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Treasure Island Music Festival 2015 Review: From Worst to Best

A rundown of every act that played the fan-friendly San Francisco festival this weekend

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    Photography by Philip Cosores

    If it takes a Herculean effort to get 20,000 people to find their way to a field on an island for the weekend, the Treasure Island Music Festival has an excellent poker face. The sales pitch is in the concept: two days, separated by genre, spread across two stages that never overlap. The electronic madness of Saturday segues into the more laid-back rock acts of Sunday, and for good measure, a comedy tent curated by Funny or Die was added to the proceedings for 2015. Among the names coming aboard to perform were headliners deadmau5 and The National, along with a undercard stocked with the likes of CHVRCHES, Run the Jewels, The War on Drugs, and the live debut of Big Boi and Phantogram as Big Grams.

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    Beyond the music was a bevy of delectable eats (chocolate bacon, anyone?), DIY crafts (make your own totem so your lagging friends can find you!), a silent disco, and the consistently stunning views of San Francisco sitting across the bay. The atmosphere was intimate compared with the sprawling chaos of big brother festivals like Coachella and Outside Lands. There is a community at Treasure Island, a welcoming spontaneity punctuated by the charming fact that if you lose your group, you will likely run into them with minimal effort. That’s the beauty of the Treasure Island Music Festival: It’s made with the fan in mind, and 2015’s installment was no exception.

    Read on for our coverage of every act to hit the island over the weekend — no Dramamine required.

    –Zack Ruskin
    Staff Writer

    Viceroy

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    There were Hawaiian shirts and shorts, electric fiddles and saxophones … and not much else. Viceroy were dressed to party, but their music felt more akin to a 45-minute remix of a Top 40 playlist with some bongos and blasts of brass thrown in. As the fog continued its stranglehold over the island, Viceroy took their shot at coaxing the sun to make an appearance. Unfortunately both the sun and the group failed to shine. –-Zack Ruskin
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    Baio

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    Though Baio’s Chris Baio is a member of Vampire Weekend, fans looking for an analog between the two are simply out of luck. Baio’s sound leans on uptempo ’80s pop if it were voiced by Morrissey, and though he was forthcoming in admitting it was only the duo’s 14th show ever, his onstage experience from his main gig showed in both his presence and the ease with which he addressed the crowd. But the actual songwriting of Baio is unremarkable, and that came through when every quiet moment of the set was met with with chatter. Still, it wasn’t bad background music as the sun came out on Saturday afternoon. –Philip Cosores
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    Deerhunter

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    It’s still early in the Deerhunter touring cycle behind their latest, Fading Frontier, and the kinks have yet to be completely worked out of their set. Maybe this is coming from the high water mark the band previously set for themselves, but newer songs felt like a dress rehearsal while even an older song like “Desire Lines” lacked urgency. Bandleader Bradford Cox, though, was still a delight, bewildered by the respect the crowd showed his band and even growing somewhat apologetic at the band’s lack of focus. -Philip Cosores
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    FKA Twigs

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    Perhaps it was a case of timing — carrying the energy between Hudson Mohawke and the live debut of Big Grams is no simple task — but FKA twigs’ act was less enigmatic than it was anemic. The whispery singer seemed lost on the larger Bridge stage, perhaps hoping the intricacy of her pseudo-ballet avant-garde dance steps could mask the silence that seemed to permeate her set. While those closest to the stage may have been afforded an opportunity to more fully engage with twigs, those from the soundboard and back struggled to connect with her fragile movements and fractured songs. Blaming the artist for the flat reception that greeted her performance may be unfair, but the result was nonetheless a weak moment from a marquee act. –Zack Ruskin
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    Cashmere Cat

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    Norwegian DJ Magnus August Høiberg took his twilight set on Saturday night and turned out a steady stream of ethereal melodies backed by pulsing beats. Cashmere Cat was the feline dose missing from a Run the Jewels set tragically short on Meow the Jewels material. With seven acts already in the books, Høiberg’s delicate yet euphoric tracks were a welcome interlude ahead of the evening’s heaviest hitters. –Zack Ruskin
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    Gorgon City

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    During Gorgon City’s set, the party truly got started. Vocalist Lulu James added an extra layer to producers Kye “Foamo” Gibbon and Matt “RackNRuin” Robson-Scott’s infectious array of pop-house bangers, inspiring the growing crowd to get down. When the boys spun “Imagination”, even the clouds had to concede defeat. By the time Gorgon City’s show was over, the air was warm, the crowd was hyped, and the day had truly begun. –-Zack Ruskin

