Janet Jackson, stopping in The City on her State of the World tour, closed the 11th Outside Lands on the big Lands End stage on Sunday with impressive power and style in what may go down in festival history as the year of the woman.
At 52, the pop star looked and sounded fantastic — amazingly, she gave birth to a child just 17 months ago– in an extravaganza showcasing her long, groundbreaking career as an R&B innovator.
Production values were high: Video footage at the start touched upon police violence against black men, and “We want justice” flashed on the screen.
But she was there to party, too. Decked out in shiny black pants and a glitter and lace black top, flipping her crimped fall, she and her dancers busted familiar moves (their influence on the likes of Britney and Beyonce was noticeable) and she didn’t miss a breath or beat. They powered through her catalog: “Nasty,” “Miss You Much,” “What Have You Done for Me Lately,” “The Pleasure Principle” before briefly slowing down a bit for “Love Will Never Do (Without You”). She said she wrote “When I Think of You” (her first No. 1 hit) when she was 19.
She only changed once, into a football jersey and shorts, and came out into the crowd (escorted by bodyguards) for a few non-dance tunes.
Sadly, she didn’t sing “Let’s Wait Awhile,” but she did pay tribute to her late father Joe Jackson in a montage of photos of them together, and her late brother Michael — whom she resembles – with “Scream.”
She’s the ultimate pro, as was 21st century funk, soul and rap artist Janelle Monáe, whose earlier bold set on the same stage included new music from “Dirty Computer” and powerful political material from her earlier concept albums “Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase),” “The ArchAdroid” and “The Electric Lady.”
Not attired in her trademark tuxedo, at the outset she donned a mod-looking red, white and black color-blocked vinyl jacket and hip boots, which she later replaced with a long coat, and sat on a throne for the tune “Q.U.E.E.N.”
Also soulful, but with a contrasting flowing quiet storm style, was Sabrina Claudio, who was thrilled to be doing an afternoon set in Lindley Meadow. Wearing a slinky, form-fitting black dress, the singer from Miami of Cuban and Puerto Rican descent said she didn’t want to leave the Sutro Stage after delivering emotional versions of “Don’t Let Me Down” and “Belong to You.”
She was followed by the androgynous rockin’ LP (born Laura Pergolizzi), who has co-written tunes for Rihanna and Christina Aguilera, plays a ukulele and looks a bit like Bob Dylan (whom she has said she counts as an influence). Vocally, she’s all over the place, compared to everyone from Feist to Annie Lennox, and her catchy songs resonate with depth, too, as in the “We are all strange” refrain of “Strange.”
Sitting at a keyboard, somber English producer James Blake toned things down on his first few numbers — “Life Round Here” and Timeless” — at the Sutro Stage, while over in the Polo Field, Portland-based Portugal. The Man, took the spot between Janelle and Janet.
An opening video with clips of Beavis and Butthead and an on-screen pronouncement “bow down to the greatest band in the world” perhaps was satire, or maybe not; it was hard to tell. Later, a statement on screen touted real instruments (strings, too) and no computers onstage. Lead vocalist John Baldwin Gourley and company played a set filled with experimental, psych rock (including a Pink Floyd cover) before closing with the 2018 Grammy-winning pop gem “Feel It Still” — which sounded nothing like the rest of the songs.
Yet the best of three-day lineup comes down to female power: Billie English, Margo Price, Carly Rae Jepsen, Lizzo, Chvrches’ Lauren Mayberry, Florence Welch, Sabrina Claudio, LP, Tash Sultana, Janelle Monáe and Janet Jackson were highlights amid the festival’s notably widely varied offerings of electronic, hip-hop, rock and R&B — something for everybody.
Next year’s goal: To not get trampled during the treks amid the vast spaces of the Polo Field, Lindley Meadow and Hellman Hollow, particularly the small clearing with the bay tree between the Lands End and Sutro stages.