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Outside Lands 2017: Our 10th anniversary awards

Outside Lands 2017Photos by Marc Fong & James Pawlish // Written by Kevin Quandt & Molly Kish //

Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival //
Golden Gate Park – San Francisco
August 11th-13th, 2017 //

Outside Lands celebrated its 10th anniversary this August, and it was a weekend that we can definitively say had its share of ups, downs and unexpected twists. While many found plenty to gripe about, some took away a more positive experience, proving that music festivals and live music events are truly unpredictable even when you have some of the best in business at the helm. That said, the increasingly over-inflated market of music festivals right now can be volatile and may not be a cakewalk for concert promoters as more and more folks are drawn to large-scale events such as Lollapalooza, Coachella and Outside Lands.

Some stated that the 2017 edition of OSL lacked fireworks when the lineup dropped. Others said the lineup catered closer to the 25-35 demographic. There was no lack of opinions with regard to the acts that Another Planet Entertainment and Superfly booked, but it was clear they did have a vision and a bill that stood apart from the pack with a rare group of festival legends in The Who, Gorillaz and Metallica. Below those names led to further intrigue with the return of Queens of the Stone Age, Fleet Foxes and A Tribe Called Quest after a multiyear absence from the live arena.

But many now know that two out of those three sub-headliners were unable to perform for one reason or another, and while these sorts of things are generally out of anyone’s hands, they still take a toll on everyone involved in the days, hours and even minutes leading up to those highly anticipated sets. Alas, when you have such festival production pros who were backed by three insanely spot-on headliners, these bumps in the road can create something different than initially intended, yet equally satisfying.

So, without further ado, here are our awards from the 2017 edition of Outside Lands.


Outside Lands 2017 - Gorillaz


Gorillaz

Best three-time OSL performer: Hamilton Leithauser
One highlight this year was the debut of Hamilton Leithauser’s solo act on the Sutro Stage. Having played the festival in 2008 and 2012 with his primary outfit, The Walkmen, his set marked the rare occasion of an artist performing at Outside Lands for the third time, and while Leithauser did have to battle some minor sound issues, he rallied past them like the consummate professional that he is. Short of “Alexandra”, Leithauser exclusively dug into tracks from his collaborative album with fellow New Yorker Rostam Batmanglij (formerly of Vampire Weekend) by the name of I Had a Dream That You Were Mine. The spirited crooner still remains at the top of his game, and his vocal performance can’t be rivaled by even the best. One can only hope that this will not be Leithauser’s final time onstage at OSL as fans clamor to know what’s next from this crooning, indie god. -KQ

Best cameo’d performance of the weekend: Gorillaz
Easily one of the most anticipated acts of the weekend, Gorillaz’s Humanz tour made its West Coast debut on Day 1 at OSL. After a six-year hiatus, expectations ran extremely high for this headlining performance. On previous tours, the band’s members had played second fiddle to the cartoon projections of their alter egos onstage, but everyone was visible this time around. Several collaborators from Gorillaz’s previous albums, including Kali Uchis, Yukimi Nagano and Del the Funky Homosapien, came out to join them, and the Damon Albarn-led group still pulled some even bigger surprises with cameos appearances from De la Soul and Pusha T. The two-hour set also saw Little Simz deliver a blistering performance of “Garage Palace” as well as a string of radio hits that included “Feel Good Inc.”, Clint Eastwood” and “Demon Daze”. With longtime fans and a new generation of contemporaries on hand, there was something truly special about seeing a packed crowd sing along with some cartoon legends. -MK

Best reason to sit in Golden Gate Park with your friends and listen to music: Real Estate
Real Estate continue to tour off this year’s stellar LP release, In Mind, and they demonstrated their live prowess at OSL with a sphincter-tight set of jangle pop. “Stained Glass” got the show started for the rather sizable crowd, which only grew over their allotted time. The Sutro Stage has become an ideal locale for mellower acts to play for slightly-more-seated audiences, and this set felt more loungey than others even though fan favorites “It’s Real” and “Green Aisles” punctuated a strong, breezy performance from Martin Courtney, Alex Bleeker and crew. -KQ

