Outside Lands Day 1: Cold War Kids, Beck, Radiohead


San Francisco hosted the first Outside Lands Music Festival this past weekend, when thousands of fans descended upon Golden Gate Park to watch their favorite bands. The three day event kicked off at about three in the afternoon at Friday, so there were less bands playing Friday than on Saturday and Sunday. The eco-friendly theme of the event was apparent in the various environmental organizations and information booths located around the park. I toured the requisite corporate tents and merch booths, but soon headed for the Sutro stage, where Cold War Kids and Beck were to perform.

At around five in the afternoon, what appeared to be four homeless men took the Sutro stage and identified themselves as Cold War Kids. All of the band’s sonic tendencies and attributes on their debut LP, Robbers & Cowards (Spoon inflected piano, reverb-heavy blues riffs, and singer Nathan Willett's Jeff Buckley/Jason Mraz on steroids impersonation), were present and accounted for in a live setting. In fact, i'd be hard pressed to see another band recreate their sound so accurately onstage. The band played several new songs, which did not seem as strong as the album material and were more or less fillers in between the crowd pleasers. Predictably, the highlights of the set were the album favorites, in which the familiarity was welcome. The maracas and plodding piano of "We Used To Vacation," the throbbing bass of "Hang Me Up To Dry," and the chorus chant of "Hospital Beds," were all elements that were looked forward to and the band executed them well. Cold War Kids ended the set with an impressive "St. John," and I imagine gained some new fans who were waiting for Beck.

Beck arrived late after Cold War Kids to an excited and restless crowd, and seemed to be going through the motions for the first two songs, "E Pro" and "Girl." Though the band performed ably and energetically, he seemed disinterested and delivered his vocals half-heartedly (well, more half-heartedly than usual). However, things started picking up with "Nausea." After that, Beck came to life and performed several songs from his latest album, Modern Guilt. The title track, which I heard for the first time there, was more focused than previous albums, but its tight groove was one of the highlights of the set. Overall, Beck's set played like a greatest hits album, with "Loser," (accompanied by an impressive slide guitar intro) "Devil's Haircut," "Where It's At," "Ghettochip Malfunction," and "Lost Cause," all rocking the grateful crowd. Throw in a cover of "Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat," and you have a greatly satisfying and all too short set by Beck. The only real personal complaint was the absence of songs from the awesome Midnite Vultures.

As soon as Beck's set ended, everybody at the Sutro stage started rushing towards the Land's End stage, where Radiohead was set to play. Really, what is there to say about the legendary Oxford quintet that hasn't already been said? Despite being plagued with technical problems, (the sound got cut during both "Airbag" and "All I Need," resulting in dead air for a good portion of the songs. Also, Jonny Greenwood's guitar kept slipping in and out of the mix, lessening the impact of "Just" and other guitar heavy songs) Radiohead pulled through and put on the kind of awe-inspiring show that only they can. The setlist was almost perfect, (come on, no "House Of Cards?") the visuals were arresting, and the performances were near flawless and enthusiastic. After a rousing encore that included old favorites "Paranoid Android" and "Fake Plastic Trees," Radiohead ended with "Everything In Its Right Place." There is little doubt that the titular phrase of the final song was shared and echoed by many as we found our way out of Golden Gate Park on Friday night.

- Kevin Na

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