First thing on Saturday at Outside Lands, Fatai, a purple-haired Australian solo female act, kicked off proceedings at the Panhandle with her soulful voice and Beyoncé-style runs. The small-stage opener finished her set with a Destiny’s Child medley that notably included the hit “Say My Name.”
Backed by a guitarist and drummer with boundless energy, Fatai performed every song on her small discography – seven songs on Spotify since 2015 – and made a lot of new fans with her inviting personality and incredible vocal range. The best song was her latest single, “Road Less Traveled,” with tempo changes and overlaid harmonies.
The uplifting 40-minute set was a nice way to start the day and tease the musical palate of the range of performers to come.
At Lands End, German recording artistNoMBe – short for Noah McBeth – was the second artist to take the main stage on the Polo Field, showing a flair for the dramatic, falling down or crouching to a knee at least eight times during his set.
Combining a warm summer soundscape with rock-infused guitar riffs and percussion, NoMBe played songs from his debut album, including “Summer’s Gone” and “Milk and Coffee.”
But his acoustic cover of Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy” was most striking. Though his rendition departed from the hypnotic electronic background of the chart-topper, NoMBe managed to capture the low growl of Eilish’s melodic voice, pairing her lyrics with prominent keyboard and guitar parts.
Another highlight was when he jumped into the crowd during his song “Jump Right In,” happy to interact with the growing audience at Lands End.
Wallows, a Los Angeles indie band with guitarists Braeden Lemasters and Dylan Minnette and drummer Cole Preston, followed NoMBe, attracting passersby by playing The Beatles’ “Blackbird,” a nice reproduction led by Lemasters that got a mass of people swaying.
Minnette took over the reins for the rest of the set, rocking out to happy jams like “These Days” and “Scrawny” in front of captivating visuals onscreen. Impressively, the band injected levity, inciting the crowd to bounce around and scream along to the songs.
Over on the Sutro Stage, Filipino-American folk singer Haley Heynderickx must have experienced vertigo looking over the vast Lindley Meadow in the afternoon.
“We are used to playing bars. Maybe it’ll convince my mom that I shouldn’t become a nurse,” the Portland artist timidly said during her previously unannounced set (listed as TBD on paper schedules handed out at the entrance).
Shy, revealing and not great at small talk, Heynderickx, 23, blamed her debut 2018 album “I Need to Start a Garden” for stopping to re-tune her guitar between each song. “Any other thoughts while I awkwardly tune?” she asked.
But when she sang, she was confident, in her words, her volume and her place in the world.
“I need to start a garden,” she repeatedly sang until she was shouting it, her voice up to its breaking point. Though she spoke with uncertainty, she was under control in performance.
Over at Twin Peaks in Hellman Hollow, rapper Tierra Whack crowned herself as the Dr. Seuss of hip hop.
The Philadelphia-raised artist was dressed like a character straight out of the popular children’s books, in front of an image of green eggs and ham onscreen.
A rhymer and lyricist reflecting hip hop through a fun-house mirror, she shouted obscenities in the song “Cable Guy”: “It goes like ABC, All Boys Cry; “MTV, Men Touch Vaginas. BET, Bitches Eat Tacos.”
In the studio, Whack often raps with an understated edge. Onstage, she dials up the energy. On Saturday, with her confrontational style, songs like “Gloria” had an extra punch.
But Whack had nothing on Chicago rapper CupcakKe (aka Elizabeth Eden Harris), who warmed up the audience at Gastro Magic stage with an obscene talk-dirty-to me-set that had listeners gleefully making their way across Lindley Meadow to hear more.
Wearing a leopard print outfit that showed plenty of underboob, she didn’t hold back on the song “Vagina,” which starts, “Remind ya, I’m kinda (wet).” It was an ear- and eye-catching follow to the sort-of cooking demo she did moments before with Bon Appetit chef Andy Baraghani; she wouldn’t eat the oysters he prepared, but she did enjoy egging on tasters from the audience to “slurp.”
