“We’re Priestess from Montreal and we are going to fuck you”
And so began the sixth annual Siren Fest, an event that summer in and summer out is graciously hosted by Brooklyn’s own Coney Island and precisely planned by The Village Voice. For years, myself and thousands more have come to congeal at the tip of B.I.G.’s borough in mid-July to bask in eight or nine solid hours of sea-salt soaked air that carries the aural brilliance (or ineptitude) of some of indie rock’s finest and forgettable to a packed house of excitable ears. Underground favorites from Sleater-Kinney to the Shins to Liars have all lent their talents in past years to the festival’s two stages. And with an unbeatable price (free), booths advocating all the trendy causes you could think of, a beach at the disposal of all and roughly 5,690 lbs. of hot dogs, the Siren experience is easily one of the highlights of every summer for New York’s indie rats. This year saw the bulk of the Siren talent set up camp at the second stage or Stillwell Stage, as it is hardly ever referred to. So without further formulated babbling, I give to you my own play-by-play of the 2006 Siren Festival as I believe it to have happened.
Usually after every Siren Fest, I make myself two promises: 1) I’m wearing shorts next year and 2) I’m not going to drink the night before. Well, this year I followed through on one of the promises and as Meatloaf never said, one out of two ain’t bad. So dressed in baggy cargo shorts and a t-shirt, I clung tight to my lemon-lime Gatorade and prayed for something to wake me from my dehydration haze. The answer to my prayer came in the form of a four-piece southern rock/metal hybrid from Montreal called Priestess. Long locks and facial hair flailed as the band cranked out quick jabs of two and a half to three minute blues based Motorhead style metal. Complete with a five-minute drum solo and the occasional extended and improvised bridge, Priestess brought arena antics to a shrunken stage and the crowd followed suit with banging heads and pitchfork fingers. One female spectator went so far as to toss her black bra onto the stage. Consider me converted.
2:40pm-3:15pm- Man Man
Aside from the bikini-clad femininas with oversized sunglasses, the number one perk of Siren Fest is the efficiency. Bands are scheduled to go on at a certain time and they always do. For anyone who goes to shows this is unheard of. So when Man Man and their elaborate set-up of 5-6 instruments per band member took over 30 minutes to get to the stage, this onlooker got a little irritated. The blazing sun burned hot against my pasty skin as sweat and sun screen ran down into my eyes and I was almost ready to seek shade when at last, 5 men with varying degrees of facial hair all dressed in bleach white clothes took the stage to applause.
It was worth the wait.
Now I’ve never ridden the cyclone or any roller coaster for that matter. But I have a sneaking suspicion that if one were to imbibe a healthy dose of `shrooms and ride said cyclone, Man Man would be cackling crazy all the way through their head. Gruff voiced, hound dog vocals mixed with a cornucopia of carnival sounds and an improvised intensity that always leaves the audience wondering what instrument the lead singer will pull out of his bag next. Oh, throwing spoons at a bowl won’t mesh well you say? Wrong. Is that tea kettle miked? Yes. Is that a stuffed aardvark he’s tuning? Could be. Best Performance of the day? Absolutely.
3:30pm-4:10pm- Dirty on Purpose
Elvis Presley once said that Roy Orbison was the hardest act to follow in his day and anyone who did it was unlikely to have a career after. Now I imagine following up the best band at a 14 band indie rock festival isn’t as hard as following up arguably the best singer ever but I imagine it can’t be easy. It’s even harder when a) right before you go it begins to rain b) your $1400-2000 Vox amp shits the bed mid way through your set c) your bass player likes his super big muff pedal a little too much. So maybe DOP gets a pardon from me as their songs did possess some steady pop structure and their singer sold his fake gold “bling bling” to an eager fan for five bucks making for a slight comedy in between songs. But their execution along with the negative factors against them provided for a rather ho-hum, ear ringing, drizzle-drenched set.
435pm-510pm- Serena Maneesh
And I thought Canada was a hike. In all honesty, these Norway based new gazers* were the band I was looking most forward to seeing. Their debut shimmered through me, painting an ear-to-ear smile on my mug last year and I figured their music would be even more well accepted against the now overcast backdrop. Then they started playing. But about five minutes before they did, I imagine this conversation took place backstage:
Lead singer/guitar player: “Hey, guess what?”
Second guitar player: “What?”
Lead singer/guitar player: “5 bucks says I can make way more noise than you can with my axe?”
Second guitar player: “No way, dude. I gots me a butter knife and I’m gonna play allllll set with it”
Lead singer/guitar player: “Well I’m gonna flail about like I’m having a grand-mal seizure! The audience won’t even suspect I know how to play this thing.”
Drummer: “Guys, please don’t do this again.”
Second guitarist. “Oh yeah? Well, I’m gonna dress like Sterling Morrison!”
Lead guitarist/singer. “Check this out, I look like Jack f’n Sparrow!”
