Words by: Eric Podolsky | Images by: Josh Miller
Treasure Island Music Festival :: 10.16.10-10.17.10 :: Treasure Island :: San Francisco, CA
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As far as urban music festivals go, the Bay Area has got it made when it comes to gorgeous, out-of-the-way-yet-accessible locations to stage big parties. Now in its fourth year, Treasure Island Music Festival takes the cake for most unique location, situated right on the shoreline of the man-made island, a few miles offshore from SF. As there was no parking on the tiny island, a brigade of upscale buses provided free shuttle service to and from the island from downtown SF, which proved to be convenient, comfortable and efficient. Once inside the fairly small festival grounds, we were greeted to gorgeous views of the SF cityscape across the bay. Unfortunately, our luck ran out with the weather, as the Bay Area was bombarded with cold, clouds, wind and its first rains in months, right in time for festival weekend (after highs in the 80s earlier in the week). This took Saturday's under-dressed crowd by surprise, and many were seen huddled against the Bay's whipping winds, which swept across the exposed festival grounds.
|Treasure Island Fest '10 by Josh Miller|
With two closely situated stages sharing one field and no overlapping sets, this festival was a marvel of convenience that made it easy to expend as little effort as possible to catch your favorite bands. There were no half-mile walks from stage to stage, only leisurely strolls within the field's confines. The icing on the cake was the inclusion of the Silent Disco this year, which offered the crowd a headphone-dance-party alternative to the main acts throughout the day. DJ Motion Potion's set really got my Saturday evening going right, as he induced a big headphone-funk dance party under a canopy of lit-up trees.
This year's lineup was as indie as ever, and with the two days distinctly separated into "electro-dance-DJ day" and "sentimental-indie-rock-collective day" you may as well have been at two different festivals over the course of the weekend. Saturday's sold-out raver crowd swelled throughout the day, reaching a saturation point for Deadmau5's Daft-Punk-scale house music extravaganza. The electro beats of band after band carried the neon island party into the night before we were forced to board the buses, which deposited us back into the real word of downtown San Francisco.
Sunday was a different animal altogether, as cold and rain hit early in the day, putting a damper on affairs early on. Fortunately, the rain disappeared around 2 pm, and the rest of the day went along smoothly, and we were serenaded with the finest indie music around. Lovely harmonies, huge bands and well-crafted songs dominated the day, and the noticeably subdued and smaller crowd was all smiles, with many a couple seen making out all over the place.
The separation of each day into a general musical genre proved to be a smart decision that paid off for everyone, as people were able to choose which day to attend based on their musical tastes. Overall, even with lousy weather, the bands delivered in a big way, and the setting was naturally breathtaking and surreal. What more could you want from a festival?
Continue reading for Saturday highlights...
Treasure Island Saturday Highlights
1. LCD Soundsystem :: 9:35-10:50 :: Bridge Stage
|LCD's James Murphy by Josh Miller|
After the straight house music barrage of Deadmau5 whipped the crowd into a manic frenzy with larger-than-life beats, headliner James Murphy and Co. took the stage and built their set organically with a mighty patience, letting the music breathe, swell and build to epic heights. Decked out in a brilliant white suit, Murphy was a straight crooner on this night, singing to us with a confidence and clarity I haven't heard from him before. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand at every moment, and he knew it. Opening quietly with the slow-burner "Dance Yrself Clean," Murphy forced us to lean into the music right off the bat, even before the song exploded into the dance party we were all waiting for. From there, Murphy led us through his infectious catalog of ass-shaking analog dance-rock, putting special emphasis on dynamics. His well-oiled band cranked out song after song of finely crafted, polyrhythmic grooves, and it was awe-inspiring. Many things blew me away about this set, most of all the sonic perfection of the mix. Every instrument came through bright and clear, and the band's big, spacious sound filled the festival space perfectly. With drummer Patrick Mahoney driving the groove with his incessant pocket, the masterful maturity of this band shone through in the ever-urgent, slow builds of "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House" and "Tribulations," which peaked in epic fashion before the band closed with the happy sing-along groove "Home." My favorite set of the weekend.
