Summer festivals in America are generally marked by sunny skies, blazing temperatures and the skimpiest fashion statements possible while bouncing between stages and taking in your favorites bands. The Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is a considerable exception to the norm, where gray skies and thick plumes of rolling fog are the rule. With temperatures struggling to reach 70 degrees during the day, Outside Lands after dark can be a downright bone-chilling affair, where this year’s best-selling item at the merchandise tent was a warm, body-length blanket emblazoned with the festival’s logo (they were sold out by the second day).
It was a blanket of fog that greeted music fans on the festival’s first day, but the gloomy weather didn’t dampen the spirits of the capacity crowd of 65,000 that jammed the park to hear bands like Of Monsters & Men, Fitz & the Tantrums and Beck, who recovered from a shaky opening on the main stage to cruise through a sprawling, crowd-pleasing set that touched hits like “Loser” and “Where It’s At” next to a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat,” and in honor of the evening’s headliner, a take on Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush.”
Raved-out South African rappers Die Antwoord galvanized a side-stage crowd with their manic energy and dance-floor beats. But it was Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters that truly kicked the party into overdrive with a blistering set of the band’s deep catalog of hits, epically charging through rock radio staples like “My Hero,” “Everlong” and “Rope.”
Day 2 on Saturday started with slightly better weather and what seemed like a like more people that the day before. Highlights started early in the afternoon, with Australia’s Tame Impala delivering a stellar set of modern psychedelic rock on the main stage after the dark, moody goth-tinged blues of Zola Jesus and her jaw-dropping vocal power.
It was the side stages that were particularly busy on the second days, with emerging buzz band Alabama Shakes pulling an exceptionally enormous crowd to the Sutro stage, turning what’s known as the Lindley Meadow into an impenetrable sea of humanity. They all came to witness Brittany Howard lead her band through a raucous set of their jumped-up blues-rock, which would have been much better served on the big Lands Ends stage.
Rapper Big Boi from Atlanta rap icons Outkast galvanized a huge audience on the Twin Peaks stage, while back on the main stage the Kills mesmerized the crowd with their dark, sexy proto-rock, slinking through songs “Future Comes Slow” and “Last Day of Magic.”
But Saturday was all about Metallica, as the local San Francisco legends dominated the day with a punishing set heavy with classic cuts and dazzling fireworks.
The night ended on the gauzy, ambient art-rock of Iceland’s Sigur Ros, countering the cold, foggy night with their soul-warming atmospherics. It was a dreamy send-off to a long, invigorating day (and night) of music, setting an extremely high bar that Sunday would have a difficult time trying to match.
Day 3 would accept that challenge and meet it, thanks to more great daytime sets coming from fun., Tom Morello and Scotland’s Franz Ferdinand, who kept the crowd energy up with snappy tracks like “Take Me Out” and a cover of the Donna Summers disco classic “I Feel Love.”
Rock’s Renaissance man Jack White delivered a hard-rocking show that included songs from his White Stripes catalog, most notably “Seven Nation Army,” which had the jam-packed main field rocking like a World Cup soccer match. White shocked and delighted fans with a surprise set with his all-female band earlier in the day back in the woods of Golden Gate Park. He played three songs, including “Love Interruption” and White Stripes’ nugget “Hotel Yorba” and even featured an appearance by Tom Morello.
As Skrillex and Wolfgang Gartner closed out two of Sunday night’s side stages with blasts of high-octane EMD bass blasts, Stevie Wonder took the main stage crowd home with an all-encompassing set of his ’70s soul classics. The successfully eclectic mix of Outside Lands 2012 proves once again that the only musical genre that really matters is good music.
— Scott T. Sterling, CBS Local