Almost every music festival’s lineup features at least one egregious #schedulingfail, and at this year’s Outside Lands festival in San Francisco, that conflict arrived Saturday night, when the Black Keys took the Lands End stage at the roughly same time that another A-list headliner, Kendrick Lamar, hit the Twin Peaks stage on the other side of Golden Gate Park. Festivalgoers could literally hear possibly the worst mashup ever if they stood at the festival grounds’ midpoint around 9 p.m.; otherwise, they were forced to make a difficult choice between the two. #Festivalproblems.
While the Keys’ show was hardly unattended, it looked like most Outside Lands ticket-holders opted to watch Lamar’s ferocious and triumphant set; he drew a mob so massive that even catching a fleeting glimpse of him on the stage-flanking video screens was a challenge. But the lack of crowd-control didn’t seem to kill anyone’s festival vibe; one fan, Ryan Chen, even wheelchair-crowd-surfed above the fray. And all fans sang along in earnest to hits like “Swimming Pools (Drank),” "King Kunta," the California anthem “The Recipe” (with its rousing refrain of “women, weed, and weather”), and show-closer “Alright,” which Lamar played 10 minutes after his officially scheduled end time. The latter was a particular crowd favorite, since the much of VMA-nominated video for the song was shot in the Bay Area.
It’s possible that many lookie-loos wandered over to the Twin Peaks stage hoping that Lamar’s mentor Dr. Dre, whose comeback album Compton was released just a day earlier and features Lamar on three tracks, might make a surprise cameo during Lamar’s performance. When Lamar delivered a passionate speech about Dre’s genius towards the end of the night, the expectant crowd roared with excitement, but unfortunately, this turned out to be one big (probably unintentional) tease, and Dre never materialized. Luckily, Lamar was so fantastic commanding the stage on his own during his 85-minute set, most spectators just forgot about Dre.
Meanwhile, back over on the Lands End stage, those who opted to watch the Black Keys (and there were plenty among Saturday’s 70,000-strong crowd who did) likely had no regrets, as they were treated to a wide-ranging setlist that dipped as far back as the Keys’ 2002 debut album with “Leavin’ Trunk,” and included blistering performances of all their expected garage-blues jams, like “Gold on the Ceiling,” “Howlin’ for You,” “Fever,” “Tighten Up,” and “Lonely Boy.”
Every few years, an indie-rock band breaks through to the mainstream – think Phoenix, MGMT, fun., Foster the People, Kings of Leon, and of course the above-mentioned Black Keys. This year it seems to be neo-psychedelic Aussies Tame Impala, who have long been festival-circuit favorites but just scored their first U.S. top 10 album last month with their third full-length effort, Currents. Playing the main stage before the Keys, Kevin Parker and company delivered a crowd-pleasing set of groovy retro-rock against a swirling Fillmore Auditorium backdrop. Unfortunately, their dense and trippy sound was swallowed up by the vast space, but Tame Impala fans better get used to it: This band isn’t going back to playing small venues any time soon.
Probably the most delightful surprise of the day was the Lands Ends set by veteran new-waver Billy Idol, a great unifier who had festivalgoers of all walks of life, even police officers and security guards, grinning and fist-pumping along. While Idol committed the ultimate heritage-act concert sin of not opening with a hit (he kicked things off with a largely unfamiliar 2014 single, “Postcards From the Past”), he rebounded immediately with a string of smashes – “Dancing With Myself,” “Flesh for Fantasy,” “Eyes Without a Face” (while disembodied eye-shaped balloons amusingly bobbed in the crowd), the 1978 Generation X classic “Ready Steady Go,” a semi-acoustic “White Wedding” – and perhaps not coincidentally, the sun came out for the very first time on this otherwise overcast day. (It really was a nice day for a “White Wedding,” after all.)
All gratuitous shirtlessness, peroxided hair and teeth, perpetual lip-curl, and cheesy adlibs (he changed his cover of the Doors’ “L.A. Woman” to “San Fran Woman,” announced that “the acid just kicked in,” and introduced “White Wedding” with “let’s show ‘em what a hit song sounds like!”), Idol was still the cartoonish punk-pop caricature he was even back in his heyday. But he sounded fantastic (as did his band, which of course featured his sidekick of the past 30 years, huge-haired guitar hero Steve Stevens), and with a physique like his at nearly 60 years old, he couldn’t be blamed for wanting to show it off by keeping his shirt unbuttoned. And the crowd simply adored him. If there were more fists in the air during any Outside Lands performance other than “Rebel Yell,” we certainly didn’t witness it.
Outside Lands concludes Sunday with possibly its biggest lineup of the weekend, led by Elton John and Sam Smith. Fortunately, John and Smith won’t be playing conflicting shows at the same time.
photos: Getty Images