Festival Diary: The 2011 Treasure Island Music Festival, Day 1

by Gordon Elgart on October 18, 2011

The glamtastic Saturday headliners

The details of the Treasure Island Music Festival are well known to Bay Area music regulars. I’ll go over them briefly.

The setting is beautiful, on an island in the middle of San Francisco Bay. There are only two stages that alternate acts, so there’s never any clashes. There are two days: Saturday leans toward dance music, and Sunday is for indie rock. It’s small so you can easily get close to the stage whenever you want, without having to park yourself in the front row all day long. Those are the basics — everything else changes year to year. In fact, the organizers — Noise Pop and Another Planet — intend to never repeat a band. So here’s a quick look at this year’s collection of talent.

Saturday started with Geographer, and my first thought was, “wow there’s a lot of people here to see them.” Far from a dance band, our San Francisco heroes’ elegant pop was the perfect hello to Treasure Island. I still expect big things from this band, although I do wish they were about 25% more energetic on stage, and that at least one band member wasn’t encumbered by instruments, and able to be a true lead man.

San Francisco's own Geographer gets us going

Next up was Aloe Blacc, most famous for his “I Need a Dollar” which is also the theme song to How to Make It in America. From the moment he walked out, nattily attired in his green shirt, tie, vest and dapper cap, he owned the stage. Now this was the third festival I’d seen him at just this year, so I can tell you that his set doesn’t really change from show to show. You get the same songs in the same order, the same improv, the same chatter. The band plays it perfectly, and he sounds amazing. Mr. Blacc, you make me smile.

Shabazz Palaces were up next, and while I appreciate the organizers’ efforts to invite acts from all over the musical spectrum, I entirely disliked this group. It gave me a chance to explore the grounds, which this year had an expanded lineup of local food trucks. My experiment with vegetarianism being over, I went for the Tots & the Maytals from Brass Knuckle. This is tater tots with cheese and sausage. It’s bad for you, but delicious, just what one should look for in festival food.

YACHT took the stage next, and were entertaining if a little dry. I guess I’m not a fan, but I was in the minority.

So instead, I got myself psyched up for the next group, The Naked and Famous. I first saw this band in a parking lot in Austin at noon during SXSW, and it was a little rough around the edges and in the middle, both for the band and audience. That’s EARLY at SXSW and it showed. Then I saw them this summer at Glastonbury, also pretty early in the day. And today was sunny as well. I guess I’m destined to only see this band outside in the sun. That’s fine by me, because they keep sounding better and better. They seem to have been on tour forever, supporting their killer album, Passive Me Aggressive You, and they’ve certainly become a polished act.

After battling with the equipment, Battles gave it their best.

Next up was Battles, an act I’d been very excited to see. Now, it looked to me like Battles was having technical difficulties, as a lot of people were running around the stage, the monitor and sound people looked flustered, and there was a certain stiffness about the performance for the most part, like they didn’t want to break anything. Songs didn’t really end; rather, they collapsed under their own weight.

The band was good, but not awesome, and they even said so themselves, saying “you should come see us at a regular show, when we can be awesome.” It’s too bad, really, because Battles is awesome. But except for the insanity of “Ice Cream,” the music never really took flight.

Dizzee Rascal, the critical darling of a British MC whose longfans like to accuse of “selling out” played next. And I can’t believe that I of all people am about to write this, but he killed it. He murdered it. He melted faces. Anyone who was paying attention was jumping up and down, dancing like mad, screaming on cue. Anyone who wasn’t paying attention quickly moved to the stage to do so. By the time he got to his megahit closer, “Bonkers,” it literally was. I don’t recall people talking about a “Treasure Island moment” like they do when they talk about other larger festivals, but they should. And this set should be included.

Making the whole crowd dizzy

Buraka Som Sistema came on next to play a set of kuduro. Now I only know about this because of the Don Omar song that swept Europe this summer, Danza Kuduro. And their music had the same beat, and I suppose if you just wanted to throw down for 45 minutes, you’d be perfectly happy, but I used this time to say hi to some of my favorite Treasure Island vendors, including the recycling store (where I scored the Chemical Brothers vinyl soundtrack for Hanna — I’m not too cool to pick up cups), the loose coalition of SF poster artists (including GIGART, Lil Tuffy and Jason Munn), and found a delicious cheesecake cinnamon roll (see earlier comment about festival food) from Kat’s Pies, a new bakery on the scene.

Chromeo came out, and I think they divided the crowd a bit, or at least my friends. While some appreciate their arena rock meets disco sound, others are tired of their act. I don’t know how you’d tire of them unless you secretly hate arena rock and/or disco with such passion that you can’t enjoy them. The songs sound like something Billy Joel might write, with instrumentation provided by Cameo. It’s a wonderful pastiche, and your parents might like it, too.

Very happy to be here

Speaking of dividing the crowd, Flying Lotus played next. Here’s a guy I really like personally. He’s great in interviews, charming on Twitter, and genuinely seems like a good guy. To me, though, his music is interestingly creative. And that’s the most I can say about it. People tell me it’s difficult, and it’s my fault for not liking it, and well, ok, that’s true. Isn’t that always the case? His fans, though, are passionate for him, so the mass of people crowded up against the stage on Saturday night were enough to make his set feel like an event. I’m rooting for the guy, and hoping I have my “I get it” moment some day.

I’d like to apologize to Cut Copy now, for I’ve always gotten them confused with Hot Chip. That ended tonight. While both bands play smooth synthy dance music, I don’t think Hot Chip would have had the entire crowd jumping and singing along in quite the same way as Cut Copy. In fact, I’ve seen Hot Chip at Treasure Island before, and it wasn’t like this. There were dozens of girls on shoulders, people singing along to songs that I wasn’t really aware of. I felt like an outsider. Like “oh no everyone is having an amazing time and I’m just watching them because I thought I was going to see Hot Chip tonight.” OK, that’s overstating it, but it was thrilling to watch.

Death From Above 1979 played next, and they felt like counter-programming after Cut Copy. Hardly a dance band, DFA79 are melodic punk. I think they scared some people. Their set was not particularly well attended — a lot of people stayed in place for the coming headliner; others were just frightened into submission. But there 400-500 people pressed closed against the stage, pumping their fists and screaming the entire time. Why DFA has chosen to play festivals, and not get inside some cramped, sweaty venue, I don’t know. Maybe it’s a money thing. The energy died somewhere near the soundboard on Saturday, and they deserve to get inside a metal box with those 400-500 crazed fans, and just rip shit up. Make it happen, DFA, before you disappear again.

Empire of the Sun finished up with about a 50-55 minute headline set that was full of bright colored costumes, flashly lights, weird dancing, and only a couple of memorable songs. It’s all glam for this band, and I don’t think their songwriting chops match up. If anyone is bored watching them, I’d be surprised, but listening to them is another story. Apart from “Standing on the Shore” and “Walking on a Dream,” it all sorta muddled together for me. But oh, the costumes!

And that was it for Saturday night. Time to swap the neon for flannels, the Adidas for Converse, and the E for PBR … indie day is next!


All photos on this post by Emily Anderson


Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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