Judging from the final day of 2015’s eighth Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival in Golden Gate Park, melodic pop music still has a few fans.
On Sunday at the main Lands End stage, headliner Sir Elton John, 68, blazed through a thrilling few hours of 1970s-era radio hits to a few folks old enough to remember them, but a mostly younger audience that knows him from “Tiny Dancer” from the movie “Almost Famous.”
Wearing a neon blue bejeweled jacket (almost reminiscent of Liberace), the virtuosic piano rocker began with “The Bitch is Back” (“bitch” wasn’t a word heard often in pop songs in 1974), and, sounding as tight as on his records, barreled through his catalog: “Your Song,” “Daniel,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Rocket Man,” “Bennie and the Jets,” “Candle in the Wind,” Crocodile Rock” and particularly evocative versions of “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down on Me” and “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word.”
Appropriately toward the end, “I’m Still Standing” (in front of video of John’s career and costumes, from outlandish 1970s platforms and sunglasses to muted ’90s suits) played on the massive screens. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer warned, however, that, after 47 years of touring, he is ready to put his piano in storage, at least for a while. “I want to see my sons grow up!” he said, referring to his children with husband David Furnish.
Perfectly preceding John was fellow Britisher Sam Smith, the multi-Grammy winning crooner with a soulful voice and unbeatable charm. Mentioning that he wrote tunes from his huge hit album “In The Lonely Hour” when he was in a sad place — not where he is now — he added: “These are no longer my songs. They’re your songs.” Most of his followers knew all the words, but he had the entire polo field with “Stay With Me,” “Lay Me Down” and “I’m Not the Only One.”
Nate Ruess, lead singer of the band fun., was charged up and in equally fine form at the Lands End stage, sounding great on his anthem “We Are Young,” and offering catchy new solo material. British electronic band Hot Chip was less exciting; lead singer Alexis Taylor, in a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt, looked and sounded bored (although some people danced).
Meanwhile, at the Sutro stage, Benjamin Booker (preceded by English singer-songwriter James Bay, of “Hold Back the River” fame) gave a crowd a glimpse of a nascent rock star.
The New Orleans singer lit a fuse to a noisy mix of bluesy soul and garage rock. A pounding rhythm section added dancey fuel to songs from his debut album, 2014’s “Benjamin Booker,” and more. The show ended five minutes early, but for one happy, exhausted fan, that was OK. “I don’t think I could have taken much more!” she said with a laugh.
In the afternoon on the Panhandle stage, GIVERS, an indie group from Lafayette, La., attracted a merry band of followers who danced to upbeat and instrumental tunes in what was a nice midday escape from the venue frenzy.
At the Twin Peaks stage, DJ Mustard — an infamous producer for artists such as Tyga, Chris Brown, YG and Lil Jon — mixed songs and created a mainstream mashup attracting a massive crowd.
At the Pandhandle stage, Southern California-based Ryn Weaver, a pop indie singer and songwriter who has been around just since 2014, accumulated a large crowd that appreciated her hit “OctaHate,” a vocal and beat blend that evoked screams of approval.
Her hoard of fans moved over to Twin Peaks in preparation for ODESZA, an increasingly popular electronic duo. With their backs facing each other, they slammed on their keyboards while dancing, a sentiment viewers enthusiastically mirrored, and played beloved songs “Say My Name” and “All We Need” from the 2014 album “In Return.”
On the Sutro stage, The Devil Makes Three attracted a smaller crowd than Smith at Lands End, but fans appreciated spreading out in the open space as the Santa Cruz band delivered a mix of bluegrass jazz — music that kind of sounds like beer tastes.
Shortly thereafter, Slightly Stoopid took over, headed by lead guitarists Miles Doughty and Kyle McDonald. With its unique sound (which mixes folk, rock, reggae and blues with hip-hop, funk, metal and punk) it has attracted a religious-like following; its song “Collie Man” is a surfer boy anthem.
That band’s eclecticism exemplifies the beauty of Outside Lands, which once again seamlessly presented art, comedy and all types of music (from bluegrass, to deep house, to new artists and industry legends) to tens of thousands of groovin’ concertgoers. The festival also puts woodland creatures into hiding while simultaneously bringing out the inner animal in all of us: All freaks are welcome, and many already are looking forward to next year’s lineup.
— Kate Rogers and Giselle Velazquez contributed to this report