photo by Courtney Garcia
On an island in the bay between San Francisco and Oakland, typically occupied solely by residents and shops, a musical movement went down over the weekend. On Saturday and Sunday, some of today’s most progressive acts took over Treasure Island for a two-day music festival built around both up-and-comers and trailblazers in the worlds of independent rock and electronica. Sunday – geared towards rock – began with a set by local favorites, Thee Oh Sees, and culminated in a stellar performance by Northwestern stalwarts, Death Cab For Cutie. In between, the lineup featured an array of the more hip and obscure artists currently on the road, sure to please even the elitist of music tastemakers.
Under partly cloudy skies and offset by the cityscape of San Francisco, the glimmering waters of the bay sparkled under the sun and offered a nice break of pace between the movement of the town, the drifting sailboats, and tinge of guitars on a sandy beach. The music festival fully embraced its secluded island location, offering pinot and chardonnay from nearby wineries, stir-fry and crab fries from area bistros, and a host of art, band memorabilia and jewelry crafts handmade by local artists. There were two stages, plenty of open grass for grazing, and best of all, a Ferris wheel. Festival attendees entertained themselves with a view of the city, and the musing sound of rock bands, as they spun happily through the air.
St. Vincent was the first hyped act to see on Sunday. Brooklyn’s fashionable rock it-girl began her set with “Surgeon,” singing between falsetto and heavier alto tones, and switching the beat from trippy electronic to rock in a very Bjork-like style. She wore a funky yellow shoulder shrug, black heels and bright red lips, and while her guitar playing wasn’t especially difficult, she was clearly comfortable rocking the electric instrument. Other song highlights included “Cheerleader,” and the popular track, “Actor Out Of Work.” Only one major complaint, which was across the board for the day – she barely spoke to the audience other than to say thanks. Given one of the best reasons to see live shows is to watch the barrier dissipate between artists and their fans, it’s always a bit of downer when the former remains elusive. In the case of St. Vincent, she maintained a reserved demeanor.
New UK Act and recent BTR Discovery Artist, Wild Beasts, played next. The show was their last stop on a North American tour, and, as they indicated, they intended to “party like it was the end of the world.” The quartet of Brits looked stylish and happy, their musical talent evidenced by the complex arrangements of their work, and solid execution of each song. Lead vocalist Hayden Thorpe sings distinct falsettos, which unfortunately were muffled for the majority of the performance. Guitarist and vocalist, Tom Fleming came across stronger as a singer, and was the only band-member to address the audience. The group is young and learning; they could use some work on their stage presence, as the awkward minutes of lapsed time between each song should have been used to their advantage.
Seattle folk rock band, The Head and the Heart, was a standout surprise after the more synth-heavy performances of the bands before them. Their music had a jazz, bluegrass feel, with strong harmonies and clever use of the tambourine. They were followed by Beach House, reverting back to the synthesized, trip music of St. Vincent. If you like Beach House, you might have enjoyed their show, but for one unfamiliar with their music, every song sounded identical and the performance equally monotonous. One hour felt like four.
The two best performances of the day came at the close: orchestral, instrumental band, Explosions In The Sky, and Death Cab. It’s easy to see why Explosions is garnering so much attention, as it takes a lot of talent to rock the stage for over an hour without one note being sung. Comprised of three guitarists (one who doubles as a keyboardist) and a drummer, the alt-rock electronic group from Texas created a blaze of sound, lighting up the stage with their candescently, grunge anthems. It seemed the perfect music for a film score, and in fact, the group has contributed music to the television show, Friday Night Lights in the past. This is a definitely a band to watch out for.
After the sun went down and the crowd got restless, Death Cab came on for an hour and fifteen minutes, playing old favorites and new works from their release this year, Codes & Keys. Ben Gibbard, eccentric and offbeat, proved a great frontman, his vocals sounding as unique live as they do recorded, and his passion for music on display in his lively performance. The group began with “I Will Possess Your Heart,” leading into “Crooked Teeth,” both from their best album to date, 2005’s Plans. The set was a careful balance of past and present, performing a ten minute jam interlude of “Transatlanticism” midway, and beginning their encore with “Stay Young, Go Dancing,” from this year’s record. No “What Sarah Said,” unfortunately, but nice renditions of “Soul Meets Body,” “Cath,” and “Marching Bands of Manhattan,” along the way.
The festival was amusing, but could have been better by interspersing both days with electronic and indie rock rather than segregating the genres. The washed out feel of new wave indie ran dry after time, and the pulsation of a beat and turntables would have been nice to change the dynamic. Sitting on an island under the sunshine with a drink in hand, nevertheless, it’s hard to complain about much.