Live Shots: Treasure Island Music Festival 2012

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Music nerds talk lineups the way sports fans manage fantasy teams, particularly with festivals, where suddenly strategy becomes a part of catching a show. Treasure Island Music Festival, is sort of an exception, since in theory you can catch every single act, given the two alternating stages. At the same time, this means that unless you head to the silent disco or take a nap, one of those geeks will be standing behind you during a set, obsessively talking about how the lineup should be slotted differently.

Day 1
SF’s Dirty Ghosts had the challenging task of being a rock band opening the festival on the traditional hip-hop/electronic day. K. Flay followed, and told the crowd “I know it’s early, but we can still party,” and the local MC proceeded to give a hair tossing performance that had her drummer breaking a snare. It was a decent lead in for Oakland’s the Coup. Boots Riley has been off my radar for a bit, but it appears our ambassador of P-funked rap has been keeping more than his afro tight – pulling from now-more-appropriate-than-ever classics like “5 Million Ways to Kill a C.E.O” and the upcoming Sorry to Bother You.

At 2:31pm, a guy in a tie-dye Quicksilver shirt was vomiting near where Grimes was playing: the festival had started. Like Matthew Dear and Porter Robinson, Grimes is a returning acts from this year's Noise Pop. Maybe it was just her bandmate’s flowing iridescent ponchos, but Grimes' sound seemed lighter than at the Rickshaw Stop. I decided I preferred this side of Grimes, but the Euro bubblegum quality of the creepily infantile “Phone Sex” was pushing it. Matthew Dear seemed out of place in full sun on the Bridge Stage, fog machines pumping. His set was similar to what I heard at Public Works, but progressed slowly. Nearing the end of his set the band got into a groove with “You Put a Smell on Me” but it’ was a little late.

Toro y Moi sounded just like when I saw it a couple years back, but would probably have fit in better somewhere on Sunday. Near the end you could hear a DJ on the other stage playing snippets and raising the crowd, partly using soundcheck to hype for Public Enemy. When actually starting, Chuck D arrived on stage, introducing the whole support crew but saved Flavor Flav for last.

The hyperbolic performance took me back to a time before reality TV. Chuck D was outspoken (Fuck BET. Fuck urban radio. Fuck Viacom.) but used time well. Flavor was Flavor, and rambled for five minutes after his time is up. AraabMusik, waiting on the Tunnel Stage didn't seem to mind: he gave an impressive, sample stuttering finger drumming MPC performance, after having a smoke with his crew.

At 6:01 I saw the guy who’d been throwing up earlier, walking arm in arm with a girl, both smiling and probably holding each other up.

Things started to blur, the time between switching stages seemed to decrease. Porter Robinson left no impression on me. Tycho sounded like a person making slow, thoughtful love to a synthesizer, but whereas it could have been a great lead-in to the xx, suffered from being between Robinson and a high energy performance from the Presets.

Speaking of which, I’ve had an aversion to the Presets (largely stemming from issues I have with Australian pop), but their performance, particularly “If I Know You” won me over. An awkward soundcheck delay for the following band, SBTRKT, meant the worst thing I could say about it is that it felt too short. Producer Aaron Jerome and singer Sampha played to their strengths, closing with “Wildfire” and having what seemed like the whole crowd leaning back and strutting like they were the sexiest, smoothest motherfuckers on the field.

Girl Talk opened with the awesome (and oft utilized) “International Player’s Anthem” by UGK before quickly triggering “Dancin’ in the Dark.” I hear the Boss at least once more before I leave twenty minutes later. I’m sure there was confetti.  

Day 2

Between openers Imperial Teen and Joanna Newsom, things were rather low-key, just all around relaxing, emotional, sunny music (including my returning favorites, Hospitality.) The crowd trickled in steadily and the field fills up with blankets faster than the day before. It’s a rather sedate afternoon, aside from one thing.

Who scheduled Ty Segall – noted garage thrasher, guitar mangler, and kick drum stomper – in that mid-afternoon slot? Love the dude, he sounded great, but he was not much appreciated outside the pit. The blanket crowd? It didn't dig that. Particularly right between Youth Lagoon’s indie emo Bob Dylan and Gavin’s second cousin. That’s prime time nap time, especially when the first half of Joanna Newsom’s performance can’t be heard past the soundbooth. (Seriously, can Nap Time with Joanna Newsom be a real thing? On Nick Jr. after Yo Gabba Gabba?) The collective bombast of Los Campesinos picked things up – back to back with Segall would have been a hell of a way to wake up.

And bake up. Because Best Coast was playing with the sun going down. When this festival is at its best, the music and the environment seem to play into one another, and from there out, it basically went perfect. I haven’t seen the band since a sloppy show at Regency Ballroom with Wavves a few years back. The basic sound is still the same – beachy guitar pop with a stony edge – but has developed since then. Part of it’s lineup changes, as the new drummer is a lot tighter than before (and has easily the loudest snare of the weekend), part of it’s just improvement. Bethany Consentino apologized for singing a slow song, but there’ was no reason. She can definitely carry a ballad now.

Anticipation iwas high for Divine Fits, the “supergroup” featuring Dan Boeckner, Britt Daniels, and Sam Brown. Mainly I’m sure because a lot of fans were there for the Bay Area debut, but also because of the glorious, Hollywood matte painting skyline waiting for them behind the Tunnel Stage. As soon as they hit the chorus of “Baby Get Worse,” complete with the '80s throwback keyboard, I was sold. Halfway through the set someone up front was apparently amped enough for Boeckner to ask, “Dude, are you on PCP?” Elsewhere in the crowd people pleasantly remarked, “Hey, this sounds like Spoon.”

Previously I’d thought the crowd seemed thicker due to all the blankets, but when I walked back towards the Bridge Stage, I realizes that simply way more people turned out for some combination of the last three bands.

M83 – returning to the Bay for the first time since their sold out Fillmore shows in the spring – opened with an alien, had lots of lasers, and played that one song. One thing I now know for sure: it is possible to play percussion while doing the running man.

The last act on the Tunnel Stage, Gossip was one of the only real surprises for me this festival. Punk diva Beth Ditto opened by welcoming the audience to comedy night, later commenting that the band hadn’t toured the US in three years, because the Euro is stronger. Crowded at the front of the stage were possibly the most intense fans I saw all weekend, clearly attached not only to Ditto’s vocal talent, but also her empowering, Aretha Franklin-esque sense of Pride. Pointing to the already crowded photo pit, Ditto said cruelly, “I wish there was a lot less space. And a lot more photographers.”

You couldn’t really have more photographers than there were in the pit at the end of the night for the xx, stopping in the Bay Area for the last festival date on their current tour, supporting the sophomore album Coexist.

It was clear that in their live performance the xx tries to capture the same sort of intimacy as their albums, with a stark and stripped down stage and singers Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim in the front. Either singer could do well alone, but together there’s an undeniable chemistry, like lovers in dialogue.

In their live show they definitely play into that, while producer Jamie XX stays literally more in the shadows; Sunday night he was up a level behind the pair, manning a series of controllers, cymbals, and drum pads to creates the fundamental beats that the guitars wash over. The resulting music takes its time – I'd call it shoegaze dance if that weren’t such an idiotic concept – and the xx did as well, opening with the enrapturing “Angels,” setting a sensual mood that stayed till then end.

Earlier Ditto had called them, obviously, the Sex Sex. Anyone who really felt that way – or just wanted to get to John Talabot and Jamie XX at Public Works – hopefully caught a cab, as the wait for shuttles off the island at the end of the night were upwards of an hour and a half. Note to self: work that factor into the TIMF strategy next year.