2. Die Antwoord :: 3:00-3:45 :: Bridge Stage
It's safe to say that this set left the entire crowd with their jaws on the ground. Storming out the gate on their first U.S. tour, South African MCs Ninja and pint-sized lady Yo-Landi Vi$$er blew our fucking minds with their over-the-top stage presence and lewd gestures, and backed it all up with some of the best MC skills I've ever witnessed. Presenting themselves as unabashedly white trash gangsta, it was easy to laugh at their weird haircuts and ridiculous braggadocio, but as soon as Ninja started rapping, his incredible skills more than justified any antics. Simply put, the set was pure, blazing hip-hop. Ninja speed-rapped with amazing clarity over minimal slice-and-dice beats, and it was off the charts awesome. Running around the stage in his boxers, shaking his dick around and sneering, he spat dirty sex rhymes and amazing freestyles, and blew us all away with rapid-fire MC skillz. Throughout the set, Yo-Landi Vi$$er acted as a sort of Joe C to Ninja's Kid Rock, for lack of a better analogy. Her otherworldly, little-girl delivery complimented the songs, but mostly she was all attitude and sexuality, grabbing her chest with a snarl and mooning the crowd a couple of times. A truly tremendous concert experience.
3. !!! :: 4:35-5:25 :: Bridge Stage
I've known about these guys for a while, and was excited to see them for the first time. This band was one of the first to patent the now-widespread dance-rock movement a number of years back, and they still deliver live. Theirs is a dirty-punk groove approach, with Tyler Pope's funky, deep-fuzz basslines driving the songs forward. The band themselves was fantastic, but I couldn't say the same for vocalist Nic Offer, whose breathy, low delivery didn't compliment the band very well. At times it seemed like he wasn't trying very hard, and it was often hard to hear his mediocre voice above the consistently engaging grooves. When the band decided to get instrumentally serious and jam a bit, it was fabulous, bass-bombing psychedelic dance-rock, complete with electro-glitch bloops and bleeps. The band's horn section seemed under-utilized to me, as they were used more for sonic color than anything else. I danced my butt off anyway.
4. Holy Fuck :: 1:30-2:15 :: Bridge Stage
These guys pack a sonic wallop. This instrumental band is just a rhythm section and a couple of dudes tweaking and fiddling with knobs, but they sure make a lot of sound. They crafted an eerie ambiance with their weird toys, which complimented the driving rhythm. But this wasn't really dance music, more a soundscape of ethereal groove-noise. Vocal loops and modulators evoked Lee Scratch Perry level experimentation in a rock setting (there was even a melodica), and the audience responded warmly to the out-there results, especially considering the set was so early in the day. Hunched over their toys, these mad professors won me over with their exploratory, order-in-chaos approach to music.
5. Little Dragon :: 7:05-7:50 :: Tunnel Stage
|Deadmau5 by Josh Miller|
I had never heard of this Swedish band before I caught this set, and their synth-soul-pop sound really caught my ear. Sometimes evoking the icy early-80s sounds of Grace Jones or even Bowie, Little Dragon has catchy songs and an airy-cool ambiance created by well-placed synths, which serve the melodies well. Their lead singer Yukimi Nagano is soulful yet detached in the languid, catchy way that synth-pop works best. This was one set that succeeded in inspiring me to actively seek out the band's material. Great nighttime music.
6. Deadmau5 :: 7:55-8:45 :: Bridge Stage
Having no ear for or experience in the world of house music, I was somewhat baffled at the hordes of adoring fans that came out for this guy. His fans were definitely the most visible on Saturday, and the crowd was absolutely packed for his set. As I'm mostly unable to tell house music apart from other electronic music, I can say that his was a very simple, stripped-down style of epic tension-release beats and electronic sounds meant solely to make you dance. His stage show was the most elaborate of the weekend, taking a page straight out of the Daft Punk playbook. Deadmau5, with glowing mouse head on at all times, was perched atop a giant cube, which projected various images and light displays. This all combined to be a fun, high-energy experience, though not musical in nature. Talking with a fan later, I learned that the man uses no samples in his live show and creates all sounds in the moment with analog equipment. That said, I respect Deadmau5 for what he does, but can't say the music engages me.
Continue reading for Sunday highlights...
Treasure Island Sunday Highlights
1. Broken Social Scene :: 5:35-6:25 :: Bridge Stage
|Broken Social Scene by Josh Miller|
Though I was mostly unfamiliar with this Canadian musician collective before this set, I was soon converted. Their ensemble approach to playing continually surprised me, with musicians continually switching instruments after every song. The band plays a sort of alt-rock chamber music, with each musician in the eight-piece band playing a very specific role in the sound and always serving the song. The set started with four guitars jangling away, and yet the sound was lean and not overly busy. "7/4 (Shoreline)" was rocked out nicely, and the mid-tempo "Texaco Bitches" was made interesting with some bloopy synths. At times the band evoked the wide-open-spaces feel of early U2, with shimmering guitar parts and soaring vocals. But the peak of the set had to be "Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl," a slow-building loop of a tune which repeated itself, each band member gradually adding something new at every repetition until it built to a soaring, heartfelt crescendo. As the band peaked the song out, singer Kevin Drew successfully crowd-surfed all the way back to the soundboard - a triumphant way to end the set.
