Festival Review and Photos: Treasure Island Music Festival, October 15-16, 2011 – San Francisco, CA

Sunday October 16th


The second day of Treasure Island Festival got off to a start with another local band Thee Oh Sees, but unfortunately One Thirty BPM had too much fun the night before and missed it. Fortunately, we arrived just in time for the wakeup call that was Weekend (another local band). Playing in front of a grey bay view the San Franciscans had no qualms about being loud, brash, and borderline obnoxious in their music, which was a delight to behold. Best of all were the moments when Weekend worked in some of their more melodic elements and all three members postures would be huddled in concentration and then released in a moment of sonic ejaculation. Guitarist Kevin Johnson could be seen spinning dreamily on the spot, taking as many opportunities as he could to look at the fantastic bay view before crunching back into another riff. Weekend didn’t offer much in the way of crowd interaction, with singer Shaun Durkan offering up “I guess this is where I’m supposed to tell some bad jokes” as his only comment between songs, but it didn’t matter, especially after the band’s concluding trio. The band played the double-header intro to their new EP Red, “Sweet Sixteen” and “Hazel,” pulling off the noisy-flows-into-poppy ebb with ease. They concluded with the brutal “Coma Summer” from their debut album, fully embodying the brilliant greyness that served as their backdrop.

The Antlers

The Antlers picked up where Weekend left off by embodying the gloom before eventually destroying it. The Antlers’ music may be rather depressive thematically – and this was played out to the fullest in opening trio “Parentheses,” “No Widows,” and “I Don’t Want Love” – but the way they present it live can only leave you feeling inspired. Starting quietly and instrumentally, the build into the chorus of “Parentheses” was subtlety, while “No Widows” was tender in its forlornness. The band stayed focussed throughout, and had this kind of effect on the audience, too. One lovely moment in the set came when the big screen stopped on a girl mouthing along the words perfectly and she was so in the zone that she didn’t even realise she was on the big screen. The only cut that The Antlers played from breakthrough album Hospice was “Atrophy”; not exactly the first song you’d think they’d play, especially at a festival, but as the song swelled and cathartic lyrics built to a head a definite moment was had. Following this up with “Rolled Together” which saw singer Peter Silberman showing off his incredible falsetto, turned the set around completely into a hopeful-sounding one (though the lyrics would say otherwise). From there on the sun seemed to gradually start shoving the clouds out of its way to shine down on Treasure Island once again, and I think The Antlers can take some credit for that.


With a year having now passed since the release of their debut album The Fool you’d think that Warpaint might be road-testing some new material, but on Sunday’s showing it seems they’re happy to lean back and jam out on the old material for the time being. For the most part the band was dressed casually, allowing them to rock out and get moving, but co-leader Theresa Wayman looked stoic in a black, wide-brimmed hat. Highlights of the set came in the form of “Undertow” which got people shuffling, and the concluding “Bees” whose chorus certainly had a hypnotic effect over those in attendance.

St. Vincent

Appearing onstage in huge sunglasses, attire that looked just-thrown-on-yet-stylish and with a large cup of what was presumably coffee, Annie Clark appeared a little hungover before picking up a guitar. Whether she was or wasn’t didn’t really matter as soon as she and her band burst into “Surgeon,” and when she perfectly pulled off the vocal register shift in the conclusion of the song it was full speed ahead for a thrilling forty minutes. St. Vincent played heavily from most recent album Strange Mercy, firing on all cylinders from the poppy side of “Cruel” to the atmospheric “Dilettante” (helped greatly by soaring synths) to the crunchy “Year of the Tiger” and “Cheerleader.” A fiery rendition of “Actor Out Of Work” saw Clark breaking her coolness to yell the conclusion to the final chorus, but this was quashed by her almighty cover of The Pop Group’s “She Is Beyond Good And Evil,” which saw her growling and snarling the lyrics with her guitar following suit. The set finished with the only song from debut album Marry Me “Your Lips Are Red,” now completely transformed from its recorded version into what can more or less be described as a ‘space rock version.’ The colossal song saw Clark channelling a side of her influences that we don’t often see, but one that she does just as exceptionally as she does any others. While most sets at a festival feel like ‘festival’ sets, this one felt like a whole show’s worth of awesome inside 40 minutes.

Wild Beasts

When headlining a show Wild Beasts usually set the mood with a slower song, but on this occasion they played to the festival spirit and went straight in with the upbeat jam “Bed Of Nails.” They stuck to this formula for the majority of the set, with only “Albatross” showing off their more graceful side. For a band that is often delicate in their approach it is somewhat surprising that they don’t really harmonise, but rather go for vocal interplay. This came to its full strength during the anthemic “Reach A Bit Further” and the joyous “All The Kings Men.” The sun was high in the sky, quite the opposite atmosphere to the dingy Echoplex in which I’d seen them play a few days prior, and they filled it just as well. The wind ruffling Hayden Thorpe’s hair didn’t harm his handsomeness either.