Violinist: “I’m ollllldddd”
Needless to say it was a disappointing 35 minutes. What the studio recording presents as “atmospheric” and “dreamy” turned into “dreadful” and “indiscernible.” In the realm of performances, SM pulled what my mates and I refer to as a “Trail of Dead” a la their 2004 Siren Fest performance. At least SM made it through their songs…I think. My sincerest apologies to Tapes `N Tapes who caused my one and only conflict of the day by playing opposite SM. If I had known then…
5:30pm-6:05pm- The Cribs
The line at Nathan’s wasn’t long, not by any standards. So I figured with a surplus of workers, and upwards of 50+ cash registers, I could easily sneak away from my coveted front row, center spot, grab some fried clams and make my way for some shade as I watched a band I had never heard of from a safe, comfortable distance. At roughly 5:50, I knew this would not be happening. My exposure to the Cribs would be soured by the inefficiency of the Nathan’s staff to do actual work and my fried clams would not be in my starved mitts until 6:15. As for the Cribs, if the Killers were actually from England instead of pretending to be and kicked their keyboards to the curb, well then the Cribs might be garnering some Grammys; radio ready for sure. As for my clams, it’s hard to mess up fried clams. But Nathan’s by golly, you did it.
6:30pm-7:15pm- Art Brut
With a large number of previously frozen, sea dwellers now resting on the top shelf of my belly, I made a slow move towards the left side of the stage. Disgruntled and weary, I was awaiting the worst from these smarmy, sloppy, overhyped Brits. What I got was an inspired lesson on the values of kitsch-rock* led by inviting frontman Eddie Argos who will someday take over Jules Holland’s job if ever the time comes. Mod-punk hilarity at its finest. Once you stop taking Art Brut too seriously you can enjoy them for the one-trick pony they certainly aim to be. Of course, the same was once said of the Darkness. Anyone here own that second disc? Eeeek.
At approx. 7:40, all the equipment for this 8-piece indie pop outfit from Montreal was placed on the stage, tuned up and ready to go. The display prompted a girl to ask me:
Girl: “who’s going on next?”
Girk: (kinda confused, kinda mad) “but they’re not supposed to go on till 8”
Girl: (still waiting for some sort of answer)
Me: “well, Art Brut only has about 30 minutes of material in which they were given an hour to perform, so, you know, things are ahead of schedule”
Girl: (still confused)
This was hilarious to me because not only was this Festival efficient but it was overly efficient and this fact apparently angered some fans. Plus, this girl was grilling me as if was the promoter. If I was, I’d be chillin’ with Michael Musto backstage sippin’ Korbel. This much I know is true.
To the pleasure of that bewildered stranger, Stars did not actually commence their performance until exactly 8:00pm. Singer Torquil Campbell, a man who appears to resemble a mix of Johnny Rotten and Graham Norton, took the stage in a heather gray suit with white button up dress shirt. I immediately expect him to start skanking like the dancer from Mighty Mighty Bosstones and once he picks up a trumpet (!) I am almost 99.9% sure it will happen. Like Serena Maneesh, Stars features two females, one astonishing looking violinist and another girl who has a great voice. Unlike SM, there is barely a spec of fuzz about them, a polished sound through and through made even more “lovely” by the strings and unfrihgtening horns. I suspect the gleam from the speakers is what draws people to Stars and I know it is also what fails to reel me in. Oh don’t get me wrong, their songs are fine and I’ve spun their album on more than one occasion but I often times found myself paying more attention to the barking of the go-kart track attendant behind me as opposed to the actual set. Maybe it was the strain of the long day, the lassitude catching up to me and the second wind coming out of my sails. Or perhaps it was the creepy banter of Johnny Norton, where he compared the audience to “stars” of their own pornographic film, encouraged everyone to bite the neck of someone they hate right there and then (who takes someone they hate to a 9 hour festival?) or informed the audience that his own band was “slightly less gay than the scissor sisters” who were playing opposite them. I imagine a strange combo of all these components added to my distaste. Though, you realize, they would have been the best act of the day had their singer stick true to his uniform and skanked the night away. Maybe next year.
Winners: Nathan’s- I suspect they only need to open two days out of the year (today and July 4th) to turn a helluva profit.
Losers: Violin players- 3 in all and I tell ya, like a bass player at a basement show, they are only heard when no one else is playing. Props to the Stars violinist for allowing the men in the audience not to care at all about her flair for inaudible playing. Unprops to the Stars violinist to giving every girl in the audience a complex and possibly causing fights among freshman romances.
The Best: Man Man, Art Brut
The Worst: Nathan’s, whoever dressed the lead singer from Serena Maneesh
Lessons to be Learned:
1) Dudes, stop taking off your shirts. Not funny, not appealing, not a Disturbed concert.
2) Ladies, stop dancing in between the sets. Really, the lack of rhythm passes at whatever dive bar you’ll be at tonight but here, you’re just bumping into me.
3) The African-American element- we miss you. Please come next year and teach the white girls to dance effectively.
Can’t wait till next year.
*All pictures by Heartonastick used with permission