JIM WELTE. Writer. Editor.

Live Show Review: Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, 2010

,  | published on August 17, 2010

Ambiance: Photo by Charles Russo

Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival
Sunday, August 15th
By Jim Welte

On a day that featured a number of his offspring, both literally and sonically, Al Green was the toast of the second day of the Outside Lands Festival. Under a late-emerging blue sky and backed by a spandex-tight band that featured three of his daughters on backing vocals, the 64-year-old legend delivered a one-hour master class in soul music on Sunday.

As always, Reverend Al balanced a catalog focused equally on the church and the caboose. “Lord have mercy; the preacher can’t help it,” he shouted early on, not long after he began tossing long-stemmed roses into the front row. The set leaned heavily on his classics, from the thump of “Love and Happiness” to the if-you-have-a-mouth-you’ll-want-to-sing-along-to-this “Let’s Stay Together.” Green performed his incredible take on the Bee Gees’ “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” and gave Roy Orbison a gospel infusion on “Oh, Pretty Woman.” All the while, Green beamed, showed the crowd love and they gave it right back.

The day was filled with artists who, although they may not have copied the Al Green sound, definitely spent some time digging in his catalog. The most surprising of the bunch was Amos Lee, the Philly crooner best known for a light, R&B-inflected folk that finds friendly ears among the Norah Jones and Jack Johnson set. But somewhere between Lee’s first two albums and 2008’s Last Days at the Lodge, his sound ducked out of the coffeehouse and stepped into the kitchen. “Listen”, the lead track off that record, was an insistent, powerful mover that saw him rise to the occasional Ben Harper comparisons. As he yelled, “Listen! Listen to them church bells ringin, listen,” it was clear than Bill Withers was getting the better of John Prine among Lee’s influences, and he was getting an assist from one-time Withers drummer James Gadson. Lee’s light folkie flourishes were still there, but there was much more to bite into with this set.

While Lee shuffled from country-blues to soulful folk, Mayer Hawthorne and the County had their sights set squarely on falsetto-laden, pre-Motown soul. Nattily attired and backed by a taut ensemble that would’ve given Green’s crew a run for its money, Hawthorne was much more than his blue-eyed, nerdy soul crooner persona, taking the crowd back in time with retrofitted originals. The best of the set was“Maybe So, MayOutside Lands: Photo by Charles Russobe No”, which he prefaced with a joke about being confused earlier in the day at Amoeba Music for Michael Buble.

It was clear early Sunday afternoon that it was a lot more packed than the day before, and it’s debatable whether that can be attributed to Kings of Leon being a much bigger headlining draw these days than the remnants of the Grateful Dead as Furthur. But while the Kings have graduated to arena-size shows, the beauty of festivals like Outside Lands is giving emerging performers a chance to reach several more thousand ears than usual. Logistics don’t always cooperate, however.

Take Vieux Farka Touré, the son of the late Malian guitar god Ali Farka Toure. The young bluesman has conjured up a sound that infuses his father’s traditional desert blues with a host of others, from rock to reggae, all without losing its focus on the earthy, trance-inducing electric guitar sound of the Sahara. But the mix on the Panhandle Solar stage was turned upside down, with an ear-bleedingly loud bass overwhelming the rest of the band for the duration of the set.

Given the whole of the weekend, it was a relatively minor blip on an outstanding event. After some early hiccups its first year and with a scaled-back approach this time around, Outside Lands has graduated into an incredibly well-run festival where you can eat and drink well, nab a good spot to hear the music, and see the band at every stage and rarely wait long in a line for anything. Now if San Francisco could only create some sort of transit system to get people home when the show’s over…

Watch: Al Green, “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” [at youtube.com]

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