From A Strong “Kiddo” to a Goddess, Day 2 At Outside Lands Featured Strong Performances By Women Thoughts & Photos of Jessie Reyez, Lizzo, Broken Social Scene, Chvrches, Bon Iver & Florence + The Machine
SAN FRANCISCO, CA- Day 2 of Outside Lands would be one that would test my patience and endurance. As a concert photographer, there are certain artists that who I will go out of my way to photograph. One such artist is Florence Welch.
Insofar as Florence + The Machine was the main stage headliner, I knew that the only way I’d be able to really capture decent photos of her after my Day 1 “from-the-crowd” attempts would be head over to the main stage early and gradually make my way up to the front of the general admittance crowd with my gear in tow. As such, I didn’t get the opportunity to check out some of the great non-main stage act that were slated to perform.
The one and only, Day 2, non-main stage performance I was able to catch was that from the singer songwriter Jessie Reyez.
Jessie released her first EP, Kiddo, in 2017, but I didn’t catch wind of her music until I’d read that she had been awarded a Juno Award for “Breakthrough Artist” earlier this year. When I started to delve into her history and her recordings, I was immediately drawn to her powerful track about infidelity and how to cope with it: “Figures”. But it was was her song (and short film), “Gatekeepers”) that really amazed me.
As she’s a relatively new artist, she used her time on stage to really let the audience know who she was and what she’s been through. When she wasn’t pouring out her emotions through song, she was giving the audience brief histories of the songs that she was performing. It was like she was treating this performance like a first date, and we were all hanging on over word and note that came out of her mouth.
She talked about inclusive nature of love before getting the audience to shout, “Love who we want to love.” Before performing her song “Sola” she talked about her life as a child of an immigrant. She talked about the scumbag producer who told her she needed to “suck a d*ck for a deal” before getting into “Gatekeeper” After finishing “Gatekeeper”, she stated that, “The “Me Too” movement is not f*cking new.”
The whole performance was drenched in emotion, and those emotions manifested itself physically as Jessie wiped away a legitimate tear from her cheek. “Don’t fuck up a prayer,” Jessie urged, “Don’t be a hero. Cry for a day. Move forward.” Jessie is a strong woman, and her early afternoon performance at Outside Lands was 100% about self-empowerment, and self-expression, letting the audience get an unfiltered an true look at an artist who’s got all the potential in the world.
After Jessie’s set had ended, I decided to grab enough food and water to embark on what would be a literal 8 hour stand in one spot. I meandered to the main-stage and luckily enough I was able to find a decent location up at the already crowded front of the crowd at around 2:00pm. I’m glad I decided to get situated early for Florence as her rabid fans would only get the area more crowded in the next hour or so to secure their own spots for the her headlining performance.
At 2:20pm, the Minneapolis-based rapper Lizzo came roaring to the stage. Lizzo is a force of nature. Period.
Lizzo’s been in the music game for a while. Not only has she been a part of several hip hop (Crime Mob, Cornroll Clique) and R&B (Chalice) groups and crews, she’s worked with a impressive list of artists that cover the musical genre spectrum from Prince & 3rdEyeGirl to Bastille to Har Mar Superstar and opened from non-hip hop acts like Sleater-Kinney. I think I know why.
There’s something undeniable about Lizzo’s stage presence. There’s a kind of magnetism to her personality that goes really makes you go, “I’d really like to be her friend… her best friend” Sure, her performance- backed by a DJ and two hyped dancers (the “Big Girls”)- is bright, thumping and guaranteed to get a party started virtually anywhere, but there’s something about her warm confidence that really makes you feel comfortable to be where you’re at in the moment. Lizzo is all about body positivity and self-love, and she made sure that San Fransisco knew where she was coming from, making her performance that much more authentic and real to enjoy. Heck, if she could get my non-rhythmic hips to engage in her “twerk-tutorial”, she can pretty much get anybody to fall in love with her as well.
Next up, from the other side of the continent, was the indie rock collective Broken Social Scene. Throughout it’s existence, Broken Social Scene has been as large as a 15 person band, and for their latest album, Hug of Thunder (2017), had the full slate of musicians to record the same. At Outside Lands, 8 members graced the main stage.
Broken Social Scene was on the line-up for Outside Land’s inaugural outing, and they acknowledged the privilege of people still following their music after all these years to be invited back again to perform for the masses, even after a 8 year hiatus. “Were still living it, and we still love you,” said Broken Social Scene’s Brenden Canning during the set.