She later repeated her adult-rated performance to an amazed crowd on the Panhandle stage.
In contrast, electronica and R&B artist Alina Baraz sauntered onto the Lands End stage 25 minutes late, seemingly barely showing up to perform. It sounded as though she lip-synced her way through the set, hardly grasping the attention of half the audience. Her act included an unimpressive gimmick: Artists creating art works on two four-sided trapezoidal canvases on either side of the stage.
The most damning moment of Baraz’s hour-long performance was the point where she instructed the audience to “slow it down” after multiple slow songs, then proceeded to leave the stage as her band played in the background.
While her band offered the Ohio-born singer the backing of a major-hit artist, in the end, her show was flourish and no substance. It was a bombastic performance, if even that.
No one could be prepared for the stark contrast between the pulsing sleep-inducing music of Baraz and the oversaturated stimulation that Grammy-winning electronic artist Flume (Harley Edward Streten, in a sheen jumpsuit and with unruly hair) offered in the next set.
Flume’s entrance on the main stage turned the crowd into a non-stop mosh pit.
Perhaps the Australian DJ is in a major career and life transition. Smashing ceramic pots and speakers on stage as the music played, he delivered a set that was part-musical act, part-performance art.
He made all the necessary pit stops, performing more abrasive songs from his experimental mixtape, “Hi This is Flume” and returning to essential tracks like “Sleepless” and a remix of Lorde’s “Tennis Court.”
Veteran folk-pop-rock artist Edie Brickell appeared with her band the New Bohemians on the Sutro Stage, in a confident, appealing set that illustrated the singer-songwriter’s versatility. She sounded great on her first hit “What I Am” from her hit debut 1988 album “Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars,” but also on new material, such as “Green Magic” from her 2018 recording “Rocket.”
Following Brickell, Phosphorescent played an easy-listening set on the Sutro Stage. The indie rock band, the project of Nashville singer-songwriter Matthew Houck, closed out with hits from the new and old albums, playing the airy “Song for Zula,” the rambling “Wolves” and the happier “New Birth in New England.”
After Phosphorescent, beloved singer-songwriters Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers shared the Sutro Stage as Better Community Oblivion Center.
Oberst and his angsty voice are from the indie band Bright Eyes. While Bridgers, 24, might as well be half his age, she has her own solo career as well as another collaboration called Boygenius.
The duo genuinely looked like they were having fun as they played through most of their premiere album – the rockin’ “Dylan Thomas” sounded great; later, Bridgers was on her knees, screaming in the closing dramatic tune.
At one point, Bridgers called Oberst her “arch-nemesis,” and Oberst in turn led the crowd in a baseball clap chant of “Phoe-be Bridge-rs” after Oberst thanked the audience being “so sweet.”
As Hozier (Irish folk-rock-artist Andrew John Hozier-Byrne) packed Lindley Meadow for a crowd-pleasing headlining Sutro Stage performance, Childish Gambino – akaDonald Glover – rose skyward on a 30-foot platform located about 50 yards away from the main Lands End stage.
He stood, like a marble statue, under a spotlight as a choir cried out the intro to “Algorhythm,” a new song. When the beat kicked in and the platform lowered, Gambino ran to the main stage and begin to rap.
He immediately instructed the audience to put away their phones. “This is church,” he said.
He sang “Summertime Magic” and “The Worst Guys,” counting the audience into beat drops and shimmying across stage shirtless, putting on a show as much as singing. Fireworks exploded.
Calling the Bay Area a second home – mentioning Telegraph Avenue in Oakland – he also preached, in song and spoken word, about how people need to love themselves.
Music from his 2016 album “Awaken My Love!” and a new song called “Human Sacrifice” set the perfect mood under the late night black sky.
In what he said promoters told him was the most attended day at Outside Lands to date, he closed Saturday with some of his most popular songs:“3005,” “Sweatpants,” and “Redbone.”
Michael Barba, Leslie Katz and Lloyd Lee contributed to this report.