"Here comes the sun, doo-doo-doo-doo..." wafted out of the loudspeakers at Outside Lands Sunday morning. Each day, I'd hear the Beatles classic as I walked several blocks to Golden Gate Park's Polo Field for the annual three-day mega-festival; the PA system blasted the music so loud that I could hear it deep in the surrounding Richmond neighborhood. And every morning, I'd note the cruel irony that there was little sun to be found throughout this foggy weekend.But if there wasn't much physical warmth to be found -- save for the heat generated by trudging the equivalent of several miles as I made my way between stages and amid 100,000 people-- then there was some positivity to be found among dozens of performers. I had never heard of Jovanotti, the Italian rapper-beat poet-pop rocker who has several platinum albums to his credit in his native country, and who just released a compilation of hits for the U.S. market, Italia 1988-2012. But as the first performer on Day 3 of the Outside Lands festival, he effectively shook the audience awake and alive.
"My name is Lorenzo, aka Jovanotti. I grew up on James Brown and I sound like Pavarotti." Well, not exactly, but he did quote from Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five's "The Message," Michael Jackson's "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'," Bob Marley's "Natural Mystic" and god knows what else during a thumping, funk-heavy set. "Morning gym!" he declared as he leapt into the audience and sang "Penso Positivo," utterly charming the early arrivers.
Jovanotti set the bar high for Day 3. He performed on the Sutro side stage; fun., of course, starred on the main Lands End stage. It was strange to see one of the biggest new acts of the year scheduled so early, yet they attracted a massive crowd ready to sing along to their deathless hit "We Are Young." Other things that stood out during their 40-minute set: a cover of The Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want," multi-instrumentalist Emily Moore's saxophone solo during "Some Nights," and lead singer Nate Ruess' blindingly white pants.
Following a performance by the biggest one-hit wonder of 2012, there was the biggest one-hit wonder of 2004. Actually, it's somewhat premature to claim that fun.'s success won't last, and Franz Ferdinand's angular neo-post-punk songs like "This Fire" and "Take Me Out," once so omnipresent, have stood up remarkably well. Fantastically, they appended an interpolation of Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" onto "Can't Stop Feeling."
Between the end of Franz Ferdinand's set and the beginning of Regina Spektor's bid on the main Lands End stage, I walked a mile to the Twin Peaks side stage to watch Amadou & Mariam. I waded through thousands of revelers in various states of drunkenness and giddiness, and clouds of sandy dust so thick that some resorted to wearing bandannas to cover their faces. Once I arrived, I listened to a single song before hurriedly trekking back the Lands End stage for Spektor. Big mistake. Little did I know that Jack White, Tom Morello and Boots Riley of The Coup were performing a "pop-up set" in front of a Third Man Records truck nestled somewhere in the woods. Yeah, it was actually a truck, or a "rolling record store" stocked with the latest Third Man vinyl from Conan O'Brien, Karen Elson, and Tom Jones. Like 99.982% of the people at Outside Lands that day, I totally missed it.
As for Spektor, her piano pop required undivided attention, which was difficult to attain amid a candyland of edible treats and visual horrors, from tasty Mission Minis cupcakes that only cost a dollar, and the numerous Mexican patriots who proudly flew their colors in light of their country's miraculous gold medal for soccer at the Olympics; to the hairy drugged-out dude passed out in the middle of the field while medical staff tried to revive him, and the goofy hipster girls still rocking Native American feathers like it was 2008 and they were all Goldfrapp.
It all left you wanting to dance, and little else. Santigold, who ascended the Twin Peaks stage with two fabulous backup dancers, made a strong visual impression and a catalog of indie hits, like "Lights Out" (aka the Bud Light song), "Say Aha," and "The Keepers," the latter from her underrated new album Master of My Make-Believe. Santigold's dancers wrapped a gold cape around her for a mock impression of James Brown's famous exit routine, then pulled out lassos to wrangle a cow (actually, someone dressed as a cow) dancing in the middle of Santi's Major Lazer collaboration "Hold the Line."
After missing Jack White's "secret" show, I knew his proper performance at the Lands End stage would be an inevitable disappointment. It wasn't bad, but it sounded like a 30-minute-long blues-rock burp lavished with noisy and crunchy guitar feedback. He stood out on a day noticeably lacking in the jam rock favorites that usually typify Outside Lands, unless you headed to the Sutro stage, where Rebelution and Dispatch held sway. Taking place just as the sun briefly peeked out from the fog clouds that hung over the Polo Field all day, White's set was a good time to laze in the grass, and carefully avoid the beer spills and rotting remains of gourmet French fries and tater tots while doing so. At the end of his set, White rewarded the audience's patience with a rousing version of his White Stripes classic "Seven Nation Army."
Then, 45 minutes (plus an unintended 20-minute delay) later, there was Stevie Wonder on the stage, resplendent in a turquoise trench coat/overlong shirt thing and rocking a keytar! He opened with a 10-minute version of Marvin Gaye's "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)," and told everyone to vote for President Obama in November, which mostly brought cheers and some noticeable boos. And then he rolled out the big ones: "Master Blaster (Jammin')," "Higher Ground," "Sir Duke," "I Wish," and "My Cherie Amour." There were a few surprises in the hit parade, like a lovely rendition of "Never Dreamed You'd Leave Me in Summer."
As we all danced and sang along to music we have probably listened to since we were in vitro, I kept asking myself: Will I tear myself away from this to watch Skrillex? I didn't want to, but I felt it was my journalistic duty. So when Wonder indulged himself in a meandering duet with his daughter, singer Aisha Morris, I decided to take a few minutes and check Skrillex off the list. As I ascended the hill and walked down the valley separating the Twin Peaks stage from the Lands End stage, I could see a massive LED display of lasers and lights so colorful that they turned the fog a strange purplish color. Skrillex seemed like a little speck in the middle of the huge lights display, and the waves of people flicking glow sticks in unison. The music was a mash of electro-house and "one-drop" dubstep cranked to punishingly high volume.
Ten minutes later, I was back at the Lands End stage as Wonder launched into "Happy Birthday." It's no knock on Skrillex, but his EDM spectacle is made for full-sensory involvement, not bemused gawking, and I didn't want to completely abandon the one artist I waited all weekend to see. After a brief intermission, Wonder walked back on stage for cheery audience participation renditions of The Beatles' "She Loves You" and The Temptations' "My Girl," and good night.
Then it was off we go to bottleneck like a herd of cows into the fog. But as we jostled and bumped out of Golden Gate Park, there was one bit of magic left to be had. Suddenly, an impromptu group of people began singing a lyric from Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody": "If I'm not back again this time tomorrow, carry on, carry on, 'cause it doesn't really matter." Then everyone, seemingly thousands, united in a long, sustained cheer, ending this long, memorable weekend.