It’s 5:50 PM, and I’m wondering why the hell no one at this music festival has mushrooms. Phish are scheduled to go on in 40 minutes, and I’m sober as a rock because beers cost $9 a pop and my buddies with all the weed stayed to the back of the Polo Fields (the main stage area of Outside Lands) in order to get to the Shins on time after Phish’s first set. So all I’ve got is the company of my good friend, Samantha, and a spot about fifty feet from the stage, and though that would normally more than suffice for a Friday afternoon, right now all I can think about is how hard I want to trip balls.
This is the reason I consider Mike With the Orange Backpack a godsend. Sitting to my right, he has the prime features of a dealer: high, alone, and wearing a backpack. Unless you’re a journalist, photographer, or an excavator who thought it’d be nice to see a band play a 20-minute version of “You Enjoy Myself,” going to a Phish concert by yourself is typically a sign that you’re selling drugs, and the backpack further insinuates that. But that’s when Mike throws me for a loop. His backpack is actually a Camelbak that he ends up filling with three Aquafina bottles, which instantly destroys my hope of being clinically insane for four hours. Not only is this guy high and alone at a Phish concert, but he’s rigid enough to stay hydrated. If Mike With the Orange Backpack ends up having psychedelic drugs on him, he’ll be the Walter White of hippies.
It turns out that Mike With the Orange Backpack is indeed the Walter White of hippies. Within ten minutes, I look over at him as he pulls a Rice Crispies treat out of his shorts pocket, and my heart salivates. (Yup, that’s right.) In a last attempt, I ask him if he knows of anyone selling shrooms.
“Yeah, that’s what this is,” he answers, gesturing to the green treat in his hand. My eyes light up.
“That? That’s not weed?”
“No, I bake the mushrooms into the batter,” he explains. “This is my last one actually. My buddy and I pushed 450 of these already on this west coast tour, so I was gonna have this one all to myself. But here, try some.”
After I stare up at the sky and wonder if a higher deity is looking over me, I offer him twenty bucks.
“Nah, man. That’s not necessary,” he says, and hands me a corner for Sam and I to share, and I realize for certain that a higher deity must be looking over me.
This was the epitome of my Outside Lands experience: excitement and disappointment, spontaneity and shock. Since Phish were the only reason I spent $175 to drive the six-hour trek from Los Angeles, I didn’t really anticipate much from any other act at the place. (Due to being stranded on the West Coast, I never get to see my hippie pals anymore, though ironically they ended up playing the Hollywood Bowl five days before it. Another example of a higher deity’s existence?) As long as I saw Trey Anastasio wail for minutes on end, the rest of the weekend was just icing on the cake.
Not that I didn’t schedule any bands (I added Phantogram, !!!, and Tune-Yards to my must-see list), but I was fine with just catching a bit of everything and exploring as many acts as possible. Yet I learned there’s one good aspect to this procedure at a festival, and one really, really shitty one. The good one is that you get to see said bands and have a valid opinion on their live shows, but the really, really shitty one is that you only end up seeing three songs of a band before you walk fifteen minutes to another stage, then see three songs there, then walk another fifteen minutes to another stage, then see three songs…you get the point. With this procedure, you end up a lot of the time skipping terrific sets for shitty ones (Strfkr for the Arctic Monkeys, for one), as well as becoming increasingly exhausted. Never mind that most rock shows also aren’t built to be exciting during the day, which I discovered MGMT are the perfect example of. Listening to MGMT in broad daylight was akin to watching this video. People blame MGMT for sucking live, but I don’t know if this is the case. Without a badass light show, any song off Oracular Spectacular is going to sound exactly like the studio while listening to it under the hot sun, so hearing “Electric Feel” without trippy lights was the same as listening to it during set break music. For now, I’m giving MGMT another chance in a dark setting.
Of course, then there’s a band like Muse. That British trio may have a light show to their advantage, but I’m gonna bet that their energy would be just as kickass without the aid of any visual technology. They were hands-down the best act of the entire weekend. (And remember, that’s coming from a guy who spent $175 plus tax to see Phish and Phish alone.) For the past couple of years, I’ve bashed Muse for packaging the worst garbage they’ve ever produced. The Twilight saga both shattered their image and rebuilt it even larger than it’s ever been, putting them at the top of the charts and force-feeding us “Neutron Star Collision” for months on end and making me want to punch Matt Bellamy in the throat. But when those three guys stepped out on stage on Saturday, they blew my Goddamn mind. Their light show is without a doubt the greatest I’ve ever seen, and Bellamy proved to me that he’s not just a great riff writer, but that he can fucking rock. “Citizen Erased” was close to ten minutes long as he shred for the latter half, and “Undisclosed Desires” was given an extra spice of eeriness as lasers shot out above the crowd, like aliens calling home.
I’m making this very clear to all of you who haven’t seen Muse: spend lots of money on them. They are worth every cent.
As for other bands that got my attention, San Francisco’s own Stone Foxes are like the little brothers of the Black Keys. Although there are five of them, it makes their sound all the more intense because they’ve got four times the firepower of Dan Auerbach. Blasting ’70s-style blues rock, watch out for these guys to rise up the ranks with Atlantic Records’ new protege, the Sheepdogs. Saratoga Springs duo Phantogram put on a great show despite an early 2:30 set on the first day, which only makes me more excited to see them play a small venue to a bunch of loving fans, and Tune-Yards was one of the most original acts of the fest, as Merrill Garbus looped vocal tracks and funky drum beats while accompanied by saxophone and bass. And can you really ever go wrong with classic acts such as the Roots or the Meters? Funk ain’t ever boring, bitch.
If you read this to find out what I thought of the Arcade Fire’s set, I apologize for wasting your time. Due to a hectic work schedule within the TV industry, I had to book it home early on Sunday night for a 6am call on Monday. (If you’re pondering working in television, remember what I just wrote.) But that couldn’t put a damper on one hell of a weekend. Despite the back-and-forth of my rookie experience at a major fest, the majority of bands put on great shows. But hey, this whole weekend was about Phish anyway. The weekend could have ended on Friday, and I’d have gone home with a smile on my face.