Gary Clark Jr: Personally, I've been fortunate to see Gary Clark Jr shred apart SXSW, Coachella and Sasquatch in 2012. And shred he did. While I only caught the very latter tail of Gary's Outside Lands performance on Sunday, "Bright Lights" sounded stellar to me. Sources inside said they favored Gary's Coachella 2012 set. With his style of set, which sometimes takes an extended song or two to break open the swelling grooves, it's interesting that ten minutes here or there can seem to change the vibe of the whole thing. Seven additional minutes of attacking the guitar in a dozen different ways during "Bright Lights" certainly can change an audience member's takeaway impression. That being said, I think any Gary Clark performance is a quality demonstration of guitar playing.
Youth Lagoon: In a handful of weekends, the AoT gang will head down to Monterey's inaugural First City Festival where MGMT will headline. This may not seem like the most immediate parallel, but considering the band's trajectory alongside Boise's Youth Lagoon brought out some similarities. While Trevor Powers' debut album Year of Hibernation may not have been the instantly accessible, mega pop sensation that Oracular Spectacular was, it certainly yielded quick gratification hooks, melodies and choruses. Additionally, both bands waded into deeper territory with more sonic exploration on their seconds albums. Watching Youth Lagoon bring the aural complexities of Wondrous Bughouse to life on stage was very rewarding. In contrast to, say, Zedd's set on the same stage, Trevor & Co took their time to introduce the nuances of the new material while offering a hell of a set. Cheers to Youth Lagoon for venturing into exploratory realms and pulling it off at Outside Lands.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs: It seemed almost amazing that myself and many I encountered at Outside Lands had never seen Yeah Yeah Yeahs before. With as busy and successful as the NYC group has been since 2001, we've never crossed paths before. Ruminating on the group's since success and survival amongst the "Class of 2001" ramped up the anticipation for their set. I can attest that no amount of YouTube videos of the YYY's or tales about Karen's stage work can compare to the real deal. If Saturday was Karen in her mid-thirties, I cannot imagine the gusto & kick she must've had in the Fever To Tell era. Simply put, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were in class form and exceeded my lofty expectations. Karen manhandled the crowd (and the microphone) with abundant energy and Nick Zinner's guitar mastery was sharp, raw and on point. While the band has ventured through different territory through their albums, the set simply rocked. We got everything from the first EP through Mosquito. Thank you, Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
Phoenix: Having spent as much time with the hits off Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix as the next fan, I can't knock Phoenix's rise and arrival to festival headlining spots. Also, I should point out that by the time I got to Phoenix's show at Twin Peaks stage, I was easily behind tens of thousands of people and barely had a glimpse of the show. That being said, coming from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Phoenix seemed a bit lackluster. The sound was solid. The albums were recreated. People were groovin. But it felt a bit like they were going through the motions. You might consult someone else closer to their stage, but this seemed to be the consensus for those further back in the crowd. But, hats off to the few dozen people who scrambled up the cement bathroom building and partied on the roof.
Nine Inch Nails: While I've personally spent much time trying to move past the inherent aggression and darkness embedded in much of Nine Inch Nails, I don't think there's any denying that Trent Reznor is one of the the smartest & most capable American composers from the 90's and aughts. Moreover, NiN's headlining set on Saturday allowed the subtleties, complexities, nooks & crannies of Reznor's progressions much more room the breathe than hearing a recording. Personally, I gained a much greater appreciation for his small changes & touches that he sneaks into his compositions. During the set, I felt much more of a glitchy, Flying Lotus, Atoms For Peace vibe than, say, his Downward Spiral material. And, if you haven't heard, the NiN light show is incredible. I imagine it was pared down for the quick festival turn arounds, but it was amazing. Said sonic subtleties paired perfectly with the lighting dynamics.