For many years, I’ve said that Treasure Island Music Festival was the best music festival in the world. When I made that declaration 8 glorious years ago, after enjoying a mind blowing set by DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist at the inaugural fest, my music festival experience was limited. I’d been to a few all day shindigs at Shoreline, a single Coachella, and a few Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and Power To The Peaceful events. This year alone I’ve been to a dozen festivals so far. And, still, I declare Treasure Island Music Festival to be the closest thing to perfect a music fest can be.
This year was different. I mean, you don’t go eight years without changing things up a bit. First and foremost, they added a comedy tent, which mean that, for the first time ever, there was competition for your time. Most specifically, I was waiting in line with some friends to see “With Special Guest Lauren Lapkus” when one of them looked at the schedule and realized that she’d miss Lower Dens if she stayed for the comedy show. She left, and she told me that they were amazing. I stayed for the comedy show, and didn’t regret it one bit.
The comedy tent was pretty excellent. It was perfectly set up, with well-spaced folding chairs that gave people ample leg room and nobody was made to feel like they were sitting in a stranger’s lap. If you wanted to sit in somebody’s lap, that option was available to you in the form of couches that were placed in the front for people that arrived early. I actually enjoyed two sets of comedy over the course of the weekend. On the first day, after being pushed away by the mind numbing repetitive riffage of STS9 (Hey guys, you book really, really well every year. Sometimes you make a mistake. And, there was ONE bad band out of 26. That’s pretty good odds), I opted to check out the comedy tent just to get away from the music. I was pleasantly surprise by the set I got. Jermaine Fowler did 20 minutes of some deliciously witty bits. He was followed by Nerdist cohost Jonah Ray. Ray is generally known is the “music nerd” in the Nerdist world, but proceeded to do a whole set utterly destroying EDM while discussing the joys of doing drugs. He was surprisingly un-nerd like. But still great. The final comic was Tim Heidecker. He’s one half of the duo Tim & Eric. That really doesn’t matter here, however, as solo, Heidecker’s performance was one of the purest, most unique stand up sets I’ve ever seen. He comes from the world of surrealist humor, but was nothing like fellow surrealists Mitch Hedberg or Stephen Wright. This was pure weirdness, but funny. He struck a balance that is nearly impossible- he attempted find humor in alienating the entire crowd, and managed to bring the crowd together with this. He ended the set by bringing me, this lowly music journalist, on stage. He asked me a series of nonsensical questions, handed me part of a beer that he claimed was urine, informed me that I was lying about my name, and then, he ended the set by giving me a partially finished fruit tray as my prize for being a Discover Cardholder.
The other show I saw in this tent was on Sunday, which was the aforementioned “With Special Guests Lauren Lapkus.” This show is a bit of an improv game, where Lapkus invites a guest to come up with the premise for the show, and Lapkus has to play along. She invited the great Kate Berlant and John Early on, and they portrayed two women from the south that had a talk show. Lapkus portrayed a friend of their’s 18 year old daughter. This is a podcast, so I’m not going to reveal anything else, since you can listen to it yourself when it’s posted. What I will say is that there is little in this world better than watching two of the most animated faces on comedy today working on stage, out “facing” each other. Lapkus and Berlant are both capable of morphing their face into ANYTHING. And did it throughout the set. It almost felt like a competition to see who was the more expressive comic by virtue of merely their face. Early was great, too. The whole set was loads of fun, full of quick thinking, lots of physical humor, and was just pure entertainment.
Enough about the jokes, however. Let’s talk about the music, because that’s the reason we all come to the island. There was so much good music that I’m not going to try to begin to talk about all 26 performances. Just a few of the highlights:
Run The Jewels
Run The Jewels 2 was the best hip hop record of 2014. That record is both socially conscious and full of humor. The live set simply took the energy of that record and pumped it up 20 times over. EL-P and Killer Mike are furious balls of energy on stage. And the crowd was on every line. When El-P said, “My business card says that your in luck,” the entirety of the 20,000 or so people in attendance belted out “I do two things, I rap and fuck.” There are few experiences more cathartic than shouting that line in unison with a sea full of strangers.
This was the live debut of this hotly anticipated supergroup. Big Grams features Big Boi of Outkast and Phantogram. The set we got hardly felt like the first time this project was performed in front of people. This was a well rehearsed set. Sarah Barthel and Big Boi have nearly perfect chemistry on stage, playing off each other nicely, and looking like they are having way more fun than last year’s Outkast set. The played the entirety of their debut record, including a drop in set from Run The Jewels for their collaboration “Born To Shine.” We were treated to only piece that wasn’t on that album- a mash up of Outkast’s “Ms Jackson” and Phantogram’s “Mouthful Of Diamonds.” This show was so perfect that I can’t wait for them to do a full scale tour of it.
