Words by: Chris Pacifico :: Images by: Christie Harrison
Siren Music Festival :: 7.21.07 :: Coney Island :: Brooklyn, NY
Coney Island is still the quintessential weekend sabbatical for most working class New York and New Jersey residents. Parents can lie out on the beach or get juiced up at the boardwalk bars while their kids play in the water or go on the rides at the Astroland Amusement Park. The sights, sounds and scents evoke the melting pot that New York City has been for the past two centuries. While not as well known as the larger scale festivals such as Lollapalooza or Bonnarooo, the annual Siren Music Festival is a much anticipated one-day summer staple where music fans can check out an eclectic stew of up-and-coming and already established indie rock bands on two stages. It's also amusing to see how all the pale faced hipsters hold up for a whole day in the baking sunlight as you take the three minute trek between stages alongside sexy Gypsy women on stilts.
| Siren Festival :: 07.21|
As with any summer day on Coney Island, the air was redolent with funnel cakes, corndogs and the onions and frankfurters of Nathan's Famous - still going strong after 91 years on the rickety boardwalk. This year something else was in the air and on the tip of everyone's tongue - the pungent stench of greed and bully tactics were stinking up the air as the very fate Coney Island is reportedly hanging by a string. A large real estate company plans to shut down Astroland after this season to build high rise condos, a mall and a super glitzy, corporate amusement park. There've already been evictions of a number of the boardwalk businesses and vendors who've been there for generations. Fans all over the place were wondering if there'd even be a Siren Festival next year.
The first act to grace the main stage was Glasgow's The Twilight Sad. Their recent debut, Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters has garnered much critical acclaim this year and their live set added proof to the pudding. Their perplexing hybrid of finely layered shoegazer fuzz and illuminating post-rock from guitarist Andy MacFarlane is intertwined with old time Anglo folk ditties and winding narratives from singer James Graham, who has a Scottish accent thicker than Groundskeeper Willie. Mark Devine's drums boomed like artillery on "And She Would Darken the Memory," where Graham was so entranced by his monographs that his eyes visibly rolled back as he swept himself and the crowd up in his songs, making our surroundings seem nonexistent
| The Twilight Sad :: Siren Festival :: 07.21|
White Rabbits's played a style of jittery calypso punk and was nice enough to shoot the breeze backstage for an upcoming JamBase feature. They were fresh off their appearance on The David Letterman Show earlier in the week, where Letterman cautiously asked "You guys done? Everybody done?" as he approached the stage to shake their hands while they dished out the feedback.
| Dr. Dog :: Siren Festival :: 07.21|
Dr. Dog wore their love of the White Album on their sleeves with their catchy, just good ol' fashioned, mellow rock & roll. Live, they cause everyone in hearing range to either sway and/or bob their heads to every gleeful note they play. The standout number from their set was the tattered, blue-eyed soul of "My Old Ways." Nonetheless, Dr. Dog's bouncy piano and organ fuzz-infused jingles are bare bones R&B and simmering, pristine bubblegum pop – in short, perfect summertime listening for just kicking it with good peeps and good brews while soaking up the rays. The summertime feeling was only increased when every few minutes the Cyclone roller coaster and its screaming riders whooshed by within earshot of the stage.
Between 3 - 4:30 p.m. diva power reared its head for the afternoon. Along with the Detroit Cobras' sashaying dive bar soul and roughneck femme take on the Motown era, there was Shingai Shoniwa, frontwoman of London's Noisettes, whose energetic prancing all over every inch of the stage made even the most jaded fans rock their collective asses off. Having weathered nonstop comparisons to Billie Holiday and Karen O, Shoniwa dropped a green flag to rev up this power trio's engine that sped full throttle with the potent sensuality of early glam pioneers like Mott the Hoople and T.Rex. Their gritty punk-paced rock barnburners seethe with lots and lots of lawless soul and be-bop tempo bridges. Shoniwa's voice, which is both sweet and sour, was the cherry on top of the Noisette's sundae of fist-pumping-in-the-air savage anthems, a sound more pissed off than a wolverine and more exotic than her fashion sense.
| Noisettes :: Siren Festival :: 07.21|
Complaints of "Pfffth! Fuckin' hippies" could be overheard at Los Angeles country-folk, baroque combo Lavender Diamond's set, but their slow drizzling, scintillating pop does suck one in. Their sugary twinkling is mostly acoustic with minimal, brushing percussion from drummer Ron Rege Jr. Singer Becky Stark's voice is a perky twist on the most melancholy moments of Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro. Despite being classically trained and a 30 year old woman, Stark sways, dresses and talks like a five year old kindergartner who demands attention from everyone in the room, but in an adorable and spunky kind of way. She even dropped her own proposal on how to save Coney Island and make it more Green friendly. She left the cheering crowd with one final question, "Sounds good, right? Now, who's got 500 million dollars to make it happen?"
| Lavender Diamond :: Siren Festival :: 07.21|
The self-proclaimed "flower punks" of Atlanta, Black Lips, got down and dirty into some Nuggets style psych-garage rock that was just as skuzzy and seedy as the band members themselves. Bassist-vocalist Jared Swilley looked classy in his short shorts. Toward the end of their set, the band let one of their chickens loose on the stage, scattering feathers everywhere. Thankfully, that's all they did with it. Hey, you can't put any odd live antics pass these guys but they chose not to run a fowl of anyone.
| Black Lips :: Siren Festival :: 07.21|
We Are Scientists were my guilty pleasure of the day. They seemed to be whatever ashes were left smoldering of the whole neo-new-wave bands that flourished around 2004. They retained their staying power in a live show filled with hooks and choruses catchy enough to pick up on midway through the songs.
Another tickling treat was Brooklyn's Matt & Kim, a keyboard and drum duo that plays danceable, fuzzy pop in a frolicsome way. It's almost too playful for its own good but the daylight was winding down, and by this point in the day many attendees couldn't help but show the side effects from all the sun and booze their bodies were absorbing throughout the day. For some unknown reason, Matt & Kim never, and I mean never, stopped smiling. One wonders if it's Botox or if their central nervous systems are frozen. Known as "an onstage pizza party," this couple has the energy and personality of an entire elementary school locked in a Chuck E. Cheese for a week, blasted on an all-you-can-eat buffet of Fun Dip and candy necklaces.
| Matt & Kim :: Siren Festival :: 07.21|
The headlining act of the day was punk pioneers the New York Dolls. One of the bands the Sex Pistols regarded as a true influence, the NY Dolls wasted no time getting busy with their provocative blues and glam pop. Singer David Johansen remains the epitome of what early '70s critics called Mick Jagger's bastard children. Having broke up in 1977, many recognized Johansen from the long line of films he acted in during the '80s and '90s like "overlooked classic" Car 54, Where Are You? Reformed in 2004, the NY Dolls have yet to let their new generation of fans down. At 57, Johansen has a strut and posture similar to Mick, though his crew wasn't as cross-dressed as they were in their prime. Timeless classics like "Personality Crisis," "Looking for a Kiss" and a cover of Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart" made this festival a day well spent despite an atmosphere that might take a delousing or two to get the communal stench of sweat, beer and fried grease off. But, that's what Coney Island is all about. It wouldn't be the same without the grit and grime that makes it such a colorful New York experience.
| New York Dolls :: Siren Festival :: 07.21|
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