Review & Photos | Treasure Island Music Festival | San Francisco

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Images by: Sterling Munksgard
Words by: Eric Podolsky

Treasure Island Music Festival :: 10.18.14-10.19.14 :: Treasure Island :: San Francisco, CA

Keep reading after Sunday’s gallery for Eric’s reviews and thoughts about Treasure Island Music Festival and click here for Sterling’s photographs from Saturday.

It’s that time of year again. The Giants are in the World Series, San Francisco landmarks are lit orange in commemoration, and it’s time once again for Treasure Island Music Festival. Treasure Island has earned its reputation as being the official bookend to the Bay Area’s Indian summer festival season, which ends each October. Now in its eighth year, this electro/indie-centric event with the best seaside view around is more popular than ever before, having sold out both days this year. The scenic, manageable festival has managed to do this by booking a lineup that has always been designed to attract the youth, and in these times we live in, this means an ever-increasing focus on DJs, for better or worse.

Saturday Highlights

Yes indeed, Saturday at Treasure Island didn’t see much live instrumentation at all, with the smaller Tunnel Stage dominated almost completely by guys with laptops, all day long. The crowds didn’t seem to mind, but for a live music lover, it was disheartening to see that this was the direction popular music is headed (Zedd‘s soulless set of Top 40 trash EDM was particularly awful). Regardless of the lack of instruments, there was still good music to be had, albeit we could have had the same experience listening to the records. Tobacco‘s albums are fantastic, and his live show contained the same satisfyingly grimy, ambient, buzzing beats and vocoders. What follows are the other highlights of day one, which, though not up to par with years past, still gelled into a solid, fun day on the Bay.

1. Outkast – 9:05-10:35 PM – Bridge Stage

The obvious highlight of the festival, these hip hop legends brought their A game, having been hitting the festival circuit tour all summer long. They were clearly well oiled at this point, as Big Boi, Andre 3000, and their band of Outkast album session musicians blazed their way through a set of non-stop hits, charging right out the gate with the frantic, on-point “B.O.B.” It’s hard to pull such precise, fantastically produced songs off live, and these guys nailed it at every turn, thanks to their jaw-dropping, blazing MC skills, which pack more words in per measure than most can handle. None of us could have thought we’d be witnessing these guys perform these legendary tunes one year ago, and it was a joy to dance our asses off to supremely funky tracks like “Skew It on the Bar-B,” which flowed seamlessly into “Rosa Parks.”

Every word could be heard (a rarity for live hip hop), which allowed the stories in the songs to be fully experienced. “Ms. Jackson” was particularly nasty, with some dirty slap bass mixing things up. Both Big Boi and Andre had their moments to play their solo hits, with “Hey Ya” being the obvious massive dance party of the weekend. After a slew of old-school tracks that allowed the guys to get dirty with some truly impressive, hyper-speed gangsta rap flow, the set closed with the bouncing “The Whole World,” which sent us home with real satisfaction. Here’s hoping this reunion isn’t just a cash grab, and these guys have some new songs in the works, because they certainly haven’t lost any of their skills as MCs in these past 10 years. So funky in every way.

2. Janelle Monáe – 5:35-6:25 PM – Bridge Stage

The bubbly, irresistible songs of Janelle Monáe were a welcome pleasure after a day filled with electronica and hip hop. This girl is truly a firecracker, and her too-short set of funky soul anthems was unfortunately marred by a dead mic for the first song and a half. Monáe recovered gracefully, and proceeded to knock us dead with song after song of irresistible dance party sing-alongs. “Electric Lady” led into a left-field cover of James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good),” where she showed off some JB quick-feet dance moves. And did I mention that the girl can moonwalk? The ballad “PrimeTime” was another highlight that showed of her pipes, proving that Monáe is truly the complete package. We were hoping for a Big Boi sit-in for his part in “Tightrope,” but it wasn’t to be on this day. No matter, this set was a happy burst of energy and dance moves, and left us wanting more—45 minutes is far too little time for Monae to show off her wide-ranging skills. Catch this rising star at a theater near you…

