I learned from my mistake of yesterday and left my downtown Oakland apartment at 10:30 am. Instead of making my way to the shuttles at The Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, I took the transbay bus and transferred to the 108 Muni line at the Transbay Terminal and used that to get to the island. It took my exactly one hour from leaving my place to my arrival to the Bridge stage. Which also meant that I got there early enough to walk right up to the barrier, and I got to enjoy some time with the group of hardcore Animal Collective fans that were determined to stay put all day. And a trio of hard core Deep Sea Diver fans.
Deep Sea Diver
Deep Sea Diver is Jessica Dobson’s current project. She was the guitar player on Beck’s Modern Guilt tour, but more on that later. History Speaks was my personal favorite record 2012. I was actually worried that nobody was going to be there to see them. Well, at first the crowd was pretty slim. However, the warm, guitar driven pop of this band reigned people in. Of course, Dobson’s voice and brilliant guitar playing is hard to ignore. The majority of their set was tracks from the aforementioned History Speaks, an album that they’ve been touring for about a year now, and they have the live show down solid. They threw out a new track, too! Dobson played electronic drums and their drummer, Peter Mansen, jumped on guitar, making for a New Order-esque New Wave number. I can’t wait for album number 2 by this band.
IO Echo seemed really out of place in the sunlight. This female fronted band have developed a sound that I could only describe as “goth-funk.” They’ve locked into a great groove, and, despite their seeming hatred of the sun, they handled it quite well out there. There was one of those career making moments, too! Those fantastic times when everything goes wrong, and the band manages to rise above the trouble. About five minutes into the set, the drums gave out completely. So, while the techs fixed it, singer Ioanna Gicka and guitarist Leopold Ross performed a number as a duo, on the fly. Gicka withered all over the floor while she snag a beautiful ballad.
Quick confession: I’d never heard Palma Violets before the Fest this year. I had no idea what to expect. So, when they opened up with a blistering cover of The Riviera’s “California Sun,” I was immediately drawn in. The entirety of their set was quick filled with similar quick & dirty 70’s punk. Except, I couldn’t pin down a specific influence… They weren’t exactly cut from the cloth of The Ramones, Television, Richard Hell, or The Dead Boys. They were their own version of classic punk, and I’d love to get to see them in a dirty dive bar or the basement of a condemned apartment building.
Cayucas served the all important folk rock slot on the bill. Since there is no such thing as a music festival these days without a new folk group. (Don’t we remember how amazing it was to see Civil Wars at Rock The Bells this year?) Cayucas managed to fulfill this role as well as the Vampire Weekend-esque band all at once. Which, in their own way, made them feel unique. They helped encourage the overall theme of “rock” day this year, which was the most high energy group of Sunday bands I’ve seen in a number of years at this Fest. It was a welcome relief after all of the years of somewhat mellower Sundays at Treasure Island to get a truly rambunctious day.
HAIM are three sisters from LA and a drummer. Their excellent debut record is a blissful blend of classic 70’s soft rock, reminding me of Christine McVie’s Fleetwood Mac material. The live set, however, was a whole different beast. They opened up with the synth heavy “Falling,” adding a extra, hard rock ferocity to the track. Even fiercer was “The Wire.” A song that is almost twee on record, but evolved into a blistering heavy metal. Lead singer Danielle Haim displayed the kind of guitar face that is almost scary, and played with similar intensity. Fellow sisters Esta and Alana Haim balanced out Danielle’s ferocity with a pure silliness. Esta handled bass and goofy faces. Alana moved between keys, guitar, and percussion, and played the role of super energetic one, at different points jumping in the crowd and launching candy into the audience. Admittedly, the set began with a few sound issues, and a few folks in the crowd left early because of this. The patient throngs that stayed, however, got one of the best sets of any band ever. They were true professionals! The banter was funny and not too intrusive. The flow of the set was perfect. They managed to pull of and end of show drum off that managed to sound completely unpretentious. In the end, I found it hard to believe that this was the first time they’ve ever played San Francisco. The hype is well deserved here.
Oh Well (Fleetwood Mac cover)
Honey & I
Don’t Save Me
Let Me Go
STRFKR were the odd band out today. They seemed more appropriately placed on the Saturday lineup, but it’s OK. Their quirky and bouncy synth pop was a lot of fun, and really got the crowd moving. It seems that festival crowds really enjoy synthesizers. I think that the outdoors and wildly varying climates work well with synths. I’m not really sure, but it was great seeing the big crowd having a ball.
Real Estate were the sole “mellow” rock act of the festival. They came from the Built To Spill school of swirly guitar and smooth vocals. The songs are sunny and a bit dreamy.
People love James Blake. A lot. Like, a huge amount. For good reason: he’s a good looking guy that’s capable of doing some of the sexiest slow jams out there. He was like a one man Al Green / Sade / Alex Clare / D’Angelo groove machine. He stayed behind his keyboard the whole set, crooning and causing the whole crowd to melt. If there was every a Treasure Island baby, he’s the reason. Even when he incorporated dubstep influences into his music, they were delightfully “non-douchy.”