2. Superchunk :: 2:30-3:15 :: Bridge Stage
I'd never heard of these guys either, and they thoroughly impressed me with their meaty, poppy punk rock. Superchunk has influenced countless indie rockers having been around for over 20 years, and listening to them play it's easy to tell why. They work as a unit, slugging it out with duel guitar power chords and a rockin' female bassist, her axe slung low, to boot. Singer-guitarist Mac McCaughan was right on all set with his great voice. Their new track "Digging for Something" had me rocking hard, and included the first real guitar solo of the entire weekend, believe it or not. "My Gap Feels Weird" was also awesome, and the anthemic "Crossed Wires" had a rip-roaring, jangly guitar duel. They closed their utterly satisfying afternoon set in grand rock fashion, with thrashing guitars and windmill power chords.
3. Belle & Sebastian :: 9:05-10:20 :: Bridge Stage
Another band I haven't given a chance, these guys closed the festival out on a cheery note with their immaculate, gorgeous pop-rock melodies. In a day filled with large ensemble bands, this group beat them all with an 11-piece band, complete with horn and string sections. Lead man Stuart Murdoch was in high spirits, bouncing around the stage while his band churned out bright, meticulously crafted pop. All the songs were light and catchy, with a high gloss production that gave them a kind of George Martin feel. Songs like "I'm A Cuckoo" were amazingly clean and precise in their sound, and the audience was all smiles and extraordinarily attentive. Indeed, in between songs, I had never heard a quieter, more well behaved audience in all my years. This allowed the band to give their music the delicacy it required, what with its lovely flute and string parts and three-part madrigal harmonies. Tunes like "Sukie In The Graveyard" and "The Boy With The Arab Strap" were gleaming, radio-friendly nuggets that got people bouncing around before the epic, feel-good climax of "Sleep The Clock Around" sent us to the shuttle buses, closing out a big day of music.
4. The National :: 7:15-8:15 :: Bridge Stage
This band is Matt Berninger. Everything about the archetypal indie rock this band plays revolves around his aching, Morrissey-like baritone and the heartbreaking lyrics it delivers. In this eight-piece band, all instruments function to serve the song, first and foremost. Strings, horns, guitars and keyboard are all complimentary color to his deeply soulful voice. Most all of his songs are about relationships and getting older, and all are tinged with melancholy. The music is always achingly beautiful, and tunes like "Apartment Story" and "Conversation 16" make you feel more than you might expect. This was a deep show, and every now and then Berninger would freak out, as he did in "Abel," screaming, "My mind's not right!" His performance contrasted drastically with his funny, witty stage banter - definitely the winner for best banter of the weekend. Berninger has great stagecraft, and knows how to be a leading man to great effect. Some other lead singers from the weekend could have taken a tip or two from him...
5. She & Him :: 4:00-4:50 :: Bridge Stage
|M. Ward by Josh Miller|
This collaboration between M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel was a fun afternoon romp into 60s era doo-wop pop. Their band had a jukebox feel to it, with M. Ward's soul-fried guitar work leading the band. Though Deschanel has a great voice, it was a cold, windy day, and she seemed a bit unsure onstage, and her voice didn't fill the open field very well as a result. This would clearly be a great band to see in a small venue, but their delicate sound didn't translate very well to a gigantic, open-air stage. Regardless, songs like "Black Hole" were fun and lighthearted, with backup singers doo-wopping it up. My favorite song had to be "This Is Not A Test," a sunny, strummy, acoustic feel-good number. Another highlight included M. Ward leading the band through a folkified version of "Roll Over Beethoven" to close out a fun set.
6. Papercuts :: 1:55-2:25 :: Tunnel Stage
A short 30-minute set started my day off right with an introduction to Papercuts' etheral indie-pop. Based in SF, they are led by vocalist Jason Robert Quever, whose high-pitched, quavering tenor blends with the band's lo-fi sounds. Their songs are punctuated with strange washes of organ sounds, and are catchy if a bit generic sounding. I would definitely give them another chance, as a half hour is not much time to prove one's worth as a band.
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