Intermission reports from Treasure Island
We realized a couple things after the fourth annual Treasure Island Music Festival this weekend:
1) Everything is much the same as years past. There’s still the solid network of free shuttle transportation to get you to the island. There’s still the same layout: two stages, Ferris wheel and assortment of art and fashion stops. And there’s still the spectacular sunset over the Bay, framed by the Bay Bridge and that beautiful fog-shrouded city skyline.
2) The wind blows. On an island rising out of the San Francisco Bay, there’s no hiding from the elements. Plenty of festival-goers sporting their skimpiest outfits for Saturday’s dance party were forced into submission by the cold. But it’s fall. In the Bay. What could you expect?
3) The split-genre, with electronic Saturday and chill Sunday, works. Round two’s indie-thon was mellow and cozy compared to its trip-the-light-fantastic predecessor, giving something for everyone.
The festival, keeping to its formula of small-scale, high quality acts can count this year in its win column. Intermission recaps TIMF2010 below.
Within the first beats of Holy Fuck‘s opening Saturday afternoon, lead keyboardist Brian Borcherdt was simultaneously playing an antique film strip – yes, that stuff used for movies – and swallowing a mic. The almost-electronic band avoided the laptops and loops of their more digital compatriots, incorporating instead a 35-mm film synchronizer, a slew of kids’ keyboards and a top-notch live bassist and drummer. The result was four Canadians hunched and enthusiastically bobbing in unison over whale screeches and crashing melodies.
Jamaica was a wildcard for festival organizers. They had only played two previous shows in the U.S. before their TIMF2010 appearance, and the duo’s bassist Florent Lyonnet was temporarily M.I.A. due to injury. But all fears were erased with the first throwback chords of “Cross the Fader.” Antoine Hilaire, the other half of Jamaica, pulled it together with his touring members to produce a jamming 40 minutes of head-banging material off their debut, “No Problem.”
Eager festival-goers gathered at the Bridge Stage at 3 p.m. to witness South Africa’s next great cultural creation, Die Antwoord. What they were treated to was simply a mindfuck of antics. Yo-Landi Vi$$er complimented her helium-powered voice with bouts of water-spitting into the crowd, suggestive dancing and a knack for baring her butt for all to see. Ninja followed up with his own debauchery, displaying his infamous hip thrust and getting intimate with the crowd with an impromptu stage dive. “Be happy!” Yo-Landi said as they exited. We’re just happy we’re not that nutters.
Following the guano-jacked Die Antwoord, the New York duo Phantogram brought a more ethereal and brooding intensity to the early afternoon. Gliding through this year’s “Eyelid Movies,” keyboardist Sarah Barthel’s breathy and haunting vocals wove in and out of Josh Carter’s guitar. The pair’s lush cadence had girls swaying in the Treasure Island breeze, only interrupted by the flashes of feedback that organizers were eventually able to tame.
Halfway through the windy day, energy for many in the crowd began to dwindle. Brooklyn-based !!! (pronounced “chik-chik-chik”) stepped up to the challenge and then some. With a funk-infused sound, the boys got the crowd dancing, doing its best to imitate the moves of charismatic lead singer Nic Offer, who gyrated every chance that he had and yelled to the crowd and the group of photographers, “I was made for the camera!” Performing their collective heart out to hits like “Me and Giuliani Down By the School Yard” and “The Hammer,” !!! left the audience with no doubt that they were, in fact, made for the camera and made for the dance floor.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was Austrian super-duo Kruder and Dorfmeister. Playing a live set after a 10-year hiatus, the founders of G-Stone were dressed sharply in slick suits, standing behind and below what looked like an immense desk of light, a veritable wall of electronic fireworks, Jackson Pollock-esque lights looking like splashes of paint and an otherwise constant assault on the eyes. With two equally well-dressed MCs to hype the crowd up, dauntingly describing “the bass line that is sweeping the nation,” Kruder and Dorfmeister stood coolly over the turntables, with a bossanova dub sound that kept the audience dancing and simultaneously in a hypnotic trance.
Indisputably the biggest rock star at the festival, Canadian-born DJ Joel Zimmerman, the man behind Deadmau5, has created a cult of personality behind his sinister Mickey Mouse head. With countless attendees present just to witness his hour-long set, Deadmau5 did what he does best and let his mau5 cube and music speak for itself. With one song supported by hype-woman SOFI, the rest of the set left the crowd entranced and dancing to hits like “Some Chords,” “Sometimes Things Get, Whatever” and “Ghosts N’ Stuff,” the latter of which had Zimmerman step out of the LED Mau5head and throw on a minimalistic sheet to engage with the crowd. Departing memorably with a middle finger to the crowd, the too-short set further proved that house music and inspired branding has created the biggest dance superstar since Daft Punk.
Miike Snow was slotted at the Tunnel stage behind Deadmau5, and fans had to decide whether to relinquish territory for LCD or be content with hearing the Swedish outfit from afar. The latter folk missed a fog and light, wall of sound display that boasted six masked men arranged on equipment eerily similar to the film “Metropolis.” The set, minus the kick-ass closer, was drawn from the band’s eponymous album, though the live songs abandoned the gloss and cheerful recorded elements and instead turned up the lurking bass lines to full sonic tilt. Favorites “Silvia” and “Animal” produced the expected dance pits, but it was the quirky closing cover of Vampire Weekend’s “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance” that lit up the San Francisco skyline, singer Andrew Wyatt intoning, “Kids… don’t… stand…chance” to exit the night.
