stayed until the very end, that's a whole lot of people.