Treasure Island Festival ’09: Day One
October 25, 2009 · Print This Article
It’s only three years old, but San Francisco’s Treasure Island Music Festival has already carved a unique niche in a musical landscape overburdened with festival events of all shapes and sizes. Utilizing a combination of unparalleled scenic beauty and savvy organization, promoters Noise Pop and Another Planet Entertainment have managed to make Treasure Island the standard-bearer for the so-called “boutique” music event. It’s the kind of festival even festival haters like me can rally behind.
After a very successful 2008 event, I returned to the island recently for my third go-round. I found the crowds bigger, the security tighter, and the acts – The Flaming Lips, The Decemberists, Grizzly Bear – ever more illustrious in stature.
Thankfully, none of that diminished the festival’s intimate feel or happy vibe. It’s still a festival where the only sponsor is beer (Heineken), the principal attraction aside from the music is a Ferris wheel, and artists can regularly be spotted milling about with the audience; Sunday afternoon I ran into none other than legendary Husker Du frontman Bob Mould, lugging his own guitar to the stage like some 19 year-old indie punker.
In short, this festival only continues to get better.
Here is my journal for Saturday, which focused on electronica and dance music.
I arrive at the festival grounds a bit late, having not expected so many people so early; I later learn that both days have sold out in advance, the first time that’s happened.
For ’08, I shot and reported on every act that hit the festival’s two stages. I’m forgoing that this year in favor of exploring the festival grounds a bit, and perhaps hearing a bit more of the acts I’m most excited about.
Right now, positive tip rapper Murs is working the main stage, called Bridge Stage. He’s so positive tip that at one point he asks the guys shooting live video how they’re doing. His raps are solid, and he’s one of the best banterers to hit the stage all weekend, at one point proclaiming, “Music is free! Steal everything! F*ck it! Make some noise for free sh*t!”
For that statement, anyway, actual noise is made.
Some loud feedback squalls punctuate an otherwise placid collection of guitar-based songs from Argentine singer-songwriter Federico Aubele on the smaller Tunnel Stage. I will later see Aubele get chased around the food booths for pictures by a throng of gawking young ladies.
I need to work on my guitar playing and South American-ness. Also, I need to be eleven years younger.
The volume and ardor of the crowd waiting for Passion Pit is rather jarring; there are at least two full-on chants for the band before the set begins, and their decibel level rivals anything I heard at last year’s event. If this is what it’s like early in the day, I can’t imagine what things will be like tonight.
PP have great stage presence, but to me, they sound like pretty standard indie dance filler; no doubt they are future soundtrack darlings to a movie featuring Michael Cera and/or Jesse Eisenberg. The crowd sure eats it up, though… what the Hell do I know?
As I’m setting up for Dan Deacon, some guy in a Pittsburgh Pirates cap begins crowd surfing. Suddenly, he barrels over my head and bounds onto the stage, giving the smiling Deacon a bear hug.
I later find out this dude is, in fact, none other than Greg Gillis, AKA Girl Talk, who will be headlining the Tunnel Stage in a few hours.
Deacon’s stage presence is refreshingly bereft of mystique; he’s a guy who strongly resembles your favorite over-enthusiastic counselor from summer camp. Clad in a Steve Young 49ers jersey and sporting a pair of enormous librarian’s glasses, Deacon certainly behaves like a camp counselor, too.
Between slabs of candied noise featuring distorted chipmunk vocals and a fourteen-piece band of percussionists, guitar players and dancing guys in orange capes, Deacon orchestrates elaborate pieces of audience participation, including a dance contest and “human tunnel”, that leave everyone within sight of the Tunnel Stage smiling. The joyous confection is one of the highlights of the weekend for me.
Britain’s The Streets – AKA rapper Michael Skinner – has achieved chart-topping success in his homeland, but is relatively unknown here in the States. Maybe that’s because British rap sounds positively quaint by the standards of the hardline killing-and-whoring stuff that abuses subwoofers daily throughout this country. Still, Skinner is obviously skilled at what he does, and it’s nice to see a larger and more diverse selection of hip-hop at this year’s festival.
While most performers pander to the locals by badmouthing L.A. – a tactic this local has zero problems with, I might add – Skinner makes the interesting move of starting a fight with valley neighbors Sacramento instead.
