Outside Lands 2012: Sunday Recap

Jack Blue. (Brian Valdizno/treeswingers)

The last day of any music festival often serves a time of reflection. Looking back, one can often be perplexed how a weekend can move so fast. At the same time, we all know that our bodies were looking to the last note of Stevie Wonder’s keyboard, so that we could bike, walk or bus home and curl up in bed  and sleep.

Looking back, the 2012 edition of Outside Lands had its definite improvements. The inclusion of atypical headliners Metallica and Wonder was a major coup, while props can also be handed to the stage setups which permitted little overlap or sound clashes. The little things helped, too. Valet bike parking was a major plus, while the free shuttles did their best to minimize driving and traffic. As for the questionable goings-on, one wonders why festival organizers proceeded to place a four-story scaffolding smack dab in the the middle of views of the main stage. Crowds seemed nearly unmanageable this year, with some sets–see: Alabama Shakes–unaccessible, leaving plenty of festival-goers to channel their inner ingenuity into off-road, fence-collapsing excursions.

Can someone do something about that dust for next year?

Shortcomings aside, Outside Lands 2012 is in the books–a figment of our memories to be brought up at family dinners with grandchildren 50 years from now want to see how crazy grandma or grandpa were in their prime. “When I was your age, I ate these mushrooms just before Sigur Rós and let me tell you…”

Sunday, Outside Lands’ final episode, gave us plenty of nostalgic moments for future use. From City and Colour’s country-tinged jams in the sunlight of the Sutro Stage to Santigold’s dancers shaking their asses off, there was a moment for everyone. Also, who knows if someone like the great Stevie Wonder will ever perform in the city of San Francisco again? Now that’s special.

Here are some reviews from Sunday’s acts below the break:

Baby, baby, baby ohhhhhh. (Brian Valdizno/treeswingers)

Sunday morning, the festival lines stretched to the bike valet, in part due to the early timeslot of radio-darlings fun. Wearing a perpetual Crest-white smile and pristine white man-pris, frontman Nate Ruess was more excited to see the crowd than they were to see him. Ruess is a loud singer–necessary for him to hit those register jumps–which was great for the band’s anthemic material. Downside: it drowns out the backing vocals. Not that anyone was paying attention to anything other than the magnetic Ruess. The breakout song “We Are Young” was a perfect accompaniment to swigs from smuggled alcohol. The Rolling Stones’ cover “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” clearly didn’t apply to the rising band.

Taken out. (Brian Valdizno/treeswingers)

More than three years since their last release, indie rockers Franz Ferdinand took their early afternoon slot with aplomb. They did what they’ve always done: played music you can dance to. The crowd was all-in for songs off the band’s eponymous debut, among them “Michael,” “This Fire,” and the start-stop “Take Me Out.” We’re not yet sold on new song “Scarlet Blue” but the rumblings of a new album bode well for Franz fans. Noticeably, singer Alex Kapranos’ trademark predatory gaze was looking more stalker than sultry these days, although we wouldn’t mind if we had a loop of him saying San Francisco over and over again in that thick Scottish drawl. The finale with all members on the drumset for “Outsiders” wasn’t as epic as we’ve seen from them before, but Nick Cannon doesn’t have shit on this drumline.

The always lovely Reigina Spektor. (Brian Valdizno/treeswingers)

Without foot-stomping material, singer-songwriter Regina Spektor had only her voice to fill the main stage. You don’t need much else when you have octave-jumping chops like hers. The opening of “All the Rowboats?” That chorus of “Fidelity?” “Eet?” She nailed them all with a serene smile. It was a pleasant set, the type of feel-good break where the biggest applause came for videoscreen shots of a toddler in oversized headphones. But in female-light lineup, Spektor was a much-needed change of pace on the main stage.

Crowd(ed). (Brian Valdizno/treeswingers)

Singer Santigold, born Santi White, smashed on Sunday evening with the most energetic and orchestrated performance of the whole festival. Dressed like a convict from Wonderland, White was a contrast of aggressive flow and bubbly stage banter. If that wasn’t enough, White was flanked by two sassy dancers-slash-cheerleaders-slash-maids who accentuated each song with synchronized routines and tangentially-related props. In homage to her music video for “L.E.S. Artistes,” she even put her bandmates in a two-person horse costume for the utterly danceable “Say Aha.” Off her new album Master of My Make-Believe, “The Keepers” and “Disparate Youth” were the standouts, though the singles off her debut album garnered the biggest dance pits. White brought a pizzazz that this year’s Outside Lands had been sorely lacking. For that we’re thankful.

