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Outside Lands 2014: 7 minor acts jostling for the majors

Outside Lands 2014 - getting exciting as list of food and wine vendors are revealed today, and minor acts such as Courtney Barnett and Watsky make a play for the big time.
Outside Lands 2014 - getting exciting as list of food and wine vendors are revealed today, and minor acts such as Courtney Barnett and Watsky make a play for the big time.
Courtesy of Outside Lands

Outside Lands 2014 sold out in record time this year. Today, the organizers released the list of returning wine, beer and food vendors which include Nombe's sushi burritos as well as newcomers AQ bringing with them their highbrow spaghetti sloppy joe's, no doubt pleasing the gourmands among the festival-goers. But this is a music festival nonetheless, so for the lucky ones who have secured those coveted wristbands, you’ve already dropped a bundle, why not get there early? Not just to feast on the epicurean delights but more importantly, to catch the acts lower down the bill.

Outside Lands 2014 to be held from Aug 8 to 10, is in its seven year and has quickly become one of the more popular national summer festivals around. Proof is in the pudding with all general admission tickets selling out within a day, quickly followed by the pricier VIP Single Day for Saturday which presents headliners, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Sunday which touts the The Killers who will no doubt close the festival in Las Vegas-style with rousing pyrotechnics and general mirth, sold out soon after.

VIP tickets for the divisive, Kanye West who headlines Friday were the only tickets remaining but those too sold out eventually, together with the last of the VIP 3-Day passes that cost a cool $595 each. Taking less than 2 weeks from when tickets first went on sale for the whole shin-dig to sell out, it's the fastest ever for the festival.

The bulk of festival-goers were concerned with headliners first and foremost. However, it's the sub-headliners that are the meat and potatoes of any good festival and this year OSL has it in buckets. Reliable bands such as Death Cab for Cutie who performed a solid set at Boston Calling last weekend. Ben Gibbard also announced to fans there that they could expect a new album soon so perhaps OSL may be lucky and hear a new song or two. Arctic Monkeys too had an eventful weekend kicking off the Summer festival season in the UK with a much-anticipated two-nights at Finsbury Park. Both were sold out. Let's just hope that Alex Turner brings more than just the cool swagger and same set list from his old bag of tricks.

EDM fans will be pleased to see Disclosure back in the Bay Area after playing at Treasure Island last October. Indie fans have alt-rock stalwarts, The Flaming Lips while those who worship at the altar of hip-hop have Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. The official OSL website that allows fans to create their own fantasy line-up based on the year’s bill shows most highlight bands from the top half. We thought it wise to take a look at the bands playing the lower half of the bill, the ones in small print.

It’s only relative that bands that live in the bottom of the bill aren’t as good as the ones breathing the rarified air around the headliners and sub-headliners. Sure they may not have done their touring hours but some of them have been creating so much buzz that you know their ascent will hasten, faster than you can say ‘Haim rhymes with chime’. So to celebrate seven years of Outside Lands, here are seven ‘minor’ acts jostling for the majors.

No 1 - Courtney Barnett
No 1 - Courtney Barnett Leslie Kirchhoff

No 1 - Courtney Barnett

Melbourne-based Courtney Barnett sings a unique brand of slacker-rock. Her finely crafted lyrics delivered in a slack-jaw stream-of-consciousness rambling manner pushed up tightly against solid melodies, some awesome left-handed fret-work and an undeniable onstage presence, and this Aussie’s music is anything but slack.

The hardworking Blundstone-wearing, Triffids-loving 26-year-old is Aussie to the core but her music is rich with universal appeal that connects in the mundane little ways. “The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas” belies a love of old-school rock, ‘90s grunge and ‘50s garage, with the unexpected twang of country.

Avant Gardener” employs rhyming couplets with melodies so sweet and pop while talking casually about a panic attack that lends her in an ambulance. Another favorite - “History Eraser” she is ever-ironic singing ‘And in my dreams I wrote the best/Song that I’ve ever written/can’t remember how it goes’ while recounting the dizzying heights of a love in bloom with a potent mix of sex and awkwardness.

“Depreston” is about house-hunting in the up-and-coming Melbourne suburb of Preston. It’s first-world frustrations ‘whether the front rooms face south or north?’ that we all obsessed over when house-hunting but who can see through the quagmire, much rather set it to song with wit while underlying the bigger social ills at hand. Oh and throw in some awesome Nirvana-like guitar hooks to boot.

Barnett who counts Jimi Hendrix as one of her heroes told Pitchfork that she grew up listening to a lot of American bands, “I didn’t really know that there were any decent Australian bands until I was around 20.” Then she discovered other homegrown songsters like Darren Hanlon who plays urban folk and multiple ARIA-award winner, Dan Kelly - influences that you can hear in her work.

Currently on tour across the UK - a tour that started in Western Australia, supporting folk poet, Billy Bragg (catch their awesome cover of The Velvet Underground here), you won’t want to miss Barnett and her band, the Courtney Barnetts when they get here cause by then, they would have probably arrived.

