A Treasure Indeed - By Volume

I'm afraid of heaven because I can't stand the height. I'm afraid of you because I can't be left behind. St. Vincent - Regret

A Treasure Indeed

Our recap of Sunday’s Treasure Island Music Festival.

Author: on October 23, 2014
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Nestled almost exactly half-way in between Oakland and SF in the San Francisco Bay is a man-made island that houses a small town, multiple ex-military bases and a pretty-fucking-large marina. Treasure Island was built to hold a World’s Fair exposition in the late 1930s, and subsequently was converted into a Naval base during WWII. Eventually it was decommissioned in 1997, with the military buildings converted to fire fighter training stations and an enormous winery. As seems to be the case with most gigantic, open fields in the Bay Area: if there’s space enough for a giant festival, it shall be thrown.

Treasure Island is no different and conveniently enough there’s a big, open field on the west side of the island that offers not only enough space for multiple stages, but also gives you a gorgeous view of San Francisco across the Bay. Perfect setting for a music festival? Yes, definitely. And during a weekend in the middle of October, just as summer comes to a close, the Treasure Island Music Festival takes over the island, causing the daily population to influx as a slew of top-class acts perform for around 70,000 people. While it’s certainly not the cheapest festival in existence, in an area that boasts a number of excellent cheap-to-free street fairs and music fests, it’s the lineup, the setting, and the care put into Treasure Island that make it one of the Bay Area’s better ways to cap off the summer festival circuit. Oh, and there’s a Ferris Wheel.

Headlining the proceedings this year were Outkast and Massive Attack — each presumably getting raucous in the darkness, with amazing light shows to back-up their string of classic hits and solid album cuts. I say presumably because, well, I was only able to make it to the second day of Treasure Island this year and, unfortunately missed Outkast, Janelle Monae,  and a handful more of oh-shit-really artists on Saturday. Most of that day was spent comforting myself with the assumption that I could, in no way, see all of these acts and, at some point, would have to choose between two artists that I had come out there to see.

Thing with Treasure Island is, they have scheduled the acts to stagger between the two stages, so as a band wraps on one, another group is already set to go on the other stage. This isn’t terribly unique, sure, but the stage crew pull off the switch impressively quick and, how the grounds are organized, you can hear both stages, clear and loudly from nearly anywhere at Treasure Island. So when I say I missed everyone on Saturday, I missed fucking everyone, not least Kast. That being said, Sunday still boasted an excellent lineup featuring the aforementioned Massive Attack, TV On The Radio, The New Pornographers, Washed Out, Alt-J, Banks, White Denim and Poliça. It was not a wasted afternoon in the slightest.


Treasure Island’s view of the Bay.

Getting to Treasure Island is a surprisingly easy (and terribly efficient) task. Shuttle busses are sent out to the SF Civic Center and retrieve concert goers, take them to the island and then subsequently drop them off later. These no-emissions behemoths are frighteningly comfortable (and are also a choice place to sip a quick pre-concert beer) and the fact that this transport is included with your ticket fee speaks endless praise for how easy and attendee-friendly Treasure Island is. You could also nab a parking pass or take the BART over depending on your proximity to the island, but those shuttles are invitingly convenient.

Musical acts aside and the ease with which you can have your ass carted to Treasure Island notwithstanding, it’s not a very cost-friendly excursion. Yes, most massive festivals of any kind won’t be easy on your pocket – but there’s a direct difference between offering up goods at a slightly higher premium, and gauging the wallets of those locked in a gated field on an island for twelve hours a day. I won’t say Treasure Island is the worst, because it isn’t. The quality of the food is excellent (extremely similar to that of Outside Lands) even if you’re stuck paying exorbitant amounts to chow down. The staff were also incredibly nice and kept the grounds look nearly spotless throughout the day and night. Bathrooms were an ease to access, with the general public’s restrooms having much more leisurely admission than the VIP space bathrooms – yet another thing that TI has in common with its big sibling in Golden Gate Park. Though the comparisons end there, really, as Treasure Island boasts a completely different vibe than Outside Lands. It’s less congested, yet still feels huge (70,000 people is 70,000 people). But, because of the location, there’s this feeling of being off on some adventure of sorts, trekking out over the sea to experience a weekend filled with a great music.

