San Francisco – Every October, for ten years, concert fans in the Bay Area have been flocking to the Treasure Island Music Festival, a small oasis located in the heart of the San Francisco Bay promising a weekend filled with music and celebration. Plagued by several last-minute artist cancellations and a very rough period of inclement weather nearing tropical storm-like conditions that moved through the area, the entire experience turned into somewhat of a nightmare, this year.
Saturday marked the first day of the festival’s last installment to be held upon its namesake, and for the first half of the event’s farewell to the place it has called home for the past decade, things did not go too well. It did start out rather well however, with the early afternoon sun doing its best to enrich the spirits of those in attendance, but around mid-afternoon things started to get hairy. As the festival is being moved off the island due to the development of condominiums and commercial spaces, the event was moved from its home base on the western side of the island (directly across from San Francisco) to a new location on the eastern side, promising more open spaces and a brand new pier area called The Plank, home to vendors, activities, the Ferris Wheel, and the festival’s Silent Disco. Alas, most of the pier was never accessible due to high winds in the area, which were signaling the approaching squall line that moved through around 5 PM. The rain was torrential and cold, the wind was whipping, and it totally messed up the schedule for the rest of the evening, as organizers had to scramble to restructure the entire second half of the day’s bill. Eventually, things got moving again, but by that time more than half of the crowd had retreated home. Luckily, those brave enough to stick it out were treated to some pretty epic music towards the end of the night.
The start of Saturday’s festivities brimmed with optimism as the sun poured down between the slowly gathering clouds overhead, shining light on the first acts of the day and the devotees who elected to travel to the island earlier than the throngs of patrons who would appear en masse within just a few hours time. One of those acts was U.K. neo-soul duo HONNE, which was the second act to take to the Bridge Stage in the early hours of the afternoon. The pair of musicians—singer/producer/guitarist Andy Clutterbuck and producer/keyboardist/backing vocalist James Hatcher—was lovingly joined onstage by a group of dedicated musicians eager to enhance HONNE’s placidly energizing blend of electronica and soul. HONNE only recently celebrated the release of debut LP, Warm On A Cold Night (Tatamae, 2016), this past summer after releasing a slew of EPs since its inception in 2014, and the duo coolly presented heartfelt material while also enticing the growing crowd to sway with the tides of its silky beats and sentimental lyrics. The air itself began to feel as if it was being warmed by the groove and confidence the band seemed to be effortlessly emanating as HONNE navigated tracks preaching comfort, solace, and genuine affection—kicking things off with “Treat You Right,” before plunging into more upbeat songs like “Coastal Love” and “3AM.” HONNE’s closing number, “Loves the Jobs You Hate,” on the surface sounded like a vote of confidence, as the refrain repeats “You are who you are,” yet in reality, it is meant to be more confrontational than affectionate—a notion that was mostly lost on the early afternoon audience. Regardless of the subject matter, HONNE’s performance as a whole was particularly inviting, as festivalgoers strolling through the entrance gates could be seen immediately bobbing their heads to the beat.
Perhaps the most exhilarating set of the first day came from New York electronic duo SOFI TUKKER—comprised of vocalist/guitarist Sophie Hawley-Weld and producer Tucker Halpern. The band sported bright outfits—with matching hair, in Halpern’s case—to match their sunny disposition and shimmering percussion-driven brand of dance pop, as well as the few dwindling rays of tenacious sunshine managing to break through the gathering crowd. SOFI TUKKER’s sole release—an EP entitled Soft Animals, put out earlier this summer—was the main focus of the set, silkily navigating bouncy house beats and stanzas of colorful lyrics of poetic Brazilian Portuguese and English, spinning tales focused on subjects like female bullfighters (“Matadora”) and self-reliance (“Hey Lion”), to name a few. The duo effortlessly mixed coupled choreography, lively stage presence, and a circular, multi-colored drum machine at the center of the stage setup, each facet sonically some sort of literature. “Awoo” and “Drinkee” were the crowd favorites (I heard more than one person remark “This is their only song I know!” during “Drinkee,”), but I have a feeling we will all be dancing to the beat of SOFI TUKKER’s many drums in the years to come.
How To Dress Well
One performer who was particularly inconvenienced by the early evening downpours and whipping winds that saturated the island was Tom Krell—aka How To Dress Well—as his set was moved not once, but twice—landing him with a truncated half-hour set three hours after he was initially set to perform. Unfortunately, Krell and his three backing musicians ran into some audio difficulties as well, shortening his set to a mere three songs, played over six channels rather than his usual thirty-two. The result was short, yes, but the mood was more intimate than usual, and he seemed happy enough to give it a whirl, comically remarking, “There’s nothing like trying something completely new out for the first time in front of a few thousand people, right?” Though only given enough time to perform three songs, it was a great crash course for someone who had never heard of How To Dress Well before today, as each was from a different album and offered differing voices, tones, and approaches to instrumentation. Krell kicked things off with perhaps the most popular song off 2014’s What Is This Heart?, “Repeat Pleasure,” before swiftly moving into this year’s “What’s Up” (‘It’s about…well, sex’), and then wrapping things up with the more upbeat “& It Was You” from 2012’s Total Loss. As he tried to begin a fourth song, he was briskly cut off, and though he put on a good front, we could tell he was feeling a little defeated by that point.
