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Monday, October 18, 2010

Treasure Island Day 2: Belle & Sebastian and the National Turn Wet Misery into Rock-Out Joy

Posted By on Mon, Oct 18, 2010 at 8:56 AM

Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew crowd-surfs at the end of his set. - CHRISTOPHER VICTORIO
  • Christopher Victorio
  • Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew crowd-surfs at the end of his set.
Treasure Island Music Festival, Day Two
October 17, 2010

Better than: Listening to '90s alt-rock on your Walkman during a damp walk to school.

Well, it rained. But other than that wet little nod from Mother Nature early on, the second day of Treasure Island Music Festival packed all it promised: a wound-up alt-rock wallop that proved a great complement to the oonce-oonce of the first dance-focused day. The crowds were smaller, the beards thicker, the smiles less MDMA-induced, and the vibe generally a bit more laid-back and congenial -- especially during the collective swoon that was charming headliner Belle and Sebastian's extended-ode-to-S.F. of a set.

  • Christopher Victorio
  • Superchunk
After a soggy start to the festival, Superchunk waived the grunge flag high on the main stage as the rain clouds broke into shifting layers of gray. Later, as the throngs decamped to the smaller stage for the tweedy midtempo rock of Chicagoans the Sea and Cake, the sun peeked through the cotton sheen above and a breeze picked up off the bay.

Zooey Deschanel of She & Him - CHRISTOPHER VICTORIO
  • Christopher Victorio
  • Zooey Deschanel of She & Him
Actress Zooey Deschanel provided enough warmth for many dudes in the crowd when she took the stage with She & Him, her project with indie-folkster M. Ward. The catcalls set off immediately. One guy in front wrote "Will you marry me?" on his palms and flashed them at the video cameras. But the constantly bouncing Deschanel seemed awkward onstage, her eyes flitting from one place to another, her voice never quite capable of thrusting out a full chorus or verse line. Smoky-voiced, guitar-slinging M. Ward proved the more able half of the folk-rock duo (which had a full band and two backup singers onstage), and his own "Magic Trick" made for one of the set's strongest moments.

  • Christopher Victorio
  • Monotonix
There seemed to be an implicit competition all weekend to see which band's frontman could ignite the most dramatic interaction with the crowd, and Monotonix frontman Ami Shalev won it hands down. Picture a half-homeless/half-Poseidon-looking dude trucking his whole band (drummer, guitarist, himself) way, way out into the crowd -- seriously, no one onstage except for gape-jawed security and photographers -- then setting off a fevered garage-rock incantation. Shalev made us all shout "Shalom," made us all sing the chorus to "A Hard Day's Night" a capella, and made us watch while he dumped out a full bag of stinky recycle on his possessed pogoers. Driven away by the garbage fountain, I didn't stick around to watch him force everyone to sit down.

  • Christopher Victorio
  • Broken Social Scene
For a moment early in Broken Social Scene's set, as a few raindrops fell, it seemed we might need all the gear in our bags -- but not for ourselves. Kevin Drew, buried behind a thick scarf and dark shades, implored the crowd to keep his sprawling, exhausted art-rock band warm and happy. "We're at the end of our tour, we're dying," he said. "Don't stop, folks, just give us energy." Demonstrating, perhaps, how long a tour it has been, Brendan Canning threw down one guitar and went through another before finding one that worked. So highlights of the BSS catalog like "7/4 (Shoreline)" and "Fire Eye'd Boy" started off lacking some of the band's massive majesty. But with the crowd warmed up and bobbing happily by the end, "Almost Crimes," and "Forced To Love" felt huge, fast, and satisfying, especially with Drew's candid introductions. ("They force us to love folks," he explained. "We wrote a really upbeat song about it.") All booed when Drew announced the band's exit. "There's no foreplay in this festival," he quipped (and yes, the whole thing proceeded with mechanical orderliness both days). Then he crowd-surfed all the way to the sound tent, and everyone erupted.

  • Christopher Victorio
  • Surfer Blood
Surfer Blood drew a big crowd to the small stage as the daylight faded, and poured out far more energy than when I saw the band a few months ago at Bottom of the Hill. After writing a surprise hit debut, frontman John Paul Pitts is finally stepping into his role as the figurehead of Grunge 2.0. Now let's see if he can write another album of songs that make him worthy of it. (I didn't hear any new material, but I didn't stay for the whole set.) And while covering Pavement can be a dubious proposition, the runaway rock of early gem "Box Elder" suited Surfer Blood well.

  • Christopher Victorio
  • The National
As expected, the National were brooding and dramatic -- and also entertaining and fun. Here was another exhausted band (a couple members told me backstage that they were at the drained end of a tour) that managed to bring it. Charmingly, members could not refrain from mocking each other and themselves. "This is a song that people play at their weddings that is mostly about Matt's dick," one guitarist (I couldn't see which) said while introducing "Slow Show." Frontman Matt Berninger disclaimed this, then appeared to impale himself face-first with his mic stand while stomping around on the monitors singing the song. Dreary balladeers on the outside but weird-ass humorists at heart, the men of the National had packs of indie kids hop-dancing in gleeful circles on the edges of the massive throng. Which was kind of surprising for a band with songs titled "I'm Evil." But even here there was humor. "I was afraid I'd eat your brains," Berninger sang; at the end of the song he quipped: "My wife wrote most of those lyrics. She comes from a long line of cannibals." People loved this.

  • Christopher Victorio
  • Rogue Wave
Festivals come with choices, and last night mine was forsaking Rogue Wave entirely to get within spitting distance of Belle and Sebastian. I do not regret it. In between a few new songs and a brilliant selection of older favorites, Stuart Murdoch and Co. packed their set with delightful quips about San Francisco (you may have heard he has a thing for the place). A dapper-looking Murdoch joked that he "left his hat in San Francisco" (on the J-Church -- and say it out loud with a Scottish accent). He introduced "Piazza, New York Catcher" with a well-received pep-talk about how "the Phillies don't stand a chance" -- and you should have heard the rise from the crowd when the line about San Francisco came up in that quiet number. 

Belle and Sebastian - CHRISTOPHER VICTORIO
  • Christopher Victorio
  • Belle and Sebastian
Later, Murdoch claimed "Sukie in the Graveyard" was about a local art student. ("I forgot how many songs are San Francisco-based," he said.) The you-love-us-and-we-love-you atmosphere continued when Murdoch invited a few crowd members -- including Surfer Blood frontman and B&S fan Pitts -- up to dance onstage for a couple songs. They closed with a couple classics ("Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying" and "Sleep the Clock Around"), and even returned for a precious-to-rock-out take on "Judy and the Dream of Horses" for the encore. They left to a hailing audience. Whatever the weather, it's hard to imagine that anyone who saw that left the second day of Treasure Island disappointed.

  • Christopher Victorio
Critic's Notebook

Quote of the day: The National's Matt Berninger: "Forty-five minutes ago, I was miserable, but now, I'm like, 'Oh, this is great!'"

  • Christopher Victorio
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