From the Editors: Fretwire's Jimmy Leslie's Inside Take on Outside Lands

September 11, 2009

Outside Lands is becoming an annual must do as it takes root in Golden Gate park, which happens to be within walking distance of my apartment. On the same grass that legends such as Garcia, Santana, and Hendrix played many moons ago, a host of local and imported guitar gurus conjured oodles of inspiring noise over the last weekend in August.

If San Francisco is home to anyone approaching the abilities of a modern Hendrix, it’s Eric McFadden. His trio held court all weekend in the cabaret-style Barbary Tent, which was a welcome addition. The former P-Funker’s squalid gypsy rock sounded like Django meets Van Halen with guttural vocals. McFadden worked over a Godin 5th Avenue Kingpin archtop with a P-90 pickup through a dinky Zinky for a modern-retro tone.

EmcFEric McFadden Trio Photo by Kerri Kelting

It was advantageous to play all three days,” the dreadlocked gunslinger told me at a Nels Cline show that Guitar Player presented a few days later. “By Sunday, we were accustomed to the acoustics inside the Barbary’s antique, mirror-walled wooden tent. And the dancers from [local circus/variety group] Vau de Vire Society figured out ways to work with our music, so that our performances complimented and inspired each other.”

One gripe from the local perspective is that Outside Lands seems to be doing everything it can to bring the spirit of San Francisco to the festivities, yet the performers on the big stages seemed to hail from everywhere except the City by the Bay. Still, there was plenty to be pleased about.

Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard demonstrated why he is the Keith Richards of the Seattle scene. His rhythm guitar provided a strapping backbone for the band’s solid performance before an enormous Polo Field crowd on a downright balmy Friday night. Mastodon’s Saturday show on the Twin Peaks Stage was so loud that I could envision “for sale” signs popping up in the surrounding neighborhoods. Mars Volta followed, and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez delivered the most insane set of rock guitar the park has hosted in decades. His daredevil riffage, confounding timing, lead shreddery, otherworldly effects, and natural stage presence were mesmerizing. Look for him to grace the GP cover very soon. Ween’s closing set Sunday night in the freezing fog was freaky and impressive in its balls-out nature.

“That was so cold that it hurt,” laughed Mickey Melchiondo, aka Dean Ween, in his backstage trailer. “It wasn’t conducive to playing guitar, but I did my best to get warmed up and play through the discomfort. Festivals are strange for us because it’s a challenge to represent Ween in a short time span in front of a relatively unfamiliar audience. But the die-hard fans came out to represent, and Golden Gate Park is such beautiful place to perform that it was totally worth the effort.”

I echo the latter sentiment. Although attendance was actually down this year compared to last year’s inaugural event, Outside Lands seemed to have a much better handle on the logistics of flowing 100,000 buzzed rock fans in and out of Golden Gate Park, which really is an amazing setting for a festival. Outside Lands is still far from being an integral part of the regional music scene in a way that rivals, say, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage festival, but if it continues to make strides with both the lineup, and the management of issues such as volume and transportation, Outside Lands could become San Francisco’s signature annual rock music event.

Jimmy Leslie is a San Francisco-based musician and journalist who has been contributing to Guitar Player and Bass Player since 2002.



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