Treasure Island Music Festival
Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 13 and 14, 2012
Treasure Island, San Francisco
Better than: Getting an October sunburn anywhere else this weekend.
It was around sunset on Sunday evening when Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino sang what everyone at Treasure Island Music Festival right then must have been thinking -- and captured the prevailing vibe of the weekend in the process.
"Why would you live anywhere else?" Cosentino sang, as a fiery orange glow slowly appeared in the skies over San Francisco. "This is the only place for me."
This weekend's Treasure Island festival couldn't help but make you feel lucky just for being there. With only two alternating stages, there are no competing acts at this compact event -- but everyone on the bill is up against the gorgeous natural setting. The warm, nearly cloud-free weather on both days this weekend offered clear views of San Francisco Bay, the Bay and Golden Gate Bridges, and of course, the city skyline itself. It lured a sizable number of festival-goers into sitting back on the lawn, taking in the sunshine, and just watching the music from a distance.
But of course there was plenty of musical action on both days. Saturday, with the more dance-leaning lineup, brought out a more lively crowd and strong sets from Grimes, Public Enemy, SBTRKT, and Girl Talk. Sunday featured more rock acts, and it was local garage juggernaut Ty Segall, Welsh indie-pop group Los Campesinos!, and the cinematic energy of France-via-Los Angeles outfit M83 that left the strongest impressions.
Below, check out our roundup of music highlights from both days -- or just skip ahead to Sunday.
Grimes charms the bros
It's easy to be skeptical of an artist that's received as much online hype as Grimes has. And while Montreal avant-pop auteur Claire Boucher's latest album doesn't quite justify all the hyperventilation, her live show certainly did. During a very bright and hot midafternoon set, Boucher came out in a freaky black hood and sunglasses, backed by two female musicians with their faces hidden in multicolored veils. Twiddling knobs on her table of electronics, Boucher slowly assembled a skeletal beat, shifting tempos and moods with only the slightest additions. She layered ethereal wisps of vocals on her rhythms from there, high-pitched snatches of lyrics that couldn't quite be made out into words. It was of course singles "Oblivion" and "Genesis" that got the biggest enthusiasm (read: almost-dancing) from the crowd, but they had close competition in Boucher's chatty, bubbly stage presence. Some among the crowd's heavy bro contingent started yelling about their crushes on Boucher before she'd even played any music.
Public Enemy packs the stage
The best performance on Saturday belonged to seminal political rap outfit Public Enemy, which brought a small army of camo-clad personnel to the big stage in the middle of Saturday afternoon. The crew started hyping up the crowd long before the set even really started, so by the time Chuck D began pounding pounding through "Public Enemy No. 1," people were bouncing like nuts. The strong balance between the group's two frontmen was striking: Chuck is all-business, and still a frightfully fast rhymer at the age of 52. Flav is maybe more famous, sillier, and a lot more fun to watch: He arrived in all red, wearing an New York Giants hat and a big white clock that he said wasn't coming off until Public Enemy gets inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (We were reminded several times that the group was recently nominated for the honor.) If you're only used to today's hip-hop, Public Enemy's late '80s/early '90s albums can sound strange -- thin, hyperactive, and a little bewildering, as a fresh-eared NPR intern recently reminded us. But live, the group sounds anything but tame, with rib-rattling low-end from DJ Lord and songs filled out with forceful guitars, bass, and drums. (See the thunderous "911 Is a Joke.") The group hasn't lost its political edge, either: After "He Got Game," Chuck D went on a long, serious monologue, contending that "BET is a cancer," and that "urban radio does not support the community it comes from." "Fuck Viacom," he spat, neglecting to mention that his partner, Flava Flav, probably the made the broadcast giant a sizable pile of cash with his VH1 reality show. Still, Public Enemy showed the crowd that rap really can be genuine activist art -- and a hella good time. And thankfully you'll never hear these guys brag about how many Maybachs they own.
SBTRKT keeps it short and very sweet
"For some reason we have a stupidly short set tonight," complained SBTRKT's Aaron Jerome, only 20 minutes from the end. That might have been because the masked British electronic duo got started 15 minutes late, but either way, the group made every minute of its penultimate performance count, playing many of the best songs from its lauded self-titled debut album, including "Wildfire," "Something Goes Right," and "Hold On." Jerome's counterpart, the vocalist/instrumentalist Sampha, rambled around the stage, spoiling just a bit the sweet highs of his voice with too much movement. When he stood still, though, the duo's futuristic bass and smooth vocals came through delicate, dark, and propulsive -- a perfect soundtrack to watching the glimmering city lights from across the Bay.