The tenth annual Siren Music Festival, produced by The Village Voice, and sponsored by numerous corporations, hosted over a dozen bands this past Saturday (7/17) on two stages at Coney Island in Brooklyn. While some New Yorkers were hitting the beach, gulping down Nathan’s hotdogs, riding the Cyclone, and/or getting sunburn, many used the 90+ degree day as an excuse to show off their tats, rock their favorite pair of Ray Bans (or the knock offs), roll up their skinny jeans…oh yeah, and listen to the sweet sounds of free music. Here are some highlights from my sweaty-ass day in BK at Siren 2010:
WYE OAK: This duo from Baltimore plays to-the-point indie rock, with a sometimes folksy, sometimes alt-garage edge. Lead singer/guitarist Jenn Wasner’s vocals stand out over the dreary, trying-to-get-warm-by-the-fire music. Drummer Andy Stack plays one handed on a few songs, while filling in the gaps on keys. Wye Oak’s sound is full and charming for a two-piece, and their performance brings some needed energy to their songs. Sounds like a southern Tegan and Sara minus the cheery pop production, and the vocal duets, if that leaves you with anything.
PONYTAIL: Also from Baltimore, this psycho art-noise pop outfit is part electronic sound effect machine, part tribal-animal noise recording, and part never-ending youthful energy. The band consists of guitarists Dustin Wong and Ken Seeno, drummer Jeremy Hyman, and Molly Siegel on voice (the ambiguous haircut, diminutive stature, incoherent screeching, and fact that she was wearing men’s boxer briefs, at first left me unsure of the singer’s sex/age/native tongue). I say “on voice,” rather than vocalist/lyricist, because she sings in a language all her own, with short yelps, screams, and repeating vocal undulations, occasionally echoed by Wong, rather than singing in the traditional human sense. That said, two or three songs into their set, they start to blend together, not in a good, progressive, momentum-building way, but in a this-sounds-the-same-as-the-last-song-and-is-getting-boring kind of way. Nevertheless, their (Siegel’s) performance is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
EARL GREYHOUND: Brooklyn natives, this hard-hitting power trio brings the heavy bluesy, soul-drenched wall of sound Williamsburg hipsters are neither used to, nor particularly fond of. Regardless, Earl Greyhound’s Matt Whyte (vocals, guitar), Kamara Thomas (bass, vocals), and Ricc Sheridan (drums) melted faces with “S.O.S,” “Like a Doggy,” and “Monkey,” all off their first full-length “Soft Targets.” Plus, they recently independently released their second studio album “Suspicious Package.” And I don’t mean on an indie-label, but without a record label altogether. The band was selling their latest at Siren for whatever the consumer wished to pay. My guess is this won’t work out for Earl Greyhound quite as well as it did for Radiohead with “In Rainbows,” but it’s an honorable effort nonetheless. Performing some new tracks at Siren, “Shotgun” and “Ghost and The Witness” sound more alternative, almost grunge, compared to the heavy soul of “Soft Targets,” but Whyte and Thomas’ vocals and the booming beats from Sheridan’s massive Ludwig drum kit spare us from a 90s descent into the musically bland.
TED LEO AND THE PHARMACISTS: Punk rock singer-songwriter Ted Leo and his band spurred fans into fits of unison clapping and extravagant crowd surfing (one guy held up a beach umbrella while being passed around like a prison bitch), while performing “The Sons of Cain,” “Even Heroes Have Die,” and “Where Was My Brain?”. During one song, Screaming Females lead singer/guitarist Marissa Paternoster (who performed at Siren earlier in the day) joined the Pharmacists as a guest vocalist. The short-lived duet was a treat considering the fact that I missed the Screaming Females set. Ted Leo, who played Siren last year, signed off to the crowd, “We’ll see you next time,” implying his return in 2011.
I didn’t stick around for the headliners Matt & Kim, but I’m sure crazy-keyboard pop, ear-to-ear smiling, and frenetic dancing ensued. If you didn’t make it out to Coney Island this year, be sure to catch Siren 2011. Can’t wait to see how tight the rolled-up pants are next year (and even more college kids with choppy, ambiguous haircuts they pay for to look like they did it themselves). But it’s a small price to pay, considering the chance to see a few good to great independent bands free of charge.