Concert date: 07/19/2008
Run date: 07/29/2008
After a couple of lackluster years, the organizers of Siren Fest decided to book this year’s lineup as though it might be the last. And, as with last year, there was plenty of speculation on stage and off that it actually might be, with developers salivating over approved plans to destroy (or as they might say, "rebuild") the kitschy neighborhood of Coney Island where Siren has been held since its beginning in 2001.
The first half of Siren is akin to a band-to-band relay. Full of energy and fresh on the scene, most crowd members shift back and forth between the stages, generally booked with up-and-comers or new names. This works for and against the openers -- with the time it takes to get from one stage to the other and the way the two stages alternate set start times, in order to see as many bands as possible, one is limited to seeing about 15 to 20 minutes of each performance. For a group like Main Stage openers Dragons of Zynth, that's enough time to get a sense of their heavy, soul-infused electro pop. But for Stillwell Stage openers These Are Powers, it wasn't enough to understand much beyond their fondness for improvisation and loudness.
A short block of time was enough for Brooklyn's own Parts & Labor to put on one of the more memorable performances of the day. At times sounding perfectly structured and vaguely new wave, and others sounding as completely out of control and wild as the avant-garde, they were energetic and unusual.
Parts & Labor were followed by the Dodos, who had the difficult task of performing on borrowed equipment (theirs was waiting for them in Chicago, as they were scheduled to appear at the Pitchfork Festival the next day). It took them longer than expected to set up, so they started late and, thus, ended short. But they managed to set off some great material from Visiter, including "It's That Time Again" and "Jodi," and a song or two from their debut.
It was a rough middle of the day in general. Though there was nothing inherently wrong with or bad about Film School, their noisy dream pop surely would have been better suited to an indoor venue, where the music could truly reverberate. Jaguar Love, a composite of members from the now defunct bands the Blood Brothers and Pretty Girls Make Graves, sounds more or less like what one would expect from a blending of those two groups, but is unfortunately nowhere near as promising as the early work of either one.
The latter half of the day was planned well for those with predictable listening tendencies. On the Stillwell Stage, the hazy pop of Beach House led into the light electronic and folk rock of Helio Sequence, followed by bombastic pop-rock headliners Broken Social Scene. Those up for something a little more meandering and eccentric were served Islands and Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks on the Main Stage.
Beach House and Helio Sequence were more straight-forward and perhaps less overtly exciting than, say, Islands (whose performance included props like sparklers, fake blood and a garbage can), but put on shows that were as refreshing as the bottles of ice cold water everyone was guzzling while running around in 90-plus degree heat all day.
The festival ended on its highest note with Broken Social Scene, as every single member burst with charisma and enthusiasm, particularly lead songwriters Brendan Canning and Kevin Drew. They hit a few snags beforehand, but recovered nicely: their drummer couldn't make it, but they found a replacement, and Drew was sick, but in a stroke of lucky timing, Canning just released his "Broken Social Scene presents" solo album, so he could take over the reigns from time to time. Their collective at this show included a four-piece brass section, and two guest vocalists: Gentleman Reg and a girl they met about an hour before taking the stage (or at least that's what they said).
As the sunlight faded, the electric lights on the carousel brightened and Broken Social Scene brought their set to a close, Drew announced, "This is my first time at Coney Island -- I don't want it to be my last!" And for the first time in years, it was sad to think it could be the last.