OAKLAND — Everything was a haze. Tame Impala closed out 2018’s Treasure Island Music Festival in what felt like a dream state. A hypnotic swirl on the “The Town” stage projection screen signaled festivalgoers of the psychedelic night ahead.
Against blue light with smoke machines on full blast, Tame Impala appeared as silhouettes on stage. The Australian band began with the short, sweet and spellbound “Nangs,” from 2015’s Currents. But things shifted instantly to high gear when “Let It Happen” came next. The hypnotic banger’s notable features, such as its lush synth-scapes and nearly five-minute kaleidoscopic breakdown, played out mesmerizingly. Candy-colored lights and glitchy projections heightened the trance-like mood. During the interlude, frontman Kevin Parker traded his guitar for a drink and hopped on the amplifier in front of the stage to ask the crowd if they were ready, and when the beat intensified, confetti fired everywhere.
Cryptic presence aside, Parker bantered with fans quite frequently. When introducing “Elephant,” he joked that it was when the party would really get started. He also gave a shout-out to Jungle, the preceding act, calling the collective’s work “God’s music.”
Keeping the psychedelic groove going, Tame Impala took it back to 2012 with “Mind Mischief” and to 2010 with “Why Won’t You Make Up Your Mind?” The set then took a slower, sentimental turn with “Eventually” and “Yes, I’m Changing,” which featured celestial strobes that cascaded over the crowd like the northern lights.
Tame Impala covered a lot of ground throughout its performance. The set continued with the group’s most popular single, “The Less I Know The Better.” It then brought out “Jeremy’s Storm,” for what Parker said was the first time since 2012. He acknowledged that the band barely practiced the tune beforehand.
“But that’s what makes it so exciting, right?” he asked, before breaking into the instrumental throwback.
The fest concluded with a two-song encore, consisting of “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” and “New Person, Same Old Mistakes.”
London’s Jungle brought back the funk with a set full of infectiously danceable neo-soul. Fans got into the groove straight away as the band opened with “Smile,” off 2018’s For Ever. Driven by the beat of bongo drums and soulful falsettos, the seven-piece band swayed together, staying poised even with beach balls crashing onstage from the bustling crowd.
The group started to move about more freely for songs like “Heavy, California” and “Platoon,” the latter being off its 2014 self-titled album. Amid all the shimmies and playing off each other’s energy, everyone in the band stayed on top of their parts impressively. A headcount of seven already promises a loaded sound, but Jungle’s members attended to more than one instrument at a time. The guitarists also controlled the synths and keys; the vocalists had shakers; the drummers switched between their kits, to a cowbell and wind chimes. And then there were multi-part harmonies.
Even with all that went on, Jungle kept collectively on beat the entire time, proving it easy to take everything in as one gloriously unified sound. The set closed with “Busy Earnin’” and “Time,” carrying the crowd on a boogie-induced whirlwind until the last note.
Los Angeles band Lord Huron fused indie, folk and Americana, and then gave its brainchild a dancing soul. The set kicked off with spirited songs from 2018’s Vide Noir, as the band members leapt all over the stage. Frontman Ben Schneider almost lost his Stetson a couple times. The quick pace drove the band to dive from one song straight into the next.
“I’m not going to jibber-jabber too much, because we want to squeeze as many songs in here,” Schneider told fans, who cheered in return. Lord Huron then unwound a bit with “Ends of the Earth,” which Schneider introduced as “a Kenny Chesney tune.” The band ultimately settled down and closed with “The Night We Met,” off 2015’s Strange Trails.
“This one’s good for making out to, so grab someone you love,” Schneider said.
Cigarettes After Sex
The enigmatic Cigarettes After Sex is known for its dreamy slow burners and everything during its set came together picture-perfect with its sound. The El Paso, Texas band entered the stage with fog and fairytale music playing, as if stepping from a fantasy.
The performance began with 2018 single “Crush” and “Each Time You Fall In Love,” from the band’s self-titled LP. As every song unraveled intimate narratives, the instrumentals stayed consistently minimal and muted, giving way to frontman Greg Gonzalez’s haunting vocals. The nostalgic refrains set the right mood as Sunday continued to wind down. Cigarettes After Sex played “Sunsetz” as the actual sunset casted a golden glow over the stage.
Many throughout the crowd swayed along throughout the set, which continued with songs like “Apocalypse,” “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby” and a cover of REO Speedwagon’s “Keep on Loving You.”
Practicing what she preaches, Courtney Barnett told the fans at Treasure Island Music Festival how she really feels. The singer-songwriter was all smiles when she opened with the optimistic “City Looks Pretty,” off Tell Me How You Really Feel. In the chorus, Barnett sings, “Sometimes I get sad/ It’s not all that bad.”
Barnett continued the feel-good mood with songs that blend indie riffs with psych-rock, while also wowing the crowd with her shredding skills.
Led by musician-producer Meghan Remy, U.S. Girls ran through various sounds during its performance. One moment, the band would touch on jazz funk, and then move onto purely blithe pop. A band led into a couple songs with soundbites from feminist speeches.