    Skylar Spence

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    The crowd for Treasure Island’s inaugural 2015 set was armed in equal measure with coffees and beers. Skylar Spence mastermind Ryan DeRobertis empathized with the small contingent gathered at the Bridge stage. “We drove down from Portland yesterday,” he said. “At our show up there I threw up on stage. That had never happened before. That was cool.” Stationed behind his keyboard console, DeRobertis, formerly known as Saint Pepsi, worked to cure everyone’s collective hangover with his brand of breezy pop rock. The noontime set was a nice icebreaker for the heavier tunes still to come. –Zack Ruskin
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    Jose Gonzalez

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    Jose Gonzalez’s brand of chilled-out acoustic jams wouldn’t fly at just any music festival, but it worked on the second day of Treasure Island, when half of the audience was content sitting on their blankets and the other half appeared to be devoted fans, cheering on each song they recognized. Gonzalez did his part, too, bringing a band to give his coffee-shop ballads a bit more of a pulse. The end result proved that mid-aughts indie icons still have a place at music festivals. They just need to find the right setting. –Philip Cosores
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    Lower Dens

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    Lower Dens’ nuanced and cerebral music relies on subtle swells, and their mid-afternoon set was given all the opportunity it needed to cast a spell. Bandleader Jana Hunter is growing more and more confident in selling it, too, lunging at the music’s punches during “To Die in LA” knowing that they would land. Again, it was an appropriate booking in an appropriate slot, given every chance to succeed. And succeed it did, capped by a late-set run through one of the best songs any band has in their arsenal, “Brains”. –Philip Cosores
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    Mikal Cronin

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    It wouldn’t be a music festival without a dose of sweet, lovesick rock, and Mikal Cronin made sure that niche was filled. While the jams did get a bit heavier as the set progressed, the overall mood was upbeat, with many choosing to sprawl on blankets and nurse their first drinks of the day. A California native, Cronin evoked the echoed harmonies of former local legends Beulah and made the most of his time in the late October sunshine. –Zack Ruskin
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    Ex Hex

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    Ex Hex came ready to shred. Riding high off the release of their debut full-length Rips last fall, the trio of Mary Timony, Betsy Wright, and Laura Harris were in top form as they ripped through their catalog of gritty power pop. Trading off solos and enjoying the moment, lead singer Timony even found time to shout out Harris’ parents. Watching the whirlwind performances for songs like “You Fell Apart” and “I Know How You Got That Girl”, one had to hope her folks are very proud. –Zack Ruskin

    Drive Like Jehu

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    “Fuck you,” snarled Rick Froberg midway through Drive Like Jehu’s performance. He wasn’t speaking to anyone in the crowd specifically, but the sentiment was meant for everyone. Drive Like Jehu is 20 years removed from their landmark second (and final) album Yank Crime, but their attitude hasn’t lost a step. Thrashing their way through a small selection of their sprawling math rock, the confines of a festival setlist appeared to limit what the band could do with epic tracks like “Do You Compute”. What Viet Cong made work with ease seemed to stifle Drive Like Jehu. Fuck us, indeed. –Zack Ruskin
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    The War on Drugs

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    The celebratory tour behind the critically lauded Lost in the Dream may be nearing its final lap, but Adam Granduciel and company show no signs of slowing down. While somewhat disconnected from the crowd, fans of the band will know that audience interaction isn’t a point of importance for the Philadelphia indie rockers. Perhaps unfairly maligned as “dad rock,” The War on Drugs didn’t segregate by generation on Sunday afternoon, getting everyone in the audience united for killer jams like “Red Eyes” and “Arms Like Boulders”. –Zack Ruskin
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    STS9

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    Saturday at Treasure Island has long been known as the dance day since even before dance music was quite so fashionable at music festivals, but what exactly “dance music” is tends to get stretched. A great example is the Sound Tribe Sector 9, a group I managed to avoid while living for six years in their home of Santa Cruz. Too electronic to be a jam band, too organic to be labeled strictly electronic, they made up for being the odd ones on the bill by letting their music provide kinetic energy. Save for a few bearded diehards that pushed to the front, most of the crowd seemed won over from their skepticism, with the audience on-board by the time the sun had set. –Philip Cosores
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    Bob Moses

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    Bob Moses (a band, not a person) had a moment early in their performance that set them apart from the previous act Skylar Spence (also a band and not a person). The bass rumbled on and the folks on the rail made an audible “oof,” kicking some sand on the line that separates what we traditionally think of as band music and DJ music. With live vocals and live instrumentation, the music still audibly occupied a low-key version of the rises and falls found in a dance tent, willing to let songs draw out, simmer, and bubble over in their own time. –Philip Cosores
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    Hudson Mohawke

