In a festival that seemingly popped-up out of nowhere, downtown Santa Ana’s Observatory played its part as the location of the inaugural Outpost Fest, a new event that was curated solely by California locals Delta Spirit. The lineup, which boasted not only an impressive but eclectic bunch of indie and alternative heavy-weights, featured the likes of Cold War Kids, Blonde Redhead, Beach Fossils, Tijuana Panthers, Guards, and Mynabirds.
After a delayed start, the afternoon began with bluesy indie-rock of Mynabirds, fronted by the soft-voiced Laura Burhenn. Like much of the names on the day’s schedule the Mynabirds hailed from back east, but their sound is distinctively Western, their foot-stomping blues highlighted by an immense wave of percussion and piano diven melodies. Burhenn single-handedly got the crowd moving, but then fellow East Coast trio Guards took the stage, dousing fans with their lush dream pop and chilling the antsy crowd.
Tijuana Panthers played long into the sunset, their fast-paced, bloody-fingered guitar riffs dazzling like fire. Beach Fossils followed, the group’s lo-fi, surf rock felt more than at home in sunny Southern California, and fans responded to Dustin Payseur’s impassioned croons in kind. Then Blonde Redhead walked onstage and the night was overtaken by the trio’s heavy synth soundscapes and Kazu Makino’s haunting vocalizations. Part visual art show and part psychedelic acid trip, Blonde Redhead transported the crowd with their experimental rock into world revolving around hypnotizing guitar cuts and subtle crescendos of percussion/synth design.
Delta Spirit, a band that embodies the very soul of west coast sounds and emotions, was up next. Matthew Vasquez, complete with a denim shirt and cowboy hat, gave one of the wildest and explosive performances of the night–his lightweight and soulful voice floated lazily alongside the group’s folk tunes. At one point in the night, shouldering his guitar and wearing a harmonica piece around his neck, Vasquez channeled his inner Bob Dylan on “Bushwick Blues.”
It goes without saying that Cold War Kids, indie giants in their own right, dominated the headlining slot through a sheer overpowering surge of energy. Opening with singed guitar riffs of “Hang Me Up To Dry,” and though lead singer Nathan Willet was shrouded in low lights much of the night, his sillhouette was an animated shadow that poured out its hoarse vocals over the crowd. A rare performance of “Royal Blue” garnered screams from the crowd, as Willet and bassist Matt Maust danced onstage to the track’s uplifting blues. “Miracle Mile” earned a similar reaction, and as Willet’s fingers flitted across the aged ivory of his piano, guitarist Dan Gallucci’s infectious riffs and Joe Plummer’s stampeding percussion lines pushed the crowd into a frenzy.
The set was somewhat short and the festival itself ended somewhat early, but a good locale always has its drawbacks (city ordinances on sound and the like), but Cold War Kids finished in a hot and sweaty finale worthy of their wild-eyed music.
Outpost Fest has already announced plans to return in 2016, and the thought has us fidgeting with excitement. It’s unclear if Delta Spirit will curate it, or if it will be handled by promoters or given to another band. Either way, Southern California has gained another exciting festival right in its backyard.
Words & Photography: Steven Ward