There were quite a few hurdles over this year’s Treasure Island Music Festival. Not only were they up against a the BART strike, essentially crippling transportation into San Francisco, but it may have been the coldest October weekend I’ve ever experienced in San Francisco. However, those things didn’t stop the people from coming out in full force to this year’s event. In fact, it was a sell out year for the event! Proof that us San Francisco residents don’t let little logistical nuisances spoil our fun.
Although, yes, we don’t like logistics spoiling our fun, they still get in the way. I made a few mistakes along the way in terms of getting to the event without BART as a factor, and ended up missing the first few hours of the show on Saturday. We ended up arriving just as Danny Brown, a last minute replacement for the perpetually struggling with visa issues Tricky, ended his set. His new record, Old, might be the best hip hop record this year, so give it a listen. It will be good for you.
My first band of the festival was Poolside. Historically speaking, the first day of the fest is largely devoted to electronic music, while the second day has a heavy focus on guitar based music. After sampling a bit of their music, I expected Poolside to consist of a pair of guys and a laptop. Happily, we were treated to a real organic band. Their music, which was largely instrumental, was a warm blend of lounge and so called yacht rock. They were exactly what you’d expect a band called Poolside to sound like. They even managed to take Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon,” and turn it into a summery disco dance number. I don’t think Young ever expected any of his songs to be paired best with a daiquiri and a bikini, but Poolside made it happen.
Each day had one very young band that was on the receiving end of an obscene amount of hype. Saturday’s act was the brotherly duo Disclosure. Whenever I asked anyone about the act they were most excited about, this was the group. And I tried really hard to figure out the appeal. I just couldn’t. They managed to sound like every other song that you’d hear in a high end clothing store: a little bit dark, a little bit disco, a little bit house. Not a single truly memorable song, and their live performance left much to be desired. They made no attempt to connect with the crowd as humans, which is fine if the music could speak for them, but, alas, it did not.
I hope that Disclosure spent a few minutes watching Major Lazer. Like Disclosure, Major Lazer aren’t a true band. It’s an electronic project spearheaded by Diplo, and fleshed out by Jillionaire and Walshy Fire. Unlike Discolsure, Major Lazer are aware of the fact that if you are going to appear on stage in front of an audience, you better engage that audience. The three members of Major Lazer wore suits, and they brought along two dancers to help liven up the crowd. They also brought out giant action figures, t-shirt cannons, bags of whistles they threw out to the crowd, and basically brought it as far as a real show goes.
Sure, they may have borrowed liberally from The Flaming Lips playbook, including Diplo walking over the crowd in an inflatable ball, but it didn’t matter. What mattered is that everyone was having fun. They brought out the biggest crowd of the day, and not a single person in attendance was standing still. The music was a high-energy blend of dancehall, cumbia, and jungle. They made sure to throw out plenty of remixes of well-known songs like Damien Marley’s “Welcome To Jamrock” and Jay Z’s “Tom Ford” in addition to their original works. However, the song that got the crowd worked into the biggest frenzy was “Get Free,” their song with Dirty Projector’s vocalist Amber Coffman. That’s not entirely true. The thing that got the crowd really going was the “twerk pyramid.” If you weren’t there, you missed it. Let’s just say whatever you are picturing in your mind is about right. Only much weirder and bigger.
Holy Ghost!, as their exclamation point implies, kept the energy levels up. Not as high as Major Lazer, but there aren’t a lot of bands that are capable of that. Holy Ghost!, however, came really close. My notes simply said “white boy R&B.” This was an pretty accurate description. There was very little that was actually “ghost-like” about this band. Their groovy funk was super fun, and the perfect thing to help keep warm in the icy cold of the island.
Little Dragon were very lucky. They got the dusk time slot on the main stage, which is about the most beautiful backdrop any band could ever dream of having. It made for an excellent pairing, because Little Dragon are a beautiful band too! For a group that seems to be highly respected by much of hip hop, they are awfully dreamy. Not a bad thing, although I was really happy when they played “Summertearz,” a wonderfully bouncy number punctuated by an excellent kalimba riff.
An excellent pairing to Little Dragon’s dreaminess was Phantogram’s pure perkiness. They pulled together the biggest crowd I have ever seen on the smaller Tunnel Stage in the seven years I’ve been going to this event. It meant that getting close was a little difficult, but it didn’t matter. Frontwoman Sarah Barthel is a larger-than-life persona, and she manages to “play to the cheap seats.” The music was also fantastic – blending together elements of hip hop, top 40, and indie rock into a wild dance party!
Atoms For Peace
If this were 1998, the existence of a band that included both Thom Yorke of Radiohead and Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers would’ve reeked of the major label “alternative rock” hype machine. Happily, it’s well over a decade from that time, and it helps allow this rock super group actually survive on its own merits.
The Atoms For Peace live show is a dark and weird thing. Yorke, unshaven with his hair in an awkward ponytail, literally looked like he crawled out of bed and climbed on stage. He’s also a frantic dancing machine. Joey Waronker, another 90’s hero, was on drums and sounded as precise as the drum machines used on record. Flea showed off his jazz-trained chops nicely, making the bass sound like many things that aren’t a bass. There is nothing Red Hot Chili Peppersy about this band.
The main set focused largely on Thom Yorke’s Eraser and the band’s latest record Amok. The encore consisted of a few, somewhat surprising rarities. They brought out UNKLE’s “Rabbit In Your Headlights,” complete with Flea reciting the droll English spoken word passage in a faux English accent. (Why didn’t the actual Brit, Nigel Godrich, do this? Who knows, but Flea did it well.) They even did a “cover” of Radiohead’s “Paperbag Writer” that brought an extra oomph of energized chaos.
It was an excellent way to end the first day.
Before Your Very Eyes…
Unless ?And It Rained All Night
Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses
Rabbit in Your Headlights
Atoms for Peace
For more full-size photos of Treasure Island Music Festival, Day 1, check out this set.