Treasure Island Music Festival came to an iPhone-friendly close last weekend with a jaw-dropping sunset on Sunday evening. A testament to the young festival’s flexibility, San Francisco’s satellite island supported both an Explosions in the Sky rock conflagration as well as a nostalgia-inducing tour with Death Cab for Cutie on its closing night.
Over two days, 26 acts across the musical slate attracted 25,000 attendees–a number sizable enough to produce a lively atmosphere and small enough to make the Korean BBQ line doable. From the primal aggression of Saturday’s sweat-provoking sets to the pure rock of Sunday, Intermission was on hand to capture the moments for yearbook posterity. Treasure Island, you’re great; don’t ever change.
To anyone who thought The Naked And Famous was going to give a shiny pop set: should have brought earplugs. The band of Kiwis switched between Passion-Pit-esque melodies and shredding guitars and touched on tracks from their only album–“Punching in a Dream” and “The Sun.”
The island wasn’t prepared to receive the Portuguese electro-dance crew Buraka Som Sistema. Repping the progressive kuduro style (think tribal house), the group whiplashed curious onlookers into a disjointed, pulsating frenzy. The lyrics may not have been as aggressively lewd as last year’s Die Antwoord, but the ass-shaking definitely was. The four dudes ripped through their BPM-raising “Hangover (BaBaBa),” but they alone couldn’t lead the dancing tide. It was their booty-clapping dancer-MC, Blaya, who skyrocketed the tempo from club to breakneck and put all the waifish indie girls to shame.
Dizzee Rascal, the self-proclaimed Best MC in England, only needed a bare stage and one supporting MC to draw the Treasure Island population to the Bridge Stage. The crowd readily responded to the rapper’s instructions to jump and bounce from the get-go, but the show hit perfection after the high-energy, hilariously anti-drug song “Bassline Junkie.” No one could resist the call of the “Big, dirty, stinkin’ bass,” a feeling that was sustained through “Dance Wiv Me” (sadly lacking Calvin Harris, though the guest singer did nicely) and the seductive “Holiday.”
As a creator, Flying Lotus is a genre-dissolving mastermind. With the onset of night over the island, FlyLo shook the island to its core, sending shockwaves as far as the Silent Disco, which was supposed to be, well, silent. The most electronic of acts, the L.A. producer alternated between experimental beats and crowd-pleasers, squinting at his laptop as his mouth remained locked in a permanent grin. After spewing out “Robo Tussin,” a remix of Lil Wayne’s “A Milli” and mouthing the words to Tyler The Creator’s “Yonkers,” Flying Lotus closed his set with a promise. Find me a house party tonight in San Francisco, and I’ll come and play free of charge, he said. We’re guessing someone had a good post-TIMF night.
Cut Copy, slotted before fellow Australians Empire Of The Sun, put on a show to make the land down under quake. Fittingly, a school of iridescent jellyfish surged through the crowd for the nighttime set, wafting through the exuberant dancers looking like the poltergeists from the band’s second album, “In Ghost Colours.” In his band’s decade of performing, singer Dan Whitford has transformed from a laptop junkie into a festival maestro, seen Saturday night in his double fist pumping and dandy foot stomping to the “Zonoscope”-dominated set. The animated frontman still looked like a robot in comparison to Empire of the Sun’s diva, Luke Steele, but the Melbourne electronic quartet proved that their years of touring have cultured a tight, synth-pulsing, dance-demanding live show.
Annie Clark wasted no time getting into the meat of St. Vincent‘s set and jumped straight into “Surgeon” before the crowd finished cheering her arrival.
“I spent the summer on my back,” she moaned, then laced her breezy voice with sharp growls from her guitar. Fresh off the critical acclaim for her newest album, “Strange Mercy,” Clark packed more on-stage charisma into her tiny self than most groups do into a five-piece band. Her voice traveled between breathy and burly, pulling the audience in with the “ah-ah-ah-ah” of “Cheerleader” and the lyric simplicity of “Your Lips Are Red.” Even the bros in the audience–and there were many–raised their arms in excitement for “Cruel.” Most of the set sounded harsher, louder and a bit crazier than the haze on her album, and it only made us respect Clark more for being unafraid to let loose.
