Land of Plenty: 2011 Treasure Island Music Festival

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Tiffany Lui, Emily Smith & Ione Sterental/Staff

While October generally means frights, candy, Halloween raves, there’s one show that stands out from the standard fall festivals. The Treasure Island Music Festival is one of the newer annual music festivals to arrive in the Bay Area. Since 2007, the festival has been quietly gaining attention. Now in its fourth year, Treasure Island has played host once again to an ever-growing audience in search of music, culture, and a 60-foot Ferris wheel.

When the festival began in 2007, it didn’t start out with a mediocre lineup. Thievery Corporation, Modest Mouse, M.I.A., Spoon, DJ Shadow and local favorites Zion I were just some of the major acts to grace the festival’s two stages. Yet even with a stellar lineup, the festival wasn’t as popular as it is today.

But perhaps that was the intention. Even now, Treasure Island is considered small compared to behemoths such as Outside Lands or the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. For many people though, the smaller venue is an attraction rather than a sign of unpopularity. It allows for fans to have a more personal concert experience, as opposed to viewing the show from a jumbo-screen hundreds of feet away. The consistent genres of artists also form a crowd with similar tastes. The festival has mostly stuck to its formula of electronica/hip-hop Saturday and rock/indie Sunday ever since its creation, allowing for concert attendees to fully tune in to some of the best artists of that genre.

The worry of missing acts or conflicting time slots has also never been an issue for the festival-goers. Only one artist plays at any given time, making it possible — if you have quick feet and are an expert in concert crowd navigation — to see every act play each day, a feat not many festivals can boast. With the return of a Silent Disco — Live DJs spinning beats directly into your headphones, in case you aren’t familiar with the hushed hype — the festival has been slowly expanding its entertainment options over the years.

Similar to Outside Lands’ variety of activities, Treasure Island also has a diverse selection of pit stops and attractions in case you want a break from the music.  Giant puppets, stilt dancers, Club D.I.Y. and the trademark giant Ferris wheel were just some of the possible features of the festival to check out on your way from one stage to the other. The multitude of entertainment possibilities virtually removes the  possibility of a dull show, giving Treasure Island a lively, vibrant tone that carries throughout the breezy island.

From its initial conception to its prominence as a major Bay Area music festival, Treasure Island has been rapidly growing in popularity and shows no signs of halting. The festival truly affirms how sometimes less is more, as its limited size and number of bands are a characteristic of the festival that has attracted many to it. When the lineup of artists includes the likes of  Death Cab For Cutie, Cut Copy, Empire of the Sun and Death from Above 1979, the quality of the acts makes up for the quantity.

The Treasure Island Music Festival has brought the manmade haven a refreshing revival, attracting concert lovers old and new. Unfortunately, the conflicts arising between the island’s future developments environmental contamination and earthquake stability may influence the future of the festival.  But while the politics surrounding the island puts its future in to question for now, the festival will continue providing new musical gems for music fans to cherish.

Ian Birnam

Chromeo

Since their 2007 release of Fancy Footwork, Chromeo has become a staple in popular electronica. The group took over the Bridge Stage with their electronic, funkified sound that borrows from ’80s pop and ’90s hip-hop. Guitarist and vocalist Dave 1, walked out in a Michael Jackson-inspired red leather jacket to join his  right-hand man P-Thugg. Throughout their show, the unlikely pair pumped up the crowd; Dave 1 jammed on his guitar, spitting his clear, deep-toned lyrics, while P-Thugg pounded on the keyboard and synths, holding a voice-warping sound box between his lips. They did the main stage justice with stage presence that worked for both the quirkiness of their lyrics and the electric feel of their music.

Raging crowd environment aside — flashing stage lights and high-energy  beats made for a wild dance party — the actual sound seemed slightly out of balance. In their rendition of “Momma’s Boy,” Dave 1’s normally clear vocals was muddled at times and didn’t mix well with P-Thugg’s distorted voice. While they kept the crowd moving for a solid 50 minutes, Chromeo became a casualty of high expectations and didn’t quite live up to the sound on its recorded tracks.

­— Anna Carey

Death From Above 1979

Jesse F. Keeler (a.k.a. JFK) and Sebastien Grainger are Death From Above 1979. JFK wears all black and Grainger all white. They are bass and drums, occasionally accompanied by some synth. They have two modes: noise and silence. Mostly noise, though.

