Treasure Island Festival – Day Two

September 30, 2008 · Print This Article

Words and Photographs* by Luke Pimentel, Editor

September 30, 2008

*except where noted

I arrive at the island Sunday, feet and back still sore from the epic marathon of the night before.

My mood is bright, though, because today’s schedule boasts one of the better single-day lineups of any festival this year.  Plus – now that I know my credentials work – I have my full cache of lenses available to capture the action.

Take it away, journal…

12:30 PM-

First up today is Or, the Whale.  They ought to be called Or, the Folksy-Sounding Local Group that Sounds Terrific But Immediately Launches into Song Lyrics About Dead Dogs.  They will set a “folksy” trend which will dominate Tunnel Stage for much of the day.

Or, The Whale.

Or, the Whale.

12:50-

John Vanderslice‘s vocals remind me a lot of Colin Meloy.  In fact, he and his band just plain remind me of The Decemberists, only without much of the folksy (there’s that word again!) pretension that sometimes saddles that band.  There is some nice electric violin work here, and bouncy pop hooks that are waaaay too catchy for a band this early on the schedule.  Perhaps that’s because Vanderslice has been writing and performing for nearly a decade.  Nice set.

One additional observation:  It appears you cannot be a band based in San Francisco if you do not own and operate at least one Moog synthesizer.  Not complainin’, mind you… just observin’.

A Vanderslice of awesome.

1:25-

More sea references, more quasi-folk; Port O’Brien is on Tunnel Stage, working through an entertaining set of very Crazy Horse-esque tunes, down to lead vocalist Van Pierszalowski’s spot-on Neil Young twang.  I doubt Crazy Horse ever had a hot banjo player (Cambria Goodwin) or weird little papier mache figures of Superman lining the stage, though.  (Your guess is as good as mine on that last one.)

Cambria Goodwin of Port O’Brien.

1:55-

On to the straight-ahead guitar-attack rock of Canadians Tokyo Police Club, who open up the once-again excellent sound from the Bridge Stage P.A..  These guys would be awesome on a double-bill with the Arctic Monkeys.

“Why did the scarecrow get rich?” lead singer Dave Monks asks the crowd.  “Because he was excellent in his field!”

Dave Monks just earned a new award:  “Best Horrible Pun of the Weekend.”

Dave Monks of Tokyo Police Club.

2:35-

All the members of The Morning Benders have tagged their instruments with labels reading “Britney Spears”… apparently, in an attempt at ironic humor.  Um… ha-ha?

The Morning Benders.

3:05-

Another shooting star out of the consistently-impressive Austin, TX scene, Okkervil River‘s dynamic stage presence helps offset their sometimes whiny-sounding studio recordings.  Or maybe that’s just Will Sheff’s vocals.  At any rate, Sheff’s lyrics are absorbing and insightful, and there’s no question the dude really brings it onstage.  He also stops briefly to commend the festival: “The staff here has been extremely professional.  We hope you notice the difference.”

Yes, indeed I did.

Will Sheff of Okkervil River brings the passion.

3:50-

As we get into a slew of bands I really adore, it gets harder and harder to walk away from the sets before they’re over.

I barely arrive at Tunnel Stage in time for the start of Fleet Foxes‘ set.  There is a huge crowd waiting for these fast-rising Seattle harmonizers, and they immediately joke it off:   “Wow, all this just for us?  Food booths and everything!  This is amazing.”

Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes.

For such a refined and serious-sounding band, the guys are surprisingly funny and irreverent with their stage banter, conversing freely with people on the front rail while tuning their instruments.

Once the set begins, though, it’s all business, and the band quickly transforms into the somber, dreamy tapestry of folk-pop that has made their debut album so universally adored.  They mix in some newer material that doesn’t really change their core sound, but definitely falls into the “more of a good thing” vein.  Musically – and especially vocally – they do not miss a beat.  I’m thoroughly impressed.

Skye Skjelset of Fleet Foxes.

4:30-

As the heavenly harmonies of “Blue Ridge Mountains” fold into the noise of the crowd, another, equally heaven-sent sound roars to life on the Bridge Stage: A throbbing, cataclysmic passage from “Amazing Grace” carried on the back of searing Fender guitars.  That can only mean that the brilliant Jason Pierce and his space-rocking band Spiritualized have arrived.

Doggen of Spiritualized.

Anyone familiar with Pierce – or the seminal 1997 classic Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space – knows about Pierce’s drug use and propensity for living on the edge.  After nearly succumbing to double-pneumonia in 2005, Pierce enlisted the help of filmmaker Harmony Korine to resurrect several tunes he had been working on before the illness.  The result was this year’s Songs in A&E – named after the “Accident and Emergency Ward” of the Royal London Hospital, where Pierce was treated – and one of my very favorite albums of 2008.

Spiritualized’s set is a tour-de-force of Gospel-inflected, shoegaze drone-driven glory, careening effortlessly from the jaw-dropping grandeur of “Shine a Light” to the translucent frailty of “Death, Take Your Fiddle,” then back again to the immense, driving “Come Together.”

