The last music festival of the summer took place two weeks ago on San Francisco’s mysterious Treasure Island, an artificial island in the middle of the bay that used to be a military base. Now, its only attractions are affordable housing and maybe the best nighttime view of the city (when it’s not covered by the fog, that is).
This was the second edition of the festival and like last year’s, it was properly divided into electronica-infused genres from around the globe the first day, and indie rock the second day. I only attended the first day; luck was on our side, as the sun suddenly came out while we were in the will-call line. It was going to be a rare, cloudless day in the Bay.
I wasn’t very interested in whoever was opening so I walked around for a while through the Treasure Chest area of the island, where, aside from people in pirate costumes, I found some other amusing sights: a live graffiti mural, interactive art installations, free t-shirt silk-screenings, make-overs, vinyl record collections, a fanzines and underground comics lounge area, dancing aliens, a guy selling poems and even a carnival ferris wheel.
“Make some noise if you woke up in the last 20 minutes like me!” yelled Aesop Rock when he got on stage. It was still early, maybe too early for a hip-hop show but the Long Island native/Bay Area transplant rocked the crowd with decent microphone skills and a great 10 minute beat-juggling set by his DJ, “You can call that our guitar solo.”
Tijuana techno-nacos Bostich and Fussible took over on the second stage. I’ve seen several Nortec shows in the past and never liked them much. Usually, my cynical side takes over and thinks the guy on the laptop is just playing a pre-recorded set from iTunes while he exchanges food recipes with his mom on MSN Messenger. This time I was a little more convinced because, in addition to the computers, they brought three live musicians dressed in classic banda attire. The crowd danced non-stop for the full length of the show – some flag-waving Mexifans in the front rows even improvised the quebradita dance when they played the hits “Tijuana Sound Machine” and “Tengo La Voz.” The most fun, for me anyway, was watching the güeros in the back trying to figure out how to dance. Even I starting dancing when they played my favorite (“The Clap”), and I’m an Argentine snob who suffers of sombrero-phobia! These guys have managed to make Norteño music less annoying for me and a lot cooler.
Brooklyn Afro-beat combo Antibalas was next on the main stage but I could only take them in small doses, so halfway through their set, I went looking for familiar faces among the crowd. I saw Hot Chip’s show and had an Outside Lands déjà vu moment when their sound changed in the middle of a song.
Brazilian DJ Amon Tobin, who I used to dig quite a bit a decade ago but have virtually forgotten since then, was next. His trippy collage of industrial sounds might not sound too Brazilian to the average listener but they do remind me a lot of urban Brazil somehow. After a while, though, I tend to start getting a little narcoleptic unless I’m under the influence of some artificial enhancers.
I didn’t find my friends until Goldfrapp’s show and from there we went to see San Francisco’s own Mike Relm, the nicest surprise of the day. He gave one of the best DJ sets I’ve seen in years, mashing up everything from The Beastie Boys and Rage Against The Machine to commercial rap and 80s cheesy pop, but unlike other mash-up prodigies out there, he did it with incredible turntablist skills.
I skipped TV On The Radio after the first 20 seconds of their set. I have low tolerance for self-indulgent rock. I went to the other stage and waited half an hour for the show I was actually anticipating the most: Cansei de Ser Sexy, the most successful non-samba Brazilian export since Sepultura, and better known as CSS in the English speaking world. I mean, I love traditional Brazilian music, samba and bossa nova, and I can even tolerate some cheesy pagode, but there is a lot of innovative music produced in Brazil that has zero batucada and pandeiro and they usually don’t get any international exposure unless they sing in English.
Lead singer Lovefoxxx was the ultimate pocket-size pop-rock diva. She stormed the stage wearing something indescribable and moved non-stop all over the stage as if she was one of Xuxa’s Paquitas during a Pokemon-infused epileptic attack. “We are happy to finally play in another place than Mezzanine,” she said, “with this amazing view of the city!”
Later on she announced the song “We Like Obama,” and explained “We cannot vote but if we could, we would vote Obama.” The bands biggest hit, “Music is my Hot Hot Sex” followed, the crowd went crazy, and by the end of the show, her strange coat was long gone, a colorful one-piece spandex outfit in its place. Looking like a 80’s TV aerobics instructor, her geisha hairdo really messy, she swooped down to the pit and sung the last two songs while hugging fans in the front row.
Finally, the main act of the night, French electro duo Justice went on stage but I was already exhausted and couldn’t stay until the end of their show. As I learned last year, getting off the island in those charter buses can be a never-ending nightmare so I called it an early night and let the Treasure Island adventure come to an end.