Outside Lands, Coachella, Treasure Island: Last year, I made it to all three (also Burning Man, but you won't ever hear me call it a music festival). Treasure Island was my favorite for its location, its format (two stages that don't compete), and its curation of diverse acts that can't be found on every other festival lineup. Bonus for Treasure Island producers booking more than ten Bay Area artists for this year's festival.
It's fair to say this year's Treasure Island had more of those neon-clad bros and girls in high heels with cut-off denim shorts a la Coachella, but the word is now out on the six-year-old festival. And with ticket prices at $129 for the full weekend, the San Francisco Marina-types are among the few who can afford to go.
I've taken a lot of shit from my music-snob friends who say festivals are the worst way to experience an act, and while that can be true, it depends on the artist and the festival. Here's who impressed and disappointed:
Oakland's own The Coup was the second band to play the festival's main stage, but you would have thought it was the opener the way Pam the Funkstress strutted across the stage and Boots Riley dominated the mic. As the set progressed, the crowd inched close to the stage and by the end, thousands were dancing and waving their hands in the air.
Personal bias: I have seen Matthew Dear three times in the last year. His performance at Treasure Island was the least accessible set I've seen from him, opening with a long intro of static, echo, and noise that cast a shadow over the sunny afternoon. Even after the band broke into a heavy new-wave dance party, the crowd looked confused by the unexpected avant-garde set, better suited for a warehouse party in NYC (where Dear lives). I loved every minute of it.
Toro Y Moi
Toro Y Moi, a.k.a. Chaz Bundick is often associated with a genre called chillwave, popularized by producers such as Washed Out and Neon Indian. Bundick recently relocated to Berkeley from South Carolina to record his new album "Anything In Return," out Jan. 22. The new single "So Many Details" still sounds chillwave to me, but if his Treasure Island set is any indication, expect less filtered, fuzzy synths and more disco beats and funky rock guitar, similar to early 1980s pop.
If Public Enemy was not insulted that it didn't headline Treasure Island, which Flavor Flav hinted at as he kept talking about having too little time on stage, I was insulted for the legendary NYC hip hop group. Public Enemy delivered a headliner set, grabbing the fists of the crowd and forcing them in the air from the moment it took the stage. In between the hits, including "Don't Believe the Hype" and "Fight the Power," and new tracks off its latest album The Evil Empire of Everything, Flavor Flav and Chuck D preached the good word: Be yourself, fight for your personal freedom, and don't trust the government.
Supertrio Divine Fits is comprised of Spoon’s Britt Daniel, Wolf Parade's Dan Boeckner, and New Bomb Turks’s Sam Brown. It now makes sense that people kept asking me on Sunday, "have you heard Divine Fits?" After replying "no" at least a dozen times, I walked into the set pretty skeptical. Divine Fits is worthy of the hype, giving Treasure Island a set of what it does best: fun, danceable indie rock.
This popular Australian singer-drummer duo produces dramatic, emotional dance ballads, which couldn't be reproduced live without laptops hidden on the side of the stage. While there were keyboards in front of the singer and next to the drummer, they were barely touched. At one point, I caught the drummer with his sticks in the air, the only live sound being produced on stage coming from the singer. These guys call themselves a band, but it's clearly a sound powered by DJs.
Another act where I question whether it's a live show or DJ set, Grimes gave her adoring fangirls and their bro boyfriends a performance of hard electronic music bordering on dubstep. Grimes, a tiny, tweaked out girl who matches the hyper style of her sound, toyed on stage with keyboards and synthesizers while flanked by two girls waving their skinny arms to the music. I've yet to witness how indie record label 4AD gets away with calling Grimes an electronic music prodigy.
San Francisco's Tycho, a.k.a. Scott Hansen produces ambient, electronic music that is far too delicate for a festival. All the softer nuances of his songs were lost in a set riddled with sound problems and performed to a restless crowd still riled up by the hard electro of DJ Porter Robinson.
It's too bad after playing every major festival this year, London DJ SBTRKT couldn't scrape together a better set than an extended play remix of his hit "Wildfire" (with Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon), the track he knew everyone would know. I heard his post-festival set at Mezzanine was better.
To be fair, San Francisco garage rock poster boy Ty Segall is much better suited to play a house party than a music festival, but having seen him at Outside Lands in 2011, I expected more. At Outside Lands, Segall and his band mixed the thrashing guitar solos with lighter songs that highlighted the sophisticated songwriting of which Segall is capable. This performance was loud for the sake of being loud, and came off a bit cocky.