Most in need of performance pointers: KAYTRANADA
KAYTRANADA’s debut LP 99.9% was a highlight from 2016, and the Canadian producer has been continuing his victory lap with banner festival sets all around the world. While there’s no denying the infectious nature of his tracks like “Glowed Up” and “Got It Good” in a large-group setting, we yearn to get a little more out KAYTRA when he’s onstage. To be fair, he has loosened up a little and will toss a quick little dance move or hand gesture, but he still really doesn’t engage his audience much, whether it’s in the intimate confines of Mezzanine or in front of 25,000 strong at Outside Lands’ Twin Peaks Stage. Kay, like many others, was pretty stoked for A Tribe Called Quest to follow, but we all know how that ended. -KQ

Outside Lands 2017 - Cage the Elephant


Cage the Elephant

Next “big” rock headliner (TIE): Cage the Elephant and Royal Blood
While the cancellation of Queens of the Stone Age was a blow a week prior to the event, the replacement that was lined up more than delivered a blistering set of rock ‘n’ roll. Cage the Elephant are now being widely considered festival-headliner material, and frontman Matt Shultz is making a strong claim for that accolade as he continues to elevate his stage act to near-Mick Jagger levels of pomp and energy. “Come a Little Closer” and “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” received hearty sing-alongs from a decidedly youthful crowd as Cage have become a favorite of Generation Z.

But Cage did have some competition at OSL, and these guys are moving at a helluva pace for the crown. Royal Blood have been one of the hottest rock acts over the past few years. I mean, their first single wasn’t even released four years ago. Royal Blood quickly rose to fame in the UK, then set their sights on Europe and lately have become the new darlings of alt-rock radio here in the U.S. with one of their newest singles, “Lights Out”. The bass-and-drums duo make a serious racket for only two blokes onstage, but they put on a show that rivals any full-band act with four or five members. Similar to Cage, the kiddos were swirling up a decent little pit in front of the stage while Mike Kerr belted out an impressive setlist with minimal effort and contributed to the low end in a serious manner. -KQ

Best use of Thai funk in a group setting: Khruangbin
Sure, many think K-bin (short for “Khruangbin”) have Thai origins with their Thai name (which means “airplane”) and their Thai funk-infused groove rock. But this rising trio that met and formed in Texas have steadily built a following based around an infectious sound that feels home both on the dance floor and at the lounge. Mark Speer on guitar is a phenom to behold; his playing style, coupled with his tone, has a true lyrical quality that’s perfect for the trio, which opted to not have a lead vocalist. It was clear that the band, like many fans in attendance, were bummed about ATCQ’s sudden cancellation, so they decided to bring one of their classics, “Electric Relaxation”, to life as drummer Donald Johnson delivered the chorus. Many chuckled and grooved to the track before the band jumped back into a set that featured “Mr. White” and “The Infamous Bill”. We can only hope a sophomore LP is not too far off. -KQ

Best use of a festival billing for a greater purpose: Solange
After a weekend marred with schedule changes and cancellations, Solange was the festival’s saving grace on Day 3. Despite starting 15-20 minutes late, she descended upon the glowing stage in a choreographed flight pattern, followed by her backing band and team of dancers, and segued directly into a soulful montage of hits from 2016’s A Seat at the Table, extending each breakdown with some interpretive dance routines. An outstanding cover of Thundercat’s “Heartbreaks + Setbacks” was seamlessly woven midway into her set before leading into an all-out dance party with deep cuts from her 2012 LP True. Solange then took a minute to touch upon the events that were happening concurrently in Charlottesville. As the only artist on the OSL bill to do so, she addressed the tragedy and utilized the stage as a final public platform before deleting her Twitter account the next day. The evening ended in dramatic fashion with the power getting shut off and the performance concluding with the crowd singing the lyrics to “Rise” in the dark. -MK

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