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Monday, October 15, 2012

Treasure Island 2012 Review: Good Bands Versus Great Weather

Posted By on Mon, Oct 15, 2012 at 8:41 AM

The xx at Treasure Island Sunday night. - CHRISTOPHER VICTORIO
  • Christopher Victorio
  • The xx at Treasure Island Sunday night.

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."

See also:

* Slideshow: Scenes From Treasure Island 2012

* Slideshow: The People of Treasure Island Festival 2012

Divine Fits in front of a gorgeous backdrop on Sunday evening. - CHRISTOPHER VICTORIO
  • Christopher Victorio
  • Divine Fits in front of a gorgeous backdrop on Sunday evening.

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.


  • Christopher Victorio

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.

  • Christopher Victorio

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.

  • Christopher Victorio

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.


  • Christopher Victorio

Ty Segall slays the serenity

Playing a midafternoon set on the smaller stage, S.F. rocker Ty Segall drew a sweaty, younger crowd up close to get rowdy as he and his band decimated tracks from their ferocious fuzz-garage albums. He also inspired the first crowd-surfing of the entire festival. Performers on the Tunnel stage had the festival's city views as their backdrop, which was sometimes distracting, but the low-key Segall played it cool. "I live over there, by the other bridge," Segall said, pointing out toward the Golden Gate. Then he gestured again, apparently toward the Mission: "Everybody else lives over there." Segall played what felt like a longish set, flush with highlights from 2010's Melted and this year's bone-crushing Slaughterhouse, which was recorded with the same band he brought to Treasure Island. (Segall plays all the instruments himself on most of his records.) A mosphit raged throughout. It was great to see this local luminary finally get his due with a prominent festival slot.

  • Christopher Victorio
  • Los Campesinos!

Los Campesinos! relish the view

This sprawling indie pop crew had a rather different reaction to the views than Segall did: They were openly gobsmacked the entire time. Singer Gareth Campesinos would turn away from the crowd and sing to the city during more agitated parts of certain songs, and seemed generally in disbelief at the backdrop as the band worked through its moaning, heart-wrenching songs. "The sea in the UK does not look like this and this is a song about the sea in the UK," Gareth mused, as the band went into "The Sea Is a Good Place to Think of the Future." The contrast between the band's ultra-melancholy, confessional songs and the lovely setting was sharp, but it worked. There are edges of joy -- or at least, joyful release -- in many of these tunes, and that, coupled with the band's sense of humor ("Approximately 65 percent of you are wearing sunglasses -- it looks like some cyborg attack") made for one of the most exciting sets of the afternoon. The band tweeted later that it was the finest festival they'd played all summer.

  • Christopher Victorio
  • M83

M83 takes us on a nighttime journey

A lot can change in a year, which is about how long M83 has been on tour promoting its breakthrough double album, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming. We didn't love their last show at the Fillmore, but the band's Treasure Island set was without a doubt one of the best of the weekend -- an electrifying, light-spraying dance party that probably should've closed out the night instead of merely warming up the crowd for the Gossip and the xx. Once Anthony Gonzalez and his band got going, they took the crowd on a soaring, high-energy trip through many of the best songs from the latest album, as well as a few older highlights. Between Girl Talk and Porter Robinson on Saturday, we'd already heard recorded versions of "Midnight City" a couple of times at Treasure Island. But of course it sounded bigger and sleeker when M83 played it live, with an extended sax solo and huge projections of nighttime city views on a screen behind the stage. In the right place, M83 live can be a revelation, and Treasure Island on Sunday night was definitely the right place.

Other notes

  • Christopher Victorio
  • Girl Talk

Girl Talk showed off a bunch of new material on Saturday night, with new mixes including Adele's "Rollin' in the Deep," Gaga's "Bad Romance," and New Order's "Blue Monday" -- along with fiery visuals. The surprises helped enliven what can be a formulaic set, if you've seen it before, and we're curious to hear how the new combos sound on a recording.

  • Christopher Victorio
  • The xx

The xx: Both headliners sounded excellent on their respective nights, but the xx truly presented all the delicate intimacy of their albums to the sprawling Sunday crowd. We still think they should've played before M83, given the vast gulf in energy levels between the two acts. The xx even seemed to try to make things as mellow as possible, running through all of "Crystalized" without the song's beat ever dropping. But for the adorers in the crowd -- and there were many -- they were no doubt a pleasure.

Critic's Notebook

Random thought: Treasure Island is the only festival in the world, we're guessing, where the sails of a boat will peek up randomly behind the stage, in the middle of, say, a Toro Y Moi set. And that's just fine.

The crowd: Was much, much more bro-heavy than we expected. Treasure Island is normally a gathering of the hipsterati from both sides of the Bay, but this weekend saw a heavy contingent of Marina types on the island. No matter how skinny the drunk people's jeans are, though, they'll still happily talk over any set that they aren't completely into.

See also:

* Slideshow: Scenes From Treasure Island 2012

* Slideshow: The People of Treasure Island Festival 2012

-- @iPORT

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Ian S. Port


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