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Treasure Island Music Festival Rocks The Bay Area

Seema Vennam |
October 20, 2011 | 4:43 p.m. PDT



The 5th annual Treasure Island Music Festival was this past weekend in the Bay Area. 

Ferris wheel at Treasure Island Music Festival (creative commons)
Ferris wheel at Treasure Island Music Festival (creative commons)

The festival takes place every year on Treasure Island, a largely abandoned artificial island between San Francisco and Oakland.  

Each year it draws some major acts in the independent music scene, and this year was no exception, bringing in artists such as Death Cab for Cutie, Explosions in the Sky, Chromeo, and Cut Copy, among others.  One notable characteristic of the festival is that it never books the same act twice.

Saturday was a non-stop dance party.  The lineup catered to electro fans and naturally brought the ravers out in full force.  Festival-goers proved their commitment by wearing almost nothing more than glowsticks and furry boots, despite the frigid temperature and chilly wind coming off of the Bay.

Yacht put on an energetic show on Saturday afternoon.  Front-woman Claire Evans encouraged audience participation.  She paused between songs to ask the audience if they had any questions for the band, subsequently humorously and intelligently stating her opinions on current events.  Though the band had just flown across the globe (“Yesterday we were on another island.  Called Iceland!), this did not curb their liveliness.  The audience danced and sang along to favorites such as “Dystopia” and “Psychic City.”

The Portuguese band Buraka Som Sistema had the audience jumping up and down, almost in a trance, to their African inspired techno beats.  The most exciting live music performances are always those in which the band seems to be really enjoying themselves, and this was most definitely true at Buraka Som Sistema.  The band members were dancing furiously, smiling and laughing throughout.

Dizzee Rascal was another highlight of Saturday’s lineup.  The Ghanaian British rapper arrived onstage to massive applause, which only grew stronger when he stated that he doesn’t understand how other rappers wear chains, as they weigh you down and prevent dancing.  

Dizzee Rascal spent the majority of the show jumping and running from one side of the stage to the other, making sure that the huge crowd kept their energy up.  He was an exceptional performer, stopping between bands to speak to the audience in a way that seemed improvised but was clearly rehearsed, as each break led into the next song perfectly.  At one point, he cartoonishly sniffed the air in front of him, asked the audience if they’re into drugs and alcohol, and stated that he’s not into those things.  He is “a bassline junkie,” which is the title of the song he subsequently played.

Many people were most excited for Chromeo’s performance on Saturday, which was extremely entertaining.  They performed just as the sun was setting and had a psychedelic light show to accompany the twilight.  There was scarcely room to move as it seemed the entire festival was crowded around the stage in a massive dance party, bouncing along to old songs such as “Bonafied Lovin” and shouting the lyrics to newer favorites like “Fancy Footwork.”  

Empire of the Sun put on a fairly entertaining performance to a crowd that seemed only moderately excited.  Empire of the Sun was slightly out of place as Saturday’s headliner.  While most of the bands at night were very popular among the rave crowd, Empire of the Sun has a more mainstream following, meaning that the festival-goers present on Saturday were not necessarily their proper audience.  Cut Copy or Chromeo would have been better suited for the climax of a dance-music based day, as Empire of the Sun has a more pop sound.  That said, Empire of the Sun’s performance was solid, with lead singer Luke Steel emerging in a mask and feathered headdress.  They had costume changes and psychedelic backup dancers, which made for a fun act to watch. 

Sunday’s lineup catered to indie-rock fans, bringing audiences out in scarves, tights, and knit hats.  

St. Vincent, stage name for Annie Clark, put on a haunting performance.  Her charming voice transitioned between songbird and harsh scream almost effortlessly, while she simultaneously showcased exceptional guitar skills.  St. Vincent had one of the most captivating performances of Saturday, particularly on the song “Cruel,” which left the audience entranced.

One audience member described The Head and the Heart’s performance aptly, saying, “It feels like therapy!” while another called it “the perfect music for stargazing.” Their bouncy folksy sound combining string, piano, and drums with two and three part harmonies had audiences smiling uncontrollably.  Unfortunately, the Head and the Heart played with the sun directly behind them, glaring into the audience’s eyes.  This did make for an interesting view however, with a thick layer of fog coming off the Bay and the band-members almost completely silhouetted against a white backdrop.  The band made references to the setting sun behind them, remarking that “this is about the time of day that we wrote this song,” referring to audience favorite “Sounds Like Hallelujah.”  They humbly thanked the audience repeatedly, apparently still coming to terms with their fast-fame, and towards the end of the show said, “It feels kinda lucky watching the sunset over the bay.  Not too shabby.  Thank you guys for listening.”

Explosions in the Sky offered arguably the best performance of the entire weekend.  While it can be difficult to keep a crowd excited when there are no lyrics to sing, the band’s passion had the audience electrified.  Each band member had his eyes closed for the majority of the performance, so engrossed in what he was doing, and doing it very well.  It was almost as though the band forgot the audience was even there, passionately dancing while they played with no regard to their surroundings.  Mark Smith sat cross-legged on the stage, head bobbing, eyes closed, plucking his guitar as it lay flat across his lap.  The intensely emotional performance was the only one that had the audience screaming repeatedly for an encore, after which band members merely smiled and waved appreciatively.

Headliner Death Cab for Cutie also put on an exceptional performance.  The space in front of the stage was packed, with a large crowd skipping The Hold Steady in order to get a good spot for the Seattle-based indie-rock band.  Opening with “I Will Possess Your Heart,” the band performed both new and old favorites, continuing with “Crooked Teeth” and “Grapevine Fires,” among others.  Frontman Ben Gibbard retooled old songs, pausing in the middle of “We Looked Like Giants” to pound a second drum set while the band swung into an interlude of harder rock.  Though the band’s successful career and short set time prevented them from playing all of their popular songs, festival-goers were left satisfied and smiling.

Though live music was the focal point of the festival, there were multiple other attractions, including a silent disco, ferris wheel, carnival games, and others.  A craft tent, called “Camp DIY” offered opportunities to make beer cozies and picture frames, while another nearby tent offered free haircuts and massages.

All-in-all, the festival’s fifth birthday was a striking success.



Reach contributer Seema Vennam here.

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