Jammin’ Jack. (Brian Valdizno/treeswingers)

Jack White has a habit of wandering festival grounds. Always one to take in the full atmosphere of the events he’s performing instead of remaining holed up in his trailer, White took it one step further on Sunday. Appearing in the afternoon for a “secret” acoustic set in the grove just above Hellman Hollow–dubbed Chocolands for this weekend’s festivities–he warmed up his vocal cords, while onlookers Portugal. the Man and Tom Morello watched intently.  It was simply a teaser for the main event. Appearing before dusk on the main stage, White shed the garage rock and candy cane influences of earlier years, for a bluesier feel. Sure the same scraggly hair and pasty man was still there, but he was dressed sharper–suspenders and ice cream shoes–while Meg White had been replaced by a backing band–Los Buzzardos–that featured everything from an upright bass to slide guitar to mandolin. Still the former White Stripes frontman teased the crowd, choosing to open with a tenderized version of “Black Math” before segwaying into “Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground.” Mixing haphazardly between old projects and solo release Blunderbuss, White was commanding, shifting seamlessly from virtuosic guitar riffs on “Hotel Yorba” and the Dead Weather’s “I Cut Like A Buffalo” to the piano offerings of the new “I Guess I Should Go To Sleep.” The Lands End Stage was packed for this one, with crowds rivaling the size of Metallica’s from the night before as they packed in to see a man who’s transcended genres and labels with slick fingers and a suave understanding of showmanship. Giving them what they all secretly wish for, White closed with a heavier–yes, heavier–version of “Seven Nation Army,” ensuring the masses arrived at work on Monday with something to hum.

“We got DWIGHT HOWARD!” (Brian Valdizno/treeswingers)

It took a while for the crowd to get warmed up for Bloc Party. Maybe the three days were starting to take their toll. Or perhaps it singer Kele Okereke’s observation: “You guys smoked too much weed.” Piling onto the Twin Peaks stage with the logo of their new album, Four, behind them, the London-based quartet seemed a little rusty with three years since their last tour together. Opening without hiccups on new single “Octopus,” the band stalled on “Hunting For Witches,” prompting Okereke to demand a “rewind” through a full grin. The stop-and-go antics mixed with the unfamiliarity of new material did little to a sway a crowd, which was already zapped and dealing with churlish adolescents forcing their way through for Skrillex–up next on the same stage. It wasn’t until the smooth transition of “Song For Clay (Disappear Here)” until the ever-popular “Banquet” that the Bloc Party juggernaut began grinding its gears and feeding the crowd the perfect formula of dance happy rock. With guitarist Russell Lissack shredding on his Pokemon sticker-decorated guiar and a shirtless Matt Tong slamming away, the band got the testosterone racing on “Ares”–“a song for fighting,” according to Okreke–and “Flux,” introduced by the singer’s brief cover of Rihanna’s “We Found Love.” By the end of the set, the crowd was ripping up whatever grass was left in Hellman Hollow from three days of stomping and shuffling.

The 8th Wonder of the world. (Brian Valdizno/treeswingers)

By the time hit 7 PM, teenage boys who were too hardcore for the Stevie Wonder fled to the (questionably) safe haven of Skrillex. That suited everyone else on the Polo Fields just fine. Wonder, brimming with buoyant charisma, keytar-ed and bobbed through a two-hour groove-fest of Motown hits and covers. Whereas Metallica was mesmerizing as a standalone spectacle the night before, Wonder’s set was enjoyable because it was so accessible. Bystanders were surprised to find themselves singing along to “Higher Ground” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)”–songs everyone has heard before, in the original format or more likely through the osmosis of advertising jingles. Wonder made it even easier by throwing in bits of Michael Jackson, Jimmy Reed and John Lennon. The pop music legend had a bit of a pacing gaffe at the end of the set, dropping his “Superstition” payload half an hour early before a stagehand helpfully informed him he had until 9:30. A veteran performer, the unfazed Wonder dawdled on keyboard before deciding to go ahead with “She Loves You.” Without knowing any of the actual words. But hey, the dude is 62 years old and damn charming. We’ll gladly provide the lyrics.

Treeswingers’ Top Three

Franz Ferdinand- Michael (download)

Santigold- The Keepers (download)

Stevie Wonder- Higher Ground (download)

-Marisa, Ryan & Brian


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