Neil Young’s Crazy Horse Band and the Foo Fighters
Lead a Rock Guitar Assault on Golden gate Park
Day 1 of 2012 Outside Lands Music Festival
L. Paul Mann
If there was any one predominant theme at this years sold out Outside Lands Music festival it had to be the host of grinding lead guitar rock legends and newcomers alike, ferociously jamming on their array of axes throughout the three day event. That wasn’t to say that there weren’t many other diverse types of pop music offered up across the four main stages, but guitars certainly dominated most of the offerings. The festival, now in it’s fifth year of operation is by far the biggest summer music event in California. This year’s line up did not disappoint. The stages are roughly divided into central themes. The biggest stage (Lands End), boasted a line up of mainstream chart busting pop stars. The second biggest stage (Twin Peaks), was ground zero for a more modern dance infused line up from hip hop to EDM DJ stars. The Sutro stage seemed to be predominated by the most skilled songwriters from different musical genres. Finally, the Panhandle stage showcases some of the up and coming hot new Indy bands that may very well be the headliners in just a few short years. The first day of Outside Lands kicked of under cool foggy skies to a sparse crowd. In fact, the first hour or two of the festival was the best time to experience the event all three days. Music fans could walk right up to the stages for the opening acts and savor the plethora of fancy food booths, the wine tasting tent with over 30 award winning wines, or the beer tent with a variety of micro brews. Early birds the first day were treated to a guitar drenched jam by the Austin based White Denim. This young quartet of Indy rockers played a spirited set fronted by lead singer and guitarist, James Petralli. It would be no surprise to see this band on the main stage in a few short years playing in the vein of a group like Explosions In The Sky, who themselves may be next years headliners in the vein of bands like My Morning Jacket.
Over on the massive Lands End stage, the veteran New Orleans, jazz funk fusion group, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, kicked off the fest ivies in front of a comfortable early crowd that had been lounging on blankets and towels. The band, established back in 1977 still features some of the original horn players, and has seen a rotating line up of some of the most well known musicians who have called The Big easy home. The band with their innovative approach to traditional jazz from their region was a perfect revelry for the early festival goers. Meanwhile on the little panhandle stage, former singing drummer for the San Francisco band the Girls, was showcasing his new Los Angeles Indy rock band Papa. Their sound is another guitar and drum driven fierce Indy sound that woke up the crowd early on, in this more casual part of the festival grounds. The band caught the eye of many festival goers nearby who were getting an early lunch, sampling from the Wine Lands tent, or checking out one of the special Samuel Addams micro brews, made just for the festival. The next band to take over the little stage, Tanlines, also had a guitar driven sound, but with a very different electronic dance music driven beat. The New York duo laid down some catchy tunes that included Indy and world beat sounds. Some of the happiest music fans could be found just down the ravine from here, however, where the Hell Brew Revue held their own ongoing square dance jam. A group of mimes and musicians had created their own little world that delighted traditional music fans and kept them square dancing all throughout the three day festival.
Back on Lands End stage, the San Francisco Indy rock duo Two Gallants, played to an ever swelling crowd gathering around the massive stage. The duo have been making music together for more than a decade, and have a large following in Europe and Canada. They are on the verge of releasing their fourth album, “The Bloom and The Blight”. And may well be the next Black Keyes, headlining festivals in a few short years. Popping into the Barbary Coast, a large circus like tent with its own bar, the comedy duo Kristen Schaal and Kurt Braunohler were warming up the crowd. A host of well known comedians entertained audiences throughout the festival, including unusual performers as diverse as Neil Patrick Harris and Reggie Watts. Watts, in fact was already performing on the Sutro stage , attracting the first big crowd of the day to that stage, for his one man show recently made famous on the Independent Movie channel. By the time that Los Angeles based Fitz and the Tantrums brought their modern version of American soul music to Lands End stage, a very large crowd had gathered. This hot new band with an old soul is composed of five outstanding musicians, plus two diverse lead singers that meld the band together like bookends. Michael Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scraggs are both consummate performers leaping about the stage, while laying down awesome soulful vocal tracks. This band has already produced a chart topping album and had a mercurial ride up the festival ladder and may soon be a headline band. The much anticipated Beck and his band followed on the Lands End stage, with a surprisingly muted performance. The large crowd responded well to his