As is often the case, the closing set of the 12th Outside Lands was the best.
On Sunday, Paul Simon, 77, backed by a large band and chamber ensemble, put on a great show on the big Lands End stage, with a set list encapsulating his career, from “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” the anthem he wrote when he was 28, to his multicultural albums “Graceland” and “The Rhythm of the Saints.”
He even had a San Francisco reference, mentioning that his song “Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War” — which he played — was inspired by reading a book Joan Baez had when they were playing a Bread and Roses benefit concert here decades ago.
And proceeds from this Outside Lands show will benefit San Francisco Parks Alliance and Friends of the Urban Forest. He said, “We’ll get in there and save our planet.”
Early in the set, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” “Mother and Child Reunion” and “Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard” were standouts, and in the encore, he brought out Bob Weir for “The Boxer” and closed with the classic “The Sound of Silence.” He’s a class act, indeed.
Simon was preceded by Texas soul singer Leon Bridges, who switched expertly between romantic ballads and upbeat Southern boogie on “Beyond,” “River,” “Smooth Sailin’” and “If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be).” He seemed to invoke the spirit of generations of swing dancers before him as he slid across the stage.
Also on Lands End, country star Kacey Musgraves showed off her pop side in a too short set of songs mostly from her Grammy-winning 2018 album “Golden Hour”: “Slow Burn,” “Lonely Weekend,” “Butterflies,” “Love Is a Wild Thing,” “Velvet Elvis,” “Wonder Woman,” “Rainbow” and the title tune.
Looking sleek in black leggings, high heels and backed by an excellent five-piece band, the singer at the outset said, “Forget about anything that could be remotely negative in your life right now.” She even went sort of disco, covering “I Will Survive.” Though she sounded great, it would have been nice to hear her more edgy material, like “Merry Go Round” from her debut album “Same Trailer Different Park.”
She was preceded by high-energy head-banging music from Nashville-based folk rock band Judah and the Lion. Frontman Judah Akers, mandolin player Brian Macdonald and banjo player Nate Zuercher and guest band members played a 50-minute set including the anthem “Take It All Back” and tunes from the 2019 album “Pep Talks.” Toward the end of the set, they left and returned wearing leotards, mimicking a boy band and breaking into a choreographed dance.
Before that, gospel great Mavis Staples, with a guitarist, bassist and two backup singers, entertained a young and old audience. She interspersed spoken word — acknowledging horrible things happening today — but also truly cultivated warmth and happiness with tunes from her 2019 album “We’ll Get By.”
Grammy-nominated PJ Morton, fresh off his second studio album “PAUL,” opened the day on the Lands End stage. The New Orleans-born keyboardist for Maroon 5 since 2012 perspired through his army-green crew neck as he capped off his 50-minute repertoire with a 10-minute rendition of “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright,” which included an improvised solo.
Twin Peaks Stage
Meanwhile, opening the day on the Twin Peaks Stage, Leven Kali gave a bouncy hair-raising performance, sporting what looked to be a personal flotation device over his shirtless body. The grateful Santa Monica singer songwriter played his hits, including “Do U Wrong,” “Smile” and “Cassandra.”
Later at the stage, Harlem-born rapper Sheck Wes (Khadimou Rassoul Cheikh Fall) pumped fans in mosh pits full of adrenaline and brought them as close to danger as musically and visually possible.
“Let me see you psych out,” he intonated as mugshots of arrested strangers flashed on a screen.
Militant as he typically is, Wes, 20, wearing gloves (also a usual) and camo pants, fired off words like shotgun rounds. Though his words were violent, he didn’t incite violence. He provided an emotional reprieve from the real, unhinged brutality and “hella problems” his generation faces. After performing the hit “Mo Bamba,” Wes offered advice: “If you’re in college, don’t drop out,” he urged. “If you have a job, don’t drop out.”
Meanwhile, at the Sutro Stage, Clementine Creevy, the unruly 22-year-old founder, singer and guitarist of the punk trio Cherry Glazerr — with blond hair, a cream nightgown slip, brown Doc Martens and a devious grin — harnessed her 1990s Courtney Love side.
Accompanied by a blazing guitar, the Los Angeles-born rocker sang tales of rebellion. In “Daddi,” from the 2019 album “Stuffed & Ready,” the frontwoman ironically sang: “Where should I go daddy? What should I say?”
While most of her words were indiscernible, either due to a mic that filtered her voice with reverb or her inability to project, and though the lyrics were obscured among howls and moans, Cherry Glazerr’s riotous attitude was apparent. Stomping around in her boots and wildly waving her hair, Creevy’s cathartic message came through, by showing, rather than telling.
As Toro y Moi, Chaz Bear dropped Bay Area references throughout his early evening appearance at the Sutro Stage.
“I can’t take the BART, makes me paranoid,” the Oakland local sings on new track. His set veered toward hip-hop and away from the chillwave scene he came to prominence with around 2010.
He was followed by Anderson .Paak, who should have been on a bigger stage.
The rapper-drummer, aka Brandon Paak Anderson, attracted an audience that stretched to the Ranger Dave statue at the festival entrance. Wearing a beanie, hot orange sunglasses and a red-and-gold romper, Paak — with his band the Free Nationals, attired in tie dye — opened with “Heart Don’t Stand A Chance.” He ratcheted things up, transitioning into “Come Down,” a song with one of the greatest basslines of all times, sending Lindley Meadow into mass hysteria.
On “Tints” and “King James,” he descended from an ivy-wrapped drumset to center stage and sauntered around, amid flames and fireworks.
Moving seamlessly between drums and the front-center microphone, Anderson made an hour-long set feel like 15 minutes. He ended with a beautiful tribute to Mac Miller, who died from accidental drug overdose nearly a year ago, by performing “Dang!” a Miller song on which he was featured.
Paul Simon notwithstanding, for many fans, it was the performance of the night.
Michael Barba, Lloyd Lee and Andrew Tan contributed to this report.