U.K. band Glass Animals was also pushed back to a slot several hours after the four-piece was set to perform, yet the band’s time onstage was only cut by five minutes or so. This didn’t stop vocalist Dave Bayley from throwing a little shade when referring to Glass Animal’s previous festival experiences across the pond, implying that the brave few who stuck around during, throughout, and after the deluge were still basically no match to the diehards at Glastonbury who often have to endure similar rainstorms (daily!) and have to sleep amongst it. Nonetheless, Glass Animals delivered a transcendent performance, stomping away from the mellow, spaced-out melancholy found on the debut LP ZABA, to focus on the more percussive, fuller sounds explored on the band’s latest (sophomore) LP How To Be A Human Being, which became available two months ago. Opening with lead single and album opener “Life Itself” was inspired, as it not only tore the majority of the crowd away from the conclusion of How To Dress Well’s tragically short set but also catapulted the Oxford quartet’s set from a space of optimistic speculation into reality. The band’s newer material was the star of the show, as Glass Animals blazed through the more deliberate, outrageous sounds of songs like “The Other Side of Paradise,” “Cane Shuga,” and the appropriately titled “Season 2, Episode 3” (the third song on the second album), but that didn’t stop fans from going ballistic during old favorites such as “Black Mambo,” “Gooey,” and the heavily percussive “Pools,” which closed out the set.
We woke to the sounds of rain falling once more as Sunday began, sending chills down the collective spine of those who had braved the storm the day before and were planning on revisiting Treasure Island for its second day of music. However, the sun did finally manage to poke its head through the clouds for the mid-afternoon hours, gracing the island’s muddy grounds and the waterlogged footwear dragging being dragged through them. The second day provided a much better atmosphere than its predecessor, with the pier finally open to patrons and more pleasant weather conditions, save for one single squall line moving through the area (dramatically less invasive than those that came the day before) just after sunset and a few spotty showers that lingered until the end. Unfortunately, James Blake’s evening set had to be cancelled due to some high winds—which had many attendees fuming—which also offset the remaining two shows (Purity Ring and headliners Sigur Rós) by a couple of hours (Blake ended up performing a free make-up show for ticketholders at Oakland’s Fox Theater the following night). As I feared for the life of my camera equipment (not to mention my sanity), I elected to forgo the earlier sets I was planning to attend, but there was still plenty of great new acts to check out as the skies cleared and Mother Nature invited guests back to the island with warm breezy air and a glorious rainbow that arced over the Bay.
San Francisco metal outfit Deafheaven took to the Tunnel Stage as the dark clouds that had sat over the Bay were receding, perhaps out of fear of incurring the wrath of vocalist George Clarke and his electrified screaming. Deafheaven’s music may not be the most inviting to the everyday concert fan—its intense vocals matched only by the amplitude of its collective of musicians—but Clarke himself was extremely grateful and pleasant to listen to as he spoke. Between the set’s thunderous first two numbers, “Brought To The Water” and “Baby Blue,”cuts from last year’s New Bermuda, he wryly remarked, “As you can see, we’re the odd man out here,” which coaxed a hearty laugh out of everyone in attendance. Deafheaven’s forty-minute set contained only four songs, though each was as epic as the one before, culminating in a full-on mosh pit as the band closed out with a fifteen-minute rendition of Sunbather’s “Dream House,” marked with guitarist Kerry McCoy’s vicious, rippling guitar shreds and drummer Daniel Tracy’s relentless percussion, seeming to scare the now-distant clouds into an even more urgent state of retreat.
Everyone’s favorite folk-pop goofball Mac DeMarco and his ragtag band strolled onto the Bridge Stage just after Deafheaven’s conclusion, offering a brighter side of the musical spectrum under the now-shining sun. “We’re gonna [sic] play some music for you guys, so just make yourselves at home,” he said through his gap-toothed grin, before sliding into “Salad Days.” DeMarco’s jaunty brand of music (self-coined as “jizz-jazz”) was the perfect way to ease into the later afternoon hours, as he played crowd favorites like “The Way You’d Love Her,” “Another One,” “The Stars Keep On Calling My Name,” and “Freaking Out The Neighborhood.” Of course, as with any DeMarco show, there was plenty of tomfoolery, as he and his bandmates continuously wished us a Happy Halloween, while warning us to prepare because it was only “a few months away.” Silliness was abound as DeMarco closed his set with “Still Together” (which at times sounds a lot like “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”) with his lady on his shoulders, although the highlight of the set had to be the cover of Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years,” which was mostly instrumental as the band shredded through a loop the song’s famous guitar bridge, allowing DeMarco to exhibit his chops as a guitarist, skillfully navigating his fret-board as his guitar was flung over onto his back, turning a cover that may have started out as tongue-in-cheek for some into quite an impressive display of talent.
