A Treasure for Music Lovers

Too lazy to wake up early for bands we had never heard before, my friends and I left for the Treasure Island Music Festival, located within the bay between San Francisco and Berkeley, in time to catch the latter two-thirds of the acts. We scuffled to the BART station and from our stop to AT&T Park (a.k.a. Giant’s Stadium), where a super classy and free shuttle took us to (and would later take us from) the island.

We saw about half of She & Him, whose newer music (Vol. 2) is generally more upbeat than their earlier releases. While this should have made for an energetic live performance, I instead found their routine more cliché than I had remembered. Their songs had fewer of their characteristic frills and affections, and sounded more like generic country/pop/rock. They may have glossed over more details in favor of a more exciting performance. I understand the tradeoff—and the act was definitely not horrible. But last year Beirut filled the same time slot with a somber performance perfectly suited for the drizzly but eclectic bay setting.

I had already forgotten about She & Him by the time Israeli grunge-rockers Monotonix took the stage. Previously unacquainted with the band, I immediately judged them as somewhat gimmicky and noisy: the singer looked and acted homeless, wearing only running shorts, sporting absurd facial hair, and yelling sporadically into the microphone. But Monotonix managed to combine sloppy rawness with forms of precision. The drummer had an endless supply of fills and accents that were always contextually appropriate, and the guitar was never too simplistic or repetitive. And even though much of the act revolved around the lead singer yelling and collecting bags of trash to dump on the audience, the songs themselves were well-thought-out and well-played. While Monotonix should not be taken too seriously, I found their act quite apt overall, and worth watching.

Broken Social Scene then took the stage, beginning with a new song that began slowly and progressively built into a stellar orchestral climax. For the next few songs from their newest release, Forgiveness Rock Record, Kevin Drew (a founding member and guitarist/vocalist) was openly frustrated with a faulty guitar and a bit lacking in energy. But the other guitarists more than accounted for the deficit. Instead of trying too hard to keep the sound full and theatrical, they took the opportunity to play embellished versions of ambient pieces off their first album, Feel Good Lost, which benefited from uncluttered, pristine guitar parts. Intrigued by this intermission of sorts, I was unprepared for the potency of the songs to follow. Lisa Lobsinger, the current female vocalist in Broken Social Scene, perfectly recaptured “Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl” to the point where it was moving. I actually liked the live version more than the album version, as it maintained its prettiness, shed some of its weirdness, and felt more dramatic. Feeding off the effectiveness of that song, Drew came back onto the stage with a nice functional guitar and nailed the hell out of “Almost Crimes,” another staple from You Forgot It In People. The rest of the performance was predictably impressive. Each guitarist has his own particular way of evoking a specific and irreproducible sound, and I enjoyed seeing the production of all the noises I usually only hear. The keyboards and saxophones resounded more prominently live than on recording as well. Overall, I highly enjoyed the way Broken Social Scene presented their idiosyncratic and artsy sound.

Less interested in Surfer Blood, The National, or Rogue Wave, we headed to grab some food when a sign for a silent disco caught our eyes. After inspection, we walked in and were given a pair of headphones remotely synced to be playing the same techno-ey and remix-ey music as all the other headphones being given out. The music was danceable, and other people seemed to agree, as a decently unruly dance party had developed in a nice grassy field overhung and enclosed by trees.

After spending an hour or so participating in that nonsense, we caught the end of Rogue Wave’s punch performance. I found them pleasant enough, with nice warm and crisp guitar tones and vocals. But then, Belle & Sebastian took the bridge stage, and unleashed nothing but class upon the onlookers. They opened with a few intensely catchy songs from their new LP, Write About Love, taking full advantage of accompanying brass and string instruments. The most notable aspect of the performance was its tidiness: all songs seemed exhaustively rehearsed to the tiniest detail. They did not prepare anything particularly amazing, but effectively made their songs come to life—they were, as a whole, far more compelling live. The last song, “Sleep the Clock Around” from Boy with the Arab Strap, most embodied this sentiment. And then “Judy and the Dream of Horses” as an encore. That $80 ticket all of a sudden seemed so cheap.

Treasure Island was well-organized, well-run, and featured a number of acts quite worth seeing. The added bonuses of a silent disco, a massive Ferris wheel overlooking the bay, and plenty of lineless and reasonably-priced food only made the festival all the better. If you have a chance to go next year, the trip as a whole cost me under $300 and provided an amount of fun substantially greater than that sum of money.

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