Queer & local faves at Outside Lands

  • by Jim Gladstone
  • Tuesday August 2, 2022
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SZA, Rostam, Rina Sawayama, Planet Booty
SZA, Rostam, Rina Sawayama, Planet Booty

Whether you're a total music fan or just curious, some of the musicians performing at this year's Outside Lands three-day music festival this weekend bring their grooves with style and pizzazz. Here are a few queer and/or local favorites.

SZA, Phoebe Bridgers, The BLSSM, SPELLLING  

Friday, August 5
SZA, 8:45 to 9:45, Lands End stage
Phoebe Bridgers, 8:35 to 9:50, Twin Peaks stage
Call them SZA Sisters. When Solana Imani Rowe (aka SZA) takes the Lands End stage this Friday night, capping off the first day of this year's Outside Lands festival, she'll be the event's first queer headliner since Elton John played the polo field in 2015. But a scan of this year's talent roster shows no shortage of community representation, with a particularly strong slate of queer women, including Rina Sawayama, Pussy Riot, Empress Of and Mitski.

Simultaneous with SZA's set, Phoebe Bridgers will play the festival's second largest stage. Both highly personal songwriters, they draw from distinct sonic palettes. On her debut album, "Ctrl," SZA draws on contemporary R&B and pop in songs that drip and pulse with synthesized background sounds even as her voice remains largely unprocessed, front and center in the mix.

Bridgers's vocals are much less crisp. Her sometimes fragile singing voice melds with gentle emo-rock accompaniment in broad washes of sound. Rather than pricking up your ears and commanding attention, her music envelops you in an atmospheric vibe.
Choose Bridgers if you want to end your long day in a chilled out haze, SZA if you'd rather be riveted.

The BLSSM, Noon-12:40, Panhandle stage
SPELLLING, 12:05-12:50, Sutro stage
SZA and Bridgers aren't the day's only overlapping queer acts. The fest opens with a dilemma, too: The BLSSM, a non-binary native of Australia, has a grabby kick-drum driven sound that bridges grunge and pop; it'll make for a great mid-day wake-up call. At the same time, you could opt for the Bay Area's own SPELLLING (aka Chrystia Cabral) who pairs melodramatic goth-inflected electronics with an incantatory singing voice, often multiplied and otherwise manipulated with a loop pedal; if you're already tripping by the time the festival gates open, this is the way to go.

Lido Pimienta, 3:00-3:40, Panhandle stage
For some of the most refreshing, singular sounds on tap at this year's fest, check out Lido Pimiento, a Colombian Canadian performer, whose bright voice and cheerful, chiming mix of acoustic and electronic instrumentation are hard to resist. Pimiento, who sings mainly in Spanish, won Canada's Polaris Music Prize for the year's best album in 2017.

Lido Pimienta, Rostam, L'Rain, Michelle  

Pimiento's music blends African and Latin rhythms and her lyrics reflect a distinctly feminist perspective. Engaged in the social justice movement, she's been known to invite "brown girls" to come up front at her shows, asking white audience members to step aside and make room.

Rostam, 6:10-6:50, Panhandle stage
The most important gay male artist at Outside Lands this year is the criminally underappreciated Rostam Batmanglij, a founding member of Vampire Weekend, whose solo work is more intimate and less slick. It's also achingly romantic, a potion of rhythmic strums, pit-a-pat percussion and the rough silk of Rostam's warm, declarative voice.
Songs like "From the Back of a Cab" and "4Runner" work like short stories set to music, summoning up images and making you anxious to hear what comes next. Rostam received a Grammy nomination for producing Haim's latest album

Saturday, August 6
L'Rain, 12:15-1:00, Sutro stage
L'Rain is the musical moniker of Taja Cheek, whose past work as a curator at MoMA PS1 is altogether unsurprising given the highly conceptual nature of their music, which incorporates field recordings, samples, instruments and synthesizers in an almost complete dismantling of genre. Their performances feel less like concerts than immersive, almost hypnotic soundscapes that tug the listener between meditative states and periods of highly attentive listening.

Michelle, 12:50-1:35, Twin Peaks stage
"After Dinner We Talk Dreams" is the pitch-perfect title of the unexpected second album by Michelle, a queer, "mostly BIPOC" sextet of New York teens and twentysomethings that specializes —almost by default— in harmony. Influenced by '90s R&B groups including TLC, SWV and Boyz II Men, Michelle's music is breezy summer pop featuring impressively tight four-part harmonies.

The group's first album, "Heatwave" (2018), was intended to be a one-off, a collaborative project by mutual musical friends, all of whom have other projects or are members of other bands. But it captured a youthful magic that listeners loved and the group members wanted to linger in for a while. They look like a Benetton ad, they sound like a dream, and it's hard to imagine they'll still be together another four years down the road. Catch them while you can.

Empress Of, 4:10-5:00, Twin Peaks stage
The first-generation Honduran American singer/producer Lorely Rodriguez creates layered swirls of danceable electronic dream pop peppered with surprising dynamic shifts as Empress Of. Rodriguez cites the Cocteau Twins and the Beach Boys among her influences, and she's collaborated with experimental queer favorites Blood Orange and Perfume Genius.

