BEST USE OF A BLACK EYED PEA: DAVE MATTHEWS BAND
"I have a frog in my throat," Dave Matthews said midway into his band's two-hour long headlining set Saturday night, "but it's a delicious frog." His voice worn down to a gravelly croak, Matthews played the grizzled bluesman to Fergie and apl.de.ap when the pair of Black Eyed Peas joined him onstage to lead an awkward chant of, "DAVE MATTHEWS BAND!"
Despite Matthews' brief attempt at breakdancing (!), the spirited shouting was a false climax: Serious DMB fans got their fix from a 20-minute version of "Lie in Our Graves," as well as old favorites like "Ants Marching" and "Don't Drink the Water." Six-string master Tim Reynolds, Matthews longtime foil, sat in all night long, and replacing deceased sax player LeRoi Moore was a three-piece horn section (with an alto sax occasionally cheesing up the works). Matthews made his shredded voice a running gag, sounding like Tom Waits making nice for 40,000 people.
Nobody expected Dave to play "Stairway to Heaven." Then South African-born singer did just that, with Robert Randolph on red-hot lap steel guitar, and mixed in lyrics to a slowed-down version of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower." He and Randolph then rolled into a legitimately funky version of San Francisco native Sly and the Family Stone's "Thank You" that proved just how versatile Matthews and Co. can be -- especially when backed by Randolph.
BEST TRIP THROUGH A WORMHOLE: MASTODON
Mastodon launched from the Twin Peaks stage into oblivion and took a reverent crowd of several thousand with them. The Atlanta metalsmiths started with songs from this year's instant classic Crack the Skye, slid back through the years into their back catalog, then returned to the present day with a reprise of Skye's aptly titled crusher "Oblivion." Drummer Brann Dailor proved a double kick drum, judiciously used, is a beautiful thing, while Brent Hinds peeled off phase-shifted solos on his black Flying V. The band worked as hard as its audience, and delivered one of the day's most intense performances in the mid-afternoon sun.
BEST HORN SECTION: TV ON THE RADIO
Adding a cascade of brassy swing to the Brooklyn band's brainy, muscular rock were a trumpeter and a pair of sax players, including energetic Stuart Bogie of Antibalas. "Golden Age," one of the highlights from last year's SPIN year-end list topping album Dear Science, never sounded better.
BEST FESTIVAL MASCOT: RANGER DAVE
Bonnaroo has the barefoot hippie and Coachella the mom-jeans sporting hipster chick, but Outside Lands has an official representative in Ranger Dave, a uniformed, pushbroom-mustached dude and self proclaimed "buffalo whisperer," running around the festival dishing free hugs and high fives.
BEST WAY TO KICK START A SLEEPY SATURDAY: THE DIRTBOMBS
Two drummers hammering away at 1 P.M. is the aural equivalent of a double shot of espresso. The Detroit garage-soul badasses delivered a three-throated front on "Motor City Baby" and had an early afternoon crowd dancing before it knew what hit 'em.
WORST STAGE PRESENCE: NORTEC COLLECTIVE
You couldn't argue with Mexican DJ Bostich's cowboy-hat-and-aviators getup, but he and Fussible, two representatives of Tijuana's Nortec Collective that played an early set at the Sutro Stage, needed to do something onstage besides stand next to a bank of laptops and touch screen monitors and let their bouncy, slow-churning brand of techno throb behind them. The audience danced anyway, but even their faux-hawked sousaphone player and trumpeter seemed bored.