Treasure Island Festival, San Francisco - Day Two 16/10/11
Though I knew Day Two of Treasure Island would be more my cup of tea, it still had some stiff competition from Saturday. While the first day is known for its rave-like tendencies, the second is almost a designated recovery period: the indie lineup is perfect for snagging a spot on the grass and chilling out with a bag of popchips. Admittedly bands like Explosions In the Sky, Friendly Fires, and Death Cab for Cutie aren't ideal for lounging, but they're still relatively mellow compared to their Saturday counterparts.
The first half of the lineup dominated. Not only were these sets among the best of the festival, several were some of the best I've seen, period: the Antlers and St. Vincent had us especially wrapped around their adept fingers. I walked into the Antlers' set with some very high expectations, as Hospice is one of my favourite albums ever; it makes me cry every time, without fail. It happened that the set was short on songs from that work, however, only letting the unexpected 'Atrophy' remind us of Hospice's utter heartbreak. Acclaimed sophomore effort Burst Apart still provided plenty of opportunities for tears: Peter Silberman's astonishing voice was so stirring, so haunting, I couldn't help but get caught up in his nearly palpable emotion. There's something otherworldly about his breathy but powerful tone, and that sustained falsetto made hits like 'Parentheses' and 'No Widows' reach new heights. If the Antlers commanded this stage with such grace and authority, their intimate performances must be close to life-altering.
I wouldn't want to follow that set, but Warpaint did so admirably. The LA band upped the rock vibe, taking their signature dark haze and adding a nice punch. Songs like 'Warpaint', 'Bees', and the dreamy 'Undertow' felt more driven; the dynamism I yearned for on acclaimed album The Fool had finally arrived. Though Warpaint has always stood out from the endless parade of lo-fi girl groups, it took me until Sunday to fully appreciate why: their on-stage synergy is simply enchanting.
From that vantage point, the transition to St. Vincent felt very natural. Warpaint drew me in with their presence and intriguing blend of textures—intricate harmonies, swirling guitars, driving bass and drums. I expected Annie Clark to play on a similar theme, given her sophisticated style and rather soft, airy tone. Instead she became a bona fide rockstar, shredding like the best of them and playing up the theatricality. Her voice shifted constantly, from whisper to shout to sing-song speech, but nothing (not even the heavy synths) felt overdone. She breathed new life into 'Actor Out of Work' and revved up some of the best from Strange Mercy, including 'Surgeon', 'Cruel', and 'Dilettante'. She even threw in an inspired and perfectly over-the-top cover of the Pop Group's 'She Is Beyond Good and Evil'. Her forty-minute set was masterful and far too short; of all the artists to grace the massive Bridge Stage, no one owned it better than this delicate-looking woman with serious chops.
At least for me, the day peaked after St. Vincent's set. It's not that I didn't enjoy many of the following acts; Wild Beasts, for instance, let me bring back my dancing shoes. They chose the funkiest pieces from their baroque-rock repertoire, and Hayden Thorpe's distinctive warble soared from opener 'Bed of Nails' to closer 'Hooting & Howling'. Later act Beach House was also enjoyable, a predictably mellow break in the action. We all swayed hypnotically to hits like 'Gila', 'Norway', and 'Used to Be', and although I've never been a Beach House groupie, hundreds of Victoria Legrand worshipers were clearly in raptures over her breezy, cool delivery.
I was less thrilled by the Head and the Heart, a band I've seen in smaller venues on several occasions. The Seattle folk-poppers have risen quickly through the ranks, largely because of rousing live shows—and though I could see the passion, I couldn't feel or hear it. Their go-to tempo usually allows for a fair amount of foot tapping, drawing the audience in one keyboard thump at a time, but each song on Sunday felt much too slow. The sextet's typically contagious spirit stopped just past the sun-drenched stage, and though I was excited to hear new material, I didn't feel the fervour. But if the band didn't bring its usual hoedown, the lovesick couple in front of me certainly didn't notice.
I took a break to experience some of the novelties of Treasure Island, so I can't say much about either Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks (in a word: grouchy) or Friendly Fires (I was busy having panic attacks on the ferris wheel, but I did notice some sweet dance moves from Ed MacFarlane). It wasn't until Explosions in the Sky that the festival vibe truly returned; the set of never-ending instrumental builds swept us all up, even before the parade of glowing jellyfish. There's clearly a formula at work and the band's songs can blur into sameness, but sometimes that tactic is just what the festival-goer ordered. Sameness or not, the crowd was enthralled.
How did Treasure Island 2011 end? With the eternally-loved Death Cab for Cutie. I may have missed the boat on recent album Codes and Keys, but Ben Gibbard and his cohorts gave us older fans plenty of sing-along fodder. They filled the set with favourites from previous albums, paying fairly equal ode to Narrow Stairs, Plans, and Translanticism (and even gave a nod to 2000's Forbidden Love EP'). The wide range let everyone join the party: though much of the festival was about discovery, the weekend's finale was all about celebration, and even reminiscing. Like Cut Copy's performance the night before, this last hurrah sparked sheer exuberance—the biker dude behind me, middle-aged man beside me, and hipster chick in front of me all had matching grins. I left Treasure Island with a smile on my own face; it was a great send-off to a truly wonderful weekend.