Under a Moon Shaped Pool Radiohead closes out Outside Lands day two
Waking up to the picturesque marine layer fog creeping over the San Francisco peninsula, Outside Lands day two was off to a cold (and cozy) start. Pulling out their thrift store finds, festival attendees walked through the main gates Saturday morning wearing everything from furry, animal themed onesies, large fur coats, blankets draped over their shoulders, and the occasional ushanka. After an amazing cup of coffee served up at Cafe Bustelo, I made my way towards the Sutro stage which was wrapped in a thick fog and hosting Memphis, Tennessee folk crooner Julien Baker. At first glance, Baker is a wide eyed face in a sea of other soft-murmuring, acoustic plucking vocalists–Bon Iver, Birdy–but what sets her apart is a tender enchantment that comes with her cathartic narratives. It might’ve been the chilling fog, the huddled bodies moving close together at the feet of the Sutro, but for a moment you were no longer in San Francisco, or even Outside Lands for that matter. With every heart-aching ballad, every powerfully cutting trill, Baker traced her delicate voice along the jagged edges of our personal burdens. There was something quietly spiritual, from the twinkling of piano keys to the goose-bump inducing harmonies, about the entire affair. Out there in the cold breeze Baker put into word the dainty sentiments of every soul within earshot.
Glued in place from the indescribable mystics of the Sutro, I found myself front and center for Rogue Wave, who kept the dreaminess going with their lush indie expositions. Zach Rogue, the band’s gravelly voiced frontman, led the crowd deep into the sublime textures of their lilting folk twitterings. Like Baker before them, Rogue and company kept the crowd hypnotized with the hazy, ethereal atmospherics of their lulled tunes–like a woozy daydream, songs like the “Memento Mori” highlighted their 70’s psychedelic undertones with its heady, fuzzed-out guitars. Out of that dreamland we were pulled when Rogue invited onstage Geographer’s Michael Deni, who gave two illustrious performances with the band, the first of which was the foot-stomping, soul driving “Ocean.” As the opening lines of “Lake Michigan” began, its fluttering percussion and glowing riffs tumbling behind Deni and Rogue’s harmonizations, the crowd broke out into a hurricane of in-time hand claps that rose higher and higher as the song descended into its wild plunge of crashed strings and drums.
Finally making my way out of the forested den of the Sutro, I made my way across the field towards the sound of the Wombats dreamy, post-punk anthems. Already dazzling with crowd favorites like, “Greek Tragedy” and “Give Me A Try,” lead vocalist Matthew Murphy’s sizzling croons burst onstage with an almost bittersweet candor. Forever caught somewhere between the synth-powered hooks and boyish-ballads of similar acts like Smallpools and the pop-rock fire of The Kooks, the trio refused to burn-out as they lit their fire under the feet of the large crowd. Murphy and his synth-powered extravaganza would’ve blown the festival away under the cover of darkness, but even with their early daytime slot, the Wombats pushed the young romanticisms of their youthful pop fantasies deep into the frontal lobe of their raving fans. In his suave English accent, Murphy tore through the wildly swung riffs and pounded percussiveness of “Let’s Dance to Joy Division,” and the crowd responded by equally losing their minds in a flurry of head banging, leg flailing, heart-racing body jittering, that culminated into a playthrough of a new unnamed song.
Synth-pop trio Years & Years kept the UK-inspired dance party going on Lands End with a set that seemed to belong more at a nightclub than an afternoon outdoor music festival. Under a thick canopy of clouds, Olly Alexander’s euphonious croons went straight into the outer-atmosphere, while the synth-powered soundscapes conjured up by Michael Goldsworthy and Emre Turkman made the crowd slaves to the bass-thumping madness that boomed from the speakers surrounding the stage. One of the few purely EDM acts to perform this year at Outside Lands, Years & Years organic, minimalist approach to theatrics, and heavy reliance on their sonic capabilities was a healthy break from the egotistical nature of some more contemporary acts. Alexander was the perfecting lightning rod of emotion for the crowd to feed off of. His impassioned, wild eyed howls carried everything from brutal sadness to heart soaring triumph–and at no point did the sentimentality feel borrowed or lackluster.
After a brief appearance as a surprise Dj on day one, Big Boi took the stage with Phantogram duo Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter for one of the most anticipated acts of the day. With a crowd that filled up nearly the entirety of the grounds, people packed in tight to catch a glimpse of the former Outkast member duetting and sharing bars with diamond toothed Barthel. As Carter spun the collaborations’ dirty beats, Barthel and Big Boi lacerated their rhymes on “Goldmine Junkie,” while the aptly named “Drum Machine” drove the crowd into a frenzy of clapped hands and non-stop jumping. As Big Grams kept the hip-hop fire of momentum going on the Lands End, the back of their crowd started to make their escape to the Sutro, where Alex Turner and Miles Kane had just taken the stage. A band that is fueled just as much by its mix of guitar-driven, string-section backed arrangements, as it is by the gushing charisma of its two frontman, The Last Shadow Puppets wooed the crowd in every way it knew how–and after the first five minutes, we were putty in their hands.
