Words and Photos by Pedro Paredes-Haz
There are a lot of things that set Treasure Island Music Festival apart from the other festivals we see in Northern California. First we have the beautiful setting, you really can’t beat being in the middle of the Bay during the Indian Summer. Secondly is the alternating format where every act is just a minute’s walk away, eliminating the FOMO experienced at other festivals. But perhaps the thing that sets the festival furthest apart from the competition is loading Saturday with the dance acts and Sunday with buzzed about indie rock acts. This isn’t a hard set rule and there are dance acts on Sunday and indie acts on Saturday, but the vibes are definitely very different.
This year we were treated to an absolutely stellar set of acts on Sunday. The action started early with acts like Viet Cong, Mikhail Cronin and Ex Hex and continued all the way through closing act The National. Check out our gallery for some great shots of all the acts. I’ll focus on some of my favorite acts for the review.
There are few things that say lazy Sunday afternoon more perfectly than José González. The Swedish folk singer filled the breezy afternoon with a mixture of original songs, covers and songs by members of his accompanying band. He gave the crowd what they were waiting for on the last song, playing his cover of “Heartbeats” by The Knife solo as the band and audience looked on. It’s hard to say a cover is better than an original, especially in this case because the original is so good, but in this case it might be true.
Even while watching him create music live, I often can’t figure out how Panda Bear AKA Noah Lennox weaves such complex beats and melodies together. A one man music machine, Lennox looks so unassuming, but the way he composes music and mixes his own voice is genius.
For me the best moment was hearing “Boys Latin” off the new album Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper live. The beat is a deep industrial shoe gaze and Lennox’s vocals are almost gregorian. You will never hear vowels the same again.
The War on Drugs
‘Kurt Vile and The War on Drugs reunited this weekend in San Francisco’ is a lie I told myself when I saw that Kurt Vile & The Violators were playing the Fillmore just days ahead of The War on Drugs set Sunday. While we all know that was just a pipe dream, the truth was every bit as good as the fiction as frontman Adam Granduciel treated us to some of the moodiest indie rock this side of the Mississippi.
The set was heavy on 2014’s Lost In The Dream and songs like “Red Eye” paired with the crisp Fall air like mustard on pastrami. If you are a fan of guitar solos and Canadian tuxedos you can’t go wrong.
Father John Misty
Father John Misty (the brilliant alter ego of Joshua Tillman) was actually the set I was most looking forward to this year. Beyond being a great musician, singer and songwriter Tillman is actually a comedic genius. His act is as much performance art as it is about the music, he wears the persona of a nihilistic, ego-maniac philosopher, his song “Bored in the USA” is basically an anthem.
He came out swinging with hit single “I Love You, Honeybear” and the crowd was immediately into it, regardless of whether they were in on the joke of his persona. During his set he stopped to do something “controversial” putting his hair up into a man bun, giving us the play by play as he did it. The best moment came when he took the phone of a fan recording the set and serenaded the device. When he handed it back he quipped that she is going to want to delete pictures from her sisters wedding so she can keep that forever.
As front woman Lauren Mayberry said during the set, Chvrches has finally broken the curse of San Francisco. The Scottish trio has run into a streak of bad luck in the Bay Area, most famously missing their Outside Lands set because of issues with customs in Canada. But I also remember when they played the Fox Theater in November of 2013 Lauren was on stage despite a very bad cold.
But Sunday wasn’t just about breaking a curse, it was also a set that proved that Chvrches is ready to be a festival headliner. With the success of 2013’s The Bones Of What You Believe it would have been easy to think they might experience a sophomore slump with this year’s Every Open Eye. Seeing them perform Sunday though it was clear that the new songs were every bit as moving live.
Festivals in general are horrible at booking female fronted headliners. Organizers should take notice of what Chvrches can do in 45 minutes, they are ready for a bigger slot.
More often than not when you talk to someone about The National it’s not just about the music, it’s about the emotional connections and associations people have with their songs. This is the song that got me through moving to a new city. This song was playing when I met my future ex-girlfriend. For me seeing them is both thrilling and a form of low grade mental torture, as I’m reminded of my friend who was obsessed with the band and passed a few years ago.
On Sunday you could feel everyone getting lost in the music and themselves around you. During “Terrible Love” a girl behind me was crying. This is the power of truly great music, and The National never disappoints live. The lyrics are dark, mysterious and sometimes sound like they are escaping from deep within Matthew Berninger rather than being sung. The instruments are expertly played, but not perfectionist. The notes fall where they need to be.
Highlights of the set include bringing out Lauren Mayberry of Chvrches to bring a completely different etherial feel to “I Need My Girl.” Dead heads were also thrilled by the bands cover of “Peggy-O”, a song that was known to grace The Grateful Dead set lists.
I had planned on leaving after about four songs on Sunday, but like the rest of the crowd Sunday night I couldn’t fight the draw of The National and gave into the music and all the complicated emotions that come with it.