Sun, Aug 10

No 2 - Dum Dum Girls
No 2 - Dum Dum Girls Frazer Harrison

No 2 - Dum Dum Girls

Following great Coachella sets, the now New York-based indie girl-rock band the Dum Dum Girls will be one of the bands to watch at Outside Lands. It is fronted by Dee Dee Penny aka Kristin Welchez who started the band in her LA bedroom back in 2008.

The band’s moniker is appropriated from an Iggy Pop song, the Dum Dum Boys and Penny’s musical heroes runs the gamut of cool women in rock from Jefferson Starship’s Grace Slick, to Patti Smith, Chrissie Hydne, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Riot Grrl- Katheleen Hanna and a good dose of The Go Go’s and Bangles. And you can hear their influences throughout her work.

Her garage-rock sensibilities and knack for writing gorgeously infectious tracks such as “Bhang Bhang, I’m a Burnout” and “Jail La La” from the first album “I Will Be”; plus “Bedroom Eyes” and “Wasted Away” from the second album, “Only in Dreams”; meant critics and fans have been eagerly waiting the latest.

After the success of the first album, she put together a touring band which currently includes Malia James, Jules Medeiros and Sandra Vu. Happy to relinquish playing and recording other instruments to her willing bandmates, has also left her more room to experiment with new influences.

Their third full-length, “Too True” eschews some of the retro 60’s girl pop songs (their manager/producer is Richard Gottehrer who co-write and produced ‘60s hit, “My Boyfriend’s Back”, produced for Blondie and now Dee Dee Penny’s Dum Dum Girls) of earlier songs for a more recent ‘90s Brit sound of The Stone Roses and Suede. Stand out hits include “Rimbaud Eyes” and “Are you Okay?”.

It’s time to get acquainted with the back catalogue of the Dum Dum Girls cause they won’t disappoint.

Sat, Aug 9

No 3 - Finish Ticket
No 3 - Finish Ticket Courtesy of Finish Ticket

No 3 - Finish Ticket

Twin brothers, Brendan (lead vocals/keyboards) and Michael Hoye (bass) of Finish Ticket started this BayArea band with childhood friend, Alex DiDonato (guitarist) while still in high school. Not long after, they were joined by two other brothers – Gabe (drummer) and Nick Stein which make up the quintet that has been quietly rising the ranks since.

With Brendan's earnest vocals and some outstanding songwriting, it's easy to imagine this young band crossing over to mainstream radio.

Their album, “Tears You Apart” was released last week and catchy hits such as “Tranquilize” that have been a favorite with Live 105DJ, Aaron Axelsen have been building the groundswell around this local band.

Be sure to check out earlier tracks from their three EPs such as “In The Summer”, “Catch You On My Way”, “Take It Out” with it’s love letter of a music video to San Francisco and of course, the ever-dreamy “Pockets”.

Sat, Aug 9

No 4 - Mikal Cronin
No 4 - Mikal Cronin Frazer Harrison

No 4 - Mikal Cronin

Finishing a run of sold out shows in support of his sophomore solo album, “MCII”, including one at San Francisco’s Noise Pop Festival in February, Mikal Cronin is often lumped into that ‘San Francisco sound’ people speak off.

Indeed he has played with Thee Oh Sees, plus his friend and sometimes band mate, Ty Segall have made heavy garage, stoner rock together but Cronin’s solo albums have always been altogether different, softer more melodic affairs with lush string arrangements.

Sure he’s grown his hair out for some gnarly head-banging but this belies Segall’s Laguna Beach upbringing where his mom played classical music on the piano and harp. And while he was rocking out in punk bands and writing his eponymous first album, he was also studying classical music theory in college.

He is happy to exist in the music continuum rather than pick seeming extremes, how else do you reconcile his cover version of “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None The Richer with his work on the amp-ed out, fuzz-heavy, psychedelic-rock of “Reverse Shark Attack”?

A metalhead who is comfortable admitting that music which exposes vulnerability is what he naturally connects to, he often cites “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by The Beach Boys as one of his all-time favorite love songs. An influence that was evident in the first album.

His second album offers the kind of jangly tambourine and guitar pop that screams out West Coast-vibe augmented with stirring strings but it also has that latent tension and propensity to let loose and shred it. Cronin’s music with tracks like “Weight” and “Change” and will go down a fuzz-y treat on the festival’s open stage.

Fri, Aug 8

No 5 - Night Terrors of 1927
No 5 - Night Terrors of 1927 Photo by Jessica Ewald

No 5 - Night Terrors of 1927

There is a delicious darkness that skews the rather pop melodies from duo Jarrod Gorbel and Blake Sennett who make up Night Terrors of 1927. Both admit they were recovering from the broken heartedness that comes from being in bad relationships – referring to the break-ups of their previous bands when they met in LA and started working on some songs.

It was an endeavor that began without any pressure to record or get into another band relationship, but as often with these scenarios it bore some sweet fruit.

