Despite the hellacious will-call line off Fulton Street at Outside Lands on Friday – moved from previous years — the first day of the 11th annual Golden Gate Park concert extravaganza went off well for thousands of revelers with ample budgets enjoying the variety of music, food and, yes, plenty of drink in the glorious outdoors.
And San Francisco’s infamous summer fog and cold kindly missed the proceedings, too, leaving the multitudes of young women wearing tube tops, strapless tops, shorts and ripped up jeans OK with what could have been unwise wardrobe choices.
Onstage, Grammy- and Juno award-winning Canadian R&B star The Weeknd (born Abel Makkonen Tesfaye) was a party monster in his first Outside Lands appearance, headlining the main Lands End stage in the packed polo field; he was preceded by electronic act Odesza (Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight aka Catacombkid and BeachesBeaches) who kept the crowd dancing with guests and hits like “It’s Only” and “Say My Name”; and N.E.R.D, the “avant funk” genre-bending hip-hop, funk, rap, rock outfit with Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo and Shay Haley.
At the other end of the grounds on the Twin Peaks stage, Beck (a festival veteran), backed by a tight band, harkened back to the 20th century, with his eclectic set encompassing his long, wide, varied alt-rock career. Wearing a hat that made him look Amish, he had a groovy light show, and on “Loser,” had thousands of fans belting along, “I’m a loser.”
Before Beck, Father John Misty (ironic singer-songwriter Josh Tillman) swaggered around the Lands End stage playing hits “Nancy From Now On” and “Chateau Lobby #4” before breaking into his latest album, “God’s Favorite Customer.”
Even with fanfare from horns and a string section of local players, Tillman was the center of attention, wearing a tight black suit and shirt with buttons undone a few too low, in front of a video backdrop with an animated version of himself driving a convertible through the desert with a woman in the passenger seat. It was a scene out of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”
Tillman pointed, paced and even sat cross-legged, acting anguished. He sang to the crowd: “What’s your politics? What’s your religion? What’s your intake? Your reason for living?” The crowd shouted back.
Earlier on the stage, Perfume Genius played a mid-afternoon set while crowds were still relatively light, although nighttime would have been a better backdrop for singer Mike Hadreas’ brand of moody synth pop. He wore a bright blue silky shirt and did sinuous dance moves during his series of introspective, anthemic songs (often evoking 1980s bands such as Erasure and Depeche Mode) including his single “Wreath.”
Speaking of introspective and moody, Southern California-based producer songwriter Elohim appeared in a hood and long raincoat, singing and playing her electronic equipment on the closing set on the Panhandle stage.
Earlier in the day, 18-year-old Los Angeles-based Olivia O’Brien (with purple hair, wearing bike shorts and a midriff) known the hit “I hate u, I love u,” had a current pop sound and strong presence.
She was followed by up-and-coming East Bay rapper Caleborate (Caleb Parker), who seemed pleased to be on a big stage and had no shirt on at the end of his set.
Later came singer-songwriter Lucy Dacus, who has two critically acclaimed albums under her belt but isn’t yet a household name.
A small but dedicated crowd camped out waiting for her to start, and the audience quickly grew once she did. On her albums, her songs are hushed, mellow, wry and thoughtful. In person, her demeanor remained modest, but her band kicked up the volume, turning some numbers into genuine rockers. When the audience sang along to “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore” and “Night Shift,” she thanked them and said, “That’s the best gift you can give a songwriter.”
Across the polo field, Mac DeMarco closed out the Sutro Stage with a few tricks. Literally. Wearing a bucket hat, oversized clothing, smoking a cigarette and looking like a roadie, he entered the stage unannounced, and stood at the microphone before asking the crowd to watch him do a handstand. Then he tumbled forward.
He then jumped into the song “Salad Days” as onlookers, including his girlfriend, sat at a table off at the side of the stage. He called them his “bistro,” and also wished not just one, but two, band members a happy birthday.
The playful lo-fi set was topped off by retro video games projected behind the band. But his lyrics were not without substance. “Uh-oh,” he goaded the audience to sing along with him, with more and more anger. “Looks like I’m seeing more of my old man in me.”
Earlier in the evening, California garage rockers The Growlers jammed on the Sutro Stage (“Night Ride” was among the tunes); they were preceded by suit-and-bow-tie wearing Chicano Batman, the bold band of Los Angeles Latinos rocking out with their blazing mix of psych, funk, indie, tropicalia and electric guitar-rock.
Before that, a massive crowd packed the Sutro Stage for Rex Orange County, the act of English songwriter Alexander O’Connor, who unhappily played solo, saying his tour bus broke down. Still, he was evocative and played a mean piano.
Classy Nashville-based Americana-country darling Margo Price and her rockin’ band were afternoon highlights on the same stage, sounding great on “A Little Pain” and “Four Years of Chances” as well as tributes to John Fogerty and Tom Petty.
But in terms of pure pop, a rare-ish thing at Outside Lands, Carly Rae Jepsen was the queen of the day in her late afternoon Twin Peaks set. Dressed all in white (cute fringed-pants!) and wearing sunny yellow sunglasses, she exuded soulful earnestness and upbeat energy, gushing to the packed crowd, “You’re the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen.” Her uptempo pop songs had everyone dancing and waving, and things really erupted with hits “Boy Problems” and “Call Me Maybe” (in front of video with old-school phones with dials and cords), during which the bathroom line even broke out in spontaneous dance.
So far, so good on day one: We wonder if the show was a fun for three wrist-band free guys who jumped the fence in the afternoon. Did they make it or did security catch up with them?
— Sara Gaiser and Michael Barba contributed to this report