San Francisco’s beloved hometown festival Outside Lands made its comeback to Golden Gate Park this weekend (Oct. 29-31) after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19 concerns. Although OSL finally came back, it looked a little bit different this time. The festival was moved from its longtime slot – the second weekend of August – to Halloween weekend for the first time in its history, but the change seemed to be a rousing success.
Festival-goers and performers alike got in on the holiday fun: Lizzo and her dancers changed into Squid Game costumes, Rico Nasty brought friends in inflatable gremlin costumes to hype up her show, Caroline Polachek arrived as Marie Antoinette (complete with bloody neck wound). Costumes were scattered among regular attire during the three days of the festival — with some goers donning outfits all three days. At any point in time, you might spot a few Waldos, IGORs (a nod to Tyler, the Creator, a festival headliner) or Phoebe Bridgers lookalikes in skeleton suits and bleached wigs.
Another change? The tent which was dedicated to stand-up comedy shows was replaced with the so-called SOMA Tent this year, a pitch-black, all-day rave with its own separate lineup of DJs. While the SOMA Tent was a beloved new addition to the festival, and one that helped disperse the packed crowd across more music stages, the wait times for the tent were absurd. Midday Saturday, it took a group of festival-goers in general admission nearly two hours to get inside, and by 6:30pm local time, the line was so chaotic that Outside Lands staff started turning people away to control the crowd. It seems the SOMA Tent was an even more welcome addition than the festival planners realized – perhaps next year they’ll need to invest in a bigger tent.
But some things never change at Outside Lands. Food, drinks and weed remained major highlights of the festival. It’s something Outside Lands loyalists have come to expect; when there’s a break in music, there’s plenty to eat at the many local eatery kiosks, or you can grab a sophisticated glass of cabernet at Winelands, or you can head over to Grasslands for, well, some great grass.
Here’s a roundup of some of our favorite sets this year at Outside Lands.
Though she was given a difficult mid-afternoon billing on Saturday (when it was nearly a guarantee the crowd would be tired, hungover and late), Rico Nasty gave one of the most enthralling sets of the weekend. She came in a black corset and tutu with combat boots and clown makeup and brought all the manic energy Rico fans have come to expect as a pre-requisite. With an on-stage entourage including two inflatable gremlins acting as hype men, as well as a DJ, some of the set’s greatest highlights included “Tia Tamera” and a surprising rendition of “Ringtone (Remix),” originally by hyperpop pioneers 100 gecs.
Their first show since returning from COVID-19 lockdown, Vampire Weekend was by far one of the cleanest sets of the festival. With a top-notch ensemble, including a few newer faces since the exit of the band’s cofounder Rostam Batmanglij, Vampire Weekend played through many crowd-pleasing older hits from Modern Vampires of the City and other beloved albums, mixing in some of their latest songs from 2019’s Father of the Bride here and there. Fitting with the stylistic shifts of their latest effort, Vampire Weekend resembled more of a jam-band than an indie rock outfit at times, riffing on the same song and trading around solos for nearly ten minutes at times. Though some Vampire Weekend purists were not entirely fond of the band’s Phish-centric new direction at the time of Father of the Bride’s release, the band proved the album’s merits on stage. It was exactly where the album belongs: enjoyed live.
The festival’s greenest headliner, Lizzo, totally proved she was meant to be up on that stage at the end of the night. The most engaging headliner of the weekend, her set resembled more of a ceremony of empowerment than it did a pure concert. And that’s what made it so great. Looking around at the majority female crowd, everyone was dancing, singing and grinning ear to ear as Lizzo led the crowd like a self-love guru. “I want you to use this as an opportunity to let it all go!” she exclaimed, leading the crowd before a deep breathing exercise. While other festival headliners relied on charisma and LED-screen visuals, Lizzo came prepared with a crew of dancers, a full band, set pieces, costume changes and visuals – all wrapped up to be the biggest spectacle of the weekend. Her deftness at singing, rapping, dancing, leading the crowd and, of course, flute playing, makes her one of the rare talents today with no obvious Achilles’ heel on stage. There’s no point but to love the gospel according to Lizzo.
The ethereal Caroline Polachek kicked off the final day of Outside Lands with all the grace and composure that fans have come to expect, and a set that amassed a massive mid-day crowd by its conclusion. Armed with two bandmates, Polachek and her ensemble came in French Revolution garb with Polachek as Marie Antoinette (post-beheading, as referenced by the bloody neck wound she painted on). The costuming felt fun but still very much within the Polachek aesthetic canon. This is where she shines – Polachek knows exactly what her musical project looks and sounds like, and she composes much of it herself. It’s that attention to detail that makes her so singular in pop music today. She tested out a few new songs, but the majority of the set was a replay of Pang, her debut album from 2019. Polachek concluded the set with a special rendition of her biggest hit “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings” on her Nord keyboard, set to clavichord sound, giving the song a humorous, Marie Antoinette feel.
Tyler, The Creator
Tyler, The Creator has always been a force of undeniable charisma, and his headlining set at Outside Lands on Friday was no different. Unlike most in the festival’s top billing, Tyler came with just himself – no band, no DJ, no hype men. It was a risky move, but with Tyler, The Creator’s rambunctious energy and crowd-pleasing song selection, he did more than fine on his own. Playing into his Wes Anderson-inspired visuals for his latest album Call Me If You Get Lost, Tyler brought a boat as a set piece for the stage. Standing on top of the boat as it rocked back and forth, he played through hits like “WUSYANAME” and “LUMBERJACK” from the new album as well as a few classics like “Yonkers” and “EARFQUAKE” from past albums.
Famous for their psychedelic live sets, it comes as no surprise that Tame Impala wrapped up Outside Lands on Sunday evening with one of the best sets of the weekend. Complete with trippy technicolor visuals and a set list of back-to-back hits from “The Less I Know the Better” to “Borderline,” the Kevin Parker-led ensemble drew one of the biggest crowds of the weekend. Just before coming onstage, however, an announcement was made that Tame Impala would not be playing that evening. After Young Thug’s last-minute cancellation at Outside Lands, it sounded a little too realistic for comfort, but quickly it was clarified that, in their place, “The Wiggles” would be performing. As the theme music from the children’s TV show played, Parker and the band came out in full Wiggles garb, including the drummer dressed as Dorothy the Dinosaur. It was both a trick and a treat.