From An Irish Bard To Two Turntables and A Microphone, Day 1 At Outside Lands Had It All Thoughts & Photos of Dermot Kennedy, Olivia O'Brien, Billie Eilish, N.E.R.D., Father John Misty, Elohim & Beck
SAN FRANCISCO, CA- Music Festivals have always been an opportunity for me to both discover “new” music while also catching acts that have always tickled my fancy. My weekend excursion to Outside Lands was no different.
I started my musical immersion with the souful crooning of Ireland’s Dermot Kennedy. I had heard from friends he possesses the same kind of passionate, troubadour soul of his fellow Irishman Glen Hansard, and my friends were right. This young man has got soul to spare. Just have a listen to his single “Couldn’t Tell” from his debut EP Doves and Raven. If you’re the emotional kind, I would recommend holding a hankie in your hands in case you happen to get something in your eye.
When he performs, the passion of his music physically manifests the young man. He sings his melodies with an intensity that even those in the back of the crowd can feel. His passion seems rooted in heartache, and as he sings his melodies with his eyes closed, you almost get a sense that tears soon will fall from his visage.
He’s a folk singer with a modern edge. While he could have gone completely acoustic a la Glen Hansard with his compositions, he was accompanied by sharp musical arrangement that helped steer the mood of his music from one path to the next. A very pleasant performance that certainly was a nice appetizer for the music the rest of the day had in store.
I had heard a lot about Olivia O’Brien prior to my arriving at Outside Land from my indie pop loving friends. Though I could have easily just caught this Thousand Oaks, CA resident perform in Los Angeles, it just so happened that I had meandered by her stage stage when her performance began.
For a 2:55pm start time, I was very impressed with this young singer’s turnout. There were hundreds of fans that were there in the audience to see her perform, and while that may not seem like a big deal at a music festival that hosts tens of thousands of attendees, the fact that literally all of them knew every single lyric she was singing was amazing. I was clearly the fish out of water here.
Her debut EP which was released in 2017, It’s Not That Deep, and is emotional dance-centric music and is like candy for the younger listener. It makes sense since Olivia is a teen (18) herself. With youthful themes like getting intoxicated on a crush and trying to fit in with a crowd running through her music, it’s definitely music that resonates with the youth and they were all eating it up.
For a young girl, Olivia has an ear for dope production. Her tracks are certifiable bangers, and she has unique vocal quality to boot. It will be interesting to hear how her music evolves as she matures into a young lady, and I hope she keeps affiliating with the right people to keep her on the upward track that she’s currently on.
Speaking of talented young singers, Olivia should really seek out some advice from the team who handles the 16 year old ingenue Billie Eilish. I was lucky enough to catch Billie perform a stripped down, acoustic version of show in a church at SXSW earlier this year, but I had yet to see her go H.A.M. for a pumped crowd. I saw her slay the Outside Lands main stage … on one foot.
Still recovering from a injured foot sustained earlier in the week, Billie didn’t let that hamper her from running around the stage and getting the crowd hyped, and the crowd got hyped with her.
As I was catching and photographing the performance from the crowd, I was surrounded by hordes of young women wearing paperwork crown with the name of their queen emblazoned thereon. Whoever handed out the crowns prior to Billie’s performance should get a marketing award as tying that in with her new single “You Should See Me In A Crown” was a pretty brilliant marketing move.
But the show wasn’t all about Billie. She let her equally talented brother Finneas get some shine with a solo of his “New Girl”, and he did an admirable job of connecting with the audience as he left the stage to sing into the audience from the railing.
But clearly, the audience was there to see Billie do her thing, and she was proof positive that age ain’t nothin’ but a number when it comes to laying the smack down on stage. From her downtempo bangers to her acoustic cover of Drake’s “Hotline Bling”, Billie performs older than her age and her confidence rivals that of performances three or four times her age, and she did it all on one foot. Amazing.
“In Search Of…” is one of my favorite albums of 2000’s. Period. That album was waaaaaay ahead of it’s time, and I thought … and still think …. that it’s a modern day masterpiece. What Chad Hugo, Pharrell Williams and Shay Haley did for hip-hop with No One Every Really Dies’, a/k/a N.E.R.D.’s, debut album changed the way I perceived musical genres. This was perception and lifetyle altering music, and I couldn’t have been happier to see them perform again.
Their latest release, which is their fifth studio album, is ironically self titled, and though they’ve been performing in support of the that album, their performance for Outside Lands was an equal mix of the huge hits of day’s past and their current singles. They even threw in a little mashup of some Neptunes produced tracks (The Neptunes is the production duo of Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams).
