September 5, 2009

Outside Lands returns triumphant


I can think of much worse ways to spend an August weekend than in the heart of one of my favorite cities (San Francisco), seeing an eclectic lineup of bands both headliner-huge and quirky-small. Last year’s inaugural edition of the Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival boasted a solid roster of national and local musicians, but was plagued by a few logistical snafus that ranged from the mildly annoying (no, you can’t go that way anymore, you have to walk all the way around) to the borderline panic-attack inducing (15′-wide gauntlets of death to walk through to get to Beck, crammed like a sausage with your neighbor who is pushing the other way). It made it hard, at times, to lose yourself in the music, as Eminem advises.

This year’s festival returned with with a shimmering bang last weekend, featuring an arguably stronger lineup than last year and straightened out details, continuing to play on the gorgeous natural setting with stages spread out amidst the cypress trees. The fest also showcased local wines and restaurants with some abnormally tasty selections for a festival, far better than your standard funnel cake (not that I have ANY PROBLEM with funnel cake).

Of course, as with any festival, when you take into account the human error fudge factor, heat and/or cold, interpersonal weavings, and the occasional Heineken, it can be awfully difficult to catch all the bands you wanted. But the happy flip-side of that is that you often end up stumbling into something even better.

My three days of musical happiness began with a band that is quickly becoming one of my very favorites – Blind Pilot. This Portland, Oregon band drew a huge crowd with their rich and bittersweet tunes layered with gorgeous instrumentation, and those rootsy leanings. Frontman Israel Nebeker’s evocative voice just keeps drawing me back, no matter how many times I see them live (this was #3 this year).

How I want that mystery / let me dive ’til I believe.”

Two Towns From Me – Blind Pilot



The only other time I’ve seen The National perform was at Coachella last spring, and it is a testament to this band and their potency that even in a festival setting, in broad daylight, they’ve managed to completely knock me flat in the best way possible. I can’t imagine what they’d do to me in a dark club. As I wrote about the Indio desert, “The National carved something out of me and put something back in, is the best way I can put it.” Their set was riveting, laden with songs that I could hardly have hand-picked better (except maybe, “Lucky You.” I’d add that one).

Matt Berninger looks every bit the refined GQ businessman in a large faceless city; gold wedding band on his hand, dark collared shirt, hair nicely trimmed. But with his baritone velvet voice, dark stories spill from his mouth of all the emptiest fears and the most acute longings that wake us in the night. The bright horns and the swells of melody twinkle and shine like a candle in a colander, putting a streak of beauty through the center.

Start a War, Mistaken for Strangers, the new Blood Buzz Ohio, Slow Show — and my favorite Secret Meeting… it was over far too soon.

Lucky You (live on Daytrotter) – The National




Next up in a magical bit of booking was Tom Jones, the Welsh crooner who can peel panties off people using only his cognac-smooth brogue. You would not believe the universal love that flowed from all sectors of the (hip-shaking) audience for his snappy set. All you need to know about the performance can be gleaned from these two pictures, and if you have more time to amuse yourself, my montage of Tom Jones facial expressions over on Facebook. As a friend texted me during his set, as I reported on the undies flying off 19-year-olds with dreadlocks and ironic t-shirts, “It’s like he went from cool to ironic back to cool.”

I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor (Arctic Monkeys cover) – Tom Jones



Friday night ended as not the best of times for me, although I did try to rally and catch Washington D.C.’s Thievery Corporation, with their Brazilian-dub-lounge groove (it looked like this, and sounded numbingly good floating through the night and turning off my brain).


Saturday started off with a double-shot of global awesomeness from different corners of the world; it was bands like these that illuminated the fest for me. First up was Extra Golden, a combo of half Kenyan-benga music and half American-study-abroad-student rock. You might remember when I wrote about these guys a few months ago, I mentioned “the sound that cut through the din,”and also mused how good they might sound live. I am pleased to report that they both stopped traffic of folks walking by (with their tribal beats and African-laced rock), and also put on a superb set. I would absolutely go see them again; I kept laughing out loud from joy.