Not going to lie. I still don’t get deadmau5. His set did nothing for me. There were a bunch of pretty lights and a bunch of songs that I couldn’t discern between each other. Maybe I’m old. However, it was pretty beautiful to observe a sea of people dressed up in mouse gear, dancing together and having a ball. I don’t need to understand what people like about it. I just know that thousands of people were having the time of their lives, and I’m fine with that.
Usually the 12pm Sunday crowd at any music festival is pretty sparse. However, usually you don’t have a band as solid as Ought opening your festival. A sizable crowd was their early to treat their ears to the perfect blend of punky aggression and intelligent, technical skill of this band. Their music was a sharp contrast to the sunny skies, palm trees and ocean. That didn’t matter. These guys were solid. They were the spiritual sons of Drive Like Jehu, who were playing their first bay area show in over 20 years just a few hours later.
Viet Cong (?)
Viet Cong announced that they will be changing their name at the end of this tour. I hope people catch of quickly under that new name, because that would be a huge mistake for their fans. They also drew a sizeable crowd, practically double who was enjoying Ought. They were significantly faster and more danceable the the previous band, but their brand of punk was still very much cerebral.
Mikal Cronin spend years living in the shadow of the prolific and critically acclaimed Ty Segall. Cronin is finally getting some notice on his own. This is great for everybody, because he might be a better songwriter. And he’s certainly a better showman. His blistering set was 45 minutes of pure, joyful power pop that ended with an accent on the power. The show devolved into pure sonic chaos at the end. This was equal parts music for head banging and writing letters to your crush.
Mary Timony is a guitar hero. Anybody that’s every listened to anything by Helium or Wild Flag or her solo records knows this. Ex Hex is an interesting project because she dials back the monstrous guitar shredding in place of making pure, Go-Go’s inspired pop punk. Timony’s voice suddenly has that sugar coated rasp of Belinda Carlile, even! The first half of the set was devoted to getting a nice pogo going in the crowd. Then, at some point, Timony and bassist Betsy Wright both seemed to decide that it was time to start attacking. It all began with a bass solo was played so hard and fast that Eddie Van Halen I’m sure is watching somewhere regretting that he opted for the six string. Timony was simply doing inhuman things with that guitar, making noises that one never would have thought a guitar could make. This set made me simply want to lock myself in my room for several years and simply practice guitar until I, too, can become a rock n roll superhero.
Father John Misty
Father John Misty is the indie rock Tom Jones. He makes women melt, and he knows it. He is also quite self aware and enjoys poking fun at his sex symbol status. He’s got charisma is spades, and will probably continue to make the ladies melt well into his 70’s, like the great Tom Jones. He even managed to steal the phone off a woman in the crowd for “I Love You, Honeybear.” (He returned it at the end of the song, complete with some video selfies taken during the set)
Drive Like Jehu
This was the most anticipated set of the day. I encountered more than one person that bought tickets just for this set, came to the island just to see this band play for 45 minutes, and then leave. Those people that paid $100 for this 45 minute set got way more than their money’s worth. DLJ’s career spanning set was a magnificent barrage of ferocious hard core punk. This band was highly influential in the punk, hardcore, and emo world, and this set lived up to their legend.
This festival runs like clockwork almost 100% of the time. However, Chvrches seemed to be fighting some technical problems at the beginning, as they started about 15 minutes behind schedule. That was all forgotten about once Lauren Mayberry & co once again proved that the Scottish are the best at the rock n roll thing. That’s a hearty feat for a band that doesn’t have a drummer or a guitarist. This three piece manages to take the coldness out of computer music, and makes it warm and human. Mayberry is a joy to watch. She’s just awkward enough on stage to feel relatable, but still a pro. Her voice is gorgeous, with her soprano sending chills down my spine. I love that, in a world where people keep wanting their synthesizers to take them to a much more robotic world, it’s great to get such human music.
I always forget about The National. It’s stupid. Whenever I hear them, I’m really impressed. Whenever I see them, I’m blown away. But if you stop me on the street and ask me if I’m into this band, I’d probably tell you that I’m not. Their set pretty much made sure that I’ll never consider this band anything less than one of my top 10 ever again.
Throughout the entire set, I kept thinking: “Wow, they really front loaded this with the hits,” as I knew every word to everything they played. After 90 minutes or so, I ended up only not knowing a handful of songs. The set was loaded with bona fide classics. The whole band sounded great, however frontman Matt Berninger really is the center of this band. His deep baritone sends chills down my spine. At one point in the set, Lauren Mayberry came out to sing with him on “I Need My Girl,” and the blend of the two vocalists was pure ear candy. It was a special moment, and one of the most impressive feats of musicality I’ve ever heard.
It was a beautiful weekend filled with amazing music. As usual, I can’t wait for TIMF 2016.