Metallica vs. Sigur Rós. It’s a closer call than you might think—both are music industry veterans with passionate fanbases and demonstrated technical ability, and though similarities might not seem to go much further than that, they did play opposite each other at Outside Lands in San Francisco on Saturday night. (Only one released a music video earlier this year starring a naked Shia LaBeouf, it’s important to note.) It was a crowded day at Golden Gate Park—the word “hordes” seems apt—and here are highlights.
5. Michael Kiwanuka
Let’s be fair, though: No matter the situation, Kiwanuka would have been a standout. The British singer who has toured with fellow neo-soul practitioner Adele and released debut album Home Again earlier this year, delivered a charming set on the festival’s Panhandle Stage (which, the program claims, is powered solely by alternative energy). Kiwanuka and his band seemed to take their time during songs like “Bones,” and the crowd appeared to appreciate the more deliberate pace (seeing as how the Panhandle Stage includes a sitting area comprised of bales of hay, who’s in the mood to rush anywhere?).
4. Norah Jones
In her 20s, Norah Jones was admired by middle-aged folks worldwide for easy listening hits like “Come Away With Me.” Now that she’s in her 30s, she appears to be targeting people more her own age, and what better way to reach out to a younger audience than sharing a bill with the likes of Passion Pit and Portugal. The Man?
And sure, she played “Come Away With Me,” but her set focused heavily on new (and Danger Mouse-produced) record Little Broken Hearts, which is distinctly in the world of indie pop rather than dad-friendly jazz. And while there’s certainly a consistent quality between Old Norah and New Norah, it is something of a leap, and it’s interesting to watch the ease in which she handles Little Broken Hearts songs like “Miriam” (a murder ballad she quite justifiably dubbed “dark”) and bouncy single “Happy Pills” in a live setting.
3. Big Boi
Outkast hasn’t released an album together since the Idlewild soundtrack in 2006, and though Andre 3000 and Big Boi have been on hiatus as a collective since then, Saturday at Outside Lands made it clear that the former still has a presence in the latter’s solo shows: an energized Big Boi ripped through hits like “Miss Jackson,” “Rosa Parks” and “B.O.B.”—his parts, anyway, with the respective videos for many of those tracks playing behind him.
Though he certainly knew to give people what they wanted, Big Boi—who was scheduled to perform at last year’s Outside Lands and canceled due to reported technical difficulties—didn’t solely pay tribute to the past, playing solo material like “Shutterbug” (a second individual effort, following 2010′s Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, is in the works). But those old Outkast songs are revered for a reason, and it’s a treat to hear them again among thousands of excited fans (despite what they’re obviously missing).
2. Thee Oh Sees
What further distinguishes The Oh Sees is the background vocals of Brigid Dawson, whose harmonies with lead singer John Dwyer help shape the band’s unique sound. Their compelling high-energy set Saturday afternoon made it clear that they were there on their own merits rather than musical homerism.
Mosh pits still happen in 2012. At least a couple erupted during Metallica’s set, which while not the most surprising thing in the world, was still both slightly disarming and oddly comforting.
Also in the mix: pyro—which is to say, fireworks along with actual fire. Solos. Lots of hits, from “Battery” to “For Whom the Bell Tolls” to “Enter Sandman” to “One” to “Master of Puppets” to way more. And perhaps the most underrated aspect of Metallica’s 30-year career, in abundant supply: James Hetfield’s signature, endearingly goofy on-stage banter, including gems like, “Are you having a good weekend? We’re here to ruin it. Nah, we’re here to add to it.”
It’s Metallica, dude. No matter what you might think of their output from the last 15 years (and they played very few songs from that era), there was no way they were going to headline a festival in their home turf without putting on the biggest show—both in terms of spectacle and length—seen at Outside Lands thus far this weekend, and that’s exactly what happened.