After a year on hiatus, the Bay Area’s favorite boutique music festival, Treasure Island, returned triumphantly to a new location last weekend, Oct. 13-14, at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park, in Oakland. Away from the man-made island between San Francisco and Oakland that gave Treasure Island Music Festival its name and hosted the fest for 10 years, it still offered all the best things we have come to love about it. Stunning city views across the water, Instagram-worthy art installations, only two-stages with no overlapping sets and an ever-eclectic lineup with Aussie psych rockers Tame Impala and rapper A$AP Rocky as headliners.
The benefits of being a smaller festival, according to co-founder and Noise Pop Industries CEO Jordan Kurland, is they do not have to cater to everyone’s tastes – there was the acid jazz of Hiatus Kaiyote, whose frontwoman wore a fetching, fox pair of crotch pants, the DJ stylings of Laff Trax (Toro Y Moi), indie sounds of Soccer Mommy, old school rock of Sharon Van Etten and crossover indie-folk of Lord Huron.
The discovery aspect of finding a new favorite artist you had never heard of was always as key to Treasure Island as the established headliners who tended to draw crowds, which would swell as the sun faded and the pretty lights of the city started to glow.
This year, now-established Aussie rocker Courtney Barnett—who has inevitably helped launch the careers of a number of other female artists with a vocal-style somewhat similar to hers—got the coveted Sunday slot nearing the sunset hour. Droves had poured through the gates to catch her and it was noticeably busier on the grounds with many festival-goers laying down picnic blankets to enjoy one of her best performances to date. Singing old favorites like “Avant Gardener,” “Pedestrian At Best,” “Depreston” and newer hits off her latest Tell Me How You Really Feel, Barnett’s set peppered with her signature shredding was muscular, pitch-perfect and did not disappoint.
Here’s to some of the other best things we observed at Treasure Island’s re-launch. Now that they’ve dropped anchor at their new Oakland home, it should be smooth sailing and we hope the festival goes from strength to strength for the next 10 years.
Best Color For Diversity: Black
There was a wealth of urban, rap and R&B acts on a bill of only 24 acts. Fittingly, it was no black cultural monolith; each offered a different jumping-off point for the African-American experience. Serpentwithfeet, who was last seen in the Bay opening for Perfume Genius, spoke to the queer experience and actually opened a book to recite a whole poem by Naomi Long Madgett. He encouraged everyone who was born under the Cancer star sign, like him, to read the poem called “Woman With Flower.” The early crowd listened intently.
Moses Sumney, who has worked with everyone from St. Vincent to Sufjan Stevens, Beck, to Solange Knowles and Thundercat, continues to defy categorization with his solo debut Aromanticism. His vocal range traveled between the deep timbre of Nina Simone and possessed much of that melancholy and loneliness, to the high falsetto which, when he looped with effects on pedals, sounded like a choir of angels that could summon the heavens open. His Björk cover was the perfect soundtrack for the sunny, chilled afternoon set.
Earlier that day, Jpegmafia couldn’t have delivered a more polar opposite performance; it was all bravado. He dared an audience member to say to his face what dis he was shouting from the crowd. Before he leaped shirtless into the small crowd.
Kanye West collaborator Pusha-T had some of that same posturing and rapped about the hustle, drugs and grudges. It was a coup for the festival to get Pusha, who is riding high on the stellar success of Daytona, which debuted at No 1. on Billboard’s Rap & R&B/Hip Hop Chart, one of four other G.O.O.D. Music releases, in June.
And of course, headliner A$AP Rocky, a rapper-producer from the Harlem-based A$AP Mob crew, who has found much mainstream success, transcending his street roots to appear on collaborations featuring Rod Stewart and Mark Ronson as well recent albums of Lana Del Rey and Thirty Seconds to Mars. Hence, A$AP Rocky could afford to be 30 minutes late and still please the eager masses with ease. As the curtains finally drew open, it revealed a giant head like that of “The Iron Giant” with sparkling eyes and a crew that included a saxophonist. Suitable pyrotechnics ensued on tracks like the Moby-sampled “A$AP Forever,” “Buck Shots,” where everyone put up their gun-hands at his request, “L$D,” as well as several A$AP Mob covers including closer “Yamborghini High.”
Best/Worst Use of Fog By A Headliner: Tame Impala
San Francisco is no stranger to fog, but Tame Impala’s wall of colored haze was next level. The last installment of TIMF in 2016 saw severe weather with violent thunderstorms that wreaked havoc; some festival-goers left the site and sets were cancelled, so it was a treat to have the festival be bathed in sunshine and impeccable warm weather all weekend.
Tame Impala, however, brought more than their fair share of fog, almost impenetrable for the first handful of songs; you could barely see the warm bodies on stage. But maybe that’s the effect they were going for, a wall of fog to match their psychedelic wall of sound. At one point, Kevin Parker did step out to have a drink and check out the crowd but then disappeared back into it. Parker and company did not disappoint where it mattered, delivering an hour and a half set of their best hits from “Elephant” to “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” and “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards.”
Best Sunset Act Ever: Cigarettes After Sex
Not our first choice for this coveted slot, but boy, were Cigarettes After Sex perfect for that witching hour, when the skyline went through orange sherbet hues against the creamiest blue sky and then faded to dark.
The glacial pace of the guitar melodies and hushed vocals of Greg Gonzalez managed to lull a not-long-ago frenzied crowd into a state of post-coital bliss like the one he sings about on “K.” Just like him, we forgot the rest of the world existed. Each quiet melody and its dreamy strains held us in a trance as the moon rose and shone above the water. This was not a mood that you could recreate elsewhere; still, any chance you get, go see Cigarettes After Sex.
