Words by: Eric Podolsky | Images by: Jared Kelly
Treasure Island Music Festival :: 10.15-16.11 :: Treasure Island :: San Francisco, CA
Photo gallery for Saturday at Treasure Island Music Festival 2011 starts below review, and you can jump right to Sunday's photos here.
For five years running, the seminal Treasure Island Music Festival has consistently brought a wholly unique festival experience to the Bay Area, with its stellar venders, a thoughtfully-curated alt/indie/electronic/hip-hop based lineup, and quite possibly the best backdrop one could ever ask for from a festival (the San Francisco skyline never, ever ceases to amaze). Thankfully, this year the weather held out, which brought the weekend to a whole 'nother level with clear blue skies, gorgeous sunsets, and costumes, costumes, costumes! Nary was there a corner of the grounds where you couldn't find a ripe assortment of headdresses, feathers, face paint, ironic 80s fashion, and fuzzy bear hats galore. Indeed, the freaks were out in full force, and added to a highly entertaining, though somewhat underwhelming weekend of synth-heavy, forward-thinking bands.
|Death Cab For Cutie by Jared Kelly|
This year, Treasure Island's organizers took a different approach to its lineup than in years past, choosing many groups whose sound is on the cutting edge of music. There were plenty of great bands that challenged our ears with sonically experimental structures, but one got the sense that much of the music was better suited for a more intimate setting where it could be given the full attention it deserved. Indeed, there were few groups that really knew how bring a festival-size crowd to a climax, nor did their music seem suited to jump out and grab you in that way. For instance, Shabazz Palaces delivered a crazy set of utterly foreign, jagged hip-hop that threw everyone out of their comfort zones. This is sometimes a good thing...but it was practically impossible to engage a crowd with such experimental music at 1:30 pm. The same can be said for the moody, mid-tempo music of indie bands like The Antlers, Wild Beasts, and Warpaint, which would be far better suited for a small club show. And while headliners Empire of the Sun and Death Cab for Cutie were somewhat predictable, the weekend still contained plenty of amazing music.
1. YACHT - 2:15-2:55 PM – Tunnel Stage
|YACHT by Jared Kelly|
The biggest surprise of the weekend turned out to be this dance-party set of shimmering, infectiously funky electro-pop. The brainchild of Jona Bechtolt, YACHT has grown from a solo project into a full-fledged band over the years, and is currently fleshed out by front-woman Claire L. Evans, whose stage presence and vocal delivery channels a young Annie Lennox. It was a joy to watch the gorgeous Evans strut around to the band's super-catchy futuristic grooves. The robot cowbell funk of “Deaf, Dumb and Proud” got everyone moving, and after a foray into some thrashy punk riffs, the band busted out an obscure B-52s cover, before getting the crowd chanting to the sing-along “Dystopia (The Earth is on Fire).” This band had us in the palm of their hand from beginning to end, robot-rocking away like a punky LCD Sounsystem right up until the irresistible nonsense-pop of “Psychic City (Voodoo City)” closed their set. Some new fans (including myself) were undoubtedly made during this afternoon dance party throw-down.
2. Battles – 3:45-4:30 PM – Tunnel Stage
This powerful instrumental trio slaughtered it for 45 minutes straight, with a set of continuously engaging, unpredictable synth-rock. Their slightly robotic, jerky compositions hit you upside the head in unexpected ways. The band's playing fit into and in-between pre-recorded, 8-bit-style backing tracks like pieces of a puzzle. But make no mistake – the Battles' live show is all about the ferocious drumming of John Stanier, who's insane, mathematical beats weave in and out of the looping music, toying with the rhythm in endlessly creative ways. The experimental nature of the music and its weird, Devo-like jerkiness didn't stop it from being plenty danceable, however. The set ebbed and flowed, and the band continually surprised us with their perfectly crafted, interlocking guitar and synth lines. Their playing was awe-inspiring...though, tragically, the mid-afternoon festival audience didn't seem to have the patience for such experimental music. The crowd response was tepid. I was sure screaming my head off, though.
3. Dizzee Rascal – 4:35-5:25 PM – Bridge Stage
|Dizzee Rascal by Jared Kelly|
When's the last time you experienced some great live hip-hop? I mean an act that delivered some real rowdy party music that got everyone up and jumping, but still had the discipline to rap clearly enough that you could understand every word. Such acts are hard to come by, and British chart-topper Dizzee Rascal truly delivered the goods. Equipped with a proper record-scratching DJ who dropped the fat beats on cue, Dizzee knew how to work the crowd. His lightning-fast MC work and supreme, Slick-Rick-like flow was on point, could be heard clearly, and dazzled as a result. Backed by minimal house beats which got dirtier and grungier as the set progressed, Dizzee took us on a diverse hip-hop journey that never got tired. Catchy tracks like “Dance Wiv Me,” “Jus' A Rascal,” and the blazing “Stand Up Tall” were simply impossible not to bump to. When Dizzee started his set, the crowd was hesitant and unfamiliar with this Brit import, but Dizzee won them over completely – by the end, thousands were bouncing and jumping to his smash hit “Bonkers.” An utterly satisfying experience.