In missing Outkast I effectively shot the fourteen year old me in the foot and kind of laughed in his face like: “Hah! Kid! You know nothing of adult problems.” Like somehow that would ease the pain of missing out on one of my desert-island-album artists. In spite of these clearly deep personal wounds, there was plenty reason to soldier on and hit up the island for a bright and sunny hot-as-fuck day of music. The New Pornos were playing, and beyond their general greatness, were riding the wave of a great new record. As such, they spent most of their set time playing tracks from Brill Bruisers, opening their day with the LP’s title track to rile up the midday crowd. Following Banks and The Growlers sets before them, we needed a little adrenaline injection, and the Porno’s set was pitch perfect for this. Dan Bejar walked around stage, beer in hand, and wailed out “War on the East Coast”, while sipping some Merlot to Neko Case belting “Champions of Red Wine” was a nice coincidence of life. It also helps that the song is one of the Pornos best, and translates to a live setting as well as most of their music does – or exceptionally. “Dancehall Domine” and “Fantasy Fools” capped off their Brill Bruiser’s showcase that afternoon, but it was their final song that really invigorated the crowd (and myself) to an enormous uproar. We heard the bass drum drop, those flighty chords float past and then the keys started to flow: they broke into “Bleeding Hearts Show” and we all lost it.

Chet Faker followed up next on the Tunnel Stage as we made our way over to the Silent Frisco (or, you know, disco) to check out Bit Funk. Sadly, the line for the gated-off area was long, winding, and annoying. Which is unfortunate as everyone under that tented-roof and looked like they were having the greatest time. Multiple checks throughout the rest of the night reaped similar ends – long lines, lack of headphones, yet all participants are having a blast. Good on TI for including this showcase for DJs at their festival – shitty that if you don’t show up early to camp the whole day, you probably won’t get a chance to enjoy it.

We could forget about the Silent Frisco though, as TV On The Radio were soon taking their places on the Bridge Stage, set to perform as the sun began to set over the Bay. They opened with “Young Liars”, followed that with “Golden Age” and then “Blues From Down Here” before breaking into one of their Seeds singles “Happy Idiot”. Adebimpe and Kyp Malone still sound as vibrant as ever, their voices towering, whether they’re singing in more guttural mid-range octaves or belting out in their angelic falsettos. The band too, are still one of the best the US has to offer and their years of touring and making music together bleeds through their live performances as nothing but pure gusto. “Careful You”, “Could You” and “Trouble” rounded off their lineup from Seeds and speaking as a giddy little fan: these songs sound amazing. They were guitar-driven rockers, and at least live, sound remarkably different from TVotR’s past material. “Dancing Choose” was shoehorned into the middle of the aforementioned trio, and while it was excellent, it felt weird juxtaposed with the Seeds tunes. All was made well then they played “Wolf Like Me”, which is still probably their best song and is still as invigorating, scary and gorgeous as it was the first time I heard it.

Poliça and Alt-J followed, on the Tunnel then Bridge stages, respectively. Both synthpop bands but beyond that, there isn’t much comparisons to be made between them – save that they both killed it. Poliça are a five-piece from Minneapolis who create deep-bass(y) synth-pop with an ear for beautiful melodies. Also helps that lead singer Channy Leaneagh sounds damn good live – her voice has an earthy gruff, yet feels incredibly effervescent nonetheless. The songs boast distinct grooves and feel just different enough from their album-cut counterparts to keep Poliça extremely entertaining.