3. Classixx – 6:25-7:10 PM – Tunnel Stage

Out of all the laptop acts that graced the Tunnel Stage on Saturday, Classixx delivered the most pleasurable (and least ear-fatiguing) set of the day. Consisting of a DJ and a bassist, the production duo’s live show translated well to an evening spent roaming Treasure Island’s spectacles. Equal parts Tycho-like, laid-back ambient beats and disco synth grooves, these tracks provided a great soundtrack for exploring the grounds, which included a disco robot, graffiti artists and plenty of art sculptures. The benefit of DJ sets is that you don’t have to worry about missing any stage action, so you’re free to just enjoy the music while wandering and taking in the scene. A set highlight included a danceable, mid-tempo remix of Yacht’s “Psychic City” with a video screen guest appearance by Claire Evans, which transitioned everyone from evening into real nighttime party mode. I would certainly get down to these guys’ engaging grooves again.

Sunday Highlights

After the pre-programmed rave onslaught of Saturday, Sunday’s indie rock lineup with full instrumentation (and guitars!) was much welcomed. A beautiful, cloudless day on the Bay made for a carefree time in the sun, and we bobbed and nodded our way through each set with not a care in the world. No overlapping bands meant no stress of rushing between stages, which makes a huge difference on the legs come late evening. Treasure Island can always be counted on for a stress-free experience, and with 35,000 tickets sold this year, it looks like this Bay Area staple is here to stay. Here’s hoping they shy away from the DJ-heavy focus of this year down the road, though. Long live live music!

1. The New Pornographers – 4:15-5:05 PM – Bridge Stage

As the kings and queens of indie rock in the 2000s, this super-group veteran collective brought their maturity and experience to Treasure Island with a full-sounding, muscular set of rock anthems that featured a full range of dynamics missing from many younger bands’ sets. With three lead singers, these guys aren’t short on fantastic songs or killer harmonies, and together, A.C. Newman, Neko Case, and Dan Bejar bring a whole lot of talent to the table. With almost orchestral-like, lush rock arrangements, tunes like “These Things Get Louder” and “Champions of Red Wine” rocked hard. Case’s soaring voice shone through the chunky guitar riffs and hearty grooves, and the new song “War on the East Coast” featured an anthemic rock chorus punctuated with tasteful electronic bloops and bleeps. The musicianship that these guys displayed was a step above the other acts, though unfortunately much of the distracted festival crowd didn’t pick up on the levels of subtlety that these guys were throwing at us. This was top-grade music made by true musicians.

2. Washed Out – 8:30-9:15 PM – Tunnel Stage

For bedroom artists like Washed Out, the real challenge is translating meticulously crafted studio productions to the live stage. Ernest Greene has successfully done this with his full band version of Washed Out, and the result is a supremely fun show of relaxed mid-tempo grooves delivered by real instruments (mostly). As Greene mentioned, this was the band’s last show of a 1 ½ year-long tour, and it felt like he put a little something extra into his tunes for this set. With Ferris Wheel lights blinking and revolving in the night stage right, tunes like “Gotta Get Up” and “Feel It All Around” washed over us with melodic, bliss-out synth arpeggios, dreamy vocals and bouncing grooves. The band hit it harder as the set progressed, building synth pulses to noisy, triumphantly open soundscapes, always pulsing and pushing forward with that ever-present, mid-tempo beat. Though you won’t break a sweat dancing to Washed Out, it will certainly relax you and put you in a positive, dreamy state of mind. This set saw Treasure Island at its best, with everyone grooving to this happy music in their own way around the Festival grounds.

3. The Growlers – 3:30-4:10 PM – Tunnel Stage

My favorite part of Treasure Island is discovering new bands, which happens at least once a year at the smaller Tunnel Stage. This year it was The Growlers, a So Cal surf-garage rock band with an arsenal of tuneful, catchy songs. Lead singer Brooks Nielsen croons melodies in a cool, laconic baritone, sounding like a slacker Leonard Cohen, and it works brilliantly. The band also knows how to play with an appealing devil-may-care, tossed-off attitude, digging into each song with a deliberately noisy, psychedelic, lo-fi aesthetic that’s very appealing, considering how catchy all the songs are. The set was punctuated by some freaky crowd-surfing by the band’s weirdo hype man, which loosened up the afternoon crowd a good amount and got everyone moving. This was dirty surf rock at its finest, and the perfect soundtrack to a sunny afternoon on the Bay.

Zedd photo at  Treasure Island San Francisco 10/18/2014

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