Gorbel was singer of The Honorary Title and Sennet was the guitarist and songwriting partner of Jenny Lewis in their band, the much-missed Rilo Kiley. And whatever night terrors these relationships gave them, they appear to have spun them into a magical blend of anthemic synth-pop and ‘80s goth with tracks that allude to Kafka-like characters, vampires and an impending apocalypse.

Perhaps they haven’t gotten over their exes totally but they have spun the fodder into the 5 song EP “Guilty Pleas". It was released last November with the lead single, “Dust & Bones” a definite earworm. With its big synth-sounds, it calls to mind Chrvches and The Weeknd while Gorbel’s strong vocals and rousing harmonies are a cross between The Killers and Arcade Fire yet with a unique sound that is all Night Terrors of 1927.

Fri, Aug 8

No 6 - Imelda May
No 6 - Imelda May Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

No 6 - Imelda May

Dubliner, Imelda May with her two-tone, cowlick quiff and rockabilly sensibilities stands out in a sea of ubiquitous synth and indie pop bands. But she is no novelty act, her third album, “Mayhem” was Number 1 in Ireland and peaked at Number 7 in the UK.

“Tribal” - her recently released fourth album, touts rockabilly blues with lashings of surf rock and post-punk garage to sound equally retro and modern. It debuted strong at Number 3 in the Official Albums Chart this week.

Her honey-melt vocals can do warm and blues-y but also angry rasp. Key are her distinctive yet chameleon-like vocals but the fact that she writes her own music and remains steadfast in her rockabilly roots when record labels could not see the point makes her a rarity that bucks the trend. She’s got spunk and that alone is a rally for support but lucky us – it’s not just for her stance but the music is that good too.

“Tribal” her latest album titled so, ‘…because we’re all in some kind of tribe’ was written just after the birth of her child. The lead single “Tribal” and “Wild Woman” are pounding garage-surf delights; “Gypsy In Me” about wanting to fly away and escape – understood by any new mother in the throes of those early months of a bundle’s birth, is deep and bluesy; while “Little Pixie” is all sweet crooning.

She thrives with ballads and “Kentish Town Waltz” from her previous breakthrough album is a beautiful ode to her love – Darrel Higham, her husband who also plays guitar in her band. It is particularly raw and tender. It calls to mind country greats such as Patsy Cline.

An undeniable virtuoso, it is no accident that May has shared the stage with heavy weights such as Elvis Costello, Jools Holland, the late Lou Reed, female rockabilly pioneer Wanda Jackson whose last album was produced by Jack White, as well as Yardbirds legend and ex-Eric Clapton band mate, Jeff Beck.

Look out for the track “Hellfire Club”, describing a Harley Davidson gang-like dive that her parents use to take the family for picnics, with those frocks she wears so well, the lure of burlesque and band complete with double-bass and flugelhorn – you better hold on to your bobby-socks for Miss May.

Sun, Aug 10

No 7 - Watsky
No 7 - Watsky Imeh Akpanudosen

No 7 - Watsky

It’s going to be high-wattage for homegrown-San Francisco rapper Watsky if his sold-out gig at The Fillmore in April 2013, is anything to go by. He didn’t disappoint there when he dived off from the gallery where his Elementary School-librarian mom was proudly sitting, right into the crowd below. Amazingly, the home crowd delivered him safely and seamlessly back onto the stage. Unlike the folks at a recent London gig.

George Watsky was part of the prize-winning team at the National Youth Poetry Slam in 2006. The contest is a big deal, touted as “the Olympics of the performance poetry world”. Mostly it brings the stodgy rather literary idea of poetry off a page to life in coffee-shop face-offs, engaging a new generation with the art form.

Slam is part poetry, part rap with audience participation to help determine what points are given and who proceeds to the next level - it’s all spectacle. And the goal of slam is to expand poetry’s audience, as one canny poet espoused ‘the point is not the points, the point is the poetry’. And Watsky excelled on all fronts.

Immediately after his win, he appeared on the HBO show Russell Simons Presents Def Poetry in 2007. He then went on to perform in colleges around the country while still a freshman at Emerson College.

A sometimes-troublesome kid at school, he admits that slam poetry set him on the right path. He has since followed that trajectory and cultivated his own following with his YouTube videos, and self-releasing several mixtapes, plus live and studio albums.

Cardboard Castles” Watsky’s latest album released on his label, Steel Wool Media showcases his growth as a lyricist and performer, and has stand-out singles in “Moral of the Story”, “Cardboard Castles” and “Hey Asshole” featuring British popster, Kate Nash.

Though he can rap at the speed of light and rhyme like the millennial Shakespeare complete with socio-political themes, he has a tendency for much profanity, so shrinking violets beware as in his own words, “IDGAF”. Brace yourself for SF’s own Watsky and if he looks like he’s going to dive off the rafters into you, raise your rap hands and remember he ain’t heavy.

Sun, Aug 10