Siren Fest 2009: Built to Spill + Thee Oh Sees + Japandroids + Raveonettes + Grand Duchy + more

Built to Spill
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Grand Duchy/Frank Black
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Thee Oh Sees
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Without a doubt, this was the most pleasant weather the Siren Festival has ever seen. Maybe a weird thing to say up front, but here's a festival that has a reputation for being held on the most miserably hot, humid day of the year, where you wish someone would squeegee you every half hour. So with temperatures in the mid-80s and low humidity, I'd almost say it was pleasant. For Sire it was close to perfect.

And so was the lineup, even if it was almost entirely white dudes with guitars. At least they were good ones. I got there just in time to see Micachu & the Shapes who were good but maybe not ready for such a big stage just yet. (Her tiny guitar looked even more minuscule here.) They were much better when I saw them at Death by Audio in March. Their album, produced by cut-and-paste master Matthew Herbert is kind of hard to replicate live, but they do a pretty good job of it thanks to an array of kitchen-sink percussion.

Canadian duo Japandroids also had never played anywhere this big and guitarist Brian King was freaking out, just a bit. To the drummer, "Dave did you see the size of the crowd?! If you took every crowd we've ever played to in the history of our band, it would not be anywhere near this many people." King was swigging from a bottle of Jagermeister, which seemed like a bad idea to me, but he was clearly burning off any alcohol in his system within seconds, as he was a whirlwind of energy, seriously rocking out. And their songs give The Cribs a run for the money in the "whoa-oh" department. There was maybe a little too much rocking out and not enough choruses but the energy carried them through just fine.


Thee Oh Sees got an early start on the Stillwell stage — maybe ten minutes before the posted set time — and put on my favorite set of the day. (This should be no surprise to readers of this site, I'm a big fan.) They're of the "put the gear on the stage, turn it on and we'll be fine" mentality, and would rather just get on with it than wait around, because clearly singer John Dwyer is a bundle of nervous energy that comes flying apart the second he plugs in. The man rarely stays still, is prone to abusing his instruments (and yet that green-and-black 12-string stays in tune), spitting, and eating the microphone. I pity the person that might ever have to use it after him. And there have been many guitarists — from Hendrix to Prince — who've played guitar with their teeth, but Dwyer actually holds his instrument in his mouth, leaving his hands free for shaker bells and fiddling with his amp. And the songs are great too. My only complaint was the set was too short. Thee Oh Sees will be back in October with the Fresh & Onlys, so be sure to make it to one of those shows.

I only caught a couple songs from Frightened Rabbit, whose anthemic brand of Scottish Rock puts them in Twilight Sad (or even Snow Patrol, lets admit it) territory. It's not my thing, but the crowd liked them. I stuck around the main stage for Grand Duchy which is occasional Pixie Frank Black and wife Violet Clark's new band. There's a new wave influence with GD, which separates them from what Black normally does but you can still trace the line between projects. Black has gotten bigger but he still exudes rockstar cool, he's the real deal, though the Lou Reed style headless basses that Clark and the bands other keyboardist wielded get them negative points in style. Seriously, nobody should play those things ever.

I tried to go see Monotonix but their mayhem took place in the middle of the crowd. I took the opportunity to get some food and made it back to see the Raveonettes who only have two songs (fast and slow) but they are good ones. They sound great, and look great… a quality that can never be underestimated.

Indie rock guitar gods Built to Spill know how to play a festival — bring the hits, and as little wank as is possible for a band with three guitarists. The band are kind of rocking a late-'70s Beach Boys look now, which suits them pretty well. A new record is due out this fall, but mainly we get the classics: "Wrong," "Temporarily Blind," "Distopian Dream Girl," "Sidewalk" and the one-two punch of encore "Big Dipper" and "Carry the Zero" was all it took to remind me how much I love BTS. And Coney Island, which has too much grit and seediness to ever be erased by developers, even though the new amusements section is a pale shell of Astroland. I hope there are still Sirens to come.

Yes there were more bands, but I didn't see them. More photos after the jump.

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Siren Fest ’08

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There are times — when the sweat is pouring down your back, the smell of garbage is pervasive, the line for Nathan’s is too long to bother (same for the icky porta-potties) — that schlepping all the way out to Coney Island for the Village Voice’s annual indie rock extravaganza hardly seems worth it. But then you get moments like Broken Social Scene’s genuine, joyous sundown set and it all seems kinda worth it.

I took a fairly casual approach to it all this year, doing more hanging out than anything else. It was maybe the hottest Siren ever (though not the most humid, that award goes to ’05) so I did a lot of staying put instead of running from stage to stage. Film School‘s dark, swirly, Cure-ish sound went over surprisingly well in their early afternoon spot, and The Dodos were good despite some technical difficulties. I then seemed to miss a bunch of bands though I did catch some of Jaguar Love who I’m pretty sure are the worst band ever signed to Matador. But they made for good photography. (Times New Viking and S.M. made up for it though on the Matador front.)

Seattle duo Helio Sequence, who I hadn’t seen play in four years, seemed to impress just about everyone I talked to and were the happy surprise of the day.  And Broken Social Scene just bring a great positive vibe… as well as a full horn section this time, and an audience member up on stage to fill in for Amy/Leslie/Emily on one song.

Regrets: missing Islands entirely and not going to Totonno’s, which was the one thing I really wanted. However; Time Out is right, the Mexican food scene in Coney Island has become pretty impressive. Carne enchilada tacos, Canadian rock, Bud Light Lime (my new guilty pleasure) and a toe-dip in the ocean — that’s a pretty good Saturday.

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