Treasure Island – Tunes With A View

It’s great to see music festivals popping up all over the country, and Treasure Island in San Francisco is filled with promise.  And it has, arguably, the best view of any festival I’ve ever been to!  With its indie minded approach Treasure Island is the closest you’ll get to left of the dial when it comes to a music event of this size. 

Day One: Dance, Dance, Dance

Day one (of two) was definitely the more colorful of the now three year old music festival. Think face painting and a post post rave vibe with a minimum of the tacky candyflipping baggy greebo look. Also, the current skinny jeans/keds (or vans) with plaid shirt uniform was in strict effect. Saturday’s music selection was varied and filled with bands I haven’t really heard much of (or at all!)  But I’m always up for a new experience, so I was definitely in “bring it on” mode!

After hearing some sets by Crown City Rockers, Murs and Federico Aubele, Passion Pit stepped in to really move some butts.  The kids were ready to dance and this years blog-buzz band showed that they are possibly on their way to headliner status.  Passion Pit sounds a bit like Justice and Go! Team with a dash of New Order; not a bad list of influences.  I felt like I had taken the Hot Chip v. Passion Pit taste test – which ultimately tuned out as a draw.  But they pulled it off, backing tracks and all.

Mike Skinner, better known as The Streets, served up one of the best performances of the day with songs about heartbreak, city living and drinking! I was moved by the craft he has perfected over the years and really knows how to keep a crowd’s attention.  For the rest of day one, Mr. Skinner was one of the more visible artists backstage.  For such a social set up, it was surprising how many artists stayed holed up in their individual tents.  Let’s just say Mike Skinner can knock ’em back and likes to have a good time with the ladies.

For the remainder of daylight, there were some lower maintenance DJ sets on the smaller ” Tunnel” (just a frisbee throw from the “Bridge”) stage. Sets by Dan Deacon, DJ Krush and LTJ Bukem (featuring MC Conrad) served to keep everyone’s blood pumping.  Brazilian Girls served as background music to the crowd’s dinner hour.  Gotta get fed before we dance!

MSTRKRFT took to the Bridge stage and EVERYONE in the place was ready to dance!  It was great to hear everyone yelling positive comments ala “this is amazing!”  To a somewhat jaded concertgoer, it was the crowd during MSTRKRFT and not neccesarily the band themselves who really made this overblown and not very good “DJ set” bearable.  I love a good crowd!

Most friends reading this would probably be surprised to read that I thought Girl Talk was easily the best act of the day, perhaps the festival.  Girl Talk takes the idea of mash-ups to a place no one has commercially gone to until now; a brash and on many levels completely illegal “fuck you” to copyright laws. In 45 minutes, Gregg must have cleverly meddled with at least 200, possibly more, pop, 80’s, one hit wonders with elements of current and classic hip hop to create the party set of this or any festival this season. My fave had to be “Whoomp, There It Is” smashed head-on into “In A Big Country”. I had a smile on my face, and strangely, chills down my spine.

The day ended with MGMT performing their album, Oracular Spectacular in its entirety. Kind of a silly move on their part as their three singles/radio friendly numbers appear at the beginning of the LP. By the sixth or seventh song, the crowd began to crawl back to the expected long line of buses waiting to take festival goers over the Bay Bridge and back to the city (there is no parking on the island.) It was a mass exodus NO headliner wants to witness, but it was the end of a long day and many audience members still had the following day to gear up for.

Day Two: Radio-Friendly Indie Rock

Day two was filled with less variety than day one, being a straight-up KEXP or KCRW live playlist.  I’ve thought long and hard about how I would tell you about day two of Treaure Island.  When I don’t like something, I’m usually pretty cunning and outspoken – with a dash of bitchy.  But you don’t want to read any of that as much as I don’t want to write it.

The day consisted mainly of bands who sound good on the radio, or might be better suited to smaller clubs.  The quirky Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes were playing when we arrived.  They had a perfectly fantastic San Francisco freak vibe to them and the audience sang along and ate it up.  Other bands like Vetiver and The Walkmen serve as a cautionary tale to artists thinking of playing a rather large, outdoor music festival; be really interesting or don’t bother.

