As everyone begins to feel their way into the new world of “almost” post pandemic it’s worth noting that nothing is the “same as it ever was” (sorry David Byrne). And as the big music fests put their feet into the water, Outside Lands was noticeably different from years past. Make of it what you will, but for Outside Lands 2021 the lineup is much more weighted to a younger demographic and more than once I heard it referred to as an indie fest. Gone are the big name legacy acts and the number of traditional rock acts have given way to more edm, electronica, hip hop and more. We can only speculate what’s driven this move which leaves me wondering if this is the future for this festival or is it temporary. Regardless, ticket sales and fan response indicate that they could go either way. One thing that stands out after three days is that the variety presented was exceptional. There was plenty offered for everyone and an opportunity for fans to sample artists in genres and styles they don’t ordinarily follow.
Day one of the three day event offered a plate with samplings across the musical spectrum. A couple of highlights of the day were stunning sets from Sharon Van Etten and Remi Wolf. Also excellent sets from Panamanian Sofia Valdés, Bartees Strange, Puerto Rican indie duo Buscabulla, Khruangbin and The Strokes who were one of two closers.
Sharon Van Etten’s set was an elegant and dramatic tour de force. Spellbinding comes to mind.
And then there was Remi Wolf! A brilliant set from her that came out blazing the very instant she hit the stage. Opening with “Rufufus,” followed by “Liquor Store,” she immediately had the crowd locked in. Remi had a very early set in the day, but she had that meadow packed and with her all the way which says something about her drawing power. I heard it often from fans: “she’s gonna be a headliner soon.” She is a phenomenal talent and so much fun.
Khruangbin represented a radical and unique shift in the lineup. An all instrumental set that had a lot of surf sounds in the mix via reverb washes that also included a cover of Dick Dale’s “Miserlou.” The influence of pop music from southeast Asian pop music of the ’60’s was also felt. Visually they’re interesting not only in how they present onstage, but also how they interact; moving around almost in slow motion as guitarist Rick Speer would periodically strike a pose; a kind of tongue in cheek macho guitar God kind of pose. So strange, fun and interesting.
An early set to begin the day with Sofia Valdés was a good start for the day. Having already found success in her native Panama, she’s now making her way here in the U.S. Her songs are well written stories and feelings with which we are all familiar; all couched in a voice that is rich, evocative and inviting.
Bartees Strange had a strong early set and it was easy to see why the artist has gained such popularity. He is a an indie powerhouse live!
Buscabulla also had a fine set that featured rich synth grooves and swells in support of vocalist Raquel Barrios who was mesmerizing in her vocals, outfit and overall coolness.
Closing the day were The Strokes began their set with a dark and moody vibe, but slowly turned it into a strong hard driving rock performance. However it was not a set without controversy as vocalist Julian Casablancas expressed frustration with both the sound and San Francisco laws. Some disapproval was expressed by the crowd. It was also a set that began twenty minutes late and finished ten minutes early.
Outside Lands always has a strong party vibe with it and that seemed a little enhanced this year as the dates were pushed back to Halloween weekend. The fans were out in big numbers and in some great costumes. Yet another element that made this weekend even better.
Words & Photography: Tom Dellinger