Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Sweltering Siren Fest Saturday

The Village Voice-sponsored Siren Music Festival took place on New York's storied Coney Island Saturday July 19th, a free music event open to the public, or at least to those who dared to venture out into the afternoon's 95-degree scorch. This did not stop many from stubbornly donning pants, surely to the utter dismay of their legs, though most concert-goers were tank top and cutoffs-clad to battle the extreme heat.

Due to subway mishaps and poor planning, my party arrived a tad late (shot for 1:30, arrived at 3:00) for a couple anticipated acts, though caught some favorites all the same. Among the bands missed were These Are Powers, sporting an ex-Liars member, who are beginning to gain some recognition as a force in dissonant, spastic art rock, as well as Parts & Labor, a noisy Brooklyn outfit whose Dan Friel has released one of this year's more interesting as well as intimidating electronic releases, "Ghost Town."

The first band I managed to catch was the Dodos on the Main Stage around 3:00, playing their African drumming-informed, fingerpicked psych-folk. In addition to their base as a guitar/drums duo, a vibraphonist joined them on stage for certain numbers. Adding to the clatter was the presence of a miked metallic trashcan in between the rest of the band's equipment, aiding in the Dodo's most raucous songs as yet another driving, percussive element.

I then moseyed on over to the second stage to catch the end of Jaguar Love, an arty group of ex-Blood Brothers and Pretty Girls Make Graves members attempting fervently, with little success, to capture the bombast of prog behemoths the Mars Volta in their angular songs complete with high-pitched, Cedric Bixler-Zavala rip-off vocal.

After that yelping annoyance came Beach House, nearly Jaguar Love's opposite, churning out dreamy, down-tempo guitar/keys/drums psychedelic pop. Vocalist Victoria Legrand's gorgeous vocal swirled with her keyboard lines and the atmospheric guitar, backed by simple, drum-machine-ready drum parts. The highlight of the set was "Master of None," from their self-titled 2006 full-length, a perfect biopsy of their sound.

Another stage trek brought me back to the Main Stage for Montreal's epic pop sextet Islands, whose Nick Thorburn took the stage under the previously-mentioned trashcan used by the Dodos during their set. Islands ran through some hits including "The Arm" from their new record "Arm's Way" and selections from their first record "Return to the Sea," including "Swans," a lackluster version of "Don't Call Me Whitney, Bobby," and "Where There's a Will There's a Whalebone," during which the band welcomed out a local MC to bust a few lines in place of the verse on the album recording.

The last decision of the night was between Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks and Broken Social Scene, dim-wittedly scheduled against each other. In the end I decided on Toronto's Broken Social Scene collective on the second stage, and it proved a good choice even though the Jicks unveiled a new track "Astral Facial." Broken Social Scene came out roaring, boasting 10 musicians on stage at a time, including a 4-piece horn section. During their set any sort of security seemed to evaporate, with audience members climbing higher and higher to catch a better glimpse. Atop fences, vendors, and Pepsi machines certain members of the crowd climbed, heck, I even noticed people climbing on the ambulance which made its way into the middle of the back of the crowd. Highlights from their set included one number with accompaniment by a fan whom the band met that afternoon singing a female vocal part in the absence of the real deal, as well as "KC Accidental" and "Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day)."

The end of their set found Kevin Drew preaching a vote for Obama/change, as well as prodding the audience to scream to save Coney Island, which has apparently been the target of some well-fought-against condominium projects. The Siren Festival has been running eight years now, and doing away with Coney Island as a place for entertainment would surely make for a less kooky spectacle for the event, if it would even continue to go on at all.

Ian, Collegian Staff

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