Pharrell was extremely hyped for the performance, encouraging the crowd to go nuts, while orchestrating the creating of organized dance pits from the stage, like Moses parting the Red Sea. While I couldn’t see if that actually materialized from my vantage point, I can only assume that it did.
As the dancers powered through their choreography with Pharrell and Shay running back and forth across the stage, the energy was kinetic. The vibrations in the air during “Spaz” and “Lap Dance” was palpable, and I was in music bliss during the session.
After working up a serious sweat, losing my shit with N.E.R.D., I decided to traverse the festival grounds for a change of pace to to catch the inimitable Father John Misty do his thing.
There’s something calming about Father John Misty’s music. Whenever I hear him sing his folk melodies, my pulse always seems to settle down. Introspective, seductive and witty, his music has a way of calming the mind and drawing you into his deceptively mellow world.
I say deceptively, because his music expresses strong, “angst-aginst-the-world” points of views. While he may be strutting his lean, lanky frame across the stage, it’s to an underlying beat and message with meaning and thoughtfulness. A more obviously expression of this came during his performance of “The Palace”. As he sat on the edge of the stage, he let his lyrics consume him, almost in a penitent manner. With his head resting on his fist, he sand, “Maybe I’ll get a pet, Learn how to take care of someone else, Maybe I’ll name him Jeff, But I think it might defeat the purpose, Living on house keeping and room service”, there was a palpable and visual sense of regret that I just couldn’t turn away from.
Don’t get me wrong, like his most recent album God’ Favorite Customer, the performance, as a whole, was rather carefree and playful. But having binged on his music on multiple occasions when I was searching for a sonic solace, I was more focused on the meaning and impetus behind the joy, and I got what I came for.
I have been dying to see Elohim live for years … which is ironic because she’s an L.A. based artist. Earlier this year, I had live streamed her Coachella performance and was surprised by how musically versatile and entertaining she was. When I saw that she was slotted to perform at Outside Lands, I made it a point to attend her perform.
While Elohim is known to prefer performing in anonymity (i.e. wearing a hooded cape and in the shadows), her Outside Lands performance started as the sun was only starting it’s descent into the west. I get that she wants to let her music speak for itself, but I think at this point, she doesn’t have to worry about that. It does.
Her self titled debut album, released earlier this year, is simply amazing. Sonically and lyrically, it’s an album that really reveals the soul of the artist. Her self-awareness is present in her music, and though she still prefers to obscure her face, I feel like her fans already know who she is because of the music that she creates.
Her music was accompanied with spectacular stage production. For a side-stage, I absolutely loved the way the lights danced around her. That visual spectacle truly added another dimension to her performance, really giving the already dynamic music another layer of life that I simply couldn’t get enough of.
When it came to who I wanted to cap the first day of Outside Lands with, I had to decide between either The Weeknd or Beck. That was easy. Beck.
Don’t get me wrong. I like The Weeknd. I just don’t like The Weeknd more than Beck. And to be frank, I’m not sure I could take over an hour of the The Weeknd’s fragile tenor voice. Sorry.
On the other hand, there was no way I could not have fun during Beck’s performance, unless he were to perform Sea Change in its entirety for his set (side note: I love Sea Change, but it’s juuuust little too downtempo for festival fare IMHO). Pulling music from his entire repertoire, Beck and his players basically gave Outside Lands an evening of Greatest Hits, and that was just what the doctor ordered.
From the opener “Devil’s Haircut” to “The New Pollution” to “Think I’m In Love” to “Girl” all the way to the finale “Where It’s At”, Beck entertained a capacity crowd with his hits and satiated his die-hard fans with a handful of deeper cuts and newish singles
When he wasn’t kicking out the jams, Beck took a moment to reminiscence over his Outside Lands history:
“I’ve got to play a few of these Outside Lands over the years so I feel kinda like part of the family, I think I was at the first one, actually.”
The performance was a whirlwind of colorful lights, and sleek, genre bending sonics. As I scanned the audience, I saw a full gamut of ages around me. Every aged face with a smile emblazoned thereon.
And while I’m sure the fans at the main stage were blissfully swaying back and forth with the downtempo sonics of The Weeknd, I couldn’t have though of a better way of ending my first day of Outside Lands getting down and funky the the best “Loser” ever, Beck, reaffirming my decisions that I picked the right place to finish the party and that I knew exactly “Where It’s At”.