Thank goodness for Bob Mould’s smoking set which featured about every fan favourite throughout his career.  It was truly amazing.  His touring bassist ended up flying to assist his wife who was about to pop out a kid (and on Bob’s birthday, no less!) so Dave Barbe from Sugar was a last, last, last minute replacement.  Bottom line, Bob’s set was better for it!  Good to see you back on stage, Dave!  Bob messed with the festival’s timing by completely ignoring the clock on the stage and playing into the beginning of Grizzly Bear’s set.  Actually, I thought it was kind of funny because of my really strong opinions on Grizzly Bear.

Grizzly Bear themselves looked like they could use a vacation from their tour.  Their music came off more sad than melancholy and just seemed to be a little “off” for lack of a better description to a not-so-good performance.  I heard the drummer talking to a fan backstage and he didn’t even know that they were playing a two day festival; “We just show up, unload, play and pack up and go do it again somewhere else” he said.  This kind of schedule looks like its taken a toll on their well-being.  Chill out you guys!

By the time The Decemberists hit the stage, I realized how every band on day two has a certain amount of super fans while everyone else kind of takes the whole thing in.  If any band had the opportunity to sell a couple of records to new fans who hadn’t heard them before, it was The Decemberists.  They’re a band I can respect, but don’t really like all that much.  If I hadn’t known who was playing, I would have thought it was Arcade Fire.  It all came across like band who’s playing it safe, protected, or homogenized. 

The rest of the day threw caution to the wind, literally.  As the temperature quickly dropped, Yo La Tengo took to the smaller Tunnel stage to a large crowd of devoted fans.  I have been a fan for years and for one reason or another have never seen them live.  I can now say that they are one of my consistently favorite bands with even more certainty.  One of my big faves when I go to see bands is instrument swapping and Yo La Tengo really showed the most diversity here.  All three members have a lead vocal on most of their records and don’t need anymore than the three of them to pull off a distinct, yet varied style.  The set was powerful and straight forward with no need for strobe lights or a visual accompaniment.  Besides Bob Mould, Yo La Tengo get the award for the most honest band of the day.

Now everyone was just plain freezing and Flaming Lips take the stage a little late due to what seemed like technical difficulties.  It was actually the longest lull with dead air – no sound whatsoever – for nearly 15 minutes.  Thousands of fans just standing there keeping each other warm.  The general mumblings echoed throughout the crowd; this had better be good! 

By the time they hit the stage, everyone seemed to need a little prodding to get excited.  Wayne sort of bullied everyone into having fun.  “Come on, motherfuckers!” – I swear he said it at least 2o times.  The great thing about a Flaming Lips show is that it builds and needs the audience for its success.  Over the last several years, Wayne has taken to long, drawn out slow sing-a-longs with larger audiences.  When it’s not loud enough, you’re going to get another “Come on, motherfuckers!”, so you best sing your heart out.  With the exception of two new songs, this was pretty much the same set they’ve been doing for a couple of years.  I’m always happy to hear songs like “Vein of Stars” and “Pompeii Am Götterdämmerung”, it shows they trust their fans and don’t have to play all the most popular songs to keep everyone present. 

It’s great to see Steven Drozd as a stronger stage presence.  He is certainly one of the main influences on The Flaming Lips sound over the last decade.  Since he’s cleaned up and proven that he can work without smack, he’s become more visible and taken on the role of the real musical leader of The Flaming Lips.  Dave Fridmann, who also produced the prior night’s headliner MGMT, has an easier job thanks to him!

It looked (and felt) like The Flaming Lips were ready to put a lid on the last several years of touring and create something new.  With their upcoming remake of Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ (can’t wait to hear their version of “Us And Them”!), I’m sure we’ll be treated to a new stage show and a fresh approach to one of the most consistent acts of our time. 

It was a great ending to a good festival.  Hopefully in years to come Treasure Island will be able to keep the music coming and not get too commercial – we need more indie minded fests like this one.  I think day one of this year selling out is a sign of where they’re going.  But I’m not confusing “commercial” with “popular” – I like to see big shows like this go really well.  If I were in charge, which I’m certainly not, I would look at how engaging some of the bands earlier in the day are and how to create a festival that feels really, really fun for both days, not just one.  While I appreciate that one day can be labeled “electronic” and the other “indie” I don’t see any problem in mixing it up; Passion Pit being a good example of “I wonder which day they should play?”  I don’t know that I’ll be attending next year, I’m just not cut out for standing for 11 hours with thousands of people.  But I would like to tempted – we’ll have to see how bridge and tunnel next year’s selection is!

Check out our full Treasure Island picture set on flickr:

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