Pierce – wearing the T-shirt of another hard-living singer, Roky Erickson – stands perfectly still throughout the set, eyes closed, wind whistling across his microphone, as if possessed or in bipedal repose.  Snapping pictures from the pit, even I can’t help but be transfixed at the spectacle.

The set is too short – and would be better served by the cover of night – but even so, it’s probably my favorite single performance of the weekend.  Simply amazing.

Ladies and gentlemen, Jason Pierce is owning the Bridge Stage.

5:15-

Well!  After that, anything else will seem pretty anticlimactic.

The unfortunate moppers-up of the puddle that is me are The Dodos, another local band, who do a surprisingly swell job of recharging my batteries with their up-tempo, swampy stomp rock while swinging their guitars against the rapidly sinking sun.

New award: “Best Backlighting of the Weekend.”

5:55-

Screaming young women – and at least a few screaming young men – indicate the MTV crossover success of Vampire Weekend as they take the Bridge Stage for a solid, lighthearted set.

Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend.

Filled to the brim with willfully obscure references to African music – which inevitably lead to copious comparisons to Paul Simon’s Graceland – the song performances here haven’t changed much from their studio counterparts… but then again, why change a great thing?

While the band’s preppiness sometimes annoys me, their talent is undeniable.  And they play a wonderful, violin-free version of “M79″, one of the catchiest tunes released by any band in recent memory.

Chris Baio of Vampire Weekend.

6:40-

The final sunset is upon us.  As deep exhaustion sets in, the scribbles in my notebook are fast becoming a form of pidgin hieroglyphics that even I cannot decipher.

Philadelphians Dr. Dog do their damnedest to keep me awake at Tunnel Stage.  I find out later they played the Lebowski Fest – dedicated to all things The Big Lebowski- in 2007, and my opinion of them rises slightly.

Toby Leaman of Dr. Dog.

7:25-

Much of Tegan and Sara‘s set is taken up by banter, the topics ranging from premature ejaculation to bondage to the movie The Lost Boys. (Don’t ask.)  This earns them the esteemed mantel of “Best Stage Banter of the Weekend.”

The only other time I’ve seen them was at the acoustic Bridge School Benefit, and I have to admit, I like them a lot better plugged in.  Plus, they gave me the shot below, my favorite of the weekend.

Tegan Quin of Tegan and Sara.

8:20-

Darkness has fallen, and this great, crazy weekend is almost at its end.

The final act to grace Tunnel Stage is post-punk duo The Kills, a cross-continental teaming of vocalist Alison Mosshart and guitarist Jamie Hince.  They are so minimal they don’t even play with a drum kit, instead drawing their beats from a drum machine, and most of their energy from Mosshart’s sultry, think-twice-before-sleeping-with-this-one vocals.

Alison Mosshart of The Kills.

They are fun, if a bit derivative of another famous minimalist rock duo, the founder of which is waiting on the Bridge Stage for the final performance of the festival.

9:05-

I learn that Sunday’s event has sold out, largely due to the star power of The Raconteurs, arguably the festival’s marquee name.  The presence of Jack White III and Brendan Benson certainly has the festival organizers’ panties in a bunch; the band has asked all the photographers to sign waivers before stepping into the photo pits, which means, consequently, I cannot share my pictures of them here with you.

Jack Lawrence of The Raconteurs.  Raconteurs photographs by Josh Withers, courtesy of Treasure Island Music Festival.

The crowd erupts as the band enters to the admittedly White Stripes-sounding “Salute Your Solution”, off the excellent 2008 “surprise” release Consolers of the Lonely.  Two songs later, they fulfill my fondest wishes by busting out a superb, deliberately-paced version the haunted ballad “Blue Veins.”

Brendan Benson of The Raconteurs.  Raconteurs photographs by Josh Withers, courtesy of Treasure Island Music Festival.

From there, the set steams through great tune after great tune – including a brilliant extended jam of “Steady as She Goes” – but I’ve run out of poetic adjectives and adverbs with which to describe them all.  Suffice to say that my first time seeing The Racs. live fulfills all my expectations, and then some.

Jack White III’s guitar.  Raconteurs photographs by Josh Withers, courtesy of Treasure Island Music Festival.

By the time the encore wraps up with the great trailer trash story song “Carolina Drama”, there are not many people left on the festival grounds.  But, really, who can be blamed?  It’s Sunday night, 10:20 P.M., and a long, bleary-eyed day of work awaits the partied-out citizens of SF.

It’s been a Helluva weekend.  I look forward to returning next year, but in the meantime, a few hours’ sleep and a good back massage will come in real handy.

For more information on the Treasure Island Music Festival, please visit www.treasureislandfestival.com.

Comments

One Response to “Treasure Island Festival – Day Two”

  1. Hazelle on December 3rd, 2008 5:23 pm

    FYI, the 3 Raconteurs photos are credited to Josh Withers.

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