Treasure Island Festival, San Francisco - Day One 15/10/11
If Outside Lands is the monolith of Bay Area festivals, Treasure Island is the cozy cottage next door. Located on the eponymous piece of land between San Francisco and Oakland, the two-day event feels intimate—a word I never thought I'd use to describe an outdoor festival. I owe my presence at the festival to popchips, a brand that clearly understands the San Francisco festival crowd: the slogan on their stand read 'Never baked. But perfect if you are.' Indeed, popchips.
But in all seriousness (and at the risk of sounding like I sold my soul to a chip company), there's something appropriate about popchips being part of the Treasure Island experience. This event was all about excellent curation: it didn't have a generic roster of big names, for either its artists or vendors. It's not a Walkers (or Lays, for my fellow Americans) kind of gig. The whole festival felt hand-picked, carefully chosen to fit the Bay Area and its throngs of discerning hipst—I mean, music-lovers. And it certainly didn't disappoint; Treasure Island was just quality, from beginning to end.
I began my weekend with Shabazz Palaces, one of the hottest acts on Treasure Island's stellar lineup. The group has been on my radar but not in my headphones, so I was curious to hear how Black Up and the rest of their much-lauded work would translate to a festival setting. Unfortunately, the open air and mid-day slot didn't do much for their textured tunes; the crowd remained fairly disengaged as intricate beats got lost in the wind. They weren't the only act to battle the elements over the course of the weekend, and even the eminently danceable Yacht had to work to keep listeners enthralled. Claire L. Evans, true to new-wave form in a white turtleneck minidress, did her darnedest to draw us in: she led the crowd by example, manoeuvring the stage like an eccentric Euro-disco queen. A cover of the B52's 'Mesopotamia' wasn't out of place amidst the rest of the band's catchy material, and Shangri-La favourites like 'Dystopia' and 'Tripped and Fell In Love' got the afternoon attendees grooving.
Saturday is known for bringing the beats, and Battles was the first band to do just that. The New York three-piece was nothing short of spectacular, switching instruments and controlling the chaos with apparent ease. De facto frontman Ian Williams often seemed content just dancing to his bandmates' rhythmic frenzy, belying the mathematical craftsmanship required to produce their signature sound. The band's set was both fluid and utterly precise, and it took some time to reach full intensity. Once it did, though, we were captivated: they got the party started, and it never stopped.
Surprisingly, Dizzee Rascal proved to be a very appropriate follow-up. More accessible than his experimental predecessors, he amplified the energy of Battles' frenetic performance. Older hits like 'Jus' a Rascal' and 'Fix Up, Look Sharp' were more compelling than their later counterparts, though even his weakest (read: most club-appropriate) numbers still dripped with charisma. New song 'Bassline Junkie' was borderline ridiculous, though the legions of dancing fans didn't seem to notice its lack of lyrical pizzazz. Even I was happily swept up in songs like 'Bonkers' and Brit Awards hit 'You've Got the Dirtee Love'—because sometimes you just need to turn off the critic and move.
I skipped Chromeo to get a good spot for Flying Lotus, and I don't regret that decision; firstly, because the duo's funky tunes carried all the way to the other stage, and secondly, because Flying Lotus blew me away. Being more of the folk-'n-flannel ilk, I hadn't known what to expect from laptop musician Steven Ellison—but his fans' girlish screams quickly gave way to a brilliant performance. Rarely have I seen someone play with such joy, computer or no. His passion was palpable, and given his druthers I think the set would have gone all night. After mixing deeper cuts with fan favourites, he took requests as time started to dwindle; eventually, though, he settled on snippets of songs like 'Do the Astral Plane' and 'Massage Situation.' He even asked the audience for a post-Treasure Island venue, though I don't think that event (the coolest house party ever?) actually materialized.
If Flying Lotus was one clear winner of the first day, Cut Copy was the other. Though fellow Australians Empire of the Sun filled the actual headlining slot, the 'other' Aussie group effectively ended the evening in a burst of electro-pop glory. They played hit after hit from most recent album Zonoscope and its precursor In Ghost Colours, whipping the entire festival into a dancing frenzy. Everywhere I turned people were jumping and jiving, letting loose without the usual fear of public humiliation. Maybe it's that the band itself seems so normal: more than one person commented on Cut Copy's high nerdiness factor. It just goes to show that performers don't need rockstar slickness to tear the house down—some insanely catchy tunes, a great light show, and a heavy dose of moxie does just fine. That seemed to be the lesson of Day One, and Cut Copy's pseudo-rave was a perfect way to end it. And I have to say this about Saturday: the beats were very much brought.
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Day Two of San Francisco's Treasure Island Festival was the mellow answer to Day One. It brought stirring sets from several kings and queens of indie-rock, from St. Vincent and the Antlers to Death Cab for Cutie and Beach House. [read more]
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