“Today more than any other day, I am the center of everything, and it’s playing just for me”
These words come at the emotional climax of the title track of Ought’s manic debut More Than Any Other Day. The album is full of anxious tension and a pervasive feeling of restlessness, but the moment that lead singer Tim Darcy releases that final repetition of the song’s reflective chorus, and slightly purses his lips to really get deep into that “s” in “just,” the chaotic whirlwind that is Ought’s unique approach to post-punk becomes a comforting blanket of sound. Darcy follows this declaration with an arguably bolder one: “and everything is going to be okay.”
The Montreal quartet excels as building to moments like this – but lurking beneath each immediate cathartic release lays teeth soaked in sardonicism. While Darcy’s words can be read as sincere revelation, mocking witticism, or in the classic grey area between the two, it will be hard to hear them as anything but a mission statement for Sunday of this year’s Treasure Island Music Festival. Ought is the first emotionally gut-punching act of the day on a lineup full of them, and epitomize the spirit of the festival: a display of the most affecting acts of the current musical landscape.
Father John Misty is another Sunday artist that packs his earnest ruminations about the human experience into sharply comedic lyrics. His live presence pushes this tension even further, as he struts across the stage with an air of disaffection in his performance as he delivers lines as brutally earnest as “You see me as I am, it’s true / Aimless, fake drifter, and the horny manchild momma’s boy to boot.” The man will get on his knees and shake his hips with a swagger indicative of a deep passion for every breath he takes, but then will shift his energy towards posturing and posing with a glossy glaze over his eyes and suddenly the spell is broken. Yet by simultaneously constructing and deconstructing a real version of himself, Father John Misty reveals something fundamentally more interesting than honesty: humanity.
Ought don’t take this endless possibility to expression for granted — they dedicated an entire song to the concept in the form of last year’s stunning “Habit”. “I feel it, can you feel it?” Darcy asks, and when listening to the song it’s hard not to. Their music pulls listeners into their world, and then convinces them to suspend disbelief and accept it as their own. The War on Drugs succeeded at achieving the same result with last year’s Lost in the Dream, an album deeply fixated inside lead singer Adam Granduchiel’s headspace, but welcoming in its approach to take the listener along for the ride. The band are experts in building sonic atmospheres within their albums, filled with beautifully extended instrumentals heavy on blanketing reverb — but live they are a whole other beast. The epic scale in which the touring outfit operates is unsuited for the size of venues they’ve played in the last two years. They threatened to break down the walls of the Fillmore during their sold out two-night stint last October, and it only makes sense they return to the Bay on a bigger platform. Expect them to deliver the most headliner-ready set of the whole weekend.
That being said, don’t discount the actual headliner for the evening. The National are a powerhouse that is well known for turning their unique brand of sad-rock into stadium status. This year, however, the National are a rare sight, creeping out of the shadow cast by their last album, 2013’s Trouble Will Find Me, only to release the impressive stand-along track “Sunshine On My Back.” One of only four performances this year, the show comes at a period where the band is between albums, and before lead singer Matt Berninger goes off on an extensive tour as EL VY, his collaboration with Brent Knopf. The Bay is lucky to have these notorious deadheads return to wash Treasure Island in a sea of baritone — as usual, expect them to make it count.
The above only skims the surface of what lays tucked within Sunday: Ex Hex will up the punk, Deerhunter will bring the chaos, and CHVRCHES will lead the crowd into a shared sense of triumph. Expect a complex range of emotions to flow from noon onward; all grounded by the universal awe that is seeing a band bare their soul on stage. When Ought’s Darcy starts meditating over the phrase “beautiful weather today” during “Beautiful Blue Sky” from their elegantly anxious Sun Coming Down — rather than signifying the rote lifelessness of the modern human experience — his words might just ring with an alternative sense of sincerity.
Treasure Island Music Festival
Oct 17-18, 2015, Noon – 11pm
$95 single day, all ages