Alt-J, while similarly talented, were a different beast all together. The Leeds-based band were all class on stage, keeping their front lighting low, movement minimum, allowing their back-light show to overtake the crowd and wash over them along with their melodic tunes. “Fitzpleasure” and “Matilda” were gorgeous, “Tessellate” was a blast, while “Breezeblocks” was a perfect way to end their set. Joe Newman graced us with praise as an audience (as to be expected, but he was sweet) and the band in general spent most of their time trying to stuff as much music as possible into their allotted timeslot. Gracious and talented, I’m certain Alt-J won themselves a horde of new fans that afternoon – myself included.

Ernest Greene took the Tunnel Stage that night around 8:30 and beyond being a particularly laid back act to precede Massive Attack’s headlining gig, but I’ve always felt that Washed Out were more a daytime band. Oh, how wonderful it is to be wrong sometimes. Greene and the band broke out into “It All Feels Right” well after the sun had gone down and never before have I been this surprised by a light show. Washed Out’s rigged setup was amazing, washing the band in light purples, deep pinks and reds and firey yellows and oranges – the Tunnel stage had previously housed some decent light setups, but at least on Sunday, no one used the tools to their fullest until Washed Out took the stage.

Greene was his usual polite, eloquent self, stuffing in hits like “Feel It All Around”, “Amor Fati” and “Eyes Be Closed” with lesser-known but celebrated cuts “You and I” or “New Theory”. His voice, wispy yet hearty as always, allowing himself to float in and out of the band’s warbling melodies. He’s also much, much easier to understand in person, as his whispers on record take to the sky in live format, allowing Washed Out to truly leave that bedroom he wrote his first EP in years ago. They’ve been this new band for a while now, but it’s nice to see them hitting their full stride after a few years of touring together. If you get the chance to see Ernest Greene in the future, don’t skip out.

To close Treasure Island Massive Attack took to the Bride Stage, lights cut and nothing but the rumble of idle lights and speakers could be heard. Then, through the darkness, 3D’s voice cuts, his comforting, albeit nasally tone welcomes us to the final set of the weekend as he implores us to enjoy what’s about to happen. Safe to say, we all did.

They opened their set with the first of 3D’s solo Battle Box singles, aptly titled “Battle Box 001”, which conveniently enough featured Martina Topley-Bird, who happened to be with them this night. Getting any of Massive Attack’s guest vocalists to hit the road with them seems a bit far fetched at this point. Firstly: there’s a shit ton of them, and secondly: the band have been around for a while at this point. One would assume they could just be tired from years of MA-related work, plus their own solo careers. Thankfully, once more, I was wrong, and had it not been for a botched flight from Jamaica, we would have also been graced with the presence of Horace Andy and his immaculate pipes. Thankfully though, Topley-Bird, 3D and Daddy G were enough to hold down nearly the entire set (save some last minute appearances from Tunde Adebimpe and Deborah Miller) and crushed classics like “Risingson”, “Teardrop”, “Inertia Creeps” and “Angel”.

To most of the crowd’s delight, Massive Attack kept a good portion of their set list attuned to their older albums, Mezzanine in particular. Had Andy actually been able to make it, they could have performed the entire record, and I doubt anyone would have been disappointed. Capping off their set with the amazing Blue Lines opener “Safe From Harm” and then Heligoland standout “Pray For Rain”, Massive Attack juxtaposed two of their finest songs. One from the birthing of their talent, and the next a late career victory lap the helped prove Massive Attack were more than just their early guest vocalists – they can, in fact, translate that commanding studio talent to any brilliant voice willing to work. Adebimpe coming on stage to close Treasure Island with Massive Attack was a perfect image for the festival – the communal feeling Treasure Island is trying to instill back into the massive weekend festival is real from the attendees all the way up to the headlining acts. But, for me, hearing Topley-Bird sing “Teardrop” and then Miller coming out to flat-out destroy “Safe From Harm” (her voice is still impeccable) were all I needed from Treasure Island to get my fill. Thankfully, there’s so much more to this great festival that I was able to ignore the bright, newly singed hole in my pocket in lieu of excellent music and an even better concert atmosphere. Good on y’all Treasure Island, I will be back again if I can.

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