Siren Festival 2010 Recap

The Village Voice‘s Siren Music Festival somehow celebrated its tenth anniversary.  “Somehow” because ever since redevelopment plans were announced for its home of Coney Island at the southern side of Brooklyn, every year has been ‘the last Siren ever’, going back to at least 2007 (QRO Siren 2007 recap), but also 2008 (QRO Siren 2008 recap) & last year (QRO Siren 2009 recap).  Yet it’s come back every year, and by 2010, the cloud seemed to have been lifted.

In celebration of its continued longevity, Siren did something new: look back to the past, by booking acts with connections to Sirens gone by.  Still, the festival is about new music, and while the line-up was a little headliner-light & Brooklyn-heavy, it was one of the better line-ups of the past few years (okay, no ‘Broken Social Scene/Stephen Malkmus/Ra Ra Riot/Annuals & more’ of 2008, but beat the tar out of 2009’s sub-par performers), for another wild Siren on Saturday, July 17th:

 

DOM, Main Stage
DOM

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why? indeedOne of the most buzzed-about bands at Siren was slotted in the earliest slot, in Worcester, Mass’s DOM.  Most known for being offered by Passion Pit (QRO album review) to be on their new, private label – and turning the offer down – the buzz seemed to have gone to their heads.  Okay, a lot of people are sick of PP’s “Sleepyhead” (QRO video), but at Siren, DOM appeared to not be into playing, giving an altogether lackluster performance.  Kicking off the festival at 1:00 PM on a hot Saturday in July isn’t the best slot to give/see a great show, but The Twilight Sad (all the way from Scotland) gave it their all there/then in 2007 (QRO photos), and locals acts like The Dragons of Zynth (2008 – QRO photos) did a great job early in the day at prior Sirens.  Unfortunately, DOM seemed like just another kind of full-of-themselves garage-rock act, coming from a place that has way too many of them…
DOM

 

Apache Beat, Stillwell Stage
Apache Beat

Click image for full galleryApache Beat drum

Apache BeatEvery year, Siren puts one or two Brooklyn acts early in the day.  In addition to no travel expenses for the act (also a reason Letterman books Brooklyn bands), Siren gets a band playing to not only their biggest crowd, but also a hometown crowd more likely to show up early.  For 2010, Apache Beat DOM with a stick.  Not only having all the energy that DOM lacked, Apache Beat also had the interesting sound that DOM also lacked, with dancetronica mixed into the indie rock.  The large line-up on stage included two excited guitarists & two excited percussionists (though the keyboardist seemed a little blah about everything), but the main driving force was the front lady.  While ain’t Robyn (who played Chicago’s Pitchfork the day before – QRO photos), Apache Beat do exceed another Brooklyn-based act in their genre with a frontwoman, Class Actress (QRO photos), thanks to a larger, stronger supporting cast.
Apache Beat

 

Screaming Females, Main Stage
Screaming Females

Marissa PaternosterClick image for full gallery

Marissa PaternosterNot from Brooklyn, but New Brunswick, New Jersey, yet still getting a lot of attention, has been Screaming Females, less for last year’s Power Move (QRO review) than for their shredding live presence, first & foremost singer/guitarist Marissa Paternoster.  That performance has earned them opening slots for the likes of Ted Leo & The Pharmacists (see below), Dinosaur Jr. (QRO live review), The Dead Weather (QRO album review), Arctic Monkeys (QRO album review) & more – and if they haven’t opened up for shred-loving Sonic Youth (QRO live review) yet, it’s just a matter of time.  Of course, Sonic Youth has a history of picking terrible openers, and while the Females don’t fall into the awful noise-rock category of Thurston favorites, they’re not exactly original, either, with Paternoster (who’s already started her own solo career, as ‘Nouns’) being a distinct throwback to the shredding, wailing leading ladies of the seventies, such as Janis Joplin, and the band’s performance at Siren was no different – in fact, she even sported an outfit from Sgt. Pepper.  If you’re into that, they’re definitely where to look.
Screaming Females

 

Wye Oak, Stillwell Stage
Wye Oak

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Joan WagnerOn records The Knot (QRO review) and If Children (QRO review), Baltimore’s Wye Oak had delivered a sound that fit into the sweet, restrained alt-country of Merge Records labelmates like M. Ward (QRO album review) or Conor Oberst (QRO live review).  But live at Siren, the duo of Joan Wagner & Andy Stark were much more in the shred-garage terrain of Screaming Females (see above).  Wagner didn’t shred or wail quite as much as Paternoster, Andy Starkbut did hit it hard on vocals & guitar, while Stark took more of a backseat on drums/keys, akin to Katie White & Jules de Martino of The Ting Tings (QRO album review), albeit as a guitar-and-drums garage duo.  And considering how often sweetness can get lost in the air at an outdoor festival, especially this early, it was a good thing.
Wye Oak

 

