Day 1 â€“ Pure carnage
Highlights: Tears running before the show even started, being corralled like fluffy sheep, and falling in love.
I wanted to love the first day of Outside Lands. I really did. Everyone who knows me is aware that I have an absolute adoration for my city of San Francisco, and I was so utterly proud to be in attendance for the inaugural year of a huge festival. And hi, duh â€“ Radiohead. But if I'm sobbing twice in an hour before I even get into the show? Well, shit's not rightâ€¦
[Entering the OSL grounds]
For starters, what usually is supposed to be a 40 minute bus ride for me from my house to Golden Gate Park turns out to be two and a half hours, much of the time just waiting, and that time even involved a friend with a car picking me up midway through. Festival organizers insisted attendees take public transit â€“ also to keep in accordance with a whole 'going green' theme going on â€“ but four packed trains later, and I started walking while holding back tears. But okay. I'm a patient person. I can transport my own self. And don't get me wrong, I have legs and am more than willing to use them, but hiking three miles to a festival in a city that prides itself on its public transportation is ass.
[The skinny entrance to the main stage]
I finally arrived to the entrance of the festival thanks to Kim, and asked two people on my way in where the box office was â€“ that morning I received confirmation I was selected to photograph Radiohead, and after hyperventilating, I began to fantasize about touching Ed O'Brien from the photo pit as I snapped pictures of one of my favorite bands of all time. I needed to pick up my sticker before 6 PM, so I started happily speedwalking down a steep roadway on advice from staff members. After nearly 20 minutes of walking, I approached a white tent with dreams of having Radiohead babies later that night.
[The view looking at the main stage]
"Oh, yeah, you were wrong," I was told at the tent by security. "You gotta go back up to the top of the park and hook a left to get to the box office. Sorry." It's 5:50 PM.
"What the fuck?!" I screamed. Literally. Tears are rushing down my face at record speed and I don't think I've ever been so flaming mad at a show before that was not the direct result of booze consumption. "Your staff guys told me to come down this way! What the fuck! How do you guys not know where shit is? I'm supposed to be inside and find a random woman with my photo sticker! What the fuck! C'mon!"
Man, if it was this stressful to even get in to this thing, was it gonna be worth coming out for the next two days? Thankfully, partner-in-Tripwire-crime Phillip Mottaz was already inside, and was able to run across the field from where he was watching Cold War Kids to snag my beloved sticker and keep it close. After wiping tears of insanity off my cheeks, I hugged him once I finally made it inside, and would have married him on the spot for helping me out had he not already been hitched.
[Garbage at our feet]
[Beck from afar]
We hustled to Beck, where squeezing through random funnels and battling hoards of lemmings and garbage at my feet disenabled me from getting to the front for any shooting opportunity. Funny enough, I was able to spot Beck amongst his band via his long, golden mane. "Gamma Ray" sounded so beautiful amongst the trees lining the Sutro Stage where he was playing, but I secretly promised myself I'd avoid this part of the park due to the bottleneck foot traffic we had experienced. The audience space had been cordoned off in a narrow vertical rectangle instead of a horizontal one, so I literally felt like I was in an hourglass with the way the meadow sloped. Very odd. The Black Keys visit I'd planned pre-Radiohead had to be aborted due to this fact as well, so I rocketed over to the main stage fighting people, fallen fences, left behind items, trash, the wind, Zeus, God, and who knows what else as I tried walking through.
So how was the main band 60,000 people turned out to see? Fucking impeccable, despite the sound cutting out not only once, but twice (my emotional connection to "All I Need" was shut down as the sound fizzed out and Thom Yorke explained "I don't know what the fuck's going on, sorry" in a very apologetic voice). I must reveal my personal bias to you: Radiohead is very much crucial to my existence, and I regard them as key to my overall music navigation. I'm talking like my first tattoo was a section from a Stanley Donwood lithograph, and I had just flown to Seattle to see these blokes turn it out two days earlier.
But just because I illimitably love bands doesn't mean I will give them slack for a shoddy performance. I am also a perfectionist, and harsh on those who can't nail their crafts. Thankfully, Yorke and co are also obsessively addicted to detail, and that showed during their near two-hour set. And not only were they the first band to ever play Golden Gate Park after dark, they set the bar for what an exceptional experience should sound like while starring in front of a foggy backdrop and misty atmosphere. Yorke looked like he was having a ball when dancing allowed him to spazz out on stage, as evidenced with opener "15 Step," "Idioteque," and "The Gloaming." I thought he just might party right out of his red pants. Superstar Jonny Greenwood switched between keys, guitar, a crazy motherboard, and other instruments I did not understand during tracks like aforementioned and "The National Anthem," clanging on various pieces of equipment to produce these precise rhythms that drummer Phil Selway would compliment from his own station. Whoever designed the light show for this tour needs a raise: the long, slender poles arranged in icicle-like fashion glistened from the lasers bouncing off them, creating a neat pattern that would scroll and flash to the beats being produced.
[Thom Yorke dancing]
I get really nervous when I'm in these big outdoor venues; the sound on record can often translate poorly to large audience, and Radiohead is definitely one of those bands who need all their subtleties to fall in line perfectly. For every song, it is an experience that needs to be immersed, reveled, and soaked in. "Exit Music (For A Film)," thankfully, was completely unsullied in its composition and delivery. "We hope your rules and wisdom choke you/Now we are one/In everlasting peace" bellowed so strongly throughout the Polo Fields I was standing in, I literally got goosebumps from the seemingly paranormal but lithe blare that was wallowing through my ears. "You And Whose Army?" released a similar caress of both love and creepiness over the audience, Yorke fucking up the track mid-way through to collapse in an uncontrollable wave of laughter about the mistake, but carrying on to assert his aptness in musical excellence through his strong vocals. And honestly, there's nothing quite like seeing your favorite band in your city park, shrouded in nighttime haze, plinking out a piano crescendo like "Pyramid Song" and not feeling overwhelmed.
The beautiful thing about Radiohead is that they excel in whatever they decide to throw their swelling knowledge behind. I was most impressed with the non-rock songs in terms of being presented so flawlessly, true. Bassist Colin Greenwood in his rad bear shirt shined on "Nude," upkeeping the sleepy bass to provide the drums Selway threw in for the compliment. But the band have their roots in the heart of rock'n'roll, and they were determined to show that despite this weird-arthaus-electronic-experimental-wonderful path they've taken in the past few years, songs like "Bodysnatchers" and "Paranoid Android" are still capable of being able to dominate with the pure sound of rock. Songs like "Jigsaw Falling Into Place" and "There There" are the perfect forefronts that guitarist Ed O'Brien has been able to command grand attention in, by picking up more vocal responsibility and harboring a striking stage presence as a result.
So was it worth it on Friday? Minus the riots that happened trying to get out (fences being pulled down, people hopping over everything taller than them), squished spaces, and lots of walking, I escaped from the first day of Outside Lands relatively unscathed. And though I had a shit time getting to where I needed to be, the festival was ultimately about the music, and Radiohead satisfied my appetite for a tight show. Besides, luckily, no one set a Porta Potti on fire or anything.
[Portapotties not on fire]
As for Saturday and Sunday's report? Stay tunedâ€¦it gets better, I promise.
Radiohead Set List From The Outside Lands Festival
All I Need
Talk Show Host
Jigsaw Falling Into Place
Exit Music (For A Film)
You and Whose Army?
Fake Plastic Trees
Everything In Its Right Place