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    This looked like it was going to be Hudson Mohawke’s year until his long awaited debut LP garnered a lukewarm reception on its summer release. Still, to watch the producer perform with a couple of backing members, it was like the slate had been wiped clean and he had everything to prove. Older track “Goooo” landed like a jackhammer, while cuts from his new album were highlighted for all their maximalism. The set served as a reminder that Hudson Mohawke has not lost his claim as one of music’s biggest potential breakouts, and his live game is up for the challenge should that day ever come. –Philip Cosores

    Ought

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    With only 13 acts per day, Treasure Island does a great job at not wasting any space on their lineup. A great example was Sunday’s first up, Ought, who were hardly uncomfortable outside of the dark clubs, seemingly made to be wind-blown in the cool San Francisco sun. Ought admitted to normally being chattier, but their focus also suited them, evoking New York greats Interpol in their robotic delivery and the Strokes in their half-grin, cool-as-fuck attitude. Their songs are not as streamlined as either of those touchstones, which makes for an adventurous sound worthy of the hype. They’re about as good of an act you will ever see at noon at a music festival. –Philip Cosores
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    Shamir

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    With the prospect of Run the Jewels’ upcoming set, some people chose to forgo Shamir, the breakout artist from Las Vegas with the indefinable voice. Those that made the wiser choice were treated to the countertenor majesty of Shamir’s song, a sound worthy of its own dictionary of new words that might accurately explain what it’s like to hear him sing. During the appropriately titled “Make a Scene”, things got real, as the frenzied bass exploded across the festival grounds, reminding the masses awaiting the next act a stage away exactly what they were missing. –Zack Ruskin
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    Father John Misty

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    Father John Misty is never at a loss for words. During his late afternoon set, he managed to comment on amateur videographers filming the set (“Is this really what you want to use your storage on?”), what hairstyle he should tie his hair into (“I don’t think I can do the thing where the bottom half is loose like a samurai slash vegan chef”), and, of course, love. Between his spoken thoughts came the soaring voice and sun-dappled folk that has made Misty a staple for the lovelorn. As the pedal steel wafted over the crowd during “Bored in the USA”, what else could one do but kiss their sweetie or wish they had one? –Zack Ruskin
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    Big Grams (Big Boi + Phantogram)

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    While not originally on the Treasure Island lineup, the live premiere of the new collaboration between Big Boi and Phantogram was one of the most buzzed-about performances in the hours before they hit the stage. Big Grams kicked things off with “Run for Your Life”, one of seven tracks off their eponymous EP released three weeks ago. Big Boi’s boisterous verses were perfectly complimented by the melodic vocals of Sarah Barthel and beat mastery of Josh Carter. While Skrillex was unable to reprise his Big Grams guest appearance, Run the Jewels were only too happy to join their new pals for a fiery rendition of “Born to Shine”.

    Seeing El-P, Killer Mike, and Big Boi share a stage with the Phantogram duo was an excellent PSA for the special moments afforded by a festival atmosphere. As Big Boi so succinctly put it, “We come together like butt cheeks.” To close out their first live performance, Big Grams went back to one-half of their roots with a sing-along cover of Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson” before bidding goodnight with their EP’s closer “Drum Machine”. It was an electrifying debut from two standalone talents taking the stage as one. –Zack Ruskin
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    Panda Bear

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    One glance at the visuals accompanying Panda Bear’s performance, and it seemed a slight shame that complimentary tabs of LSD weren’t included with admission. A constantly undulating sightscape of everything from a kaleidoscopic octopus of identical naked women to a smiling Captain Crunch framed Noah Lennox as he conducted his ever-evolving synthetic symphony. Of course, drugs were entirely unnecessary to appreciate the strange majesty of Panda Bear. While in typical fashion he didn’t acknowledge the audience until he thanked them as he left the stage, he said plenty in his own unique language.

    Lennox’s chunky synth underscored by lush Brian Wilson-caliber harmonies seemed tailor-made for the waning, moonlit hours of a festival set on an island. Compared to Big Grams’ take at closing out the Tunnel Stage the night prior, there were certainly fewer bodies grooving to Panda Bear, but the brisk air and looming threat of Monday morning were likely to blame. For those that did decide to stick things out, their senses were treated to a feast of alluring electropop concoctions from one of the genre’s most original talents. –Zack Ruskin

    deadmau5

    06 deadmau5 Treasure Island Music Festival 2015 Review: From Worst to Best

    The cube may be gone, but deadmau5 closed out the first night of the weekend by welcoming Treasure Island to the octagon. Staring out at the masses with radiant headlamp eyes, deadmau5 delivered 90 minutes of ruthless, pounding rhythms. Crowd favorites “Ghosts n’ Stuff” and “Strobe” fed the fervor of the crowd, but it was the visuals that sustained them. It wasn’t long before the octagon, a metal mass of lights, split open to reveal Joel Zimmerman and the wall of blistering patterns and synthetic cityscapes behind him. Soon Zimmerman revealed himself, taking off his signature headpiece to spin in the open air.

