I got my eye on the isle. Photo by Sofia Ramirez.
By Kevin Lee
First off, I have to say that the folks behind the inaugural Treasure Island Festival did a spectacular job and this year’s event must be considered a success: Treasure Island could be considered a “cozy” outdoor music festival, simultaneously intimate and spacious.
Saturday, Sept. 15, I showed up fashionably late which meant I missed local act Zion I. But I did
manage to see Ghostland Observatory, a frenetic Austin duo that pulsated with vigor – thanks to the vocals of Aaron Behrens and loopy, electrified beats of Thomas Ross Turner. Ghostland impressed the early-afternoon crowd and likely garnered many a new Bay Area fan.
Local artist Kid Beyond dropped some lyrical inspiration before launching into an up-tempo set,
part techno beats, part jungle, and part slick vocals. I had the chance to briefly talk to KB after his set, and he mentioned that one of his lyrical inspiration is Hafiz, a Persian poet from the 1300s. How about that for drawing on the past?
MIA: I admit, she put in a full-on effort to get the crowd moving. Midway through her set, she implored female fans to climb onstage - 30 random girls followed suit and began dancing the only way you can while sharing the stage with MIA. A couple of tracks later, she clambered 10 feet up on the lights scaffolding with cordless mic in one hand, belting lyrics. Mind-boggling displays of showmanship.
The one minor complaint: I think she would have benefited from a primetime or nighttime crowd. MIA brought it, but the lazy afternoon atmosphere did not quite fit her performance. Her sound is definitely dark, grungy, and capable of creating some crowd chaos. Only the night – and increased drunkenness - would have emphasized the low-slung bass of her tracks and her free-spirited stage presence and instigated some true craziness, which might have been why the promoters opted for an afternoon time slot. It’s a minor thing, and something Ms. Arulpragasm has little control over, so I give her major props for going all-out for the crowd, festival style.
DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist: the video introducing their set may have been the
highlight. The video, in classic ‘60s "how-to" format with cartoon characters and a reassuring “white male” narrator, illustrated how the two turntablists would go on to manipulate vintage 45s on eight turntables. A creative introduction to the set, no doubt. That said, the actual performance turned out somewhat disappointing. Technically, the DJs performed with usual proficiency, creating textures and depth with their beat juggles – but what about the track selection, which included a 30-second sample of “Everlong.” You have to admire the wizards' collective tenacity at attacking the set, but this track in particular sounded like MIA in a boys’ choir: cacophonously out of place.
Regrettably, I missed the beginning of Gotan Project’s performance. But I stumbled into the set just as it was getting really good. The musical highlight that day might have been Gotan Project's live rendition of “Triptico.” Eduardo Makaroff, Lalo Zanetti, and Victor Villena created lovely rhythms on guitar, piano, and bandoneon or tango accordion, respectively, but violinist Line Kruse stole the show. Midway through the track, Kruse provided a few simple, powerful chords, a mesmerizing build-up that entranced listeners. After founding member and DJ Phillipe Cohen Solal released the house beat, Kruse exploded with two minutes of bow thrashing so well-crafted that it compelled everyone to dance. A memorable close to their set.
Kinky rocked out with a strange and electric combination of Spanish vocals, electro elements, accordion, and good old guitar rifts. I must admit, that bass player in the cowboy hat, Cesar Pliego, was pretty hot, strummin’ that guitar. Great set filled with energy and a nice rock-infused break from the electronic sets.
Thievery Corporation: there is something about African drums played live that makes me go crazy. African drums, electronic drum loops, horns, bass, CD turntables - Thievery brought it all. A collection of varied vocalists helped accentuate whatever tone Thievery was setting, be it lounge, samba, or reggae. They managed to hit a balance of energetic and chill-out elements.
A few suggestions for next year:
Oh, man, there has to be access to the view access to the view of SF from Treasure Island, from ground level. An annoying chain-linked fence draped with a black cover prevented people outside from looking in and enjoying a free show, and there were stands in the VIP section to glimpse the beautiful view. But when you're with your significant other, lying on a blanket and listening to some brilliant music, how can you not view that cityscape, late at night? Freeloaders be damned - tear down that fence (or its covers)!
How about some love for the Tunnel Stage? Maybe the small stage was designed to
emphasize intimacy, but it also seemed like something my DJ buddy from high school might set up at a suburban Bar Mitzvah, compared to the splendor of the Bridge Stage.
Bathrooms on both sides of the festival? I understand you don't want the smell of crap around the audience and performers. But you also don't want fans pissing on the grass where festival-goers chill, as some out-of-it folks did.