Treasure Island sits halfway between two very different cities, San Francisco and Oakland, in San Francisco Bay. It’s got a fairy tale name and offers gorgeous views of the city, but is also home to undocumented amounts of radioactive waste. It can be blazingly hot during the day; hot enough that people will squish single-file into the shadows of palm trees for a little shade. But as soon as the sun starts to set, the wind picks up and your teeth start to chatter. Like the island itself, the Treasure Island Music Festival, now in its eighth year, can be a bit bipolar. On Saturday, the crowds danced; on Sunday they rocked. They met performers with either lukewarm ambivalence, or ecstatic uproar. The sound could be crystal clear, a perfect mix of vocals and drums that flew across the island, or a perplexing mess (one that left Janelle Monáe unaware that her vocals were only coming through her monitors, even as thousands of fans were waving her to stop). It’s a festival that embodies West Coast tranquility: legions of concertgoers snoozing on blankets– yet in the blink of an eye you may find yourself surrounded by seething hordes, and then the festival is in full swing.
Saturday’s lineup was heavy on grooves, both those that turned fans into lethargic zombies, like XXYYXX, and made them dance like a 400 watt current was running through their bodies, like Zedd and Jungle, whose Talking Heads meets gospel tunes were received with much love. MØ found brilliant middle ground between the two, energizing her sun-scorched fans with her alternately raspy and fluid voice that surged forward on a sea of rumbling, pinging, pounding percussion. Wearing an eye patch, she danced like a crazed marionette doll, never standing still for more than a moment.MØ (photo: Jason Paladino)
Yet it was the two acts that bookended Saturday’s lineup that proved to be both most captivating, and most separate from the dance-heavy vibes. The festival began at high noon with San Francisco’s psych-pop group Painted Palms, one of only two Bay Area bands on the bill (more on the other later). As early arrivals started to find comfortable spots in the trees and the limited shade, Painted Palms treated fans to cuts from their recent record Forever. The project of cousins Chris Prudhomme and Reese Donohue, the lineup now includes the jazz-trained drummer Shaun Lowecki and bassist Patrick Jeffords. Arpeggiated keyboards snaked back and forth across the speakers as Prudhomme’s voice arced high above on tracks like “Hypnotic.” Lowecki pummeled the drums in open-handed style, his slicked-back hair flying everywhere, while Donohue added thunderous cloudbursts of noise, finding a balance between Animal Collective’s sonic wilderness and 60s pop. Even without a huge crowd, the set was a big moment for Donohue, who told me with a big smile, “I used to sell beer in a concession stand during the festival… It’s so cool to be on the other side now.”Chris Prudhomme, Shaun Lowecki, Reese Donohue and Patrick Jeffords of Painted Palms (photo: Jason Paladino)
Hours later, fans were packing the field for Outkast and the temperature had dropped drastically. The city skyline, just a vague blur during the day, became a maze of lights. As St. Lucia played the last of their infectious dance-pop, across the island the crowds began to roar. Despite reports that the reunion tour has been lackluster (an argument bolstered by André’s recent claim in the New York Times, “I really don’t actually get anything from performing”), Andre and Big Boi had the crowd in the palm of their hand from the intro to ‘B.O.B.’ There’s nothing more awkward than when someone says, “Put your hands in the air!” and no one does. There’s not much more triumphant at a festival when someone yells, “Put your hands in the air!” and suddenly the stage is lost in a sea of arms.
Sunday found the laptops mostly replaced by guitars, sometimes sneaking into the most unexpected places. While opening act Cathedrals’ recent self-titled EP is heavy on synthesizers, guitarist Johnny Hwin blasted the crowd with blistering distortion and murmuring effects. Even though this was the San Francisco group’s first festival, vocalist Brodie Jenkins prowled the enormous stage like she had been doing it for years. The stage-wide video feed behind her wasn’t even needed: she can already give a performance that feels larger than life.Brodie Jenkins and Johnny Hwin of Cathedrals (photo: Jason Paladino)
Bleached and the Growlers brought a heavy dose of surf rock to the afternoon; the former blending echo-y vocals into the mix and the latter creating a glorious carnival of merriment featuring hype man DMTina, who surfed into the crowd on a guitar case. Bleach-blonde singer Brooks Nielsen performed like an arthritic scarecrow, with one hand on his heart, reminding us that theatrics aside, he wasn’t completely joking around. Later, the New Pornographers played cuts from Brill Bruisers with impeccable precision, yet they could have benefitted from a bit of those theatrics; you couldn’t help but feel that A.C. Newman and co. would have rather been doing their taxes. Sunday also featured stellar performances from TV on the Radio, Chet Faker and Icelandic crooner Asgeir. TVOTR’s Tunde Adibimpe howled through classics like ‘Young Liars’ and ‘Wolf Like Me’ with unexpected urgency; mixing in a handful of new tracks that sounded more like Fleetwood Mac than Return to Cookie Mountain. Chet Faker provided the perfect sunset soundtrack, the frantic Ferris wheel next to the stage slowing down as the pulsing bass filled the entire island, prompting one guy halfway across the festival grounds to exclaim “YES!” so loudly that his girlfriend had to restrain him. Asgeir played a set full of small-scale grandeur in various shades of Bon Iver; his cover of Nirvana’s “Heart-shaped Box” was perfectly weird and unexpected.Chet Faker (photo: Jason Paladino)
Yet nothing came close to the fervor of alt-J. Even though they weren’t last on the bill, it was clear that this was their night. Having taken the summer off from festivals, the four-piece seemed just as giddy as their army of adoring fans to bring This is All Yours to the big stage. Thom Green’s snare rang out like the crack of a rifle, adding depth to songs that felt a bit flimsy on the new record. Guitars chimed with perfect clarity, and Joe Newman sang pitch perfect; allowing the crowd to take over a couple of times, but not too much. At the end of their hour-long set, with the final churning chorus of ‘Breezeblocks,’ Treasure Island hit its euphoric peak. For that beautiful moment, all of the festival’s polarities evaporated, and everyone was finally on the same page.
Photos by Jason Paladino (@jason_paladin0)