Big Surprises Delight Sold Out Crowd
During Day 1 of 2013 Outside Lands Music Festival
L. Paul Mann
It was a day full of surprises for the sold out crowd that filled San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, for the sixth year of the massive Outside Lands Festival. A typical cold and foggy summer Bay area day, gave way to brief periods of sunshine, that highlighted the colorful costumes and clothes of festival goers. The music festival has consistently offered up some of the biggest names in pop music over it's short history, and opening day 2013 was no exception. Headliner Paul McCartney brought his massive “Out There” tour to the main stage. But his legendary marathon concert was preceded by dozens of well known bands from a myriad of musical genres, spread across four main stages. There actually were five main stages spread over the sprawling festival grounds during the events' first few seasons. One was removed to accommodate more concessions, bathrooms, and a circus tent full of performance artists and popular comedy stars. The extra stage hasn’t been missed by many, however, as it is still nearly impossible to traverse the huge festival grounds int time to catch all the acts on the bill, even if only for a few songs. This year a small showcase tent was also added to allow some of the scheduled performers to play a second set, up close and personal, for a random crowd of passing festival goers. This year also saw the promoters vision of a complete wine and beverage festival within the festival reach maturity. Dozens of unique food stands and trucks offered up a sampling of some of the finest San Francisco cuisine. The large wine tasting tent, representing more than thirty wineries has been augmented by a veritable beer festival, in several locations across the park.
But it is the incomparable musical line up that is the glue that keeps this festival going form year to year. Day one of this years festival featured impressive musical performances that catered to nearly ever music lover's taste. The main stage opened with sets by Indie music rockers The Smith Westerns and Surfer Blood. The latter, led by young singer John Paul Pitt, seemed to soothe the mood of early music fans and had the crowd smiling and dancing by the end of their set. Over on the Sutro stage, The Heavy was playing some classic, soul infused blues rock. Although, the British Indie band from Bath, England, has only been recording music for the last five years, their sound is reminiscent of the best of 1960's American Soul and Blues music. Led by explosive singer Kelvin Swaby, the “neo soul” band has an addictive retro sound that had the crowd swaying to the beat. English singer Jessie Ware followed, with an even more traditional sounding set of Rhythm and Blues style soul music. Already a star in her native country, the singer is becoming more a a global pop figure, largely on the back of her 2012 hit single “Wildest Moments”. Meanwhile, over on the smaller Panhandle stage, the British Indie Folk Rock band, Daughter was playing a moody set. By now it was apparent that English pop music was the dominant theme of day one of the festival. This trio records on one of the oldest and most respected Indie labels, 4AD. Playing music from their recently released first full album, “If You Leave”, the band explored moody experimental sounds, that blended well with the fog laden backdrop of lush green trees. The National was the first big ticket band to take the main stage, as the late afternoon air settled into a foggy mist. Although the Cincinnati based band is an American one, they may as well be English, as they too have recorded on the 4AD label, and have a retro 1980's sound, reminiscent of the biggest English groups in that genre.
The band has become immensely popular in recent years and has become a staple on the international music festival circuit. The band played a determined set filled with the first big surprises of the day. Early on, the band brought out the local San Francisco contemporary classical Kronos Quartet, to supplement their sound. The veteran string musicians offered up a rich new layer to The National's usual prodding rhythm. But the real surprise was yet to come, when the band brought out, perhaps the most famous San Francisco pop icon, Bob Weir, to jam on their final song, “Terrible Love”. The Grateful Dead's founding guitarist played and sang backing vocals with the band to the delight of generation's of San Francisco jam band fans. The festival surprises continued with a last minute fill in over on the Sutro stage, for ailing singer D'Angelo. The slot was filled by the disco era band Chic. Led by music genius, guitarist Nile Rodgers, the band proved to be the biggest surprise of the festival, delighting the audience with their classic hits spanning nearly 38 years. The band opened with their 1977 disco hit “Everybody Dance”. But thanks to the iconic Nile Rodgers, Chic, is not just a retro dance novelty act. Rodgers has penned and played music for some of pop music's biggest stars across the decades and currently is the signature performer on Daft Punk's single “Get Lucky”. The song is one of contemporary EDM's biggest hit songs ever. Everyone of the songs in the bands hour long set seemed to be an iconic classic spanning generations of dance music lovers and the band had the whole crowd dancing by the end.
