Death Cab for Cutie, Hold Steady Rock Eclectic Treasure Island Festival - Rolling Stone
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Death Cab for Cutie, Hold Steady Rock Eclectic Treasure Island Festival

Standouts at the San Francisco festival include Empire of the Sun, Stephen Malkmus

Luke Steele of Empire of the Sun performs as part of the Treasure Island Music Festival on October 15, 2011 in San Francisco, California.

Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Death Cab for Cutie’s blissfully intense closing set was a fitting end for the fifth annual Treasure Island Music Festival, held this past weekend on an island in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Opening with a stirring “I Will Possess Your Heart” and continuing with “Crooked Teeth” and “Why You’d Want to Live Here,” Death Cab were intent on keeping the weekend crowd of more than 25,000, who saw 26 acts playing on two stages, from leaving through sheer force of will. Closing out the final night with their haunting “Transatlanticism,” everyone could feel something special had occurred.

Saturday’s show, which skewed more toward the electronic world, kicked off with a synthesizer and cello produced set of shimmering pop by local favorites, Geographer. Aloe Blacc’s neo-soul, including his hit (and HBO’s How To Make  It in America intro song) “I Need a Dollar,” was also a crowd favorite. The dance vibe continued for most of the afternoon with Dizzee Rascal, Buraka Som Sistema and Chromeo.

Not all of the first day was upbeat dancing. Laptop musician Flying Lotus performed a dreamy, psychedelic set while U.K.-based Battles presented a cerebral sci-fi/math rock with drummer John Stanier providing a driving beat for the atmospheric tunes. Even acid jazz was represented with former Digable Planets member Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler’s new group Shabazz Palaces. Reunited Death from Above 1979 pushed metal/punk with fuzzed up guitar and manic drumming. But Saturday’s close was what the crowd had been waiting for, when Australian psychedelic pop act Empire of the Sun took the main stage for a show that was part Vegas extravaganza, part Eighties glam.

Indie bands dominated the lineup on Sunday and standouts included the Head and the Heart, the Antlers and St. Vincent’s experimental mix of lush melodies. A confident but laid back Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks started slow, but built to an impressive end as the sun started to drop behind the San Francisco skyline. 

After a hypnotic, dreamy set by Beach House and the mind-altering mini-symphonies of Explosions of the Sky, the Hold Steady provided the most pure rock experience of the day. Vocalist Craig Finn, as manic as ever, got the by now worn out crowd moving with stellar versions of “Sequestered in Memphis,” “Magazines,” and “Rock and Roll Problems” before closing with crowd favorite “Stay Positive.” 

While this year’s lineup was truly eclectic (one of the quirks of the festival is that they never book the same band twice), the true charm of Treasure Island is its intimacy. As one concertgoer mentioned, “It’s almost like a county fair with music.”

Photos: Treasure Island Music Festival


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