Turner, his thick English accent had men and women alike swooning, while Kane’s heated, finger-bleeding guitar playing was just as sweltering. In his signature leather jacket, his gelled hair bobbing in the wind, never has a crowd hung on the sway of a man’s hips more since Elvis Presley–even on songs in which Kane was front and center, Turner stood on the sidelines giving wild gesticulations and shaking his hips to every key and tempo change. With their backing string section behind them, fleshing out everything from their up-tempo (“Aviation”) to their dreamily, slow ballads (“Everything You’ve Come to Expect”), the beautiful thing about the Puppets is the range of its central duo. Between Turner, who handled all the sensual charm, and Kane, who shredded and howled like a madman on “Bad Habits,” the two cover a wide range of ground in terms of UK stylized genres. From heavy garage-rock, post-punk thunderings, to its more sensuous and carnal sentiments–on one such tune, “Sweet Dreams, TN,” Turner had the crowd eating out of his hand, and I swear, with every shouted slur, his foot on the speaker leaning towards the crowd, it sounded like he was serenading just you out of the hundreds there.
I’d heard stories about Sufjan Stevens live shows, about the grandeur and the overwhelming theatrics (I once sat on a bus in the aftermath of a festival in NY, and a girl walked on carrying this helmet I was told he wore and tossed into the crowd), but I’d never been lucky enough to catch him live. My expectations were high, but it was hard to imagine how overwhelming it could be. Stevens crafts quietly affecting folk pieces without a doubt, but they’re just that, quiet. You might get away with blaring them through your earphones or in your car, but at their core, the dynamics of his songs are restrained–or so I thought. From the moment Stevens and his bandmates walked onstage, I knew this wouldn’t be the most conventional of sets; dressed in neon green jumpsuits, with Stevens in his now signature angel wings, he opened with the soft banjo strummed “Seven Swans.” It was a mystical opener, one that drew the crowd deeper into the anxious anticipation of its finale, which was, to say the least, an explosively lush orchestration that burst from the stage’s speakers and crashed down atop Stevens, who stood gloriously with his wings stretched out above him, waiving his banjo in the air. From there, Stevens transformed each of his once quiet, trembling tracks into over-blown, baroque anthems, his bitterly introspective narratives on love and death contrasted deeply by the bright colors of his bands’ outfits. Enraptured and engulfed as much by his music as the crowd was, after every song Stevens seemed to be waking up from a daze, his eyes glazed over as emptied out the cuttingly personal lyricisms of his ostensibly mystical and spiritual tales.
At around five minutes to eight, just as the sun was dipping behind the horizon, it began. It started out as a quiet whine of noise buzzing from the Lands End stage, those that were packed already in front of it fidgeted anxiously, while those on the expanse of park benches turned their heads to the stage. Guitars, strumming together the anxiety of a medley that slowly formed into an eerie wail, as Radiohead opened their headlining slot with “Burn the Witch.” Roughly, the next hour and a half was a blur filled entirely by one austere instrumental, as Thom Yorke helmed our dive bomb into the depthless pangs of emotion that is Radiohead’s ungodly expansive discography. From the loud, haunting wails of “Burn the Witch,” leading into the drawn out, flighty wonderland that unfolds through dazzled piano ruminations on “Daydreaming,” Yorke and company endeavored to fill the night with a whirlwind of seamless intro and outros that blended their songs to the point of futile discernibility. At some point between the electronic grooves of “Lotus Flower” and “Weird Fishes,” I lost myself and discovered to find that Radiohead had left the stage, returning momentarily for a four song encore. What happened during the period in between is hard to say, the level of distortion that rocked from the stage was as cringingly alienating, as it was irreversibly profound–pedaling out the percussion and guitar driven droning of their more electronic era tunes, with lasers beaming out at you in all directions. The glow of the moment was lost less in what song they were playing (it didn’t matter), and more in the sounds that made up each transition.
It was at once chaos, a mind boggling shock of a cacophonous string or shrieking guitar where you were thrown deeper into the cheered insanity of Yorke’s theatre. Their last encore was cut short due to time constraints, but the sizable absence of “Creep” was somewhat soothed by a drummed up finale through “Karma Police.” At once, the night’s anxieties melted away in that sad, pessimistic anthem of the early 2000’s, as hundreds of voices echoed Yorke’s pitched sentiments of insecurity and doubt. For a minute there, or perhaps an hour or so, we all lost ourselves. Some artists can take you to other worlds with the encompassing atmospherics of their live show, Radiohead opts for creating an entire world within the one you are already in. Reality is fogged, and Yorke’s voice buzzes in on static transmissions that do little but numb the outside world, yet I think will manage to haunt me (hopefully) for years to come.
Words: Steven Ward
Photography: Danielle Gornbein
Be sure to take a look at our coverage from Outside Lands day one, photos and reviews.