The Best of Outside Lands Day 1: The National, Chic, Pretty Lights, and More

Christopher Victorio
I've learned not to question the cosmic wisdom of the Outside Lands schedule, but dusk on Friday at the Panhandle Stage is a tough slot for the acts that fill it. Last year it was Washed Out, amiably laboring to recreate a nocturnal, two-dimensional sound as daylight receded into a canopy of aggressively 3D trees; last night it was the Portland electroclash-cum-chillwave quartet Chromatics, up against the same dissonance and dissipation. (Singer Ruth Radelet's happy-to-be-here comment just prior to "Kill For Love" was the most unenthused happy-to-be-here I've ever heard.) Except Chromatics sold it pretty convincingly, wrapping interlocking vamps and a slinky, slithery low end around everything in sight until it got too dark to see much else. They kept to simple, stackable elements, whether they were invoking night drives (as on "Night Drive") or covering Kate Bush (as on "Running Up That Hill"), because at the end of the day -- and it was the end of the day -- their game is all about style anyway. Then they closed with a Neil Young cover, and the particular listlessness of Radelet's "hey hey my my" was perfect -- and, surely not coincidentally, pretty much the same as that of her happy-to-be-here. Daniel Levin Becker

Christopher Victorio
Jessie Ware at Outside Lands on Friday
Jessie Ware vs. Rhye
As the concert-going tide ebbed at Sutro stage, vaporous, guitar-driven pop gave way to a twinkling South London cackle. Jessie Ware practices a jaunty concert banter that you'd never expect from the romantic swell of her vocals. Elegant in an all-white robe, she filled in for the crowd's enthusiasm, joking in spite of herself about her hit song "Wildest Moments" ending up in a condom commercial, and begging the hillside loungers to at least give her a "queen wave." It's that kind of deliberate behavior that keeps a crowd engaged in a festival setting, especially if you make wispy R&B-pop. Daytime at the 'Lands is already distracting enough; As soon as you arrive at Stage A, that-band-you're-really-excited-for pales a little bit, and whoever's at Stage C suddenly sounds alluring. Singing for humans in a grey, moist park at teatime -- especially ones that are mostly thinking of how they aren't seeing D'Angelo today after all -- is no easy assignment. But Ware's voice only got stronger as the set went on, and for those who wanted sensual seduction, the Sutro stage was still Friday's best bet. The L.A. lady-sounding man-singers of Rhye followed Ware, taking pains with soundcheck and giving the crowd setlist and timing updates between songs. Its show was arguably more interesting and successful than hers: wide-open arrangements of the best songs from new-ish album Woman, soft keyboard tones, electric strings, and those enchantingly disgendered front-and-center vocals. Maybe it was just the park, but something about these sets reminded me of fog -- how even at the heart of the thing, it still feels a ways off. Will Butler

This was disco-funk as a physical force: a battery of white-suited men and one high-heeled woman weaving notes and empty space into a steamroller of joy, with the besuited Nile Rodgers cooly flicking Stratocaster chords over the top. Crowd: not moving-like-dancing, but actually dancing, with hands in the air and wide grins, giving off a strong sense that this was the most fun many of us had had all day. Chic churned out originals like "Dance Dance Dance" with the same nonchalant flawlessness as the medley of songs it had contributed to or been sampled on, and the result was a zoom through some lesser-known highlights of late-century R&B. Diana Ross' "I'm Coming Out," Sister Sledge's "We Are Family," and many more. "Freak Out" was capital, a dizzying blast of funk joy, and with "Good Times" wending its way through the P.A. we had no more use for "Get Lucky," the song you've heard Rodgers on most recently. The band closed with it, though, as the masses oozed over to the Lands End stage for McCartney -- one more way in which the feel-good hit of the year has basically become background music. Ian S. Port

The National with Bob Weir
The National
Like many others, I always think of The National as a classy dad affair. I don't remember which interview gave me the mental image of Matt Berninger cupping a glass a red wine, deep in a bummer-lyrics trance. Everything he says sounds like it slipped quietly from pursed, purple lips -- or at least an aged oak barrel. So as we watched Berninger test his Wilhelm scream on a rousing version of "Squalor Victoria," my first thought was that it's nice to see the guy get some physical catharsis. Adhering to my anecdotes casting The National as dads and winos, later on someone close to the source told me unsolicited that Berninger's definitely a wine aficionado, particularly in the moments before a live show. His enthusiasm was great, though. He banged his head with the mic and often traded his restrained baritone yodels for full on throaty yelling. The setlist drew from new and old material, highlighting Boxer, High Violet, and bringing out the perfect Kronos Quartet for the numbers from Trouble Will Find Me. Before playing, "I Need My Girl," a song about his little daughter (who was dancing around backstage), Berninger gave a big shout-out to her actual preschool teacher, who was no doubt brushing dirt off her shoulder somewhere out in the crowd. To digress slightly: parents are cool. At about 6 p.m. today, I didn't think you could enjoy a song more than I do "Bloodbuzz Ohio" -- until an hour later when I met up with an old high school friend whose mom was rolling with him at Paul McCartney. Not like, coming with him. "Rolling" with him. Watching those two pass around a blunt, sway together, and bob their be-glowsticked heads to "Your Mother Should Know" was -- and there's no other word for it -- pretty cool. It brought the day's parent-rock full circle. Will Butler

Pretty Lights
Derek Vincent Smith, or Pretty Lights, is an exquisitely tasteful peddler of what some would call, and what others would headbutt me for calling, middlebrow electronic dance music. It's a hodgepodge of so many microgenres and submerged references and stylistic retweets that it's hard to call it anything more precise, but it's also hard to mind. What he lacks in specificity he makes up for in immediate, promiscuous gratification: it's a pan-EDM buffet, not a locally sourced restaurant, and Smith's take on dubstep and instro-hip-hop and Prefusean IDM-lite and something Wikipedia calls "jamtronica" tastes, honestly, exactly as processed and chemically curated as you sometimes want it to. What is "healthy" music, anyway? Well, maybe something that works to strengthen rather than corrupt your attention span, but fuck it: Outside Lands came to dance and Smith threw us a huge outdoor dance party.

He did not exert any great visible effort to do so: he basically just played his songs, a handful from his winning 2010 trio of free EPs and a few from his new double album, A Color Map of the Sun, without embellishment. His transitions were intuitive, his banter was bare-minimum, his pre-drop silences got less and less suspenseful each time, and we probably could have done without the video footage of Smith bopping along with us like a total goober -- but, again, dance party. Nobody minded. At one point a dude nearby in a trucker cap climbed a tree and started dancing in it, or rather with it; inevitably the tree snapped back and whipped him off, and two ladies in front of me just high-fived. It was what it was. It was a great time. Daniel Levin Becker

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