The Toronto band broke up in 2006 after an excellent EP, Heads Up, and even greater LP, You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine, disappointing fans and critics alike. But this year, the twosome (JFK is also a member of electronic duo MSTRKRFT) announced they would reunite and tour. Their entire set felt like electronic garage rock on speed — made even crazier by the dense and devoted crowd. Highlights included supercharged songs such as “Do It!” and “Turn It Out.” The two only briefly paused to make jokes about their age and what was potentially occurring between couples on the nearby Ferris wheel, which was welcome because their main job was to get in as many songs as possible to satiate the demand of their ardent fans.

There were probably more DFA T-shirts out in the crowd on Saturday than any other band, and for good reason. They picked up right where they left off five years ago and proved they can still sustain a wall of noise for 45 straight minutes.

— Sydney Rock

Aloe Blacc

Whoever decided to add Aloe Blacc to Saturday’s lineup was onto something. On a day overwhelmed by electronic dance beats, computerized vocals and cowbells that came out of nowhere (courtesy of YACHT), Blacc’s soulful sound, jazz accompaniments and meaningful lyrics provided a much-needed break. He avoided falling into 1950s blues territory by playing against pop drum beats and piano rhythms. Lyrics that often held a political or social message also kept his music in 2011.

His efforts to amp up the audience — bouncing around stage encouraging everyone to clap their hands to the beat — were mostly successful. Although his crowd was slim because of his early time slot on the smaller Tunnel Stage, Blacc did inspire a chill grooving feeling in the audience, especially in “Loving You Is Killing Me” and “I Need a Dollar.”

With Blacc the highlight was his silky voice. He moves seamlessly from deep notes to sky-high falsetto creating smooth, easy listening that doesn’t sink into predictability. The power of soul was clear in his cover of The Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale,” which gushed with sultry R&B tones, melting the audience into mellow submission.

— Anna Carey

Flying Lotus

Flying Lotus, known as FlyLo to his fans and Steven Ellison to his family, is arguably one of the most creative musicians today. The grand-nephew of jazz great Alice Coltrane, FlyLo mixes jazz and hip-hop to create avant-garde sonic landscapes — landscapes that, on Saturday, rivaled the San Francisco skyline across the bay.

With the sun behind him and a laptop in front him, FlyLo delivered a set that was equal parts dance party and intellectual experimentation. Although the crowd was more noticeably interested in his energetic hip-hop beats, the jazzier portions of his set fit perfectly with the flashing colored lights behind him.

Everyone surrounding the Tunnel Stage during FlyLo’s set knew (or later realized, as it progressed) that they were in the presence of one of today’s musical greats. But if his music was that of the gods, Ellison did not act like one; he freely conversed with the crowd, offering to play a show later that night and walking out to the crowd to meet the audience after after his performance. FlyLo awed the crowd with his genuine approach to music—just a man with a laptop, a backpack and a talent unrivaled.

— Sydney Rock

Buraka Som Sistema

From Buraka Som Sistema’s first to final drum beat, the crowd visibly transformed from a frenzied high to utter exhaustion. This Portuguese four-person group lives and breathes the sound called kuduro, which was founded in Angolan clubs in the ‘80s.

To call it dance music is a massive understatement, though audience members made valiant attempts to keep up. The only individual who could move her body fast enough to the uptempo music was the M.C., Blaya, who, in neon orange face paint and a leopard-print jumpsuit, shook her ass at superhuman speed.

Their performance of “Hangover (BaBaBa)”, complete with blaring sirens, slamming percussion, and speedily-pronounced “Ba, Ba, Ba’s” dominated the crowd’s energy, and lived up to their hit YouTube video. A chaotic jumble of shots from an Angolan village cut in perfect sync with the beat, the video is just as exhausting as their live music. The best way to describe the sound of Buraka Som Sistema: a drugged up synthesis of African tribal beats and European club music plugged into an amplifier.

— Anna Carey

Battles

Brooklyn-based math rock trio Battles literally had to battle to stay alive. Last year, guitarist/vocalist Tyondai Braxton took a hike, leaving the band with an option: find a new member or continue as a threesome. Fortunately, they chose the latter. Saturday, with their drum kit plastered with the pink “blob” cover art created by bassist Dave Konopka for their sophomore album, Gloss Drop, Battles showed the Treasure Island crowd they no longer needed Braxton for direction.

The band layered guitars, keyboards and garbled vocals to create an experimental aura that was both inspiring and undeniably giddy. Although “Atlas,” the critically acclaimed track from their 2007 album, Mirrored, was their most energetic moment, new songs such as “Ice Cream,” which includes almost reggae-inspired vocals from dance producer Matias Aguayo, caught the crowd’s attention. Guitarist and keyboardist Ian Williams led the group with his suave but frenetic moves; playing in between two slanted keyboards, he often looked as though he was doing a makeshift Irish jig. Drummer John Stanier framed the songs with his steady beats, bringing sheer power to their set.