Anyango – Extra Golden



Immediately following Extra Golden, we dashed over to the Sutro stage to catch Nortec Collective’s Bostich + Fussible, on the recommendation of my friend Julio, who is much-more-savvy than this white girl when it comes to all things south of the border. I’d never heard any nortec business, but it blew my mind — the crashing together of the traditional Tijuana sounds with effortlessly cool dudes twisting knobs to make ridiculously danceable beats. My friend nailed it when he said they could occupy the stage in the back of any Quentin Tarantino movie scene — they were just that badass. Another band I would see again live in an absolute heartbeat. I mean listen to this:

Aka 47 – Bostich + Fussible



Next was Bat For Lashes (rad British chanteuse Natasha Khan), with a set that created more buzz than any other band I saw at the festival. Everyone was talking about her afterwards, and it was my favorite set of the weekend. I was only casually acquainted with her music before seeing her live, but her rich satiny alto voice flowed like a warm golden river through the middle of the sexy, synthy danceable creations. Where she was competent and confident in her stage presence, her band was amazingly kickass too, and I fell in love with both the drummer and the rainbow zig-zagged guitarist.

And: random celebrity sighting, Josh Groban totally digs Bat For Lashes; he was right by me for the set. YES, Mom, Josh Groban. Omg.

Pearl’s Dream – Bat For Lashes

Use Somebody (Kings of Leon cover, live on BBC) – Bat for Lashes



And: random fashion note, the girls in the band totally share clothes.


After wasting away some hours of the evening with folks like The Ice Cream Man and the Free Heineken Man, the only other set I participated in on Saturday (sadly! festival fail!) was the scorching set from Dave Matthews Band. I forget how much I do love Dave, and a sailor I met recently on my ocean sailing voyage has reminded me how many steps I may have also missed in Dave’s development through the years.

Musical hipsters like to look down our noses at plebian jam-rock like DMB, but dancing my ass off alongside fellow not-afraid-to-love-Dave-ite Nathaniel from I Guess I’m Floating to “Lie In Our Graves,” “Two Step” and a particularly passionate rendition of “All Along The Watchtower,” I was reminded how good it can feel.

Lie In Our Graves – Dave Matthews Band

(“and I can’t believe that we would lie in our graves wondering if we had spent our living days well/ I can’t believe that we would lie in our graves dreaming of things that we might have been….”)




After two sunny warm days, when Sunday arrived grey and misty like SF likes to be in the summer (or any dang time), the layers I had fastidiously packed came in handy. Worn out from the two days already, a third day felt simultaneously like a gift (yay! more live music!) and also an uphill climb. But arriving to the festival to the pleasingly dulcet sounds of local San Franciscan John Vanderslice on the Presidio stage, I forgot my still-tired feet and smiled a wide smile.

Vanderslice is someone I have been delving more deeply into since he wowed me in Chicago at that show with John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats. Again on Sunday I was struck by how he could join a musical club with Nada Surf and Death Cab and they’d all nestle in perfectly side by side. It was pretty well-attended too for an early afternoon show on a second stage, perhaps due to the strength of his latest (great) album, Romanian Names.

Too Much Time – John Vanderslice


Whatever I needed to get my mojo back, I found it (of course, in droves) at The Avett Brothers fervent 3pm set at the other end of the meadow.

I had just seen the Avetts in both Boulder and Denver the weekend before (see pics and a video) and loved every raucous, earnest, sweaty second of it, but the recent satiation didn’t even matter when they took the stage before a very enthusiastic crowd. I had urged all the friends and acquaintances and other photographers I met at other shows for the first part of the weekend to make their way over to the Sutro stage at 3pm Sunday, and as I looked around, I saw an awful lot of smiles and the occasional yell-along. Their set was crisp and carried out beautifully over the meadow. They started with “Paranoia in Bb Major,” and then went right into the new “Laundry Room” and then “Die, Die, Die.” When they finished that triple-whammy, they moved into “Murder In The City,” and nearly killed me. Such a wonderful set from these brothers, in a near-perfect setting for their bluegrass punk.

Laundry Room (live on MOKB) – The Avett Brothers

PS – Get the full MOKB Laundromatinee session with Los Avetts.



Switching gears quickly from furiously-strummed banjos to yowling waves of rock, we headed clear over to the Twin Peaks stage to get in position to witness the detonation that is Jack White (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs) and Alison Mossheart’s (The Kills) new band, The Dead Weather. This is the same second-stage I saw Wilco play on last year, and it was just as crowded – another act that could have/should have played the main.