Surfer Blood, Main Stage
Surfer Blood

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Surfer BloodOne band balancing the hype/reality issue well is Surfer Blood.  Adding, yes, surf to their indie-rock has been a good thing, but they didn’t overplay like you might have expected mere feet from the boardwalk & the beach.  Indeed, between the attention that they’ve been getting out of debut Astro Coast (QRO review) and the natural synchronicity of the band & setting, one might have thought that Surfer Blood would have been slotted later in the day (especially at this Siren…).
Surfer Blood

 

Ponytail, Stillwell Stage
Ponytail

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Ponytail in frontIn addition to every other type of band, Brooklyn is also home to a number of love-them-or-hate-them acts.  But when a band, when anything is ‘love them/him/her/it or hate them/him/her/it’, doesn’t that just mean the object of the reference is awful?  Think of people referred to that way, Perez Hilton, Jose Canseco – should anyone love them (at least Hilton has halfway-decent taste in music – QRO live review – and Canseco was one of the first to admit to using steroids)?  It’s kind of like the phrase, “That’s just [X] being [X]” – that means [X] is an asshole.

Two Sirens ago, the divisive (another one of these terms) These Are Powers (QRO photos) headed to the south side of their borough for Siren, and in 2010 the inexplicable booking was Brooklyn’s Ponytail, whose noise-rock is decidedly not for everyone.  So if you skipped ‘em to have a hot dog at Nathan’s, no one would blame you.
Ponytail
Nathan's #1!  U.S.A. #1!

 

The Night Marchers, Main Stage
The Night Marchers

John ReisClick image for full gallery also older than most of the other acts

The Village Voice, and Siren Music Festival in particular, has always been tilted towards the indie-hipster crowd, and Siren 2010 was littered with such bands – but an exception was the much more straight punk rock of The Night Marchers.  Formed by John Reis (Drive Like Jehu, Rocket From the Crypts), The Night Marchers were probably the least known of any of the acts at Siren by the Coney Island crowd, but their alt-punk gave some unaffected steel to the festival.
The Night Marchers

 

Earl Greyhound, Stillwell Stage
Earl Greyhound

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Kamara ThomasSix years ago, Brooklyn’s TV On the Radio (QRO live review) played Siren as they were forging a bold new sound.  In 2008, friends/protégés of theirs Dragons of Zynth played Siren (QRO photos), and while Zynth’s Rize Above (QRO review) did have strong similarities to TVOTR, DoZ were able to Rize Above the comparisons at Siren.  Matt WhyteNot rising above the comparisons this year at Siren was Earl Greyhound, whose own ‘afro-punk’ (a genre seemingly determined solely by being mostly/only black in the usually lily-white alternative music sphere) stands deep in the shadow of Jimi Hendrix.  Singer/bassist Kamara Thomas did give the band some female flavor live, but even then just seemed like a poor woman’s Noisettes (who played Siren in 2007 – QRO photos).
Earl Greyhound

 

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Main Stage
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

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The Pains of Being Pure at HeartLast year, Brooklyn’s The Pains of Being Pure at Heart were all over the indie hype-sphere, from South-by-Southwest (QRO recap) to their own show at South Street Seaport (QRO review) to headlining L.A.’s Troubadour (QRO review).  But this year, without a new record like last year’s self-titled LP (QRO review) or 2007’s self-titled EP, the waters seem to have ebbed a bit for the band, who had to take second billing at times on their tour (QRO photos) with Surfer Blood (see above).  Yet TPOBPH (or however they abbreviate it…) still delivered for their home crowd at Siren – including singer/keyboardist Peggy Wang’s short, tight pants…
the drummer appreciates the short-shorts

 

Harlem, Stillwell Stage
Harlem

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Curtis O'Mara

A band currently enjoying that indie-hype is Austin’s Harlem, from their showing at their hometown’s SXSW this year (QRO recap) to Hippies (QRO review), a record that channels not the late sixties but the early nineties – Nirvana more than anyone else.  Still, the band has had trouble impressing or connecting to the crowd at a live show, especially singer/guitarist/drummer Curtis O’Mara sometimes channeling his inner Nathan Williams (of meltdown-prone WAVVES), but actually got the crowd’s attention & enjoyment at Siren, pointing to better things for the band in their not-hometown.
wish it were the Harlem Shakes

 

Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, Main Stage
Ted Leo & The Pharmacists

Ted LeoClick image for full gallery

This year’s Siren heavily favored the younger acts, with one notable exception: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists.  How many of the bands on this line-up wouldn’t even exist without the influential alt-punk musician?  Thankfully, after two decades Ted Leo is finally getting some of the respect is due (and, reportedly, wants – word is that he can be a bit bent-out-of-shape about it not happening).  And The Pharmacists features on guitar James Canty, of respect is (also) due to the Nation of Ulyssesgreat nineties rhetorical-punk acts The Nation of Ulysees & The Make-Up.  Enough young bands have name-checked Mr. Leo to get the kids to start listening to him, and those kids were out in force at Siren, helped by a line-up of bands who’d been giving TL his props (indeed, Screaming Females – see above – lent Leo Paternoster for song) – yet he was still opening for one of them (see below).  Still, for at least one act at Siren, the all-ages fans & the aged hipster critics were in positive agreement.
Ted Leo & Marissa Paternoster

