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Inside Scoop On Outside Lands

Maximum Performance

There were 65 bands, dozens of vendors, and about 130,000 attendees over the three-day San Francisco Golden Gate Park Outside Lands music festival. The weekend indicated a few firsts: the first time a concert was held after dark in Golden Gate Park, and the first time (quite recently) that a multi-day event took place in a Recreation & Park Department-held property.

Transportation on Muni was beyond hectic on Friday night, it was worse than being jammed into a New York City subway car--even on September 11, 2001. I'd never been privy to what it might feel like as a sardine.

The festival kicked off Friday on three stages at 5 p.m., and we followed the procession as Canadian psychedelic rockers Black Mountain and reggae band Steel Pulse played. By the time Manu Chao, Beck, and the Black Keys were in full swing around 7 p.m., the place was teeming with people.

My friends tried to scope out Beck, one of the biggest headliners at the festival. But his stage was located in Lindley Meadow, which formed a tremendous bottleneck as the vast crowd made a beeline for the stage. I couldn't see Beck at all, but I could hear him. One of my friends wasn't all-too familiar with the Black Keys, and I suggested we shuffle off to catch them while the masses flooded the meadow to see Beck. We walked against traffic.

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Luckily, I heard the Keys belt out "Strange Times" off their relatively new album, Attack & Release. But after that song and two older songs, it was time to shuffle off to see Radiohead at 8 pm. Folks began to make the trek to the main stage and barriers came down as fans took matters into their own hands, making their own trails to get to the stage.

Crowding became a fiasco. Young fans leapt over barriers from the packed general admission section to the stage-left VIP section. I spied police officers corralling the crowd.

I couldn't see my beloved band perform without the aid of a massive projector screen on either side of the stage. The video display consisted of four views of Thom Yorke's head, and two of Phil Selway's drums. The light show was pretty dope, though.

But their set was blemished by technical malfunctions which cut out the sound for a minute at a time--twice! Thom Yorke thanked the crowd for standing by and said he didn't know what the (insert expletive here) was going on. But they performed like pros--with aplomb and dexterity. They played roughly 22 songs. When fans spoke during "Exit (Music For A Film)," I became perturbed. Radiohead is somewhat like a spiritual experience--you have to shut your mouth, open your heart and mind, and just let it wash over you. They ended the set with "Everything In Its Right Place." And though the journey was long, and 60,000 people were crowding my experience, I can say that yes, everything was in its right place for me--despite the chaos.

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Some pleasurable moments surfaced on Saturday. The Walkmen played a rather strong set. It was loaded with a few new tracks off their latest release, You & Me. Primus too were in rare form and rocked pretty hard.

But the pinnacle of the festival arrived Saturday night when I stormed the park to hear evening headliner Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Others, who weren't ticket-holders, charged the fence and jumped it. Security chased them down, with little to no luck. It reminded me of the time I hopped a divided highway in New Jersey just in time to catch the last leg of the Beastie Boys tour back in 1998. But I was a ticket-holding fan.

Anyway, Petty rocked steady for almost two hours of beloved hits. The band took a brief break to introduce Steve Winwood who came to sing with the band on "Can't Find My Way Home" and "Gimme Some Lovin'." Instead of being hyper-critical, I shed my cynicism and danced like a madwoman. Then the sound cut out for a few seconds during "Honey Bee." But it wasn't nearly as bad or as long as the glitches during Radiohead's set.

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Petty changed up his lyrics slightly in a great cover of "Gloria," which the crowd helped him sing, and he closed the set with his traditional ditty, "American Girl," and it blew the proverbial house down.

Here's the set list: "You Wreck Me" / "Listen To Her Heart" / "I Won't Back Down" / "Even The Losers" / "Free Fallin'" / "Last Dance With Mary Jane" / "End Of The Line" / "Can't Find My Way Home" / "Gimme Some Lovin'" / "Saving Grace" / "Breakdown" / "Honey Bee" / "Learning To Fly" / "Don't Come Around Here No More" / "Refugee" / "Running Down A Dream" / "Gloria" / "American Girl"

Unfortunately, I had to drive back to Los Angeles on Sunday and missed the final acts. I was especially sad to have skipped Rodrigo Y Gabriela.

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