LCD Soundsystem’s Saturday set proved to be a set of contradictions. Closing out the Bridge Stage on day one, they were the only headliner on the main stage not to use the massive LCD display behind them, opting for a simpler approach with flashing spotlights. On the audio front, the band opted to play a smattering of offerings from newest album, “This Is Happening,” opening with the popular “Dance Yrself Clean” and later playing “You Wanted A Hit.”
From Murphy playing a double cowbell to Pat Mahoney’s frenetic drumming to Nancy Whang’s keyboard command, these seasoned vets created music that’s inescapable and infectious in a style that’s unmistakably their own. Who else could write a song which has the crowd screaming “Yeah” for 10 minutes? And for the final contradiction of the night, the band played the beautiful “Home” when no one really wanted to head for the exit, unable to play an encore and eventually walking off stage into the cold San Francisco night.
Ra Ra Riot took to the Bridge Stage early Sunday – so early that many festival-goers, discouraged by the rain, hadn’t shown up yet. Still, the band managed to pull it off, trekking through the showers to try newer songs like “Boy” and “Shadowcasting.” And there was a little something new for everyone. Lead singer Wes Miles – who had some vision problems without his glasses – took over guitar duties from Milo Bonacci, cellist Alexandra Lawn tested her pipes on “You and I Know” and some of the crowd was watching their first set of the day in ponchos.
The members of 90s punk-rock Superchunk may kind of resemble suburban parents, but hey, at least they seem like cool suburban parents. The band, touring for “Majesty Shredding,” their first album in nearly a decade, were self-deprecating between and exuberant during songs, from their ridiculous self introduction to the kick-drum busting bridge of new “Digging for Something” to the squeaky-clean guitar line of “Hello Hawk” off 1999’s “Come Pick Me Up.” Highlight “Crossed Wires” had a jump-right-in chorus that appealed to all generations assembled.
The perpetually adorable Zooey Deschanel and effortlessly cool M. Ward of duo She & Him were a fun, saccharine blast to the overcast skies – call it suffocation by cotton candy. The producer-actress combo’s “Volume One” and “Volume Two” provided pleasant Beach Boys-tinged material for the afternoon set, tightly toeing the line between uplifting and cutesy in the almost-heartbreaking “Thieves” and lonely pick-me-up “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?”
Maybe the world isn’t ready for Monotonix yet. Actually, the world will never be ready for the three-piece freak punk act from Israel. The band set up their gear in the middle of the crowd (ignoring a perfectly serviceable Tunnel Stage), stripped down to their colorful boxers and spit on everyone around them, unleashing a flurry of pandemonium and starting the first mosh of the weekend. One moment singer Ami Shalev was free-styling in Hebrew about pot, and the next he was singing the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night.” One moment he was climbing on audience members, and the next he was banging his drum held atop people’s heads. It was a daze, a set that will probably go down as the craziest ever at any TIMF and one that should have come with a warning from the Surgeon General.
Broken Social Scene, with a lineup led by Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning, came prepared for the elements. Even though the weather was unforgiving – winds blustered across the Bay and around the stage – the band was forgiving, playing a number of songs off their newest LP, “Forgiveness Rock Record.” From “All to All,” w
hich featured the beautiful voice of Lisa Lobsinger, to “Chase Scene,” the songs sounded exactly like the recorded cuts. Yet it wasn’t all new, as tunes like “Fire Eyed Boy” and “Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl” were thrown into the mix with dramatic effect. With that many people on stage pulling the strings, you always knew nothing could go wrong.
Excited for headliners Belle & Sebastian later in the day, Surfer Blood came out swinging. The band, led by singer JP Pitts, broke out into “Twin Peaks” and later crowd-favorite “Take It Easy.” Sporting a screw-it-let’s-just-jam attitude, Pitts led the way, testing out the crowd-surfing waters, holding nothing back – including a cover of Pavement’s “Box Elders” – in a 45-minute set.
Keeping the Bridge Stage classy, The National aired out the excellent “High Violet,” released earlier this year, for a packed-in crowd. Singer Matt Berninger delivered his desperation-grasping lyrics in a baritone loaded with ennui and poise. Their full sound reached its raw and transcending pinnacle at the closing “Terrible Love,” inspiring an island of waving lighters and cell phone screens. But the band wasn’t all seriousness, lyrics aside, considering the oddball dedications – one to Berninger’s manhood – and laughs between songs.
Post-National, Oakland rockers Rogue Wave closed out the Tunnel Stage with their brand of handclapping, harmonizing, not-quite-lo-fi rock. Backed by the familiar Bay, the band pulled out the fake punches, bells and waltz beat for “Bird On A Wire,” while their “Solitary Gun,” dedicated to Oscar Grant, the man shot by an Oakland BART police officer last year, was the most timely barb of the festival.
The night, however, belonged to Belle & Sebastian, the iconic indie band that provided the soundtrack to the assembled crowd’s adolescent and gawky years. The five-piece string accompaniment and rotating instrument roster filled the bleak island with a luscious soundscape, but the TIMF finale was ultimately made great by the experienced musicianship of the veteran performers. Every agony-dripping, soul-gazing word of singer Stuart Murdoch was audible all the way back to the glowing Ferris wheel, recreating classics “Lord Anthony,” “The Boy with an Arab Strap” and “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying” in their undiminished, self-conscious glory.
Fittingly, the band ended on “Sleep the Clock Around,” ending the fest with Murdoch’s call, “Everybody is happy, they are glad that they came/Then you go to the place where you’ve finally found/You can look at yourself, and sleep the clock around.”