 

Cymbals Eat Guitars, Stillwell Stage
Cymbals Eat Guitars

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Cymbals Eat Guitars were in the wrong time slot at Siren.  This is not to knock the (yes, again) Brooklyn band, who have been getting better & better & better with each go around.  Indeed, they felt comfortable enough at home to not only hit the crowd with some new songs, but also not start with the great opener from last year’s debut, Why There Are Mountains (QRO review), “…And the Hazy Sea”.  But playing this late in the hot, hot day, after acts like The Pains of Being Pure at Heart (see above – who they’d previously first-opened for – QRO live review), and, more importantly, up against Ted Leo & Matt & Kim (see above & below), meant that many fans just popped in to catch CEG at the Stillwell Stage in the time between Main Stage acts.
Cymbals Eat Guitars

 

Matt & Kim, Main Stage
Matt & Kim

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I'm Matt...In its ten years of existence, the Siren Music Festival has never had a repeat performer.  It’s not that people haven’t been happy with the acts who’ve played – it’s just been that Siren has been about showcasing new music, and if you’d schlepped out to Coney Island in previous years, you didn’t need to do so again for the same band.  But for the tenth anniversary, Siren had brought back some semi-returns, especially from 2007 – between-set DJ Ted Leo returned as performer (see above), performer We Are Scientists returned for the after-party (see below), but the only out-and-out ‘proper’ return was of Brooklyn’s favorite couple, Matt & Kim.
Kim shakes her bootie
Matt kicks out the jamz

And if you were gonna have a returnee, couldn’t have picked a better one than Johnson & Schifino, who basically stole the show in the middle of the day in 2007 (QRO photos) thanks to not only their energy, but that of their hyper fans.  Since then, the band has gotten seriously bigger, not only with last year’s Grand (QRO review), but in sheer venue size – last year saw them headline Hudson River Park (QRO review), and October sees the pair come back to the Big Apple for two shows at Webster Hall (QRO venue review).  So did the crowd go crazy for Matt & Kim headlining an outdoor, all-ages, free festival on good times Coney Island?  ...and this is Kim...Of course they did – and Matt & Kim gave the love right back, from high-fiving & crowd-surfing to inviting everyone there to join them for a dip in the Atlantic Ocean – which Matt & Kim & co. actually did!
...and we're Matt & Kim!
Matt thanks the fans
take a dip

 

Holy Fuck, Stillwell Stage
Holy Fuck

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Holy frondThe unenviable task of competing with Matt & Kim (see above) for fans was given to Canada’s Holy Fuck.  Luckily, the band’s electronic style diverges enough from that pair to draw a different audience, even if it wasn’t like anything else at Siren save much-earlier Apache Beat (see above).  But more importantly, unlike many electronic acts, Holy Fuck didn’t wilt in the sun, but blossomed.  Surrounded by palm plants, the band lived up to their reputation as being more ‘live’ live than most electronica, and held their own to close out Coney Island.
Holy Fuck

 

 

Lightspeed Champion, Music Hall of Williamsburg
Lightspeed Champion

unfortunately, not Sam ChampionClick image for full gallery

Oh, but Siren wasn’t done yet!  For anyone who had the energy, Siren was throwing an after-party back up north at Music Hall of Williamsburg (QRO venue review) – and unlike Siren’s past, had some acts you’d actually muster what was left of yourself to go see.

Note: that above comment wasn’t for opener Lightspeed Champion.  Electing to go without a backing band, Devonté Hynes couldn’t nearly fill the stage or the stage floor, and his music was anything but memorable.  Music Hall would have been better served by getting bartender Noah Chernin (QRO interview), frontman for the late Sam Champion (QRO spotlight on), up there…

 

We Are Scientists, Music Hall of Williamsburg
We Are Scientists

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Keith MurrayWhen We Are Scientists played Siren 2007 (QRO photos), they were up against Matt & Kim (see above), but for 2010, they got moved all the way back into the evening after-party.  Part of their tour for the recently released Barbara (QRO review), WAS had hit up Music Hall’s sister venue in Manhattan, Bowery Ballroom (QRO venue review), two nights earlier.  Yet the engaging and altogether awesome trio was still able to fill up Music Hall.  For those who weren’t too tired from running around Coney Island in the hot sun, or too drunk on Nathan’s beers (too bad they don’t sell the sixty-four ounce cups of beer like they used to…), making it to Music Hall in Williamsburg was well worth it.
not as good as porno radio, though

 

 

on the boardwalk

We’ll admit it: Siren 2010 took more out of us at QRO than any Siren past, leaving our post-festival coverage late & a bit sketchy.  But that’s the sign of a good time, a great time, right?…

 

-words: Ted Chase
-photos: Ted Chase, Veronica Hoever & Robert Sayers

 

 

 

yes, it was that hot

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