At the newly relocated Treasure Island Music Festival on Saturday, Santigold thrashed to "L.E.S. Artistes" and swayed to the reggae rhythm of "Run the Road" wearing a red cape covered in money, plastic water bottles and green moss. With its eccentric and eco-conscious attire ("money and plastic are ruining the environment" was the message I got) and textured, pastel-hued set design, Santigold's performance looked and felt like something out of a '90s Nickelodeon show—and it was glorious.
Her set wasn't exactly PG, though—during her dancehall bop "Coo Coo Coo," a dis to men who catcall women, a cartoon pig with six-pack abs and exposed genitals appeared on screen. The audience was clearly there for it: dozens of girls in Vans and tube tops stampeded to the front of the stage to join the singer for her electro-punk anthem "Creator," about making one's own rules.
Santigold's out-there set was a climactic point of this year's TIMF, which returned this year after a hiatus in 2017. Though it retains the Treasure Island name, the festival now takes place in Oakland's Middle Harbor Shoreline Park due to ongoing construction on the actual Treasure Island.
The misnomer might be a little awkward, but the abundance of eclectic talent, warm weather and sweeping views of the San Francisco skyline made the festival's growing pains easy to forget. Treasure Island was a little more bare this year—no Ferris wheel or silent disco—which kept the focus on the music.
Still, after Saturday’s colorful and eclectic lineup, the energy waned a bit on Sunday, which leaned toward indie rock. With the new location, Treasure Island could have also benefitted from a new approach to genres. The festival's dichotomous schedule, with electronic music on the first day and rock on the second, is an institution that dates back to the festival's beginnings in the late 2000s, when the prevalent hipster aesthetics were bloghouse electro and indie rock. But at this point, the separation between genres feels arcane and unnecessary, especially as Saturday grows more varied with additional hip-hop, pop and electronic subgenres each year and Sunday stays essentially the same.
Saturday, the more exciting day of the fest, was all about impressive vocalists. Moses Sumney, a rising singer-producer with the self-reflectiveness of Frank Ocean and baroque instrumental arrangements of Sigur Rós, wowed the audience with his high-flying falsetto and live vocal manipulations. Throughout his set, he harmonized with his loop pedal and improvised off his violinist's playing, which swelled from plucked, staccato beats to a chill-inducing solo.
Later, Naomi "Nai Palm" Saalfield from neo-soul group Hiatus Kaiyote stunned festival-goers with her diva-worthy vocal chops. Much like Amy Winehouse, the Australian Saalfield is clearly inspired by African-American jazz, soul and gospel traditions; Hiatus Kaiyote's raucous instrumentation ignited the band's R&B and soul compositions and transformed them into chaotic jam sessions. Rapper Aminé, who also played an excellent set Saturday evening, came out from backstage and watched Hiatus Kaiyote from the photo pit, mouth agape.
The rest of Saturday's lineup was stacked: A$AP Rocky's headlining set sparked several mosh pits; Pusha T's performance had legions of hip-hop heads rapping along; Silk City (Diplo and Mark Ronson's DJ duo) spun '90s house; Laff Trax (Toro y Moi and Nosaj Thing) got a dance party going with self-produced disco and funk. In contrast, Sunday was dedicated to mostly shoegazey indie rock and a bit of post-punk; it felt more mellow and much less eventful. A large contingent of fans, in fact, showed up at the very end for Tame Impala's excellent headlining set, bypassing the earlier bands.
This year, a majority of the musicians on stage Sunday were white guys; Cigarettes After Sex and Lord Huron's reverb-laden guitars began to blend together in the hours between Courtney Barnett's high-energy rock'n'roll and Tame Impala's ornate psychedelia. The band Jungle got the people moving, but their take on disco sounded a bit too much like Bee Gees karaoke. One earlier band in particular, U.S. Girls, deserves a shoutout for their lively, danceable performance, which included Kate Bush-esque vocals and saxophone solos.
Music listeners today are complex, and it doesn't feel like festival promoters give them enough credit when they split up the days by genre. Mixing up U.K. band Shame's hyperactive, angry post-punk, for instance, and Aminé's mosh-worthy rap could've created exciting cross-pollination. Still, Treasure Island offers a chance to see internationally touring acts without the same level of sensory overload and overcrowding as bigger fests, and thus is a welcome part of the Bay Area's music festival ecosystem. It's good to have it back.