The first day of Outside Lands 2023 was a literal smash, as revelers in the SOMA Tent danced so hard they broke the floor, while Kendrick Lamar delivered a powerful set in the foggy mist, and Janelle Monae got remarkably sexy with go-go dancers.
People certainly came ready to party for the first day of Outside Lands 2023 Friday, so much so that their rowdy dancing smashed a floor. But that didn’t kill Kendrick Lamar’s vibe for his pyrotechnic-enhanced headline set, nor Janelle Monae’s semi-NSFW onstage party with go-go dancers.
Between the new Dolores' stage/dance area and the SOMA dance tent, as well as DJ sets over in Cocktail Magic and bouncy sets by Zedd and DJ Diesel (a.k.a. Shaquille O'Neal), there were plenty of moments to dance and party on Day One of Outside Lands 2023. But O'Neal deserves some side-eye for falsely claiming that Steph Curry and Draymond Green were coming onstage with him.
There was already a driving beat on the Polo Field by 3 p.m. when Ah-Mer-Ah-Su began her DJ set on the FAKE AND GAY-curated stage at Dolores' — the new LGTBQ-themed dance area. Rather than being a tent or enclosed area as the Heineken-sponsored dance spots have been in years past in this location, to the far southeast side of the Polo Field, Dolores' is set up as an open-air situation where people can spill out from the dancefloor proper — and the music could be heard well over into Beer Lands and the Gray Whale gin activation next door. Things also popped off there with Saturn Risin9's 7 p.m. set.
The SOMA tent had to be shut down just before 5 p.m. after, reportedly, the lively audience in there caused part of the dancefloor to collapse. No one was injured, but an alert went out that the tent would be closed for the rest of the evening, for safety. This happened during Disco Lines' set, and it meant that sets by Justin J, BLOND:ISH and Claptone all had to be canceled.
Taken right before the SOMA Tent was shut down. Disco Lines was straight fire but man was it hot. pic.twitter.com/XjfZK7a5aj— pete mar (@petemar) August 12, 2023
People broke the floor at the SOMA Tent jumping too much and too hard. Clearly you can party too hard. https://t.co/DiVX2Gqrqn— Patrick with Traffic (@useless_weirdo) August 12, 2023
The Wine Lands area has moved this year into the forested area at the center of the festival which has traditionally been home to Cocktail Magic — and it was a relatively quieter respite for wine-drinkers throughout the day. The only downside, which is nothing new, is the price — with tiny one-ounce pours going for $4 to $6, and eight-ounce pours going for $23 and up.
Indian-American singer-songwriter Raveena delighted early-arriving audiences with her afternoon set on the main Lands End Stage, as did singer-songwriter Ethel Cain who was playing simultaneously on the Sutro Stage.
WILLOW, known to some better as the daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, at age 23 is now an accomplished musician in her own right with five studio albums under her belt, including last year's Coping Mechanism. Her sound has matured from the poppier sound of 2015's "Wait a Minute!" (which she performed as her encore) into something grungier and more rock-and-roll, with some clear 90s-rock influence. In her set on the Sutro Stage Friday she sounded confident and in command — especially on tracks like "curious/furious" and the fast-driving "hover like a GODDESS."
Janelle Monae delivered an absolute highlight reel set of stagecraft, walking onstage like they were Ric Flair to the sounds of “Also sprach Zarathustra” (better known as the opening theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey.) With frequent costume changes of skin tight outfits, Monae’s set kept ramping up the theatrics with each successive number. “Champagne Shit” was cleverly staged with a giant throne, a pink-hued psychedelic light show wowed the crowd for “Pynk,” a go-go dancing troupe version of “Lipstick Lover” featured so much rear end that it almost felt like a 2 Live Crew video.
Interpol had the final set of the day on the Sutro Stage, performing their full debut album from 2002, Turn on the Bright Lights, from start to finish. (The band also performed the full album at The Independent on Thursday night.) Frontman Paul Banks led the way with solid vocals, taking fans on an intimate ride through this beloved album.
While Zedd DJ'd on the Twin Peaks Stage for the EDM kids, Kendrick Lamar took the Lands End Stage to close out the evening, doing a 21-song set that wound through his career's highlights, kicking off with last year's "N95." It culminated with 2015's "Alright," and "Savior" from his most recent album, Mr. Morale and The Big Steppers.
Let’s just get this out of the way that yes, Kendrick Lamar had the nerve to wear an LA Dodgers cap while performing in San Francisco. Sure, he’s a Dodgers fan, but he also had to know that it would provoke to wear a Dodgers cap for a San Francisco show.
Yet there was perhaps an artistic point to this. Lamar’s poetic set, backed by a team of all-male dancers, was often a meditation on his struggles growing up in Compton. The heavy mist coming down on the Land’s End stage area added a dramatic twist to the performance, leading up to a lengthy and raucous version of “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe.”
And why on goddamned earth was Shaquille O’Neal, performing as DJ Diesel, given a prime 5:20 p.m. slot while vastly more accomplished rising Bay Area star La Doña was relegated to 12 noon on a Friday while people were still at work? Sure, the Diesel set was 40 minutes of great stupid fun, albeit with a frat boy vibe. Shaq’s sounds were that of a low-rent Skrillex, his stage presence was like Isaac Hayes with half the metabolism and zero percent of the talent. But tens of thousands mobbed the Twin Peaks stage to see his DJ set that was a montage of Lil Jon, Guns N Roses, and wrapped up with DJ Khaled’s “All I Do is Win.”
Yet it was bullshit that at one point Shaq declared, “Give it up for Steph Curry!” The crowd went wild, yet no Steph Curry ever materialized on stage. Later in the set, he yelled “Give it up for Draymond Green!,” but again, Draymond Green did not appear on stage. Shaq did at least get the Warriors’ Gary Payton, Jr. to come out, but it sure seems like DJ Diesel just falsely claimed Steph and Draymond were coming out in hopes of getting people to stay for his entire set.
If you're heading out Saturday for Foo. Fighters and Lana Del Rey, we should note that people arriving around 3:30-4 p.m. Friday at the southern gates had wait times of an hour or more to get in. The gate at the northern side moved a bit quicker.
And if you couldn't get tickets, Amazon Prime and the Amazon Music channel on Twitch will be livestreaming acts all day, with sets including Father John Misty, Niki, L'Impératrice, and FISHER.
Images: Courtesy of Alive Coverage, Joe Kukura (SFist) and Annie Lesser (SFist)