    04 deadmau5 Treasure Island Music Festival 2015 Review: From Worst to Best

    Deadmau5 is a shared experience. He may lead the crowd to the waters of his electro-oasis, but it’s up to them to drink. On Saturday night, they were mighty thirsty. One particularly creative fan sported a deadmau5 helmet tricked out to resemble a Dia de los Muertos candy skull. Across the dusty confines of the Great Lawn, the tired masses dug deep to conjure their second and third winds. While the tranquil night weather was a welcome surprise, there was a storm on the grounds, albeit one of pumped fists, sonic bass, and the ecstatic wails of the temporarily carefree. –Zack Ruskin
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    CHVRCHES

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    “Hopefully tonight we’ll break the San Francisco curse,” mused Lauren Mayberry, presumably referring to CHVRCHES last-minute cancellation at last year’s Outside Lands Festival due to visa issues. If there was a curse present during CHVRCHES’ magnificent set on Sunday night, it was perhaps one brought about by Mother Nature herself. Fierce winds attacked the Bridge stage as Mayberry and her bandmates Iain Cook and Martin Doherty revisited the best moments from their pair of full-length records. The sound of CHVRCHES live is synthpop rendered as beautifully controlled chaos, anchored by the blindside power of Mayberry’s voice.

    Forced at one point to pause between songs, Mayberry confided that her hair was the culprit for the stoppage. “I hope you’ve had a good festival so far. I’ve spent most of the day eating the right side of my hair. This is Behind the Music stuff, guys.” Aside from her A+ stage banter, Mayberry made sure that what was front and center was CHVRCHES’ electrifying sound. The band drew arguably the biggest crowd of the night, and by the time their last note finished hanging in the air, there could be no doubt: The curse had been lifted. –Zack Ruskin
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    Run The Jewels

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    “We’re going to burn this stage to the ground.” With that prophetic declaration, Killer Mike and El-P proceeded to set verbal fire to the Bridge stage. Tearing through fan favorites like “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” and “Run the Jewels”, things truly hit a fever pitch during “Blockbuster Night Part 1”. Surveying the crowd, Killer Mike pointed out “two dudes dressed as sailors that are raging it.” As if things weren’t at full boil, DJ QBert made an appearance to reprise his role on “Pew Pew Pew”, solidifying Run the Jewels’ set as one of the energetic high points of day one. –Zack Ruskin
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    Viet Cong

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    If there was a soul that came to Viet Cong’s set still sleepy, they left wide awake. Vocalist/bassist Matt Flegel acknowledged the odd timing of the band’s 12:40pm slot, joking “We wrote these songs to be played on a sunny Sunday afternoon.” Truth be told, there appears to be no wrong time to see the Calgary post-punk quartet blend rough, moody vocals with the synchronized screech of their guitars. Whatever name they choose, the rock isn’t going anywhere. –Zack Ruskin
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    The National

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    The National have a problem. In the 14 years they’ve been together, they just continue to be better and better. The drums are sharper, the vocals more tender, and the music they create together is a masterfully woven tapestry of dark, majestic opulence. From opener “Sea of Love” to “Afraid of Everyone”, every number in their 16-song set was a masterclass in a band that has fully come into their own. Also present was Matt Berninger’s top notch asides to the crowd. Motioning to his windswept hair, he explained that was doing his best to channel The War on Drugs. After accidentally stepping on percussionist Bryan Devendorf’s favorite shaker, Berninger pronounced it dead. “You’ll have to bury it in the backyard with the rest of them,” he quipped.

    While it’s hard to imagine anyone would’ve complained had The National stuck strictly to a standard setlist, the chance to invite a friend onstage proved to be an instant highlight of the evening. CHVRCHES’ Lauren Mayberry strode out to duet with Berninger on “I Need My Girl” from 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me. Trading lines with ease, the two made it hard to remember how the song could ever have not featured Mayberry. Other highlights included a performance of a new song titled “Checking Out” and a cover of the Scottish folk song “Peggy-O” (regularly performed by the Grateful Dead) in tribute to local resident Bob Weir’s recent birthday.

    The National + CHVRCHES // Photo by Philip Cosores

    Few bands came play the same songs over a span of years and bring something new to them every time, but The National appears up the challenge. If it was ever in question, their status as a legitimate festival headliner was affirmed Sunday night as they proved once again why they are one of the most exceptional and impressive rock bands of our time. –Zack Ruskin

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