Built to Spill, West Indian Girl, DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Au Revoir Simone, Ghostland Observatory, Gotan Project, Spoon, Two Gallants, M.I.A.
Treasure Island Music Festival in San Francisco, CA, September 14th, 2007
Sep 15, 2007
Treasure Island Music Festival
Treasure Island, San Francisco, CA
September 15-16, 2007
Words and Photos by J. Pace
Treasure Island. There it sits in the middle of San Francisco bay. To most of us it's rarely set foot upon, simply driven through, the halfway point on the Bay Bridge. It was built and pirate- and/or Stevenson-named in 1939 as the site of the World's Fair-esque “Golden Gate International Exposition." Since then it's been a lot of things, among them a naval base and site of the Battlebots television show, in which machines battled to a fiery death. Apparently, people live there, too.
For a few days this September it was the site of the first Treasure Island Music Festival, a two-day indie extravaganza. The site was the northwest corner of the island, with a striking view including downtown San Francisco, Alcatraz, and the Bay and Golden Gate bridges. Pretty damned picturesque. We are spoiled here.
Green is the new black. One focus of the festival was to keep the ecological impact to a minimum. The plastic food/drink vehicles were biodegradable, the generators used on-site ran on biodiesel, and spectators were encouraged to take shuttle buses (zero-emission, natch) from San Francisco's AT&T Park. I obliged, and was treated to a quick line and a rather plush bus. A field trip. Passengers had the wide-eyed anticipation of students legitimately missing class.
The site was well planned, if slightly small. It lacked an area where one could really escape from the crowds for a while or simply lay back picnic style without being a stone's throw from the army of porta-podies. “What it lacks in space, it makes up for in beauty," the hipster pelicans flying by seemed to squawk. Other amenities included any number of foods and drink, vendors, art, a ferris wheel, and—most importantly, Galaga. Or rather, a vintage arcade tent featuring at least a few dozen 80s classics, among them a few different Galaga machines. Galaga is a trump card for me, obliterating all resistance, suspending all judgment. They had me at Galaga.
There were two stages at the festival, the Bridge Stage (for the larger acts) and the Tunnel Stage (with better sound and less familiar names). Bands performed back to back essentially, alternating between the two stages. I watched a lot of them in between Galaga games and seven-dollar beers. Here are some highlights.
First you notice the cape. Behind the Rick Wakemanesque wall of synths and digital toys, Thomas Turner tweaked knobs gallantly as his blue cape waved in the ocean breeze. With his vocal range and stage theatrics, singer and sometimes-guitarist Aaron Behrens gives the beats further life, yelping and posing like a modern-day Freddie Mercury. He exudes confidence, and his showmanship is half the appeal of their great live set. Well, that and the cape, which Turner definitely earned later in the set with some tasty filter tweaking. The crowd ate it all up. Dancing occurred.
MIA and her hype girl took the stage by storm, and ran through new stuff and old with equal aplomb. She "usually [does] this shit in the clubs," she quickly pointed out. Didn't seem to disuade her--she had all the spit and swagger you'd expect, and seemed to have a deep admiration for Alcatraz, mentioning it repeatedly. She invited a large chunk of the audience on stage toward the end of her set to dance to “Bird Flu."
West Indian Girl
Los Angeles' West Indian Girl was truly a highlight of day one. They're a nod to the L.A. of yesteryear in a way, like an unabashedly psychedelic yacht rock. I mean that in the best way. Singer Mariqueen Maandig had the crowd rapt. Guitarist Robert James draped each song in a mesmerizing wash of delay. It was breezy, earnest pop of a distinctly West Coast flavor. I went away wanting to hear more.
DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist
DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist did a set using 45s. I overheard a couple arguing behind me about whether or not this was impressive. The set was enjoyable enough, with samples from old records talking about seven-inches, a self-conscious tribute to the format. It made for good standing in the ATM line music, which took up the bulk of their set. I returned in time to see the duo strap on little record players around their waists, doing a goofy scratch-along with Metallica's “One." This was a treat, and in its own way a comment on DJs performing at a gigantic outdoor festival rather than the more dance-friendly, bass-heavy club.
