A Preview of the Outside Lands Music Festival

It seems like music festivals have become our generation’s own coming of age ceremony with events like Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and others popping up all over the country. But now that Coachella has come and gone this year, California’s summer event of choice has become Outside Lands, a cheaper (and colder) alternative in San Francisco.
Outside Lands separates itself from the other massive indie festivals by trying to incorporate all of the senses, not just the auditory.

It’s taking care of the eyes with a wall of art, a garden featuring space monkeys by American artist Dalek, and the scenery itself within Golden Gate Park.

It pays homage to taste and smell with the 33 restaurants and 26 vineyards bringing wine to the event, and it is reaching out to touch on environmental problems with recycling programs, valet bike parking and an ocean clean-up.

But even with all those other attractions, Outside Lands places the most focus on the ears.

This year’s lineup includes: My Morning Jacket, Gogul Bordello, Kings of Leon, Cat Power, Tokyo Police Club, Freelance Whales, Phoenix, Social Distortion, Nas and Damien Marley, Empire of the Sun, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, the Temper Trap and many others.

Perhaps the most exciting performers are The Strokes, who have been M.I.A. for almost 3 years, working on their own solo projects.

Now the band is back and only time will tell if they’ll give us anything new to listen to until their new album, which is supposedly dropping in March. Either way, the classic guitar riffs, bass lines and sultry lyrics from the older Strokes albums are enough to tide anyone over.

The festival will provide an interesting contrast between the new breed of indie bands like Freelance Whales, and the once unknown but now superstar performers like The Strokes or Kings of Leon.

Although Kings of Leon have been getting crap lately (and literally) for cancelling a concert due to diarrheic pigeons and their change in sound, they didn’t seem too phased by the criticism when the New U got the opportunity to talk to the drummer, Nathan Followill.

As far as the pigeon situation goes, Followill joked that the band was “working with a company for a pigeon repellent spray” to use for future shows.

The change in sound problem is a bit different though. Fans have been insisting that Kings of Leon has not only gone mainstream, but also have become less musically complex, less lyrically interesting and just all around bad.

One thing that may have helped transform the old Kings of Leon into the new is the giant tour they went on with U2.

“You know music obviously when you tour with anyone, whether it be intentionally or subconsciously, you’re going to pick up from their sound, and the way they play their songs,” Followill said, “You find yourself when it’s time to go make another record or write other songs that you definitely, if nothing else then subconsciously, have that in the back of your mind…”

“I think that definitely happened when we toured with U2,” Followill continued. “I think the record we made after that definitely had a little more I guess arena-like sounds. Something that was definitely different than our low-fi records that we had done previously.”

It is true that their sound has been a little more U2-sounding lately. But hopefully this means that “Sex on Fire” won’t suck as much in a concert setting as it does on the radio.

Another big name that will be performing is Gogul Bordello, a well-respected gypsy rock band from New York with a significant cult following.

Their fans and full-energy shows are about as legendary as the band itself, but this energy could be lacking in an outdoor setting. This was addressed in our interview with singer Eugene Hutz.

“[We have] had experience in every kind of format from squats to outside to clubs to – I mean, art galleries,” Hutz said. “It never seems to be getting in the way from our performance. And I think we pretty much feel comfortable in any of those settings and the energy is never a problem. I mean, I think you can ask that from anybody who’s seen us in any of those settings.”

Only time will tell if Hutz is right. When Outside Lands 2010 arrives on Aug. 14, we will find out whether Gogul Bordello can bring their hysteric fans and energy to San Francisco, whether The Strokes still have it and whether Kings of Leon is still worth seeing live.

Stay tuned for more coverage!