Buraka Som Sistema
Treasure Island Music Festival
October 15-16, 2011
Treasure Island, San Francisco, CA
Death Cab for Cutie, Empire of the Sun, Cut Copy, The Hold Steady
Last weekend marked the 5th Annual Treasure Island Music Festival, a rock and dance festival that takes place in the middle of the San Francisco Bay. Set against the stunning backdrop of the city skyline sandwiched between the Bay and Golden Gate bridges, this festival has become a staple of the Bay Area, offering a charming, low-key, and boisterously fun two days jam-packed with consistently good live sets and breathtaking views. This year, we were blessed with probably the nicest weather that Treasure Island has ever had. Usually it’s freezing the entire weekend, but this year it was almost downright hot. As a result, this year felt like a large picnic equipped with beer, activities, and, of course, great live music.
The friend I brought along with me remarked that it seems to be one of the better-planned festivals, and it’s true. We often only notice if an event is poorly planned, but Another Planet Entertainment deserves a nod for delivering a hitch-free, well-executed event. The shuttle system from AT&T Park in San Francisco to the Island had been improved over last year, and it is clear that the production company reviews feedback from event-goers and does their best to make improvements. Much like the people at Goldenvoice who plan Coachella, APE care about people’s experience, and it shows.
We arrived during Shabazz Palaces, a mysterious hip hop collective with eclectic, unique beats, and refreshing, calm and collected rap draped ethereally over satisfyingly heavy bass.
I was looking forward to YACHT playing off their new album Shangri-La, which dropped in June. They had some problems with sound quality on the smaller Tunnel Stage, but got it mostly figured out by the third or fourth song, getting into a groove with their juicy, rich dance pop.
The Naked and Famous performed next on the Bridge Stage, just a short forty-foot walk from the Tunnel Stage. The entire first half of their set was shrouded in sound problems, and we moved away from the stage to assuage our eardrums. The quality slowly improved and we enjoyed the rest of the set as we soaked up the sunshine.
Battles rocked the Tunnel Stage with an enthusiastic and wild set. They explored some powerful jams that slowly built up in energy, and once they got the audience jumping in excitement they broke down the beat, causing mass pandemonium. They definitely won me over with their set.
Dizzee Rascal had one of the best sets of the weekend with a delightfully bass-heavy, grimy-as-all-hell, energetic, huge sound that had everyone showing off their best dance moves. He topped it all off with “Bonkers,” his collaboration with Armand Van Helden, which prompted the crowd to, well, go bonkers.
Buraka Som Sistema was up next. They played on the Tunnel Stage, which acted as a frame for the sun sinking in the sky behind the Golden Gate Bridge. Buraka mixes African and Spanish rhythms with techno beats, creating a distinctive sound that has quickly spread across the world. Not only is it different from what we hear everyday, but it’s also fucking good. This was exemplified by a couple of songs that had straight up salsa beats, but sounded absolutely nothing like salsa. The only reason that I knew it was salsa was because my hips told me so.
After Buraka Son Sistema, we went back to the main stage for Chromeo, who had one of the most fun sets of the weekend. Everyone was dancing to their innovative nu-disco (the number of Chromeo copycats in the past four years has exploded). I was impressed by the musicianship of P-Thugg and Dave 1 (brother of superstar DJ A-Trak) as they switched from drums to guitars to keyboards to create the full, always enjoyable sound of Chromeo. As I said to my friend mid-set, “Chromeo are the only musicians ever allowed to use auto-tune.”
Flying Lotus played a fun but too short set. When he was told that he only had five minutes left, he said to the crowd that he hadn’t even got started yet. “I got blue balls from this shit. Someone throw a party, hit me up on Twitter, and I’ll play for two hours. For free.” Evidently he ended up doing just that, although my friend and I were far too exhausted after dancing all day to go.
By the time Cut Copy came on, it was easy to tell that the crowd was tired from the nonstop dancing. They played a low key set with a mix of songs from their three albums, including “Out There On The Ice,” one of their best, with which they finished off the night.
