October 22, 2009

Treasure Island Fest 2009 [San Francisco; 10/17+18]


To be honest, witnessing an end-all festival finale like the one captured above, was far from essential for someone to consider this weekend a success. That's less a strike to The Flaming Lips and more a testament to how solid Treasure Island's modest little lineup was, before the headliners, for both days (and also to how rad our crew was). By the time MGMT closed Saturday, and the Lips Sunday, we were effectively spent (and anticipating the logistical mess of getting shuttled off this alternate universe of an island).

Our photographer, Victoria, was part of that crew. So consider this a visual recap. Off we go:

[Saturday]

Passion Pit
We could hear the sugary falsetto howls of Boston's best new band from the cab drop off. And they still had the better half of their set to give, which meant we had started off on the right foot (despite transportation challenges).

Dan Deacon

Looking like your uncle on Superbowl Sunday, Dan Deacon brought his antics to a turnout that mostly expected and welcomed the drill. A maestro of electronic music, and of instructing crowds to do crazy shit, he went maybe three jams before the first 'exercise'. From dance-offs to human tunnels, if this was your first time seeing Deacon, it was surely like nothing you've ever done before (outside of summer camp). More pics at the bottom (including a cameo from our own Triple F). As for the music, this new ensemble Deacon tours with is pretty intense. Drummer overflow.

MSTRKRFT filled the grounds with gritty beats (including a field-wide "Bohemian Rhapsody" chant) as we planted in a good spot for Mr. Gregg Gillis.

Girl Talk

Oh mashups, how far you've come. I'd say they're somewhere in the maturity phase now, where backlash has passed and people again accept them for what they tend to be: the best parts of recognizable pop/rock/rap songs, mixed together in a fashion that can recreate the highs of house music and the rock-outs of metal, in under a minute. It's the hedonism of genres. And last time I checked, us festival goers are some pleasure seeking maniacs, so obviously when the master of mashups throws a party, we're there. It might get old on headphones, but you can't hate on a good time to its face. Gillis' nonstop toilet-paper-gun assault started with Nirvana, peaked at Kelly Clarkson, and ended with fireworks.

From the opposing main stage, MGMT was left waiting for it all to wrap up. We can only speculate what they thought of the firework display. "Time To Pretend" kicked in before the ashes hit the ground, and I found myself half-excited, half wondering if these guys should really be headlining festivals with one album under their belt. The latter thought continued as we watched from a tree off to the side. At previous shows, they've held off on playing the holy triad of psychedelia until the home stretch, but here they gave us all three monsters within 20 minutes. Perhaps a generous move on their part, it was also strategically risky, and proved to signal a mass hipster exodus (which is why bands with one album shouldn't be headlining festivals).

[Sunday]

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros


If we didn't all have the Treasure Island iPhone app, this one would have been circled, star-ed, highlighted, and underlined. What I like about them is that they've earned their rapidly growing popularity by being an undeniably memorable live act. OK, and I'm a schoolboy for Jade.

Alex Ebert never stopped moving, owning every piece of the stage, and every note hit, even with a voice reaching beyond its limit and a climate that didn't exactly cater to the shirtless routine. Up From Below standouts "40 Day Dream" and "Home" did their lovely thing. But this time, the supporting material convinced me that this band is getting better. Fast.

Grizzly Bear

An easy "best set" title to give, Grizzly Bear, was as perfect as a group of pure vocalists can be in high wind. I've been chasing this show for years and couldn't be happier to finally reach it in the company of good friends. For 45 spellbinding minutes, we said nothing. "While You Wait For The Others", which might be the song of the year, unfolded masterfully with its slow build, from Dan's kind intro to the band's triumphantly harmonized finish. I was stoned. "The Knife" kind of killed me.

Beirut
Like last Coachella, the ridiculously talented Zach Condon and his band of endearing fellows, drew an impressive crowd, probably the day's biggest. There's nothing fashionable and hardly anything showman-y about Beirut. You get the feeling these guys take their craft so seriously, that there's little room left for the selling of it. The music sells itself. Condon is a commanding frontman, but he's also careful with his words. Gazing across the skyline with a (Sunday) smile, he paused as if to nod towards the Bay Bridge, and then addressed us with, "It's nice to play for you at sunset."

Now officially freezing, our group huddled (some finding refuge in trash bags) for The Walkmen. A very good band (I say that when lacking other words). Backed by horns and pianos, Hamilton Leithauser leaned into an emotional set with his trademark vocals. Night had arrived.

Acts like Yo Lo Tengo are the reason festivals are special. Only familiar with their longtime indie-cred reputation and not so much their material, I was all ears, out of respect. Simply put: epic feedback.

The Flaming Lips

With one week to digest the overwhelmingly trippy new album, a few years of awareness for their zany live show, and a lifetime of admiration for The Flaming Lips, you could say my expectations were high. Shot out of a confetti canon, opener "Race For the Prize" had Wayne Coyne emerging from his infamous bubble while giant balloons fell from the heavens. So ya, it was all delivered right there, in one song.

Unfortunately, the next song wouldn't arrive until a sentimental Coyne was done telling stories. That would be the momentum-killing case during many breaks. As a die-hard fan, I held on, finding plenty to love in heavier moments like new track "Silver Trembling Hands" and the ultimate rarity, "Enthusiasm For Life Defeats Existential Fear". It's a two way street, and I'm not sure our frosted bodies had enough life for Wayne to really pull from. The glorious "Do You Realize" echoed on our way out, and luckily it's not possible for that one to miss the mark.

Anything after 5pm was just a bonus anyway. Speaking of extras:

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