With rain in the forecast all week, clouds hung over this years Village
Voice Siren Fest, but when Saturday finally arrived the sun owned the rain and
ruled the day – being outside on such a day was clearly
the highlight of this free NYC event for those in attendance. Besides
having a legitimate freak show, Coney Island always brings out interesting
individuals and when Siren Fest sets up stages on Stillwell and Surf then
the Hipsters invade and add a whole new element to the surroundings. It
would have been an effort to have counted all the jean cut-off shorts or
neon plastic sunglasses, but the whole scene really adds to the charm of the day.
2009, like most years, was an event first and a music festival second (or
third depending on how much you like Skeeball). That’s not to say there
weren’t some promising acts on the bill, but the way the event is staged
and the iffy sound systems employed make the live music just a part of the
outing, as opposed to the focal point. Starting things off were the young
Tiny Masters of Today, and while their most recent release, Skeletons, shows
some promise, their live set needs a lot of work. They had a decent crowd
on hand but in the end songs like “Stickin’ it to the Man” and “Real Good”
were stumbled through and the novelty started to wear a bit thin.
Strolling around the arcades, Pina Colada Stands and depressingly-shuttered
carnival booth’s we made our way over to Stillwell stage to catch
the Bear Hands set. A mixed effort was put fourth; at times sounding like
a scruffy Modest Mouse or Franz Ferdinand before inviting Das Racist out on
stage for some bizarre pseudo-hip-hop antics. Now while the rap duo and
all players seemed to be amped, crappy mic’s and unintelligible lyrics
made it tough for us listening, maybe I just wasn’t in party mode yet, but
this was painful.
Fortunately, we managed to catch a bit of the Japandroids set,
whose new-wave-meets-garage-rock sound was tight (but how about a bass
player guys?). Their song “Young Hearts Spark Fire” was one of the
highlights of the day and fit the mood of the beachside festival perfectly.
Frightened Rabbit was one of the bands I was looking forward to seeing the
most, and while their tightly crafted pop was played excellently, it would
be hard for me to say they fit the events feel. In their quieter more
introspective moments that work so well on their fantastic 2008 release
Midnight Organ Fight, a roller coaster roaring by a few feet from the stage
killed the tension. As a stranger unfamiliar with the band next to me said,
“More like Boring Rabbit”, and while I wholeheartedly disagree, this
festival was probably not the right place for them to make new fans.
A Nathan’s Hot-Dog break and a Cyclone ride (yes I survived both) were
mixed in but we managed to catch some of Grand Duchy, Frank Black and
wife’s new offering which was forgettable, except for the Steinberger Bass
being played…I thought those were extinct? A Place To Bury Strangers had a
good noise vibe going from what little I caught of them and Monotonix
literally played in the crowd, forgoing the stage to encourage surfing a
whole bunch of jumping and moshing, but the piss poor sound made it
impossible for those not in the mix to hear anything. Seemed like a fun
show if you were willing to get sweaty and jump around but I passed at this
point in the day.
Built To Spill was the other act I was excited about seeing but their set
never really exploded into the realms they are capable of exploring, which
seems to unfortunately be pattern with them. Their playing and songs are
so ripe for cosmic interplay without a net but the group always keeps
things a bit close to the chest. That said, Doug and the boys songs were a
nice capper to the a long day in the sun. The opener pair of “Liar” and “Stab”
were welcome early in the set, “You Were Right” was a tightly wound success
and “Going Against Your Mind” was a standout with its progressive guitar rock.
Tunes like “In Your Mind” seemed to thin out the crowd, while “Sidewalks” and
“Distopian Dream Girl” produced cheers. All in all an excellent day on the
ocean, hopefully there will be another Siren Fest next year before the old
Coney Island is torn down because the dirt and charm are certainly part of
the fun of this free day out.