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Arts and Entertainment

Outside Lands Delivered Many Music Highlights

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(Part 2 of a 2-part review, focusing on the festival's music. To read about the planning, see part 1)

The great thing about large, multi-stage, multi-genre music festivals like Coachella or Outside Lands is that at any given time, 3-4 acts are playing simultaneously. This allows people to, in a sense, curate their own personal version of that festival. You and a couple friends could each go off on your own and have completely different experiences, and perhaps none of you even saw any of the same bands as the others. Yet, you all had a great time, and were able to meet up for a beer and a burger at some point.

While this is great for your typical music fan, it's not so great if you're there as a journalist who wants to give readers a comprehensive description of everything that went on. Even a team of 5 writers would be hard-pressed to witness and report on everything that happens at these mega-fests.

That said, LAist's lone representative at Outside Lands 2010 managed to witness several magical moments over the course of the 2-day party. Upon first arriving, the sounds of Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars was carrying across from the other end of the polo field. Their style of African dance music had the crowd jumping, and it sounded like a fun party, but a quick lap around the entire festival grounds was necessary just to get my bearings. That lap took quite a while, as the festival's footprint is laid out in a long, stretched out series of open meadows. The two big stages were a good 15 minute walk apart.

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Circling back to the polo field I settled in at the Sutro Stage for Pretty Lights. This was not the latest version of Pretty Lights with a live drummer, just Derek by himself on the turntables/laptop. I was skeptical how well his set would work early in the day, when his namesake LED light show would not be very effective, but the crowd totally got into his blend of glitchy synth and classic funk. He quickly attracted a huge crowd, and basically just killed it. I then caught a semi-private, semi-acoustic performance by Langhorne Slim in the Chase Freedom Lounge tent. This intimate performance showcased his so-retro-it's-modern alt-country prowess and ability to get the crowd clapping their hands and stomping their feet.

From there, it was back to the Sutro Stage for Bassnectar. Lorin Ashton (aka Bassnectar) is from the bay area, so I knew his hometown crowd would be out in force, even for a rare early/daylight set. The energy in the (young) crowd was electric, and when he dropped the bass bomb that is "Here We Go" the place exploded. Unfortunately, about 10 minutes into his set, the power to the entire stage cut out. Lorin needed to find a bullhorn to tell the crowd what was up. 10 minutes later, the power came back on and he was able to finish his bass-heavy set. Then it was over to My Morning Jacket, where a huge crowd was enjoying the sweet sounds of Jim James' voice, which sounded better than ever. After that, I caught a quick glimpse of Wolfmother before moving on to Beats Antique, whose innovative blend of trip-hop inspired beats, accompanied by a horn/accordion section, serve as backdrop for some amazing belly-dancer action. Then enjoyed some Cat Power, got some food, and prepared myself for The Strokes, who were just coming off a long, 4 year hiatus. Perhaps the time off did them some good, because they played with a sense of urgency and intensity I hadn't seen from them before. They whipped the crowd into a frenzy by playing all their old hits like they were brand new. The kids who were pressed up to the front rail had fear in their eyes as the crowd surged and churned behind them.

On Sunday, after stopping briefly to enjoy some Soft Pack, it was over to the Heineken Inspire dome to see LA-based rapper/DJ Pigeon John. I was hoping for some live performance, but alas, it was just a DJ set. Nonetheless, he had the place movin. Then it was over to the main stage for Australian alt-rockers The Temper Trap, whose U2-esque "Sweet Disposition" got people up off their blankets. Then it was over to the other end of the Polo Field for Janelle Monae. The waiting crowd grew restless and angry as she was almost 20 minutes late in starting her set, but the Big Boi protege quickly got them back on her side with an enthusiastic (though shortened) set that included some nifty dance moves and of course, her exquisite voice. "Tightrope" really got the crowd grooving. Then it was time to bounce back to the other end of the polo field for Al Green. With a full backing band and a chorus of back-up singers, the good reverend didn't have to push his own voice that much. In fact, he spent more time chatting with the crowd and tossing roses to the ladies than actually singing. But the huge audience ate it up with a spoon, and heartily sang along to the classic "Let's Stay Together." Informal polls of the crowd walking home found that Al Green was a highlight for most. He certainly is an entertainer, there's no denying that.

I was then faced with a real dilemma... check out Chromeo, or claim a space in the Chase Freedom Lounge for Janelle Monae's intimate, acoustic set? I opted for the latter, and it turned out to be the right choice, as I was treated to a very up close and personal 3-song set that included a slowed-down version her hit "Cold War" and a heartbreakingly beautiful rendition of Charlie Chaplin's "Smile" which caused tears to swell in the eyes of some of the 75 or so lucky witnesses. Then it was a foot race to the other end of the festival for Phoenix's turn on the big stage, and wow, what a turn it was. Lead singer Thomas Mars seemed genuinely touched by the sheer size of the massive crowd, saying "Thank you for being so many, I can't even see where it ends." and he showed his appreciation by leaving the stage to mingle with fans on a few occasions, even crowd surfing during their rendition of "1901." Having seen Phoenix a couple times before, including at Coachella earlier this year, I can say that they definitely seemed to have some extra pep in their step on this day. They might not have been the main headliner, but they sure played as though they were. It didn't hurt that the deep blue sky, 70 degree weather and "magic hour" sunlight perfectly lit up the thousands of smiling faces bouncing around to their music. Phoenix was, without a doubt, the highlight of my weekend.

After getting a taste of Social D and Nas & Damien Marley, I was faced with another dilemma: Close out the weekend with Kings of Leon or Empire of the Sun? I wasn't very familiar with the Empire, but after meeting some of their enthusiastic fans who described them as "Daft Punk meets Cirque du Soleil", I opted for the Aussie synthpop rockers. Again, I think I made the right choice. I don't remember much about the music, but the stage show was unbelievable. Elaborately costumed dancers, fog machines, lasers, and trippy visuals combined for a sensory overload unlike anything I'd seen before. For a second there I thought I was watching "Avatar: The Musical, produced by Casey Spooner."

So that was my Outside Lands experience. I heard from others that Gogol Bordello and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros also had amazing sets, which I'd love to have seen. Unfortunately, you can't be two places at once.

Oh yeah, there was a lot to love besides the music at Outside Lands this year. To read more about that, see part 1 of this review.