Empress Of, Rina Sawayama, Kali Uchis, Planet Booty  

While she's been releasing critically-praised music since 2011, the 32-yearr-old took creative control two years ago, extracting herself from past contracts to start her own label, Major Arcana, on which she's just released her first fully self-determined music, the EP "Save Me."

Rina Sawayama, 7:05-8:05, Twin Peaks stage
Kali Uchis, 8:55-9:55, Twin Peaks stage
Toward the end of a busy day navigating the crowds to get from stage to stage on a make-your-own-musical-adventure, it's a relief when you can settle into a single spot for two or more acts in a row. So consider spreading out a blanket and making the last two acts of your Saturday a queer double feature of Rina Sawayama followed by Kali Uchis on the Twin Peaks stage.

Sawayama's grandiose emotional pop has caught the ear of influential fans, including Elton John, who collaborated with her for a lush revamp of "Chosen Family," from her debut album. Her second, "Hold the Girl" has just been released, and the first single, "This Hell," not only has undeniable Gaga vibes, its lyrics namecheck Britney Spears and Whitney Houston. The ambition is palpable.

Kali Uchis, the rising Colombian-American star, offers a genre-melting bilingual blend of Amy Winehouse-style torch singing and hip-hop inflected jazz meanderings. Working with cred-building collaborators like Tyler the Creator, Kaytranada and Friday's headliner SZA, she's won a Grammy for Best Dance Recording ("10%"), a Billboard Latin Music award for Latin Pop Album of the Year ("Sin Miedo," 2021) and has been nominated for a Soul Train Music Award as Best New Artist. Uchi-wahwah!

Sunday, August 7
Planet Booty, 12:00-12:45, Lands End stage
Make Sunday a fun day out of the gate with local party-starters Planet Booty at the stroke of noon. The Bay Area trio preaches body positivity and sexual inclusivity with rump-shaking funk and campy charisma. Having warmed up shows for Lizzo, Big Freedia and Peaches, they're pretty much guaranteed to make an energizing opening act for your final day at the fest.

Pussy Riot, 4:10-4:50, Panhandle stage
Music and politics have always danced together in San Francisco and this year's festival couldn't feature a timelier act than Pussy Riot, led by founder and linchpin Nadya Tolokonnikova, who spent 21 months in a Siberian prison for agitating against the policies of one Vladimir Putin more than a decade ago.

Now, she's got most of the world on her side. Expect the agit-punker and her crew to articulate vehemently against Russia's current war on Ukraine and the United States' current war on women. Expect a set that's at once lively and dead serious.

Dominic Fike, 5:05-5:55, Land's End stage
One of the most engaging musical acts on the bill this year, Dominic Fike, hasn't made any on the record statements about his sexual orientation, though he surely has fans of every stripe eager to embrace him. You may have seen Fike playing Elliot opposite Zendaya's Rue on HBO's "Euphoria" or making out with Lil Nas X in Brockhampton's "Count On Me" video, but he was a musician long before dipping his toe in thespianism.

Pussy Riot, Dominic Fike, Kim Petras, Mitski  

Bubbling under the mainstream for several years now, Fike is an alt-Bruno Mars. His lightly gritty R&B influenced pop has more subdued hooks, less production sheen and rhythmic indie guitars instead of a glitzy horn section. He raps with swinging musicality and sings with cool restraint on tunes that exude earnestness despite throwaway Gen Z titles like "Chicken Tenders" and "Acai Bowl." Fike's debut album, "What Could Possibly Go Wrong" is a gem, with music ideally suited for Sunday afternoon chilling.

Kim Petras, 6:30-7:30, Twin Peaks stage
Kim Petras originally came to fame as the youngest person to undergo sex reassignment surgery. Erroneously deemed male at birth, the German-born singer began her transition at 13, under the glare of documentary and talk show cameras. By 16, she'd begun performing as a guest vocalist on other artists' projects and releasing digital singles of her own, but it wasn't until 2019 that her first solo album, "Clarity," was released, followed the next year by a second, "Turn Out The Light".

Both were poppy modest successes and Petras toured with Troy Sivan and Camilla Cabello. Then, this February, Petras set her aims on immodest success, dropping the steaming, gleaming pure Eurotrash EP "Slut Pop." Grab a cocktail and get ready to get sloppy with audacious electro bangers like the title track which urges listeners to "Whip your dick out/Get your tits out" and the so-shocking-its-funny "Throat Goat" (Sample lyric: "I just sucked my ex/No gag reflex"). Have fun, little monkeys.

Mitski, 8:10-9:20, Sutro stage
Bring your fest to an end with a highly anticipated set from Mitski, returning to the stage after a three-year hiatus that many fans assumed to be an early retirement from the music industry. Having spent portions of her childhood in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe as the daughter of a diplomat, Mitski now today lives in Nashville and arrives at Outside Lands as one of the most intriguing acts on the bill.

Her music juxtaposes deceptively mellow keyboard pop with strong anti-establishment sentiments, touching on topics from global warming, to consumerism to self-sabotage. Mitski has said that her live performances are inspired by Butoh theater, also a major influence on David Byrne and the Talking Heads. Her Outside Lands appearance is the first U.S. show of a new tour.

Single-day tickets $175; three-day pass $409 and up.

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