But all of this incredible music throughout the day was merely the backdrop to one of the biggest events in live rock music history, a Paul McCartney concert. For McCartney, himself, it may seem a bit like being in the movie 'Groundhog Day', in which Bill Murray is condemned to repeat the same day of his life Ad infinitum. McCartney has been touring with the massive custom stage, complete with, one of a kind, giant vertical digital video screens, since his 2009 appearance at Coachella music festival. That was his first big show in the U.S. in decades and the debut of his massive new set. It was also the last big ticket classic rock band band to headline that festival. Since then, the consummate showman has tweaked his set, including the recent addition of six new songs to his repertoire. He added these to his extensive set at the beginning of the newest leg of his tour, which began in Brazil this year. But the core of his set list has remained the same, with most of his iconic songs each accompanied by a massive custom video and light show, created long ago. But the most startling regiment in his now nearly four year long on and off tour, is his almost verbatim banter in between songs. From his early on comment “Let me stop and take a minute to take it all in”, to his song anecdotes, like the story of being in the audience with Eric Clapton at a Jimi Hendrix concert, nearly every word is precisely choreographed, for each and every concert. Even his outfit is choreographed like that of a performance artist. The former Beatle always first appears onstage in a formal long English style top coat. After several songs he sheds his coat, revealing his trademark Beatles style white silk shirt and black tie. By the end of his marathon set, he has rolled up his sleeves, shed his tie and ends up looking a bit like a sweaty blues singer in a nightclub. This scenario is repeated Ad infinitum on his tour. This may not be a negative thing, however, as most fans have probably never seen a Beatles concert, and few have even seen a McCartney concert, so every word of Sir Paul's regimented presentation seems tailor made to address and educate an adoring crowd. Of course, a concert is all about the performance and music and their couldn’t be a bigger or better performance than the 39 or so song set list that the legendary musician offers up. Especially when most songs are culled from the Beatles extensive catalog of classics. Right from the opening song, the early Beatles hit tune “Eight Days A Week”, (Which was just added to the show this year), the venerable Beatle captured the crowd’s full attention. Generations of music fans were riveted to the stage. By the time the personable and cheeky performer had finished his near three hour set, nearly every member of the audience had danced and sang to at least one of their favorite Beatles tunes. With all the spectacle, especially during songs like Wings, trademark 1973 James Bond theme song “Live and Let Die” (Complete with explosions, fireworks, and fire balls), it is easy to forget the immense musical talent of the consummate 71 year old performer. The ambidextrous musician moved effortlessly throughout the set, playing no less than ten different instruments, including his signature Hofner 500/1 bass, electric guitars, acoustic guitars, twelve string guitar, ukelele, and piano. It is also nothing short of amazing that the master septuagenarian can sing and play for nearly three hours, nearly twice as long as most other pop performers, even the ones a third of his age.
The mighty McCartney did manage to sneak in some surprises during his regimented set. He always leaves a slot to play a song unique to the area that he is playing. For Outside Lands he covered the Jesse Fuller tune “San Francisco Bay Blues”. Late in the show he pulled a pair of awe struck girls from the audience that had held signs saying, “Paul I want you to be my first tattoo”. He took a moment to embrace the girls onstage and tattoo them with a marking pen. Judging by the expressions on their faces, they may never shower again. He also had the Kronos Quartet join him during the encore, to play backing strings for “Yesterday”, in a riveting performance. The show ended with the usual “Helter Skelter” jam and the medley of songs that end the “Abbey Road” album. And in the end, as McCartney says at the end of every show, from the lines of the song with the same name, the regimented experience may be just what music fans really want. People who have witnessed a McCartney show over the last four years share a symbiotic experience, which harkens back to a simpler time, when Beatlemania ruled pop music. In the 1960's, there was limited television and millions would see the same rare televised musical performance. Records were the only way to buy music so millions purchased the same albums, complete with photos and art work. In today's ADD world of watered down choices, segmented music fans are splintered into groups, following endless pop sub genres. They are bombarded with musical multimedia from all directions. There may never again be such huge iconic pop stars like the Beatles capturing such a comprehensive global audience in singular lockstep. Well done yet again, Sir Paul and Outside Lands.