It was no polar expedition, but what polar opposites bookended this year’s bill at the Village Voice Siren Festival! Kicking it off was the sweet, twee rockers aptly known as Tiny Masters of Today and to top off the evening, a gangbuster of a set by steady stalwarts Built to Spill on one stage, and the vibrant force of madness known as Spank Rock on the other. All in all, it was quite an awesome earful.
Here we are again, on a sizzling beach day at Coney Island, yet far from any ocean breezes that might soothe us into summer reveries. It is, after all, a music festival, so the hot, deafening titillation is why we’ve come.
Between the blaze of watching bands, we flit back and forth from the calm tents of the artist oasis to talk to the likes of Scotland’s sweeping Frightened Rabbit as well as the almighty Black Francis and his wife, Violet Clark, touring this summer with their newest venture, Grand Duchy.
Early in Frightened Rabbit’s set, singer/guitarist Scott Hutchison greets the crowd with a cheerful, “It’s my first time in Coney Island. It’s very nice here”, before starting into the song “I feel better”. He’s clearly entranced by the sight of the rickety Cyclone and the “whoos” of the riders rumbling down one of the ride’s steepest declines at breakneck speed.
Drama, intensity, epic interludes… and we’re talking about the band, not the ride here. The Rabbits sweep the crowd away with their trademark sound that is quintessentially Scottish, fueled by its emotional highs and lows and poignant tales.
Grand Duchy follow the Scots with a tight set of slow-burner songs that meld lovers’ tension with icy, new wave distance. In the music, the dichotomy comes through as the heavy bass mixes with the jaunty synths, male and female vocals, and of course, the cutting power of Black Francis’ guitar.
Though I’m not a fan of the 80′s headless bass, Clark’s dark and present, grungy sound is quite the match for her on-stage panther prowl and sexy call-and-response refrains.
And what’s not to love when Black Francis is just a yard away, brooding, yet laid-back, stealing certain moments with his trademark, searing strums on highlights like “Come On Over” or the post-punk charmer, “Black Suit”. It’s obvious he’s enjoying the chance to sit back and let Clark take over the spotlight for a change.
APTBS are always a band you feel first, then hear. Their sound is one that hits you in the chest as soon as you near the stage, ear plugs and all. We bumped into A Place To Bury Strangers’ drummer Jay Space in the LES a couple of weeks ago and he wasn’t sure the band would sound so swell in the open air. Well, happily, Jay was wrong. Leave it to the locals to put on one our favorite sets at Siren 2009, blasting away the notion that a dark “noise” band needs nauseating strobes and dim cavernous venues to come across as true to their sonic combativeness as they should.
Sun be damned, the trio tears it up and spreads their feedback throughout the coastal air, and to satiate the crowd with a fiery finish, singer/guitarist Oliver Ackermann strips the strings from his guitar and swings it to bits during (what was probably) the last vestiges of the song “Ocean”. What an apt finale. It all goes to show we’ve got a lot to look forward to on the band’s upcoming album, Exploding Head.
The Raveonettes, with their tried and true Spector-esque fuzz, prove the perfect beach party band, pulling out all their old hits for a staid, yet happily head-bobbing set. Though their performance can be viewed as the extreme opposite of that of Monotonix or Spank Rock, there’s something to be said for being steady, ready and tight as a band. Guitarist Sune Rose Wagner explains they hadn’t played a show in a year and hence, decided to skip any new songs from their forthcoming Vice release, In and Out of Control. A special kudos goes to the always lovely Sharin Foo, who wore all black and didn’t even break a sweat.–MVW/photos of Frightened Rabbit and Grand Duchy by Tim Nestor, photos of APTBS, The Raveonettes by Andrjez Liguz at moreimages.net