Battles’ solid noise — intent on blowing out a few eardrums — shook the crowd as they proved to be one the the most surprising and memorable performances of the day.

— Sydney Rock

The Naked and Famous

Shredding guitars, electric sound effects, and intense bass made this crew of kiwis a clear crowd favorite. With the afternoon sun at its perfect height, breeze rushing off the bay, The Naked and Famous took over Bridge Stage with their electro-rock fusion. The electronic guitar riffs and dissonant synth sounds layered behind the pop style voices of the two lead singers embody what is going on in today’s indie music. The blond, scruffy Thom Powers and black-haired, mod-style Alisa Xayalith have great chemistry on stage and in their sound.

The band mixed in a few of their mellower, more industrial-style tracks, but the top three crowd-pleasers were “All of This,” “Punching in a Dream,” and “Young Blood.” When they played that last number, fans rushed up against the stage, drooling over each upbeat note and energetic “Yeah.” When The Naked and Famous played, the atmosphere on Treasure Island completely changed. Through their entire show, elation bubbled up from the crowd. If this performance was any indicator, expect to find The Naked and Famous climbing charts and establishing themselves in the indie and popular music scenes.

— Anna Carey

The Antlers

The Antlers walked on stage donning preppy fitted shirts, overgrown ivy haircuts and skinny jeans, resembling boarding school outcasts playing at their first talent show. They knew they had the chops, but could they show it?

They tiptoed into a set comprised of slow-burning rhapsodies and floating falsettos that seemed so light that they could have been swept away in the bay breeze. Frontman Peter Silberman reached for the skies as he liberated notes from the extremes of his vocal register and glided through angelically sung melodies.

The crowd stood transfixed by Silberman’s siren song, while silently urging the group to let their hair down and cut loose from proven-studio acoustics — their rehearsed sound seeming better suited for a seated theater than the main stage of an indie-rock festival.

Then, as the group’s sound was perched upon the pressure-packed climax of the song “Rolled Together,” guitarist Timothy Mislock released sharp-hitting arpeggios that harmonized with Silberman’s drawn-out wails — a sonic resonance sufficient to call out the sun from behind a sea of clouds.

They followed up with a distortion-crammed live-rendition of “Every Night my Teeth are Falling Out.” Silberman’s crooning lullabies turned into echoing cries that burned through the walls of their studio-sound — freeing their songs to pluck the crowd’s collective heart strings.
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— Daniel Means

Beach House

“You look good in the sunset light,” Victoria Legrand slowly muttered as she eyed out her audience during her and musical partner Alex Scally’s set this past weekend at the Treasure Island Music Festival. The duo known as Beach House seemed to sail the festival into the night, drawing down the sun with their sensual dream pop lullabies. Costumed in black, they stood out like silhouettes against the orange sky as they began their set with the “oh, oh, ohs” of the melancholic yet catchy “Gila” off their 2008 EP Devotion. Waving her finger along with the soothing melodies as they left her red lips, Legrand had the audience instantly mesmerized.

As they moved on to hits like “Norway” and “Zebra” from the duo’s 2010 Teen Dream mid-set, Legrand evoked a chorus of accompaniment from the sea of faces in front of her. The set gained intensity as the sky dimmed until finally she thrashed her long curls around the stage, banging out playful melodies on her treasure chest-disguised electric organ as Scally drew out his guitar riffs into epic drones. By night, the two had brought a fierceness to their entrancing melodies that couldn’t be expected from their airy recordings.
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— Sarah Burke

Explosions in the Sky

With a stage setup better suited as a battle formation, Texan post-rock group Explosions in the Sky invaded the shores of Treasure Island with their triple-guitar attack. The instrumental band constructed intricate soundscapes that cast the crowd out into a sea of slowly intertwining notes.

The three guitarists took turns sitting down with their instruments, letting out climactic wails that soared through the crowd. In what could have been an hour-long jam session, the group delineated their sound into mini guitar symphonies that rang with the deliberation of an orchestral performance.
Just as rapid guitar melodies and the quickening tempo of Chris Hrasky’s resounding bass drum brought the crowd to the pinnacle of the song “The Only Moment We Were Alone,” the group released a harmonized crescendo of riveting chords that gave the song its soul-melting catharsis.