4. Cut Copy – 7:55-8:45 PM – Bridge Stage
The shimmering, pseudo-New-Wave sound of Cut Copy was a great way to usher in the night. Unlike most bands of the weekend, Cut Copy's music was well-suited for the festival-size stage. Their expansive, dreamy music filled the space to great effect. The Aussies opened with “Take Me Over,” a fun pop tune with a chord progression that called to mind the most famous Aussie export of them all, “Land Down Under.” That aside, the clean disco-indie beats made for a great danceable set, with the synths mixed front and center. And though the band was playing their butts off and jammin' out nicely, Dan Whitford's slightly innocuous vocals on tunes like “Need You Now” were a bit soft for my tastes. Overall though, Cut Copy played a lot of great songs, and the set turned into a good party. Men At Work would be proud.
1. St. Vincent – 2:50-3:35 PM – Bridge Stage
|St. Vincent by Jared Kelly|
From the moment Annie Clark sang her first note, she had the entire crowd transfixed. This girl can sing! Oh snap, she can rip it on guitar, too! The contrast between Clark's melodic, delicate vocals and her raw, jagged guitar solos stood out the most in her songs, which were all fantastic. It was readily apparent that Clark has an advanced tonal vocabulary – songs like “Cheerleader” are catchy yet take turns into unexpected chords a-la-Dirty-Projectors, and the atonal shards of sound her guitar spat out somehow fit perfectly. The soothing verses of “Dilettante” led into some crunchy fuzz guitar that rattled our fillings, and my respect for this woman grew with every song. Further defying classification, Clark busted out some straight garage-punk when she primal-screamed, “My love was born on a ray of sound,” channeling Patti Smith with raw emotions. This led into the crazy freak-out march of the closer “Marrow,” which buzzed us all good and rocked much, much harder than its studio recording. Annie Clark is a true original – her songwriting is great and impossible to pin down, and her live show delivered like no other that day.
2. Beach House – 6:00-6:50 – Bridge Stage
Watching Beach House perform as the sun set red behind the San Francisco skyline was akin to doing opiates in a warm bath: pure, sedated bliss. The thick, sweeping vibes Beach House perfected on their album Teen Dream are completely unique to them – the music's lush sound and simple melodies contain such concrete feeling that you can practically reach out and touch it – its sedation seeps into your consciousness. The band performed almost every song from Teen Dream with that same perfected vibe. With every song drenched in reverb and no tempo played faster than 75 BPM, the set flowed forward in a wash of dreamy feeling. And though the music was void of dynamics in any regard, it didn't quite matter – the escapist quality of Beach House's sonic realm was enough to keep everyone locked in and transfixed. Victoria Legrand's vocals were beautiful in their detached sadness, and we were swept away for a time. The only unfortunate element of the set was the over-use of crowd shots on the giant video screen, which disrupted the set for me, and prompted Legrand to dub it the “vanity set” of the festival. I can't complain though - for a while there I did feel like I was floating.
3. The Head and the Heart - 5:10-5:55 PM – Tunnel Stage
|The Head and the Heart by Jared Kelly|
This Seattle-based folk band's afternoon set was a breath of fresh air after a weekend of icy synths. They were actually the only band of the weekend to sport acoustic instruments of any kind, let alone a fiddle. Their sunny pop tunes were delivered with a heartfelt passion that was hard to come by all weekend, and the audience responded in a big way. “Lost in My Mind” was a highlight of the set, sporting luscious three-part harmonies and a lift-me-up sing-along that everyone appreciated. At one point, an arm-around-shoulder circle formed in the crowd, and it grew, forming empty space in its center, which soon filled with dancing, joyful people. It felt like a breakthrough, and it was no coincidence that this band was playing the most authentic music of the weekend.
4. Explosions In The Sky – 7:40-8:30 PM – Bridge Stage
On a day full of experimental, challenging indie music, these four guys broke the festival open with the hardest rocking set of the weekend. There were no synths in this band – just three mean guitars, a drummer, and a sprawling, arching sound which peaked out into the stratosphere a number of times over the course of their towering set. The instrumental music that Explosions In The Sky creates is long-winded and epic – their trance-inducing guitar jams are like a workout, gradually bringing you up and up into a noisy peak of rock-out catharsis, then back down again into introspection. At times, this felt like music for ghosts – ethereal, eerie and atmospheric. It's no coincidence that this band makes killer movie soundtracks. This was an epic experience, and felt like the true festival closer to me. I left part-way through Death Cab for Cutie's set, as it couldn't compete with the grandiose heights that Explosions in The Sky reached. They couldn't have picked a better name for themselves; 'nuff said.
Photos From Saturday At The 2011 Treasure Island Music Festival
Continue reading for photos from Sunday at the 2011 Treasure Island Music Festival...