Attention, “Stuff White People Like.” If you only get to pick one band, make it The Head And The Heart. The Seattle-based group’s somewhat-Mumford-somewhat-folksy music fell at the perfect time of the day: the band, facing east, was framed in the dusty backlighting of the sun setting over the Bay. You really couldn’t have gotten more picturesque if you had tried.
Dream-pop duo Beach House played in front of a weird audience, but according to Victoria Legrand, “Weird isn’t a bad thing. It’s a compliment. And y’all are weird.” Legrand spent much of the set enjoying the characters from the audience who got their 15 seconds of fame with a cameo on the big screen. Distracted as she was between sets, Legrand and guitarist Alex Scally put on a beautiful show, hitting most of their still-fresh“Teen Dream.” The intense bass drum hits of “10 Mile Stereo” were the perfect transition from daylight to moonlight on the island.
On the walk toward the Bridge Stage for Friendly Fires, something didn’t seem right. It was way too quiet on the approach, even with Ed Macfarlane screaming his larynx out into the mic. After a song and a half spent in audio purgatory, the festival’s “side” stage received a quick fix, as the stage-right sound system burst into life to provide the cure. Warmed up and backed by the shining San Francisco skyline, Macfarlane boogied into “Skeleton Boy,” unafraid of whiplash and apparently fashion critique (his Hawaiian shirt was terrible). Popping with energy from Edd Gibson, who brandished his guitar like a Kalashnikov, to the funky backing horn players, the trio from St. Albans, England seemed a Sunday scheduling mishap, especially with the synth-heavy “Paris,” which would have been right at home a day before.
There was only one band on everyone’s mind after Sunday at Treasure Island. Explosions In the Sky are not just superior songwriters, they are masters of their instruments and clearly enjoy nothing more than sharing their passion with an audience. All three guitarists had very distinct playing styles and roles within the songs. Despite having no singers, Michael James was clearly the front man, taking the smooth guitar solos and going all out with his strumming. Munaf Rayani had the privilege of making the loudest noise of the entire weekend by simply slapping all the strings of his guitar to create a sonic boom 10 times louder than any bass drum. The wall of sound, though most pronounced during Rayani’s strikes, never ceased for the Austin band. Their five-member set had every aural and emotional range covered. Never before were there such enthusiastic chants for one more song at a festival. The only disappointment of their show was their inability to comply.
Brooklyn rockers The Hold Steady didn’t quite fit in with Sunday’s lineup–mostly because they’d have fit in better in 1975. Unabashedly classic in style and brash in execution, the band spent Sunday evening crashing through their hits and pulling out clean-as-a-whistle guitar solos that made the audience feel like they lived in a pre-computer world.
Inheriting the main stage at TIMF from his significant other a year later, Ben Gibbard and Death Cab For Cutie marked their return to the Bay Area with the closing set of this year’s festival. But for a band that put out a new record, “Codes And Keys,” there seemed to be a certain boredom to it all. Yes, there was new material to be had and even older material to be dusted off, but the band continued to play the expected for a particularly unadventurous set list. Seven full albums into their careers, DCFC have settled into a comfort zone that spans “Transatlanticism” and whatever their newest release is, leaving little room for experimentation or divergence.
An average Death Cab show, however, is nothing to be scoffed at. Gibbard still commanded the stage, whipping his hair back and forth as he jumped from guitar to piano for “I Will Possess Your Heart” and “We Looked Like Giants.” Nick Harmer jammed away at his bass, while Jason McGerr received shout-outs from his own little fan entourage at the front. It was enjoyable, but with Monday looming, some of the crowd had already made its way toward the shuttles, leaving an Explosions In the Sky-sized hole at the Main Stage. Stopping to dance with the jellies on their way home, the early departures made one last salute to TIMF 2011 before heading off into the night.
A version of this review appeared at Treeswingers.com.