Two full days have passed and my body is already exhausted. Getting up on Sunday morning requires divine intervention. Only the promise of getting to see some of my favorite acts for the first time pushed me out of my room and onto my bike. Friday and Saturday had had great line-ups but most of the bands I liked, I had already seen before at least once.
So there I go, again, as early as I can to be in time for the first performer of the day, The Mighty Underdogs, a new backpacker-rap group from the NorCal’s original Quannum Collective including well known members of other previous projects: Gift of Gab from Blackalicious and Lateef The Truthspeaker from Latryx. I’ll skip the details, but let me tell you, I was pleased to start my day with some really dope underground hip hop.
Right after them I got to see for the first time, my favorite Jersey Girl, Nicole Atkins. I was quite disappointed, and I guess she was too, when I counted less than twenty people in the crowd. “Thank you for coming early,” she said, “I thought there were gonna be only four people I went to high school with.”After that, I had some time to kill and I regret spending it at Toots & The Maytals show by my friend’s suggestion when I should’ve been dancing to K’Naan, but that’s how festivals are, you never get to see all the artists you want.
Another one of the acts I was looking forward to see for the first time was the Cool Kids. I read so much about them lately that I had to check them out with my own eyes to see what all the buzz was about. If you live in a tupperware and you haven’t heard of them, let me tell you, they are these young hip-hop nerds who are trying to bring back the fun times of the genre’s Golden Age and they don’t take themselves too seriously. Quite refreshing. Think Kid & Play with contemporary minimalist post-Neptunes beats. A lot of fun to watch once, but by the end of the show I was already over them.
My next stop was Little Brother. Yes, more hip hop, but please bear with me, the Latin acts are right around the corner. Now this is the show I was really waiting for. The one that made me get out of bed. This North Carolina duo are the closest thing to perfection you can find among the infinite pile of wackness that has been polluting the good old name of hip hop since the turn of the millennium. For the first time in the three days of the festival, somebody made me dance. It helped that by the time their show started, the sun miraculously came out. Finally!
OK, now it’s time to talk about Rodrigo y Gabriela. I guess that’s the reason you’re here, right? Well, let’s start by saying that of all the Latin music acts in the Outside Lands’ lineup this is the one that I really wanted to check out and apparently the majority of the crowd agreed with me on this. It’s hard to believe that thousands and thousands of gringos were actually waiting impatiently in front of the main stage to see a couple of Mexicans playing acoustic guitars. If you told me that a few years ago I would’ve thought you were bullshitting me. But the truth is that Rodrigo y Gabriela have a lot more crossover appeal than any other Latin music band or artist nowadays (Café Tacuba, the biggest rock band in Mexico, played the day before in a much smaller stage for far less people). I’m sorry for all you proud Mexican rockers but the most successful export in Mexican music nowadays comes from Europe.
The thing is Rodrigo and Gabriela don’t sing “en Español,” actually they don’t sing at all. They barely talk a few words here and there with their cute Irish accent: “We are focking happy to be here!” So gringos like them because they don’t have to learn a new language to understand them. They also like them because they come from Ireland, where they are based. If they came from Mexico their story wouldn’t be so interesting. In fact, had they stayed in Mexico, even if they played the exact same amazing music they play today, they would still be playing for tourists at hotel lobbies, like they used to do in Ixtapa.
But besides their opportune luck and their enchanting bio, Rodrigo y Gabriela can captivate the most heterogeneous crowds because of their combination of out-of-this-world skills, chemistry and originality. The skills are unquestionable, you have to see them live to believe this: when Gabriela’s right hand hits the guitar as a percussion instrument at light-speed makes me wonder if that’s really her hand or some kind of cyborg implant. But skills by themselves don’t fill a stadium. There are tons of virtuoso guitar players showing off skills probably superior to them, but they don’t have Rodrigo y Gabriela’s chemistry. That’s pure magic. See them control the crowds without talking, just by the precise notes in their guitars. The “wow” effect goes way beyond complex arpeggios and seldom quotes to heavy metal classic, this is totally unique.
With the “wow” expression still stuck to my face I left the main stage for a smaller one where the New York based Venezuelan combo Los Amigos Invisibles was right about to kick start their energetic performance. Now I used to love these guys back in their Luaka Bop days and they still make me dance, their only sin is that since they moved to New York they play in San Francisco so often that I can’t find it interesting anymore. They are in every other festival here and I see them 2-3 times a year. Give me a break! Ok, maybe the problem is that I go to concerts a lot. But I feel that I’ve seen that exact same show so many times that I can actually predict the order of the songs. At least this time they played a new one!
The headliner for the third day was Jack Johnson who, once again, I don’t care at all about. I don’t listen to radio so I barely know who he is. So this was enough for me for the day. I’m out. My body needs at least 12 good hours of sleep. And I still have to ride my bike all the way back home and write this piece…