Paul McCartney, Phoenix, Red Hot Chili Peppers Rock Outside Lands: Concert Review

Jeff Miller
Veteran acts and newcomers bring the heat and keep the musical juices flowing at San Francisco’s chilly three-day outdoor music fest.

San Francisco’s three-day music festival drew roughly 180,000 people braving the cold weather to see acts ranging from Vampire Weekend and Nine Inch Nails to The National and The Tallest Man on Earth.

SAN FRANCISCO – The City by the Bay’s perennial outdoor music and arts festival, Outside Lands, filled with an eclectic mix of artists, DJs, comedians and bands -- stayed true to its Bay Area roots, with three days of chilly, overcast (and sometimes drizzly) weather at the heart of Golden Gate Park. But that didn’t put a damper on festivities, which averaged 60,000 people per day.

Day one was capped off by a memorable set by Beatles legend Paul McCartney -- complete with a fireworks display fit for a rock star. 

The 71-year-old singer -- in the middle of his Out There world tour -- proved he still knows how to woo the crowd, showing off his guitar and vocal chops during a staggering two-hour and 45-minute set that included Beatles classics (“Yesterday,” “Hey Jude,” “The Long and Winding Road,” “Blackbird,” “Let It Be” and “Paperback Writer”) and a slew of Wings tracks. Much of the playlist, in fact, relied on penned hits from the Beatles’ heyday, with several of McCartney’s more recent solo work, such as love song “My Valentine” (written for wife Nancy Shevell), thrown in for good measure. 

McCartney wasn’t shy about his rock star status, charmingly throwing out anecdotes about the late Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Beatles bandmates George Harrison and John Lennon throughout the evening and even signing two diehard fans’ wrists onstage, to be inked as their first tattoos. But it was his James Bond anthem, “Live and Let Die,” that truly blew the roof off -- if the stage had one. In a show-stopping moment, as McCartney belted out the chorus to the 1973 Wings track, a slew of fireworks rained down on the thousands of festgoers -- twice -- to their delight. Not too shabby.

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Earlier in the day, indie groups Houndmouth and Daughter held court at the solar-powered Panhandle stage, while The Heavy went with crowd-pleasers “How Do You Like Me Now?” and “Big Bad Wolf” at Sutro. Following a 15-minute delay due to technical difficulties, Jessie Ware -- in her adorable thick South London accent -- apologized for the mishap, quickly making up for lost time with delicious pop tunes “Devotion” and “Night Light.” The delightful Ware even tasked a burly guard to let loose: “You have to dance now security guard!” McCartney opener The National paid tribute to San Francisco’s rich music history by featuring The Grateful Dead's Bob Weir in its closing number.

Heavy hitters Nine Inch Nails -- fronted by Oscar winner Trent Reznor -- and French alt-rock quartet Phoenix toplined the second day, with the latter fueling a non-stop 70-minute dance party at the Twin Peaks stage while the former dominated Lands End with its signature industrial sound. 

Phoenix was less indie and more dance with its set, enthralling the enthusiastic crowd with hits from recent release Bankrupt! (“Entertainment” and “Trying to Be Cool”) and Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (“1901,” "Listzomania" and “Lasso”). The set never let up, warming up an otherwise chilly night in the Park, with the band -- against a rotating backdrop of neon colors, images of French monuments and a well-timed light show -- treating festgoers with oldies like “Consolation Prize” (from 2006’s It’s Never Been Like That) and “If I Ever Feel Better” (from 2000’s United debut album) that revved up the thousands-deep gathered.

And while McCartney sprinkled the crowd with historical anecdotes and engaged with the crowd through the occasional conversation the night before, it wasn’t about that for Phoenix. Although one more song would have been ideal, Phoenix brought the set full circle with a remixed version of “Entertainment” that was punctuated by 36-year-old lead singer Thomas Mars crowd-surfing for what felt like an eternity as the park’s 10 p.m. music curfew loomed. 

STORY: Paul McCartney, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nine Inch Nails to Headline Outside Lands

Saturday afternoon featured several acts with minimal bells and whistles. James McCartney (Paul McCartney’s son) strummed chords to current single “Wisteria” at the Panhandle, while Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson, aka The Tallest Man on Earth (known for his energetic stage presence), expertly worked his way through folk anthems “The King of Spain” and “1904.” As this marked his last U.S. show for a while Matsson -- himself wearing a funky patterned sweater -- hit all the right notes for the hipster audience and put a cherry on top with a stage dive (to the chagrin of security).

Young the Giant -- known for radio-friendly singles “Cough Syrup” and “My Body” -- barely made their 3:40 p.m. set time thanks to a three-hour flight delay from Vancouver that prompted a police escort: “It felt pretty badass!” exclaimed lead singer Sameer Gadhia. Prior to Young the Giant, rock/soul artist Gary Clark Jr. wowed with a mid-afternoon jam session.

The weekend drew to a close Sunday with a raucous 100-minute headlining set by funk rockers Red Hot Chili Peppers, making a Bay Area stop on its world tour in support of 2011’s I’m With You. Opening with “Can’t Stop” -- featuring the group’s signature rapped verses -- Anthony Kiedis, Flea and cohorts navigated through an energetic set (for the most part), checking off a slew of hits in the opening minutes, including “Dani California,” “Snow (Hey Oh),” “Otherside” and “The Adventures of Raindance Maggie.”

Kiedis, sporting a mustache onstage, addressed the “elephant in the room.” “So some of you think I stole Oates’ mustache,” Kiedis told the crowd, referring to legendary John Oates of rock duo Hall and Oates who had played earlier. “It’s a lease!” And no Chili Peppers concert would be complete without guitarist Flea throwing out verbal gems. Like this one, in reference to his sweatshirt: “I have to change because by the time a show ends my clothes are wet … like a sopping wet pussy.”

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While the Chili Peppers showed off its stage prowess, throwing in a Stevie Wonder cover (Wonder closed out Outside Lands in 2012) and spotlighting its bandmembers with generous solos, the transitions lacked bite and the band exited stage left with 10 minutes left to go on the schedule. This trend would happen several times on Sunday.

Before the Chili Peppers took the stage, New York-bred indie rock foursome Vampire Weekend, who broke onto the scene in 2008, kicked off its peppy set list with the hyper “Cousins,” gradually building to newer releases from its critically-hailed third album, Modern Vampires of the City: the catchy “Diane Young” and mid-tempo ballad “Step,” dedicating the latter to Bay Area hip-hop legends Souls of Mischief. “Step” makes several references to Northern California, which made its inclusion all the more easy. 

Led by the always-entertaining Ezra Koenig, Vampire Weekend continued to ride the Bay Area wave by dedicating “One (Blake’s Got a New Face)” to a guy from Palo Alto, before running through crowd-pleasers from its 2008 debut album (“A-Punk,” “Oxford Comma”) and closing with a poppy “goodbye” song, “Walcott" -- all with five minutes still left on the docket.

U.K. acts warmed up Twin Peaks, with British electronic group Rudimental getting the party started in the early afternoon. “We’ve been waiting all night to get to this point!” one of the members belted out to hoots and hollers. Following Rudimental, London songstress Emeli Sande’s powerful voice was on display with opening song “Heaven,” current single “My Kind of Love” (“one of my favorite songs to perform,” she told the crowd) and the striking duet  “Beneath Your Beautiful,” hopefully a strong contender for Sande’s next single. Sande closed her shortened 40-minute set (she was late to the stage) with crowd favorite “Next to Me,” easily the song that drew the most enthusiastic response.

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