Alan Palomo is an unstoppable ball of energy when he takes the stage as Neon Indian, sliding between his electronics, his drum-pad, and his microphone, all while shaking his hips emphatically to the beat of his own music. His Treasure Island set on the Tunnel Stage came just as the clouds were starting to creep back into the area, coaxing the people to keep moving to stay warm. As Palomo is coming to the end of his run supporting his excellent 2015 LP VEGA INTL Night School, most of his set was devoted to the now-classic album, featuring enthusiastic renditions of “Dear Skorpio Magazine,” “Annie,” “61 Cygni Avenue,” and the incomparable “Slumlord.” He and his musicians work so well together and have incredible respect for one another, noted by the hugs, handshakes, and fist bumps that were exchanged between them, before and after the show. Some true Neon Indian classics also made their way into the mix, namely “Deadbeat Summer” and set-closer “Polish Girl,” both of which marked important milestones in Palomo’s career as a musician, just as many of the tracks from Night School are sure to be viewed as such for years to come.
North Carolina-based electronic duo Sylvan Esso—consisting of vocalist Amelia Meath and producer Nick Sanborn—does not shy away from getting a party started. The band’s Tunnel Stage set took place just around dusk, which provided a perfect brand of darkness as a background for Sylvan Esso’s pulsing, punctuating light show that bathed the performers in perfectly timed split-second flashes, like lightning illuminating the ghost of a wild dancing spirit. “We’re gonna try and beat the rain for you!” Meath shouted as the set began with “Dreamy Bruises,” a vigorous, thumping cut from the duo’s eponymous 2014 debut LP. Patrons were treated to a slew of new material, including brand new tracks “Die Young” and “Radio,” the latter of which being a single released just this year, featuring some of Meath’s best vocal work to date and the catchiest hooks the band has come up with yet. While the newer tracks were especially impressive, most fans were more passionate about hearing familiar tunes like “Hey Mami,” “H.S.K.T.,” and the silky sounds of “Coffee,” which sort of served as the eye of the storm in the set between the more blustery dance numbers on either side.
Following James Blake’s delay and subsequent cancellation on Sunday evening, due to weather, there were many fans that were disappointed and uneasy, for fear that the events of the evening would play out in a similar fashion as those that transpired the night before. When Purity Ring did not appear at the scheduled time on the Tunnel Stage, those fears began to grow, and some were too impatient to wait and ultimately decided to bail completely and leave the festival. Fortunately, Purity Ring did end up taking the stage an hour or so after the band’s scheduled slot, and the two-piece did not disappoint those who elected to embrace patience. The Canadian electronic duo brought its signature light-up drum structure (resembling a sort of prismatic set of lampposts) and an impressive curtain made of strings of ping-pong ball-sized globular lights that would change color and paint patterns of motion in sync with Corin Roddick’s pounding percussion. Singer Megan James wove through the lights like a deer under a willow tree, stepping softly and succinctly as she walked, while her vocals told a different story, as they boomed across the grounds through newer tracks like “Bodyache” and “Begin Again,” as well as older Shrines-era tracks “Belispeak,” “Obedear,” and “Lofticries.” The duo has transformed from a quiet, small-stage act into an electronic powerhouse, and as Purity Ring expands its craft and explores new techniques, we can only expect for the duo to get better.
*Photo of Purity Ring at Bonnaroo 2016 by Corey Bell
I’m not going to lie, it was a rough weekend, and not just for the patrons, but for the artists, crew, and organizers, as well. While the new location and weather were unavoidable hiccups that interrupted the festival’s flow, there were many attendees that were eager to place all the blame on the organizers, with some demanding refunds and even threatening class-action lawsuits. Honestly, it could’ve been better, but all in all, I see it as a pretty solid goodbye to the festival’s first ten years… and its home on Treasure Island. There was still lots of good music, and many of us had a great time despite the obstacles faced over the course of the weekend. As the crowd trickled out following the explosive finale put on by Sigur Rós, on Sunday night, basically everybody had a smile stretched across their faces. Next year begins a new chapter for the Festival in the Bay, with a new location (which is yet to be determined) and a fresh start for what has been one of my favorite annual events over the past several years. I have high hopes that Treasure Island will continue its tradition of providing excellent music to the Bay Area in the years to come!