Gotan Project play Tango-infused electronica, with several live instruments, including a violin section, a classical guitarist, and an accordionist with serious chops. Somehow it works quite well, without sounding too much like a late-night Cinemax soundtrack. Gotan were the perfect band for the sunset, and also a great transition from the electronic acts back to the rock instrumentation. It was all very mellow, very smooth, and the visual accompaniment made good use of the giant screen behind the stage (with a few of the earlier bands it seemed like they gave a remote control to a tubby couch surfer). The cover of Michael Jackson's “Billie Jean," complete with the live string action? Golden.
Au Revoir Simone
Au Revoir Simone played early on the second day, and I was glad to have arrived early enough for their set. They play ‘80s flavored synthpop, which is to say ‘00s flavored synthpop, with the three keyboardists/singers Erika Forster, Annie Hart, and Heather D'Angelo lined up center stage. Occasionally each of them would switch to percussion. They did their best to rock out without resorting to any Trent Reznor-style keyboard abuse. That wouldn't suit the music anyway, which definitely chooses light over darkness.
Two Gallants put on a great show. I was somewhat unfamiliar with their music, and also somewhat skeptical with regard to two-piece guitar/drum acts. I always find myself wishing for a bassist, no matter the tone of the guitar. Singer/guitarist Adam Stephens is skilled enough to make up for the lack of bass most of the time, providing both bass and melody on his large hollow body, Tyson Vogel is the breed of explosive drummer that can easily make up for the rest of the space. Their earnest, bluesy balladry suited the mood of the festival well. “Seems Like Home to Me" was transcendent, invoking near silence from the crowd. Stephens' voice in a live setting was remarkably like Rod Stewart's. I'll leave it to you to decide how you feel about that.
M. Ward is one of those artists who relies so much on production to create a mood that you aren't sure what to expect live. What we got was a highlight of the festival. Ward came out looking an awful lot like Dylan, a comparison he must get a lot. He had that same aloof swagger, too, and it really worked. He switched back and forth from guitar to piano as they went through the repertoire, throwing in an extended guitar solo here and there, or bullshitting with the crowd in that otherworldly southern drawl. The final Dylanesque move was simply leaving the piano before the final song and walking off stage. His band finished up and that was that. A great set, and one that has me digging out his albums to get re-acquainted.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
The love ‘em or hate ‘em Clap Your Hands Say Yeah probably didn't make any new fans on Sunday. The sound was off, and the performance was off. They frankly seemed to be phoning it in, with the exception of the most-certainly-not-phoning-it-in Robbie Guertin, aka guitarist/keyboardist stage left, who pogoed up and down the whole time like a maniacal raver. They seemed to pick up some steam toward the end of their set, but even the ladyfriend, a fan, was unimpressed.
Built To Spill
Built To Spill brought the rock. It felt like a relief to have some distorted guitars and drum pounding, frankly, after so much electronic or subdued music. Doug Martsch and the boys have a grab bag of songs from, what, a decade now? Classics were of course heard, like “Car" or “Strange." Doug Martsch, it should be noted, is the most un-rock-star of rock stars. He doesn't look the part, he doesn't bring the attitude, he just brings the volume, the hooks, and the glory of guitar interplay. A highlight to me was a fantastic cover of Brian Eno's “Third Uncle," a great excuse for further guitar worship.
I have yet to see a poor Spoon performance. Everyone has an off night, but man, these guys seem to just always be on-point. Britt Daniel has got to be one of the most consistent vocalists out there. They did plenty of hits off Girls Can Tell, Kill the Moonlight, and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. They had a rare technical difficulty playing the piano intro to “The Ghost of You Lingers," but still pulled it off. Other new tunes seemed meant to be played live, despite the studio-centrism of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. "Cherry Bomb" was particulary killer. They were great as always. A class act.
If you've scrolled down here for some words about Modest Mouse (not to mention Earlimart on the small stage), my sincere apologies. Two days of rock (OK, two days of beer) took its toll, and instincts took over, leading me to the biodiesel bus back to town, and the promise of sweet slumber. I'll leave you with the image of the Treasure Island ferris wheel, and maybe we'll get to do this again next year.
Author rating: 0/10
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