Playing with the music festival formula at Outside Lands’ first day

Jeff Tweedy of Wilco
Wilco front man Jeff Tweedy.
(Zoran Orlic)

The music festival formula: greatest hits plus new songs plus one offbeat cover.

Most of the acts I saw on the inaugural day of San Francisco’s Outside Lands festival obliged. Natalie Prass, the brave first act at noon on a Friday, playing to a few hundred early arrivals, picked a great cover: Dusty Springfield’s “No Easy Way Down.”

And the winsome First Aid – look the adjective up in the dictionary, and the Swedish sisters will be there – did their single “Emmylou” (with the wonderful chorus, “I’ll be your Emmylou and I’ll be your June/If you’ll be my Gram and my Johnny too”).

But then came Wilco, who surprised with a set that started out with them playing their new album, “Star Wars,” in its entirety.


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That’s a party trick bands have been trotting out in recent years -- I’ve seen Spiritualized do “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space” and Nada Surf do “Let Go,” among others.

But when Wilco started playing on the Land’s End stage, I didn’t even realize at first they were playing the whole album (maybe because my first listens of “Star Wars” have been mostly a matter of hitting the repeat button on “You Satellite”).

Starting with the white-black-and-everything-in-between noise of “EKG,” Jeff Tweedy and crew blazed hot from the get-go. My companions wondered when Tweedy had gotten older. I think age is a good thing on him (and knew he’d been around the block, because I saw his late, lamented Uncle Tupelo play one of their last shows at the late, lamented Palomino Club way back in 1993 -- a lifetime ago).


One of the album highlights is “Where Do I Begin,” and one of its lyrics -- “our paths overgrown” – seemed tailor-made for the ruggedly urban-not-urban Golden Gate Park.

And ahh, there was “You Satellite.” Hypnotically repetitive and lo-fi, it played as the sun started to set on a gorgeous day (yes, you could see the sun -- the clouds and fog that are notorious at the park were a happy no-show in the first day).

They closed out the set with some old favorites from the classic “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,” including “I’m the Man Who Loves You” and the standout “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.”
Tweedy seemed to dig the crowd, saying he normally hates audiences but he liked this one. (Then was quick to add that he was kidding. But about which half of the line, I wonder?)


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