Best onstage banter of the Aussie acts: Alex Cameron
On Sunday, four out of the 12 acts that played, including the headliner, came from the land down under.” Kurland said they had not planned it that way when they were putting together the festival; hence, it is a testament to the quality and sheer volume of great acts coming out of Australia in recent years.
Alex Cameron was probably the one with the smallest profile among bands like Pond and Grammy-nominated Barnett, but he and business partner Roy Molloy were the best at the light art of the banter, engaging an audience that may not have known them from a bar of soap.
Before singing “Marlon Brando,” a track of his latest album Forced Witness, he offered: “We wrote this as a dossier of the straight white male,” in reference to the toxic masculinity that the song references. Before “Runnin’ Out of Luck,” he said: “Roy wrote the most disgusting line in this song, yet the most beautiful.” The song was also written with The Killers’ Brandon Flowers.
Mid-set, Cameron handed the mic to Molloy for a hilarious review of the stool. Molloy got off the stool, examined it and then said: “This is what’s known as a drum throne, so it’s not technically a stool,” to much laughter from the audience. “It’s marked DW, which could mean ‘Don’t Worry.’ I’m not worried; I’m feeling stable as fuck. I give it a 3.5 out of 5 on this sunny day.” Other highlights included “Candy May” and the excellent Angel Olsen duet “Stranger’s Kiss,” which saw keyboardist Holly Sidewinder take on the female vocals with Cameron.
Best party vibe: Santigold
Brooklyn-raised Santigold’s energetic set stood out Saturday. She brought the vibes, tunes, colors and as is custom at her shows, invited the audience onstage for her dance party. Her set was pure delight on a day where there were many male DJ duos—Polo and Pan, Silk City (Diplo and Mark Ronson) and Laff Trax (Toro Y Moi and Nosaj Thing). The earlier DJ sets, static as they were, seemed okay as fans had high hopes for Silk City. However, Diplo did not bring his hamster ball or any dancers for this, one of his first live sets with Ronson.
Santigold, however, dressed like a Christmas tree and brought two dancers, dressed for a tennis match with buckets of attitude. The sometimes Jay-Z collaborator is reminiscent of M.I.A. as much as Karen O, and sang old favorites such as “Unstoppable,” “L.E.S. Artistes” and “Disparate Youth” as well as “Coo Coo Coo” from her recent dancehall-inspired mixtape I Don’t Want: The Fire Fold Sessions. Recorded while she was gestating with twins, the new mom proved she was in fine form and finished her set with her version of Jay-Z’s “Brooklyn Go Hard” and the reverb-drenched “Big Mouth.”
Best rapper we didn’t know and now are deep in their discography: AMINÉ
It’s not anime or anee-may, it’s Ah-mee-nay! As Portland rapper Aminé introduced himself, we found his quirky and quick fire rhymes with messages beyond hoes and thug life refreshing. There were in fact a number of urban acts that aren’t quite mainstream yet caught our eye, but Aminé was hands-down our favorite.
The set started a little late with DJ Madison Stewart warming the crowd up before Aminé burst on stage and entertained with some of his best such as “Campfire,” the hilarious Biz Markie-like “Wedding Crashers,” and “Redmercedes,” which has a video that pokes fun at reverse racism. When he appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, he finished “Caroline,” his highest charting hit from debut Good For You with a special message ending with, “You can never make America great again. All you ever did was make this country hate again.”
Best Oakland shout-out: POND frontman Nick Allbrook
All weekend some artists were still calling out, “How are you, San Francisco?” to the audience while others were referring to the now, more geographically accurate Oakland. The audience didn’t seem to mind either way. All the way from Perth, Australia, Tame Impala offshoot POND got it right. “Hello, Oakland! So good to be here,” said frontman Nick Allbrook. Then he explained: “I’ve always wanted to come to Oakland. Mainly because I love Lil B.”
An important fixture to the Bay Area music scene, Lil B has influenced rappers like G-Eazy and a whole generation of music lovers with his rap as much as his positive messages of acceptance. POND, who kicked off their set with “30,000 Megatons,“ are a band who have always identified as misfits, much like Lil B.
Prolific songwriters, despite some of them also touring with Tame Impala and having their own solo projects, POND were already performing several new songs not from last year’s album The Weather. In between, Allbrook’s best Bowie impressions, their spacey set’s highlights included the expansive “Giant Tortoise” with its chunky guitar riffs; the bass-heavy, face-melt of “Paint Me Silver”—one of many standouts off The Weather—as well as watching a relaxed Jay Watson pulling faces to the camera on their last song.
Best post-punk outfit: SHAME
South London quintet SHAME kicked off their high-octane set with “Dust On Trail” off their lauded debut—recorded on a Welsh farm—Songs of Praise. As the rest of the band played the drone-like dirge onstage, frontman Charlie Steen, in a button-up shirt, could not be contained and sang from a platform off the side of the stage. He would go on to use every inch of the stage, prowling from side to side on some songs, sitting still on one of the speakers for one, and leaping into the audience with his shirt off soon after.
Highlights included “Concrete,” “One Rizla” and “Friction,” which came complete with bassist Josh Finerty’s energetic leaps and highkicks, plus Steen’s steady walk across the moshpit. “Thank you, California,” Steen said mid-set, “This is going into our scrap books.” Ours too!