Hug of Thunder is one of Broken Social Scene’s more cheerful albums. Even with its politically and socially charged themes, its sonics are bright and vibrant, and that’s exactly what they gave Outside Lands with their performance. Their set was an equal mix of songs from their latest album and some of their most popular hits, and offered both fans old and new something they could groove to. Even though they admitted that they wrote about serious subject matter because we live in serious times, it was hard not to blissfully sway to their sonics and get lost in their music with a smile.
I’ve always loved Chvrches. Sometimes big synths and bigger hooks are just what you need to pull you up and out from a rut, and Chrvches have that in spades. Their third studio album, Love Is Dead, was released earlier this year, and the Scottish trio has been touring in support of it, dropping by Outside Lands to swath San Fransisco with their passionate electronic pop.
Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty were in fine form on the main stage, dropping their anthemic melodies, one after another, to an adoring crowd. Love Is Dead’s clean production manifested itself in the live setting as all the instruments and vocals sounded crisp and sharp. In fact, the sonics were so bright, one couldn’t be blamed if you overlooked the often heavy lyrics that Ms. Mayberry sings.
But it would be shame if you completely overlooked the darker tones in their music as that’s what I think gives them an added layer of depth that distinguishes them from other electronic pop bands. Lauren’s light soprano voice and her bright pink flowing dress can mask some of those heavier, thoughtful themes (i.e., “We didn’t know what we wanted to be/ When did we move on?/ I didn’t feel it, nobody told me” from “Graffiti”) but they’re all there and that universal gravitas is what’s makes their music subconsciously addictive because we all feel what Lauren’s singing.
I had already seen Bon Iver perform a few weeks prior to Outside Lands, so I figured that getting so see him again would afford me the opportunity to photograph the elusive musician. I found out, however, that only select photographers were allowed to take pictures during his performance. I obviously wasn’t one of them.
[NOTE: The photo is in this post was taken AFTER his performance had ended, so technically I didn’t take any photos of his performance]
I’ve always found that I’ve enjoyed Bon Iver’s music the most when I was in a proper mood. It’s intimate and sensual and … well … moody. Thus, catching his late afternoon performance at Outside Lands while the sun was still out, after standing on my feet in one place for close five and a half hours wasn’t, perhaps, the best way to see him live.
Accompanied by a full band and the trombone ensemble “Trombone Paradise”, Justin Vernon was able to give the crowd a technically unmatched, performance. However, culling music mostly from his very experimental album 22, A Million, it, in my humble opinion, a very subdued performance. Bon Iver did play fan favorites “Holocene” and “For Emma”, but the notable absence of his most popular hit, “Skinny Love”, I’m sure left many fans longing.
After six and a half hours on my feet, the Goddess named Florence Welch took the stage accompanied by her wonderful Machine. Touring in support of her fourth full-length album, High as Hope, the audience awoke from their Bon Iver slumber with an eruption of uncontrollable cheers as soon as the stage lights dimmed prior to her entrance.
I don’t even know where to begin to describe Florence’s aura on stage. It was the first time I had been able to see her perform live, and my expectations were high because of glowing reviews from peers, but … wow … simply, wow. Etherial. Spritely. Elven. Mystical. Earthly. Motherly. Florence Welch was all these things, and for a few moments the pain in my feet and the throbbing in my back vanished as I was transported to this songstress’ musical dimension.
Barefoot, wearing a sheer, white, flowing gown, Florence commanded the stage effortlessly, drawing the audience in with her magnetism and conviction. When she urged us to “Hug a stranger”, we were compelled to turn to our neighbors and reach out for an embrace. When she confessed that despite the troubling times, “My heart hurts a lot right now, but I believe in people, and I believe in love,” you felt immediately comforted and believed in love too.
There was a particular moment during the performance that seemed strangely magical to me. Early on in her set, she had asked the audience to put away their cell phones. During “What Kind Of Man” (prior to the encores), she leapt off the stage to physically engage her fans while she sang. One such fan, who was standing about 4 people away from me, was recording the moment on his cell phone, which she noticed, and she gently took the phone from the man’s hand, gave a gentle look into his eyes before returning the phone to him, whereupon the young man literally humbled himself to her and put his phone away. She then placed her hand on his face, and the young man gazed into her eyes with an indescribable humanity (unbelievable, I actually found video of the moment which is embedded below). In that brief moment, I witnessed an entire universe of emotions, which I still can’t quite adequately describe, other than it being simply magical.