Jack White coolly walked out behind dark shades and sat behind the drumkit at the far back of the stage and stayed there for the duration of the first three songs that we photogs get to have at it. Alison handily seized the mantle of being the face of the Dead Weather (fittingly), and paced and flailed and thrashed, leaning down in our faces and threatening to grab us by our hair, and hang us up from those heavens. For a small woman, she packs an intense punch — she was feral in an awesome, invasive way. All the members of this supergroup are mightily accomplished in their own rights, and together they are pretty amazing to watch, even on a bright Sunday afternoon.

Hang You From The Heavens – The Dead Weather




It’s not every day that a girl gets to see both Jack White and Jack Black in the same day, but before I did the Tenacious D rotation (and failed to get pics because I had the wrong lens), I danced as hard as I could muster to the third world democracy sounds of Sri Lankan supernova M.I.A., who puts on a marvelously enjoyable set. I saw her at Coachella last year — well, kind of saw her, whilst I was being crushed from the massive audience that poured into the smallish tent to see her. Her reputation preceded her.

This time around, after I shot the pics, I went to a vantage point where I could see the whole huge main-stage crowd dance and pump their fists in time to the three gunshot sounds in the chorus, and smile that she was finally on the larger stage she deserves.

Paper Planes – M.I.A.





So… in sum, a marvelous weekend.




  • Hang you from the heavens is such a great song, wow. Love the National as well. Holy crap, and the Avett Brothers. Oh, the KOL cover was amazing. Bat for Lashes are great. I love me some Vanderslice. One of your best post.

    Love the purple pantie pic, that killed me!

    Mark — September 6, 2009 @ 12:56 am

  • Heather,

    i’ve been here for a few years..
    found you Googling for lyrics to LEASH or something..

    by accident or not, though, i stayed
    your love of music..
    Be it new music found..
    or old favorites, that bring you joy, time and time again…
    it was all share with us..

    So, as i finished your Outside Lands wrap-up, i was kinda shocked..
    as there was no mention, at all, of Pearl Jam, Friday night’s headliner

    i know earlier, you posted that you were done with the band..
    but i assumed you meant about posting audio files of theirs..

    i didn’t think you meant done, as in not posting their name, at all!

    I gotta say…
    by not mentioning one of music’s biggest bands, who was a headliner..
    seems a little negligent for a music blogger
    and MAYBE a bit petty?
    (not at all trying to offend you, just an observation)

    you didn’t have to post a pic or audio or video..but you shoulda stated the fests facts, at least

    the shitty comment from a higher up at Ten Club is/was not excusable. Period

    i can understand the hurt and betrayal you still must feel..

    but, you weren’t the only music blog that recieved cease and desist orders about the leaked live audio, “the fixer”
    ..or the other two songs, for that matter

    it seems the reason for removal of said audios dealt partly with Target’s exclusive agreement to release of “Backspacer”
    …they didn’t want leaks beforehand
    …especially audio from a commercial shot by Cameron Crowe
    (not an official live event, i’d think)

    who knows?

    after the album is released, what are the live audio posting rules then?

    There’s many sides to this..


    If it seems as though PJ has screwed their fans..for the mighty, mighty buck..

    ..ignoring…nay, spitting on what they’ve stood for their entire career..

    Then Good riddance to them
    ..phoney sell-outs

    If you don’t believe it..

    might i suggest..
    to step back,
    take a deep breath…
    and objectively look at all sides..
    ..see how things play out

    …before throwing away a long and fulfilling? gratifying? relationship

    remember the second part of “i am fuel, you are friends”

    ..”we got the means to make amends”

    ..or are you done with that as well?
    (i really hope not)

    Eric — September 6, 2009 @ 3:18 am

  • I think we were at different festivals…

    MIA was bad, shockingly bad. Bonnarroo was good. This was not.

    Usually she puts on a good show, but this time it wasn’t a great set. I think she was playing the “why am I not a headliner and how does Tenacious D get to be the super stars” card a little too hard and not realizing she’s only famous for a single song in a trailer to a mediocre movie… and 9/10 of the people watching her have never listened to Arular at all.

    Overall, i’m glad I got comped for the show. performance wise it didn’t compare to last year’s, but the sound was better so I guess it’s a wash. I think next year will be the best one as long as they can book people that weren’t popular 20 years ago when i was in high school and can get something a bit more “prime”.

    Dave — September 6, 2009 @ 11:48 am

  • Heather-

    Fun review. I am intrigued by your constant love for the National. I saw them as a support act once at Red Rocks (for MMJ maybe? REM?) and could see the potential. Whatever song they closed with that night knocked me out.