biggest hit songs, but this musical prodigy is in danger of becoming a caricature of himself, with no real focus on new music or a clear sound. The feisty performer just didn’t seem to be his usual spirited and vivacious self playing in a demure mood. Meanwhile on the little panhandle stage, the Denver based surfer oriented rock band, Tennis was playing a lo fi set of new Indy music to a small crowd. But all the real excitement was going on in front of the Twin Peaks stage. A large and much younger crowd was gathering in anticipation of the next set by Die Antwoord. The South African duo of techno drenched Hip hop artists are a unique amalgam of dance and rap music with a twist. They were born out of the Zef counter culture movement in their native country. The movement formed out of a white lower middle class attempt at creating their own cultural footprint, not unlike the rockabilly or biker counter culture in this country. These white South Africans sing mostly in their native Afrikaans language, mixed with a bit of English. But their dark message of anarchy and anti authoritarianism, resonates loud and clear across the language barrier to an ecstatic crowd . Fans danced and sang wildly as the duo backed by phenomenal DJ, Hi Tek, came out in bright Orange Jumpsuits, screaming out their opening song of “Fok Julie Naaiers”. The tiny Yo-landi Vi$$er (Yolanda Visser), looked a bit demonic, taking her cues from Johnathan Davies of Korn fame. In similar vein to that devilish looking rock rapper, she wears black contact lenses and has quite a bit of a metal grill in her mouth. In her case she seems to have opted more towards a Zef gold look, where Davies prefers a blackened metal smile. Ninja, her male counterpart towers over the tiny girl and offers up a much more menacing presence and primordial guttural rap style. The feisty pair slowly shed their attire in waves, until by the end of their set they were clad in little more than underwear. Ninja’s body, covered with tattoos, offered up a living canvas to some of the band history. This is one of the few musical acts in recent history that can say that they have created their own unique musical genre, Zef techno rap. The band whipped the crowd into an uncontrollable frenzy for their entire set. Meanwhile, back on the tiny Panhandle stage, the veteran jam band Antibalas was playing their soulful Afro beat to a small but delighted crowd. Lead singer Duke Amayo had most people glued to the front of the stage in a hip twisting trance. This New York band, whose name means Bulletproof in Spanish has been jamming festivals for years with their rich layers of diverse musical influences. The twelve or so members create a trance like rhythm that is hard to ignore.
Back on Lands End, a massive crowd had tightly packed around the stage for the Foo Fighters. In contrast to Becks stoic set, Dave Grohl led his marauding band of balls out rockers in a full frontal assault right out of the gate. Grohl explained that since they had a relatively short 90 minute slot onstage, he didn’t want to waste much time bantering, and true to his word, the band played fierce versions of one hit after another, with little down time. The veteran band of accomplished musicians have to be one of the best live American rock bands ever to play the festival circuit. Across the park on the Sutro stage, there was a much more sedate crowd listening to songwiter and musical prodigy, Andrew Bird and his band play melodic Indy American music. The set showcased his multi instrumental skills as well as his songwriting talents. In the meantime young dance music fans were hovering at Twin Peaks stage for a full EDM set by MSTRKRFT. This Toronto DJ duo kept the dance party following Die Antwoord in full frenzy mood. By the time that the French DJ duo Justice closed the show on the Twin Peaks stage with a massive light show and a sheer wall of amplified electronic dance beats, a huge young crowd of frenzied dance fans packed the field as far as the eye could see.
The ever morphing Neil Young and his original Crazy Horse Band closed the show on the lands End stage in front of a huge crowd, shrouded in a thick San Francisco bay evening fog. But the weather didn’t dampen the spirits of the tens of thousands of fans excited to see the legendary band perform their hit songs dating back to 1970. Unlike Young’s last years reunion with Buffalo Springfield, that showcased a set of carefully crafted hit songs from that bands catalog, the Outside Lands show was more of a guitar jam frenzy. The band did play some of their biggest hit songs, but in a fierce prolonged jam band form, that showcased the groups enormous live music talents. The tone was set with the opening number when Young emerged guitar blazing and attacked the instrument for nearly twenty minutes during the extend version of the song. In fact ear piercing guitar jams marked nearly every tune in the two hour set and music fans longing for the long forgotten 60;s guitar jams of the Hendrix days were in a foggy heaven on the field. Guitarist Frank Sampedro even sported a Hendrix t-shirt setting the theme for the night. Neil Young is always reworking old material and reinventing himself, but for the fans of 60’s and 70’s guitar rock jam music, he is at his best when he plays the frenzied jams like he did at Outside Lands this year. What an awesome first day of the festival.