Outside Lands in Review

As diverse as the city of San Francisco itself, tens of thousands of hippies, hipsters, rockers, ravers and teeny-boppers made their way to Golden Gate Park on Aug. 14 and 15 for two full days of music, food and wine.

On Saturday, Deadheads laid out bongs and blankets early to see headliner Further, a band featuring two Grateful Dead members; hardcore Strokes fans marked their territory early on the opposite side of the park; eclectic gypsies of all ages came for acts like Gogol Bordello; a raging ocean of neon ravers could be seen from the hillside during Bassnectar as they shut the park down with sick dubstep beats.

Regardless of music tastes, Outside Lands had a little something for everyone from some obscure up-and-comers and music blog sweethearts to swoon-worthy headliners.

The Strokes headlined Saturday, reeling in tens of thousands of fans all waiting to see the band’s second U.S. performance in four years.

Being the divas that they are, the band started two minutes late with the too-cool lead singer, Julian Casablancas taking the stage, somewhat unmoved by the huge crowd in front of him.

They opened with “New York City Cops,” a song that was taken off the U.S. version of “Is This It” due to the release date being just after 9/11 with lyrics suggesting that NYC police “ain’t too smart.” Regardless, it is one of their best songs and worked as a perfect way to bring back the classic Brooklyn-based classic rock that made them indie gods in the first place.

Part of their swagger is the fact that the Strokes act like they don’t care about their fans. You could pick them up and transplant them into any setting and they will deliver the same exact show with the same energy.

Continuing their vibe of cool apathy, Casablancas forgot the lyrics to “Under Control,” turning around to ask his guitarist what they were.

“Fuck, I just fuckin’ fucked that up,” he joked, laughing. “Doobity-bop-bop! That’s the second verse right?”

The crowd laughed. Maybe the Strokes act too cool because they really are too cool.

The opening bands of the day lacked the scale of the Strokes show, but definitely packed more punch into what they had.

The Whigs, an eight-year-old band from Athens, Georgia, were composed of a few Southern boys who were entirely unafraid to get their hands dirty.

While their show time and location led to only having about a hundred fans in attendance, the lead singer Parker Gispert delivered a brilliant Southern rock show reminiscent of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Kings of Leon.

At one point, Gispert was dancing and jumping around the stage so much that he rammed into an amp, knocking it over. Pleased with himself, he continued to jump about as stage crew hurried to clean up the mess he had made.

After their set, Gispert finished up by chucking his guitar at the stage, maintaining that a good Southern rock band can be distinguished from a bad one by how much expensive equipment they break.

Freelance Whales fell under the category of the trendy, blog-able bands. Last September, Stereogum called them the “band to watch,” and since, they have been on the blogging radar from Pitchfork to NPR with their bubbly Death Cab for Cutie meets Passion Pit sound.

A five-piece band with instruments like the mandolin, harmonium and glockenspiel, almost every band member seemed to know how to play every instrument. It resembled a hipster version of musical chairs as they kept switching instruments – going from synthesizer to harmonium to vocals and back again.

Across the park, one band’s crowd was going a little insane.

Some bands are defined by their fans who cling to them like cult members. One such band, filled with the most lovable gypsies you have ever seen, is Gogol Bordello. The Gogol set had some of the best vibes of the weekend.

From afar, the Gogol Bordello concert may have resembled a bunch of weirdoes on the ground dancing around to more weirdoes on stage. But stick around five minutes into the show and you are initiated into Gogol Bordello and there is no turning back.

Shirtless strung-out boys are swinging you around in circles, a drunken man in a Hawaiian shirt with a mustache to make Karl Marx proud is high-fiving everyone in the crowd and you are definitely not in the same place you were when the show started.

There are the kids selling acid behind “souvenir pins” that are being purchased at $10 to $15 a pop. When Gogol Bordello tells you to dance, you dance.

Lead singer Eugene Hutz takes off his shirt to reveal his sinewy six-pack while taking swigs from a bottle of wine he had brought on stage. Meanwhile, MC Pedro Erazo marched around like some kind of Aztec warrior and Sergey Ryabtsev jumped around like an accordion-playing pogo stick.

You go from South America to Asia and Eastern Europe in an hour and a half. You don’t know exactly what happened, but it’s probably the most fun you’ve ever had.

Following Gogol Bordello on the same stage was My Morning Jacket, a classic rock jam band from Kentucky.

“MY MORNING JACKET IS A GOD AND THAT WAS A RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE,” one fan shouted after their instrumental masterpiece, “One Big Holiday.”

He might have been correct, at least about the last part. The passion exhibited by all five band members, especially singer and guitarist Jim James thickened the air along with their rich and musically complex sound.

The next day featured the Temper Trap, Amos Lee, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Kings of Leon and Phoenix.

Edward Sharpe has been written off as kind of a fad band with “one good song” that is inordinately catchy. However, they proved this wrong when they delivered to their fans.

The shirtless and also ageless lead singer Alex Ebert jumped out into the crowd and filled it with good vibes and songs like “40 Day Dream,” that would make even the most grumpy listener bite his tongue.

Phoenix, who are usually about as cool as the Strokes, seemed legitimately humbled by the tens of thousands of fans who came out to see them.

“Thank you for being so many,” singer Thomas Mars said to the mass of people in front of him through his slight French accent.

After climbing on top of his six-foot-tall speaker during “If I Ever Feel Better,” crowd surfing during a reprise of “1901” and delivering one of the best shows of the weekend, Mars fell to his knees.

Regardless as to whether it was an act or not, Phoenix’s graciousness felt sincere. As they left, they went through the crowd instead of around the back, as fans reached out desperately trying to grab a piece of them.

Kings of Leon gave their fans a piece of them. Several pieces, actually. Lead singer Caleb Followill threw out five guitar picks over the course of the show, a bottle and a cup of water he was drinking out of.

He probably would have thrown the shirt off of his back into the crowd if it hadn’t been so cold in SF that night.

Newer fans were excited to hear “Use Somebody” and “Sex On Fire” while the older fans were skeptical of the mainstream sound and wanted “On Call” and “Knocked Up.”

Thankfully, KoL delivered on both fronts, even including some new stuff they have been working on and a mind-blowing cover of the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?”.

Their jeans were a little looser than the skin-tight skinny jeans their mother used to tailor make for Caleb and his two brothers KoL drummer Nathan and bassist Jared. The music was a little more pop-y. But in a stadium setting, even the crap song that is “Use Somebody” sounded amazing.

During “Knocked Up,” Caleb Followill had fans wave their hands back and forth to the beat. A light shined over the mass of people in front of him and he gazed out at his new series of hand-made metronomes and smiled.

The set behind him exploded with fireworks and, after they left the stage, smoke and sulfur lingered in the air. Outside Lands was over and it was time for everyone to go back inside.