    I envision that on Friday night you had the emotions of avoiding a former lover at a bar. :-(

    Am trying to decide on Monolith. You made it sound so fun last year.


    Charles — September 6, 2009 @ 12:23 pm

  • great review and photos – I totally agree on Bat For Lashes. What a great weekend. Nice running into you again. Not sure you’ve convinced me to bust out any dmb soon, but perhaps I’ll at least check them out should we ever be at the same festival again.

    uwmryan — September 6, 2009 @ 2:24 pm

  • Question for you – I’ve also listened to Blind Pilot a ton this year after seeing them at SXSW. The singer’s voice reminds me of someone and I just can’t place it. It’s driving me nuts.

    Any ideas? I feel like it’s someone from the 80s or early 90s.

    Sheila — September 7, 2009 @ 8:30 am

  • Thanks again for giving Blind Pilot their moment of fame – I can’t get over them. Also I’m glad to see the Alison Mossheart’s picture here – it is a true capture of the raw moment. I wish I could have attended this festival but am settling for my own this upcoming weekend. You should check it out – plus the national and their side project the long count. – ELLNORA

    Mike — September 7, 2009 @ 4:40 pm

  • I am totally with you about the Avett Brothers, that was quite possibly the best live performance I’ve ever seen. But how could you neglect to mention “Will There Be Enough Water”? The Dead Weather’s whole set was awesome, but nothing topped those 10 minutes of pure Jack White jam.

    Tim — September 7, 2009 @ 4:43 pm

  • Calexico was excellent as well…too bad their set was at the same time as Dead Weather’s

    Billy — September 8, 2009 @ 9:15 am

  • Thanks for the incredible reviews and pics. I was only able to catch the fine acts on Friday – Silversun Pickups, The National, Tom Jones, Pearl Jam. My only beef about the fest is that they line up some great acts at the same time (Silversun and Blind Pilot) and GG Park is kind of a sh*t show to get in and out of. Other than that, fantastic music…

    IMRadioBlog — September 8, 2009 @ 11:46 am

  • Heather,

    Despite some of the trash talk that people post on this blog, I assure you they are in the minority. (I hope)

    Having said that, as a collective whole, we miss you :(

    Please come back, not for them, but for us. After all, it is this blogs namesake. I do see your side. After reading some of the stuff people have commented since your “divorce”, I feel like I may be one of the few “nice” PJ fans left.

    Josh — September 8, 2009 @ 2:16 pm

  • The rainbow zig-zagged guitarist in Bat For Lashes is named Charlotte Hatherley.

    She was in Ash for a pretty good stretch.

    She has also put a couple of pretty solid solo records since parting company with Ash.

    I think her third solo record may be coming out soon, as well.

    Randy — September 9, 2009 @ 6:28 am

  • Dead Weather are really good. My thinking is that I hope they have and take more time. They have the mystique, the danger, and the sound of a great band. I don’t hear the songs just yet, but they are a brand new baby band just testing the waters, all things considering.

    As for the PJ thing, I think it looks to me like Heather needs distance and time to figure things out. Or maybe everything is figured out and there is nothing left to determine, I dunno. Every thing and every place has bad seeds among them, but remembering the good seeds can take time. I think she should be allowed that without people breathing down her neck. When/if you decide to come back to it, I am sure it will be fulfilling and, as said before, we would love you back.

    GA — September 9, 2009 @ 7:34 am

  • That Tom Jones photo montage was absolutely hilarious.

    Sounds like a great weekend! I’d love to go to San Fran for the festival some year.

    Megan — September 10, 2009 @ 2:09 pm

  • Hey Heather,

    It was great to meet you too. Looks like we had a lot of the same highlights: The National, MIA (who I don’t even normally like much), Tom Jones (surprise favorite), and the Avetts all rocked.

    But you missed a few of my favorites: Q-Tip (who was surprisingly great), TV on the Radio (who was predictably great), Raphael Saadiq (who was like a mix between Smokey Robinson and Prince) and Band of Horses (who were great in a much-more-redneck-than-expected way).

    p.s. I love that you got a shot of my shoe stepping on panties during Tom Jones’ set.

    Jay — September 11, 2009 @ 7:50 pm

  • It made it hard, at times, to lose yourself in the music, as Eminem advises.

    You make me laugh. (=

    Faith — September 28, 2009 @ 6:49 am

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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