Vancouver, BC’s Japandroids have decided to end their nearly two year long tour behind Celebration Rock here at Treasure Island. Spinning Platters’ Album Of The Year winner of 2012 are infinitely rewatchable. If I could see them every night, I would. As this was their last show to promote this record, they played every track off Celebration Rock, albeit in a different order. They remain equally one of the most furious bands in the business, as well as the most seemingly friendliest. They made jokes about Metallica. They compared the weather to playing outdoor shows in Vancouver in the winter in the 90’s. Brian King, who, despite the bitter cold, wore just a white t-shirt and jeans, because I think he needed to freedom of movement. This was especially important when, in the middle of “For The Love Of Ivy,” King jumped into the audience with his guitar and played the riff to Metallica’s “One.”
The Nights of Wine and Roses
The House That Heaven Built
For the Love of Ivy (Gun Club) / One (Metallica)
I will never understand how a band like Animal Collective have gotten to be so popular. That’s not to say that they aren’t good. Quite the opposite. The just come from such an experimental world where the bands aren’t destined to become very “popular.” They come from a long line of art pop deconstructionists that are only appreciated by art history majors and punkers that believe in appreciating anything that makes people uncomfortable. I often wonder what the folks in The Residents or Negativland are thinking when they see Animal Collective playing 20,000 seat sheds and huge music festivals. I don’t know how they did it, but the did, and they are still doing it amazingly well.
For every record Sleigh Bells released, the touring line up ads one additional member. They used to play as a duo: just singer Alexis Krauss and guitarist Derek Miller and backing tracks. For the Reign Of Terror Tour, they added an additional guitar player. It seemed that there are too many people that couldn’t look past the fact that there was no drummer. I never found this to be a fault. Instead, it allowed them the ability to play as fast and furious as they wanted without worrying about a percussionist not being able to keep up. However, they determined that it was time to play with a live drummer. Happily, they found a drummer that was able to keep up with the needs of this band. The weird rhythms that Sleigh Bells employ didn’t challenge the new member at all, and it did, in fact, make for a livelier show. (Not that past Sleigh Bells gigs needed any more life to them)
Krauss is still the most important member, with her amazing soprano voice and larger than life swagger is really all you need. The band made a conscious effort to represent all three records pretty well, with the crowd responding just as enthusiastically to earlier hits like “Infinity Guitars” and “Comeback Kid” just as much as they did to “Bitter Rivals.” Some of the new songs showed a new, more evolved side the band, leaving behind the metal roots for songs like the acoustic guitar pop of “To Hell With You.” The set was so solid that nobody even noticed them skipping “Rill Rill,” the bands biggest hit to date.
Beck shows have been very inconsistent for the last, I don’t know, decade? His performance at last year’s Outside Lands Festival left a bit to be desired, as have pretty much every show I’ve seen him do in the since the Guero tour. His shows have been stiff and lifeless, and I was a little worried that he’d be able to hold onto the crowd late on a freezing cold Sunday evening.
While looking for a good spot in the crowd to watch his set from, I actually ran into Jessica Dobson. Since she played with him many years ago, I asked her how she felt about seeing him live without playing with him. The excitement in her voice was immeasurable. She told me that this band was the “original Beck,” and she was quite looking forward to the show. Moments later, Beck and band crawled onto the stage to play an epic version of “Devil’s Haircut.” He sounded really good, and the band was, as Ms Dobson alluded to, amazing. I recognized Smokey Hormel on guitar and Justin Meldal-Johnsen on bass, both folks that were in the band back when I first saw Beck in 1997. Sadly, there was no DJ Swamp on stage. Nonetheless, it was the classic Beck sound, and he even dressed up in his classic hip attire. This all was very promising.
The only thing that I wasn’t sure of was whether or not we had the classic Beck silliness. Four songs into the set, Beck pulled out a harmonica, informed the crowd he was going to do his best to warm us up. He then played the classic, stream of consciousness blues number “One Foot In The Grave.” He stretched it out for about 5 minutes of pure silly. Beck is back. The rest of the set followed suit. This was a Beck greatest hits set, complete with some really random cover tunes mixed in with the hits. We got covers of “Tainted Love” and “I Feel Love” mixed in with material from the entire Beck catalog.
Highlights included a version of “Loser” with a mandolin in place of the banjo part. He did a version of “Let’s Get Lost” with Alexis Krauss duetting vocals. Krauss looked as giddy as a kid in a candy shop on stage with Beck. He even managed to pull out a full fledged moonwalk during the cover of “Billy Jean.” He vamped out and hammed up “Debra” in a way that he hasn’t done in years. The closing version of “Where It’s At” featured actual choreography! It was a fantastic end to a wonderful weekend.
Soul of a Man
One Foot in the Grave
Tainted Love ->Modern Guilt
Think I’m in Love -> I Feel Love -> Think I’m In Love
Qué Onda Güero
Let’s Get Lost
The Golden Age
Where It’s At