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Arts & Entertainment

Outside Lands 2023: San Francisco’s indie darling Geographer is back!

Synth pop artist Geographer performs at the Sutro stage during Day Two of Outside Lands on Saturday. | Source: Morgan Ellis/The Standard

Outside Lands has changed a great deal since it began 15 years ago, and perhaps nobody embodies the scope of that change quite like Geographer, the moniker of San Francisco indie rock veteran Mike Deni, who played the festival in 2012 and again on Saturday.

In the interim, Geographer went through some personnel changes—other members have come and gone—and endured a six-year stretch where the band released several singles and some EPs but no full-length records.

Synth pop artist Geographer performs at the Toyota Music Den during Day Two of Outside Lands. | Source: Morgan Ellis/The Standard

Deni explained the fickleness of fame to The Standard.

“You have your moment and then things fade, right? And it’s very, very sad. And it happens to almost everybody,” he said. “But I feel like, for some reason, like things are happening again now—and it makes me really happy.”

Strictly speaking, Geographer played twice Saturday. First, the opening slot on the Sutro Stage with his current drummer, Cody Rhodes, and then an acoustic solo set at the Toyota Music Den, a combination of new material, semi-unreleased obscurities that only exist online in YouTube videos recorded in Paris and older cuts like “Verona” and “Kites.” He and Rhodes rehearsed only once, and the voice he described as “gentle, round choirboy” is as sweet as ever.

Is Geographer “back”? Deni seems to think so. Wearing a black leather jacket and quilt-patch pants he bought at the RealReal, and with just a bit more than a touch of gray in his hair, he appeared at ease in spite of suffering from a slight cold. Fans might not have picked up on it when he joined Rhodes in banging on the same drums at Sutro, or at the Toyota Music Den when he amiably lamented that he sometimes wished he wrote punk songs.

Geographer, led by Mike Deni, also played a more intimate, acoustic set later Saturday afternoon. | Source: Morgan Ellis/The Standard

As he does whenever the crowd seems to want it, Deni tossed a drumstick into the audience with a gentle underhand arc. Trang Nguyen, the woman who caught, it didn’t even have to reach for it; it just sailed right into her hand. Turns out, she’s caught one before.

How would she rate this on a scale of 1 to 10, in terms of life experiences?

“A thousand,” Nguyen told The Standard. “The last time they were in San Francisco, I got the drumstick. So now I have a set.”