As the song floated back down to equilibrium, guitarist Munaf Rayani raised his instrument in the air and reached back to swing an open palm against the face of his guitar, letting out thundering heartbeats that echoed over the waters of the bay. By combining ecstatic harmonies with meditative expanses of sound, Explosions in the Sky performed like a musical armada that took Treasure Island by storm.
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— Daniel Means

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks

For Stephen Malkmus, the legendary ex-frontman of ’90s indie rock band Pavement, playing a music festival is just another day at the office. In everything from his lackadaisical guitar-playing to his between-song banter, Malkmus is effortlessly suave — a seasoned pro.

Malkmus, playing with backing band The Jicks, made it clear that he would not be performing any Pavement songs (one fan got cussed at for even requesting it). Instead, he chose largely from his latest album, the Beck-produced Mirror Traffic, which came out in August. The highlights of the afternoon included the jaunty “Tigers” and “Senator,” which features the hilariously spot-on lyrics for which Malkmus is known. Tall and lanky, he stood slightly hunched over, grooving along as the sun began to fade.

Some of the best moments came in between songs. Bassist Joanna Bolme asked the audience for some “herbal cigarettes” while Malkmus made jokes about the video screen behind them, making quips like “It’s like at the A’s game, only there are people here.” However, despite his iconic status and solid new material, Malkmus seemed a little bit too much like he’d settled down and found his shady lane. Who knows — maybe he just needed what the senator wants.
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— Sydney Rock

St. Vincent

Convulsing as if overcome by the intensity of her own guitar playing, singer-songwriter Annie Clark of St. Vincent bashed her head back and forth, belting “I don’t want to be a cheerleader no more.” Seducing the crowd with her sensual confidence, the curly haired indie-pop sweetheart proved this weekend at Treasure Island Music Festival that she definitely doesn’t stand on the sidelines. Transcending her delicate recordings, Clark’s live vocals were drenched with raw magnetism and self-assurance. Despite her delicate look, she owned the massive stage, singing “come cut me open” in a bold whisper with her opening song “Surgeon.”

Although the short set time limited Clark from playing all of the favorites off her past albums, she handpicked a selection that showcased the recently enhanced guitar skills she displays on Strange Mercy.  Applying her newfound intensity to songs like “Marrow” of Actor, Clark revamped her previously more synth-based sound with rock ’n’ roll drama. Eyes on the horizon and hands on her guitar, she effortlessly picked noisy compositions, throwing out heavier versions of her danceable melodies.
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— Sarah Burke

Thee Oh Sees

Imagine famed astronomy professor Alex Filippenko as a drummer in a band. Add another drummer, two aging punks and a girl with a tambourine. Now you have Thee Oh Sees.

Sure, drummer Mike Shoun does not look exactly like Filippenko, but he was sporting a Mauna Kea Observatory shirt on Sunday, making the comparison deliciously undeniable. Suffice it to say, Thee Oh Sees are simultaneously one of the weirdest looking and most compelling live bands around.

The San Francisco-based quartet — the brainchild of eclectic musician John Dwyer — was meant originally as an outlet for Dwyer’s home recordings, but has since evolved into a full-scale band. They are notorious for their prolific output and perhaps even more famed for their energetic live shows. Mixing Velvets-inspired gloom with Brigid Dawson’s sweet backing vocals that recall Kim Deal’s finest Pixies moments, Thee Oh Sees manage to both borrow from the past and create an original mix of psychedelic noise rock. Despite their early time slot, Thee Oh Sees brought some of the sassiest tunes of the day, even eliciting a mosh pit — albeit a small and somewhat self-conscious mosh pit — during the later part of their set. Even the coolest of attendees couldn’t help dancing to their gritty but purely delightful songs.
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Sydney Rock

Weekend

There seems to be a sudden surge of acts incorporating the word “weekend” into their names — The Weekend, The Weeknd, etc. But Oakland trio Weekend showed Sunday’s Treasure Island crowd that they are a major contender for best weekend-themed band, creating a fuzzy shoegaze rock perfect for hazy afternoons.

While Weekend’s lo-fi sounds lacked the energetic punch of the day’s first band, Thee Oh Sees, they made up for it with their atmospheric noise-pop. Weekend shone — and induced some head-bobbing from the tired souls who made it out to day two early — during their new song “Hazel,” from their latest EP, Red. Lead singer Shaun Durkan layered their Jesus and Mary Chain-esque tunes with his droning voice, repeating “Hazel” so frequently that each word seemed to blend into the next.

The only hiccup in the set came when guitarist Kevin Johnson broke a string; a few awkward moments ensued as he tried to remedy the situation, which was not helped by Durkin’s reluctance to take to the mic and save the crowd from the silence. After all, Weekend was most in their element when they were making loud, crunching rock ‘n’ roll.
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— Sydney Rock