With nine members onstage, U.S. Girls started a dance party among themselves, and that caught on with the crowd. During lush keyboard, guitar and sax solos, Remy and vocalist Amanda Crist promenaded across the stage.
Sharon Van Etten
Normally, when an artist says she’s reinvented her sound, you nod and find the similarities anyway. Singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten busted out her new material first on “The Town” stage, shattering the image of her as a folky Americana balladeer. Tunes like the defiant “Comeback Kid,” with three power chords, and “Jupiter 4,” with a pulsating synthy bass, could fit on a Depeche Mode album more-so than on anything Van Etten has released to-date.
“Seventeen,” meanwhile, was an uptempo pop banger unlike anything she’s ever written before. “I know that you’re gonna be!” she belted at full throttle. Another song, meanwhile, was a squelchy ballad, with a driving bass and percussion and shimmery keys.
Sharon Van Etten also provided an update to her continued education—she’s gone back to college since releasing her 2014 album, Are We There.
“School is going pretty good; I got a B on the first exam,” she said. “I can do better than that!” The remainder of her set was composed of older songs.
London post-punk rockers Shame performed an incendiary 40-minute set during which frontman Eddie Green went crowd-surfing atop a hyperactive mosh pit and got fans moving more than many of the evening acts.
“We are here to entertain,” Green declared during a brief break from gesticulating his arms, swinging his mic stand and thrusting his hips. It was one of the few things he said without screaming with his gravelly, ready-for-punk voice.
The set included “Concrete” and “Tasteless,” from Shame’s January debut album, Songs of Praise, and 2017 cut “Visa Vulture.” “We’re gonna play it for you because our album has only 10 songs on it, and we have to fill up an hour,” Green acknowledged. “The Lick,” meanwhile, had an interesting change-of-pace vocal delivery that resembled Nada Surf’s “Popular,” and “Friction,” while retaining 100 percent of the band’s gritty sound and angular guitars, picked up the melody from Garbage’s “Stupid Girl.”
“This is going right in our scrapbook,” Green said after picking up a tampon that someone threw onto the stage.
Aussie Alex Cameron did his best Bruce Springsteen impression throughout his set, with a raspy vocal singing style, and a bluesy pop sound from his band, led by saxophonist Roy Malloy. Cameron opened with the taboo-broaching “Studmuffin96,” crooning “I’m waiting for my lover; she’s almost 17.”
Malloy, who had the majority of the solos during the performance, really shined on “Country Figs.” “Happy Ending” and “The Comeback,” meanwhile, were synth-laden throwbacks. Cameron then handed the mic to Malloy for what’s apparently a routine part of his set, in which the saxophonist reviews the stool he’s been given for the night. Malloy marveled at the one-and-a-half inches of memory foam, a black pleather cover with the letters “DW” embroidered, which he assumed stood for “don’t worry,” and gave the seat 3.5 stars out of 5. Corny? Sure. But also worth a good chuckle. We rated the bit a solid 4.
Alex Cameron continued with love tune “Candy May,” and a duet with his keyboardist (sitting in for Angel Olsen) on “Stranger’s Kiss.”
Sophie Allison, better known as Soccer Mommy, performed a strong set of dreamy lo-fi bedroom pop. She began with one of her older songs, “Henry,” before switching gears to her 2018 album, Clean. Her collection of songs on Sunday included the grungy “Try,” “Last Girl” and “Your Dog,” to which the large early arriving crowd gave a loud cheer from the first notes.
The set included “Flaw,” fan favorite “Cool” and a cover of Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire,” which she released last month.
Psych-rock band Pond, the offspring of Tame Impala, had an early stage time but still managed to draw a crowd of hundreds on Sunday. Frontman Nick Allbrook and his bandmates kicked off with “30000 Megatons,” the first cut from Pond’s 2017 album, The Weather. The dreamy song started slowly and built up before exploding in several directions toward the end. Following “Sweep Me Off My Feet,” Pond played a heavily syncopated, woozy new track, “Sixteen Days.”
“Fire in the Water” was a more traditional foot-tapping song, and on another new track, “Burnt Out Star,” Allbrook whisper-sang the lyrics from beginning to end.
Neo-soul singer-songwriter Serpentwithfeet opened Treasure Island Music Festival Sunday on a tender note, alone on “The City” stage. Sometimes, he played a sparse melody on a keyboard to accompany his softly sung vocals. Other times, he was backed by industrial or symphonic samples. On “Mourning Song,” he began by singing over a harsh sample before finishing on his instrument.
“Grieving is such a skill,” he said during or possibly before the song. In fact, artist Josiah Wise mixed commentary along with his songs in such a way that it was difficult to tell whether a story was part of the composition. “Cherubim” was sung of a mix of classical oboe and a grunting sample.
Serpentwithfeet, who was equal parts musician and performance artist, also pulled a book from the table that sat on stage, next to an image of a man holding a staff, and leafed to a poem by Naomi Long Madgett: “Woman With Flower,” which he read in full.
Clarification: This article has been clarified to say that Lord Huron referred to one of their songs as a “Kenny Chesney tune.”