I personally have no quarrel with my friends in SacTown, but there’s a first time for everything.
When was the last time you heard Jungle being spun by a DJ? Okay, back up – when was the last time you heard a whole set of Jungle being spun by a DJ? That’s what DJ Krush provides us during his 45 minutes at the Tunnel Stage, working out the bass stacks with a constant throb of percussive beats, through which occasionally come the downtuned, Quaalude specter vocals of classic rock tracks like The Eagles’ “Hotel California”.
In a surreal bit of serendipity, the video screen across the field is playing footage of classic video games – Mario and Zelda, the stuff I played as a kid – at the same time.
It’s not the oldest I’ll feel during the weekend, but it comes close.
The name “Brazilian Girls“ would appear to be more of a preference than a literal description, as none of the members of this New York-based band are from Brazil, and only one of them is a girl. The girl would be Italian-born vocalist Sabina Sciubba, who dominates the Bridge Stage for the next hour with her considerable charisma.
The band behind her has perfected a sort of Euro art scuzz sound, exacerbated by songs with names like “P*ssy” (basically just the words “p*ssy” and “marijuana” sung over and over again) and “Sexy Asshole”. Sciubba’s alternately sultry and playful banter ices the cake; “Do you like my accent?” she purrs, as she struts across the stage in semi-transparent silk leggings with a gigantic hypno-heart bullseye attached to her chest.
Why, yes. Yes I do.
I pass up LTJ Bukem to get some food; typical carnival fare, but unpretentious, and reasonably priced as compared to most festivals. Quick plug for Spicy Pie‘s spicy pie, which is so wrong for your stomach, but so very good for your taste buds…
Let the insanity begin. The median age for this evening is roughly nineteen years old, and they’ve all ingested plenty of liquid and chemical courage by this point. I’m beginning to see that frenzied, wild-eyed look that makes me both envious and a tad uneasy.
Remix maestros MSTRKRFT are the perfect soundtrack for this environment; between their flashing strobes and savage house beats, Jesse Keeler and Al-P (Alex Puodziukas) can be seen indulging in smokes and swigs from a full bottle of Crown Royal. In a nice callback to last year’s headliners, part of their set includes an extended remix of Justice tune “D.A.N.C.E.”.
The biggest crowd I’ve ever seen assembled for a set at Tunnel Stage is waiting for Greg Gillis, AKA Girl Talk, the same guy who anonymously surfed over my head earlier in the afternoon.
Gillis has quickly become the new face of the D.J. with his virtuoso mash-ups, all done on laptop, combining peerless mixing and editing skill with highly questionable legal ethics.
I’ve long wondered how Gillis’s stage show – essentially a one-man operation – would translate over to live performance. Turns out, it translates with lots of crowd members dancing on stage, toilet paper blowers, and fireworks. Yes, fireworks – lots of them, and big ones.
Between antics, Gillis drops a litany of mixes and mashes, some of them new, some of them familiar from his albums Night Ripper and Feed the Animals. They reference everything from Pixies to Tears for Fears to Nirvana to Michael Jackson, in any bizarre and brilliant number of combinations. It’s a heck of a party, and I’m bummed that I only get to be in the middle of it for three songs. Next time, it’ll be me crowd surfing.
As far as I’m concerned, Gillis may as well have been the headliner, as I’m no big fan of the actual headliner, megahyped synth poppers MGMT. Treasure Island is their last gig for the foreseeable future, and the band announces that to celebrate, they’re going to perform their major-label debut, Oracular Spectacular, all the way through.
I wish I could say this has me excited, but it doesn’t. I snap a few pictures, listen to a few of the hits – “ “Time to Pretend”, “Kids”, etc. – then split, as a warm seat on the shuttle bus back to the mainland is more appealing than the prospect of dying of boredom. Apparently, I am not the only one who feels this way; the shuttle lines are packed far beyond anything I’ve yet experienced at this festival, and it takes a good long while before I’m actually on a shuttle and moving over the Bay Bridge.
Tomorrow, we ride into Indie Rock Land. It’s a more familiar environ for me, and the strength of the lineup has me excited about the performances to come.
- Words and Photographs by Luke Pimentel, Editor
For more information on Treasure Island Music Festival, please visit http://treasureislandfestival.com.