D'Angelo, St. Vincent Own Outside Lands Day 1

Outside Lands, held in San Francisco’s gorgeous Golden Gate Park, is about as pleasant as a music festival can be. It’s surprisingly walkable, easy to get to, and blissfully free of the scorching 100-degree heatwaves of Southern California’s Coachella or the flash floods of Chicago’s Lollapalooza and Britain’s Glastonbury. It’s also a foodie’s paradise, where festivalgoers with discerning palates can feast on raw oysters, lobster rolls, farm-to-fork vegan fare, and ice cream tacos (yes, ice cream tacos), and imbibe mint-garnished mixology cocktails out of real glassware or even fancy Pinot from nearly 40 different wineries in the Wine Lands tent. And every night of the festival wraps at the perfectly civilized hour of 9:55 p.m. Basically, this is not your daughter’s music festival.


So it made sense that the tasty (no pun intended) lineup for day one of 2015’s Outside Lands was heavy on grown folks’ music, from the smooth neo-soul of veteran crooner D'Angelo to the thinking-woman’s freak-pop of St. Vincent, from alt-country elder statesmen Wilco to wine-bar folk-rockers Mumford & Sons – all providing the perfect soundtrack for a day on the Golden Gate Park lawn nibbling on a “Burrata Truffle Lover” gourmet cheese plate.

Related: Outside Lands '15 Rising Acts, Day 1: The Drums, Natalie Prass, Leon Bridges & More

Oh, and old-schooler Sir-Mix-A-Lot made a surprise appearance, too, just to add a different sort of cheese to the mix.

The highlight of Friday was without a doubt D'Angelo, continuing what is arguably one of the most fantastic comebacks in pop history. After a 14-year recording hiatus plagued by depression, drug use, and multiple arrests, he triumphantly returned with the surprise album Black Messiah last December, which quickly became a last-minute addition to nearly all music journalists’ year-end top 10 lists. (It was voted the best album of 2014 in The Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop critics’ poll.) When D'Angelo took the Sutro stage Friday evening with his stellar band the Vanguard, he was revitalized and in fine form, and he easily worked his voodoo on the frenetically dancing crowd.


Appearing in an ostentatious, wide-brimmed hat and floor-sweeping cloak, which he quickly shed only to later don an even flashier cap-and-cape ensemble, the showman/soulman nailed his synchronized dances alongside his bandmates, shredded wildly on guitar, banged the piano, and unified the massive audience as he dedicated his Black Messiah track “The Charade” to “all the victims of senseless police brutality” and commanded concertgoers to raise their fists (and later flash the peace sign) in unison. D'Angelo’s glorious, 75-minute set was a comeback in more ways than one (he was originally supposed to play Outside Lands in 2013), and here’s hoping he stays on the festival circuit for years to come.

Stunning alt-pop provocateur St. Vincent, aka Annie Clark, was also a revelation, playing for a delighted audience of “freaks and others, the queers and the dominatrices" (one of whom amusingly brandished a cardboard cutout of Clark’s supermodel girlfriend, Cara Delevingne). Looking like an art-rock alien in a perforated leather bodysuit and melting makeup, the Best Alternative Album Grammy-winner delivered a phenomenal show on the Lands End stage, full of angular and aggressive guitar licks, a snippet of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus,” and the kinetic, postmodern choreography she displayed during her much-hyped Saturday Night Live appearance last year.


This was in fact such an epic and cinematic set, when St. Vincent belted the John Barry-esque "Surgeon," she made a pretty strong case for being the next official Bond-theme singer, instead of rumored fellow indie-rockers Radiohead.

Wilco, who like D'Angelo released their most recent album by surprise, played that album, last month’s Star Wars, in its entirety as the first half of their Lands Ends set – a bold and risky move that could have backfired, but Wilco’s loyal, rabid audience of course already knew every word of the new material. Jeff Tweedy and company dipped into Wilco’s back catalog for part two of their set, the highlights of which were the perennial festival staple and all-around crowd-pleaser “Heavy Metal Drummer” and the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot classic “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.”

The night wrapped on the Lands End stage with festival regulars Mumford & Sons, who proved rumors of them going totally electric – after their third album, Wilder Mind, controversially boasted a less folksy, more Coldplay-ish sound – have been somewhat exaggerated. The boys still broke out the old-timey instruments (banjo, upright bass, saloon-style piano) for early favorites like “Little Lion Man,” “I Will Wait,” and “The Cave,” and they even went a cappella for their hushed and harmony-laden encore of “Cold Arms,” for which frontman Marcus Mumford nicely but firmly ordered everyone to “shut the f--- up.” However, the evening ended (at 9:55 p.m.!) with the new-school bang of the amped-up Wilder Mind track “The Wolf” – and a blinding blast of very un-folksy stadium pyro.

Outside Lands continues Saturday with everyone from Kendrick Lamar and G-Eazy to Tame Impala and the Black Keys to even Billy Idol. And of course, there will be food. See you at Wine Lands.

photos: Getty Images

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