Death From Above 1979 played a highly anticipated set that marked their first time to San Francisco since they got back together before SXSW this year. Even though they’ve been broken up since 2006 and only had one album, it seems that their fan base just continues to grow, probably because of the popularity of JFK’s other project, MSTRKRFT.
Empire of the Sun finished off the night with their eccentric and hallucinatory live set, complete with stylized space graphics and dancers in wild costumes. We were slightly disappointed with how they sounded, and decided that their studio work sounds a lot better before heading home to rest up for Sunday.
We arrived just in time to catch the entire set of The Antlers, who had one of my favorite sets of the weekend among stiff competition. The day started off overcast and a bit chilly, but The Antlers warmed everyone up with a captivating, emotionally invigorating set. They are following in the footsteps of bands such as Arcade Fire, Muse, and fellow Treasure Island performers Death Cab for Cutie who are known for their powerful live sets.
The sun came out for Warpaint and miraculously stayed out for the rest of the day. As the fog and clouds blew away and the sky turned to crystal blue Warpaint played an inspiring set. It’s sort-of psychedelic pop rock, like Yeasayer but better, more ethereal, and the lead singer’s voice floats on top, drifting over the layers like a leaf.
I was excited for St. Vincent as I quite enjoyed Strange Mercy, but the set was so bad that we literally moved to the other side of the grounds for the sake of our bleeding eardrums. It was part sound quality, part live disaster. The electronic-infused rock came off as trite and lifeless, not to mention painfully sloppy.
Wild Beasts acted as a salve for our ears with a fun and beautiful set. I had never listened to them before and they made a fan out of me in a short forty minutes. They use both pianos and keyboards, which makes for a pleasing mix of classical and new, analog and digital. I stood at a particular angle to allow the Tunnel Stage to perfectly frame the San Francisco skyline and watched Wild Beasts perform as silhouettes against the view.
Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks took the Bridge stage for a classic rock n’ roll set: fun grooves, wild guitar solos, classic punk influences, and an all around great time. One of the band members asked if she could bum some cigarettes from the crowd, and Malkmus added, “Natural herbal tea cigarettes … in Zig Zag form.” He went on to say, “Robert Louis Stevenson would be really proud of you guys. He named his novel after your island.” They managed to cram a ton of songs in, causing the set to feel much longer than it actually was.
The Head and the Heart performed a great set. With that kind of slow, folk rock, it is so easy for live performers to keep the energy low like it is in the studio. While beautiful in album form or in an intimate live setting, it doesn’t work at festivals. The Head and the Heart kicked up the energy, taking their stunning self-titled album up a couple of notches and showing that they are a perfect festival band. Sitting on the grass looking at the view and the sunshine and listening to this set gave me honest-to-God goosebumps—perfect for a late afternoon set.
Beach House was a great pick to follow The Head and the Heart as the sun sank in the sky. Their album Teen Dream is a sign of great music to come in the new decade, and they are already fast on their way to becoming a quintessential festival band.
The sun was down and the sky was a deep pink and purple color when Friendly Fires started on the Tunnel Stage. It was spectacular, and everyone was in awe, including the band. The lead singer commented, “This is the best backdrop we’ve ever played to.” They played a very jazzy, big band set as the sky turned to darker and darker purple and then to a deep dark blue, getting the crowd pumped and ready for Explosions in the Sky.
Explosions in the Sky was epic. Just epic. Yes, I am aware that I am not allowed to use that word again for a year. It’s worth it. They played a set so mind-blowing that when they were done, the entire audience was in shock. People were wandering around, saying the same things over and over. I had a look on my face that has never been there. My friend took one look at me and said, “Jesus, you look like you just got off.” There was only one thing to say: “I did.”
We headed over to The Hold Steady who put on a great, high-powered show. It was unfortunate because it didn’t hold a candle to Explosions in the Sky, who should have led right into Death Cab for Cutie. But it was a fun dance party fueled by good old-fashioned rock as everyone released some of the adrenaline that they had built up.
Death Cab for Cutie finished off the weekend with a set that was everything I’d ever dreamed. They played a handful of tracks from each album, including “I Will Possess Your Heart,” “The New Year,” and “Marching Bands of Manhattan.” It was the perfect end to the perfect weekend.