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks’ music was some of the most straightforward on this year’s bill; they essentially make alternative pop rock songs with smart lyrics, and by this stage I think the audience was ready for something easily enjoyable to digest. While the eternally youthful Malkmus and his band played through a string of songs from newest album Mirror Traffic, many fans watched while sprawled out, as if simply at a picnic. Malkmus added to the fun by cracking a few jokes, most squarely aimed at the misfortune of the Oakland Athletics; and this jovial feeling was shared by all throughout the set.

The Head and the Heart

Just as their music has a timeless quality, The Head and the Heart’s abilities as a live band seemed to have defined time as well. They play with effortless joy and enthusiasm while keeping it tight; a site that would have you placing them as a far more experienced band if you didn’t know better. On this occasion, while the sun was getting lower in the sky behind them, the band’s music sounded like old favourites. Embodying this I saw one loved up couple in the audience holding each other and dancing to the music. The set was held together by the solid harmonies of the group, and in particular Charity Thielen’s dusky, sultry voice.

Beach House

Beach House have never been a particularly exciting live act, but if there is anything that is the perfect companion that might make it so, it is the sunset. In the orange glow Beach House played their dreamy songs which seemed to hang in the autumn haze over the audience. “Gila” and “Zebra” were particularly potent in these surroundings, and Victoria Legrand’s vocals wafted all the way from the end with the stage right to the opposite end of the festival site, covering everyone in a light blanket to protect them from the chill creeping in. The concluding “10 Mile Stereo” with its reflective chorus seemed to sum up the whole vibe of the festival in that moment.

Friendly Fires

Friendly Fires’ appearance on the “indie” day rather than the “dance” day of Treasure Island is still a somewhat confusing one, but the crowd didn’t really seem to mind. What might have been a jarring sound coming off the back of beach house seemed to work out just fine, especially under the newly-darkened sky. “Jump in the Pool” got people lively and a particularly punchy rendition of “Skeleton Boy” emphasised just how perfect the chorus is for a stadium audience, or even a festival. Throughout the set the Londoners’ leader Ed MacFarlane was seen producing his trademark emphatic contortion-like dance moves, which spurred the crowd on to get even more active.

Explosions in the Sky

A band that on the other hand is best observed by merely standing and admiring is Explosions in the Sky. And everyone who did that is bound to have had a thrill ride, as they reproduced their grandest moments of both the loud and the quiet variety, taking everyone’s minds on a journey of wonder through musical expression. Not everyone had to stay still though, whether it was rocking slowly or merely swaying or even bobbing giant jellyfish over the crowd’s heads it all made a difference that augmented everyone else’s experience. The band for their part were committed to producing as much excitement as they could within a 50-minute performance, so there was no time to stop, it was all one long ride.

The Hold Steady

Even though I have seen The Hold Steady a couple of times before, I was again utterly floored by just how great a live band they are – and in particular how surprisingly charismatic and entertaining Craig Finn is as a frontman. Their performance was helped by the selection of a great setlist, bolstered by many old favourites, including storming opener “Constructive Summer.” “Sequestered in Memphis,” “Chips Ahoy!” and “You Can Make Him Like You” all saw the band keeping it an up-tempo affair, spearheaded by Finn who prowled the stage, dragging around his microphone and emphatically punching and poking the air as he delivered his impassioned vocals. If anything this set (and probably the entirety of the tour they’re currently on) serves as the perfect slap in the face to anyone like me who had been thinking that The Hold Steady are on a downward trajectory in their career.

Death Cab For Cutie

At this point Death Cab For Cutie are seasoned professionals and have played a multitude of festivals, and could probably tell you down to the finest detail how a festival set may differ from a normal show. One of the more obvious aspects to those of us in the audience is that picking a crowd-pleasing setlist is vitally important, especially as a headliner, and Death Cab did just this. Rather than focussing on new material the guys only played three songs from Codes and Keys, played several from fan favourite album Transatlanticism and even reached all the way back to 2000’s The Forbidden Love EP for “Photobooth.” Death Cab got their recent light dabbles with krautrock out of the way playing both “I Will Possess Your Heart” and “Doors Unlocked And Open” early in the set, before easing into a higher gear to play a hit-packed mid-section. “You Are A Tourist” held its own against festival favourites “The New Year” and “Soul Meets Body”; its catchy guitar line working wonders working its way into the crowd’s ears. The highlight for old fans had to be “We Looked Like Giants” which has found its way back into Death Cab’s set list after several years on the sideline. And rightly so; from the opening tremblings of that bass and through the aggressive guitar attacks in the chorus the song is almost unique in Death Cab’s oeuvre in its level of rock potency. In its new live form it now has an extended jam in the middle which seems to go on forever but never gets unexciting, and displays that these guys, although they may write simple songs, they are extremely talented musicians. I also liked the fact that it almost seemed like an homage to the many great jam bands that the Bay Area has produced over the past decades.

For the concluding trio Death Cab threw us through a loop by playing the mournfully gorgeous “Marching Bands of Manhattan,” the perennially positive “Stay Young, Go Dancing” got our hopes high again before the expected-but-never-underwhelming closer “Transatlanticism” crushed them once again in a wave of beauty.

[Saturday October 15th] [Sunday October 16th]