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Treasure Island Music Festival: The Music, Photos and Review

For all the murmurings about an underwhelming 2012 lineup, there were few moments of meh over the weekend at the latest installment of Treasure Island Music Festival. This year may have lacked the weightier punch of past headlining acts such as LCD Soundsystem, Death Cab for Cutie, Justice or the Flaming Lips, but remember that bands have a way of appearing larger in the rearview mirror. When history judges the 2012 T.I. lineup, we’ll shake our heads and say Damn, we had it so good.

The Good

Toro y Moi, Saturday, Tunnel Stage
It’s about time Bay Area newbie Chaz Bundick spent some time on a Treasure Island stage. Dude has been doing nothing but grand things on an international stage for years, and the bright natural lights and devoted fans welcomed the act appropriately. "Talamac" was the gem of the set, recalling an era of disco few among the 20-30-somethings experienced the first time around. Of course, its only disco for brief moments, until he warps a hook and turns it into something entirely novel. Either way, we're transported to a place mostly unfamiliar to the untrained and trained ear.

Girl Talk, Saturday, Bridge Stage
One of those acts you wish your best friend was there to belt out every word with... or all your friends for that matter. And if you’re lucky, Greg Gillis (aka Girl Talk) might just put all your friends onstage, as he’s accustomed to doing. The mashup mastermind even brought up two very special friends, one of whom had an important question for the other. MONOGAMY in the mother-effin house! Girl Talk’s sets are perhaps a culture’s finest celebration of pop music, playing on our collective sense of hip-hop/alt-rock nostalgia for the most part, and breathing new life into tired Top-40 songs from high school dances of yore. What Girl Talk lacks in onstage instrumental performance, he more than makes up for with explosions of confetti, giant blown-up condoms and other visually mesmerizing sideshows. The crowd drew sparse toward the end, but everyone who left was dancing their way to shuttles, trust.

Ty Segall, Sunday, Tunnel Stage
Young ‘uns, get thyself in the mosh pit. This is your local, modern version of Kurt Cobain. Worship as you see fit. The uber-prolific Bay Area garage rock wizard packs a mess of angst and energy into two- and three-minute pop songs, enough to leave you dizzied by the time he’s played just a few. But seriously people, more moshing. That’s all.

The Really Good
Divine Fits, Sunday, Tunnel Stage
One of several Is this real life? moments, Divine Fits’ set was probably more memorable for the un-freaking-believable backdrop to the stage — a scattered-cloud sunset with the San Francisco skyline in the foreground. Mercy. Oh! And there was music, too. The supergroup is a bit of a natural wonder in its own right; Britt Daniel (Spoon) and Dan Boeckner (Handsome Furs, Wolf Parade) and Sam Brown (New Bomb Turks) have united for the sake of electro-rock perfection. Damnit if they didn’t do their best to steal the show back from the fading sun. Seeing the cool kids all grow-ed up but trying new things was just as enjoyable to contemplate as their fast and heady sound.

M83, Sunday, Bridge Stage
This is where it starts to get a little fuzzy. And not because of the beers and other what-have-yous, but because this French dream pop band is something entirely hallucinatory in and of itself. At the risk of getting a tad hyperbolic, they have a way of turning regular pop traditions into religious experiences. Seriously. Lead singer Anthony Gonzalez is a truly inspired songwriter. Whatever/whoever his muse is, we should all be so lucky to get a peek/taste/whiff of it. Somehow, M83 can shed light on everything we know about the modern, forever-youthful life. If your calves hurt today, blame it on M83 and their jump-rock anthems.

Araabmuzik, Saturday, Tunnel Stage
The beats come a million miles a minute with Araabmuzik, aka Abraham Orellana. Remember those chaotic, stuttering Southern rap beats that distinguished Cash Money Millionaires like Lil’ Wayne and Juvenile a decade ago? That's sort of where Arabmuzik ventures with his ADD-algorithmic musings. No lyrics necessary here, although he did have a hype man to make sure we all knew how to pronounce Araabmuzik (eh-raab-mu-zik). But the man behind the DJ booth stole the show on Saturday, IMO, creating surreal moods out of thin air.

War on Drugs, Sunday, Bridge Stage

Comparisons to Tom Petty and Dylan and Neil Young are obvious by now for War on Drugs. But it’s also obvious that they're finding their own identity. They’ve proven their moxie at The Independent a few times, and an early set at Treasure Island on Sunday gave them a chance to reach a deservedly larger audience than usual. Those playing the word association game might throw out words like jammy and visionary and expository. But to hell with one-word descriptions, WOD deserves better. This is just a classic American rock ‘n’ roll band proving gimmicks aren't necessary when you've got talent and a drive and a vision.

The Weird
Grimes, Saturday, Tunnel Stage
Grimes struck a chord with an audience earlier this year thanks to an album that paid detailed attention to production value an vocal manipulation and tribal dance tracks. Three chicks in neon body suits turned the outdoor wonder of Treasure Island into a subterranean futuristic basement dance hall. The set foreshadowed a slew of performances that required more hype-cheerleading than onstage instrumental savvy; let’s call it the Look, No Hands! day. But that's more than fine – we're here to dance, people.

Presets, Saturday, Bridge Stage
It's hard not to smell whiffs of The Faint with these two Aussie dudes. They channeled some ghosts of New Wave, but with modern edge. Their multi-screen visuals made for appropriate complementary distractions to the sometimes-monotonous beat-repeating. It was tough to make out was really going on onstage from my vantage point, but by all accounts, theirs is a sound that needs the energy of the live format. This set was no different.

Youth Lagoon, Sunday, Bridge Stage

Question: Are smocks back? Follow-up question: Wait, were smocks ever here in the first place? All I know is that Youth Lagoon guitarist/singer Trevor Powers rocked a smock, and he rocked it with a type of gumption we can only assume exists solely in Idaho. These kids from Boise be pretty, pritay, pritaaaay chill. It’s confident, experimental pop, and it’s supremely fun. They make a habit of splicing classic hip-hop beats with indie rock accoutrements, which makes for something indelibly enjoyable. Bravo, bros.

Joanna Newsom, Sunday, Bridge Stage

Looking lovely in her red and white checkered dress and abbreviated bangs, Joanna Newsom made a compelling case for the harp at an otherwise rock-heavy music festival. Her otherworldly voice is another spectacle we don’t see too much of in these indie music fest parts, either. The Mills College grad played a healthy sampling of her tour de force 2010 album Have One on Me, a treasure trove of an album. Much of the crowd seemed ambivalent or even confused, but those who have followed Joanna Newsom know of her genius and songwriting acumen.

Gossip, Sunday, Tunnel Stage
OK, full disclosure: Things were actually quite fuzzy here. I do remember this quip, though, from Gossip lead singer Beth Ditto: "There's a nice breeze up here. Eat your heart out Coachella." I also recall something synthy, and Ditto’s inhuman vocals. But it was time to leave. Sorry xx.

Text by Chris Trenchard