Large in size but with each member expertly holding their own, North Carolina’s Annuals played many new numbers from their forthcoming album, a follow-up to the excellent Be He Me. At times main guy Adam Baker sings with the smoothness of a lullaby, but where this band really shines is when the songs explode into their climaxes, turning Baker into a beast of a live performer. His face assumed many insane positions as he sang impossibly high parts, leading him to literally foam at the mouth. Meanwhile, keyboardist Anna Spence remained oddly collected as the sun beat down on her high-collared frock. She was but gently flushed as she rocked sensually along to her finger tapping.
Many people were quite excited to see the fuzzy, buzzy Times New Viking, another very loud band. Their bratty vocals that can sound like a schoolyard chant were augmented by the loose guitar of Jared Phillips, who wins the ballsy rockstar award for chugging whiskey on an oppressive day such at this. Fellow chugger and drummer/vocalist Adam Elliott was particularly enthusiastic, as are many who manage to sing and drum at the same time, and the pretty spurt of yellow flowers atop his kit were a nice summer touch. For fans of such a group who strive to preserve the real, palpable qualities of live sound on their recorded albums, seeing TNV in concert is a must.
Ra Ra Riot crammed their six members onto the stage and brought a massive sound of strings, driving bass, and syrupy vocals. The ladies providing orchestration had slick, modern instruments whose busted appearance reflected the recent touring frenzy these guys have been on in support of their forthcoming debut The Rhumb Line. Alexandra Lawn’s cello was visibly broken and taped back together, while Rebecca Zeller’s violin bow kept snapping strings just as fast as she could tear them off in order the keep playing. A highlight was their cover of Kate Bush’s “Suspended in Gaffa” that had the band zigzagging in between one another as they pranced about the stage.
Beach House, the dreamy duo from Baltimore, marked a break in the frenzied day with their calm, gorgeous tunes that had the audience casually swaying. Victoria Legrand’s alto pipes belted though the curtain of humid haze, rising expertly to the soaring high notes as the songs demanded, while guitarist Alex Scally sat and played calmly in his chair. Their latest Devotion is a gorgeous album with its soft melodies and relaxed mood, but in a festival setting their power was a bit lost among the tight crowd expecting to be rocked. But appropriately to their name, Beach House’s sound is summery in a way that suggests a breezily serene evening, so at least this ode to the season could be appreciated.
The kind of dude you’d imagine was quite the troublemaker in his school days, former Unicorns member Nick Thorburn began the Islands set inside a metal garbage can. I can’t be sure if this was the very same waste receptacle used by the Dodos earlier, but his flailing about set a tone of wackiness and good-time fun for the band’s set. An already playful, lively set of characters, the group seemed to feed off the surging crowds as they stuck to mostly upbeat, poppy numbers. At one point a rapping friend joined them onstage for a fine moment of typical Islands genre-jumping. As Thorburn lit a handful of sparklers and held them over his guest’s head, it truly felt the epitome of summer.
It was just plain awesome to have rock royalty Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks available to see free of charge, and their inclusion in this year’s festival certainly says something of Siren’s ability to attract huge names. Masters at their trade, the various Jicks, including former Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss, rocked it mightily as Malkmus picked away at his guitar with commanding ease. He shifted between jarring solos and playful comments to the crowd, many of whom were grinning widely while mouthing all the words. It was a shame when the set drew to a close at the end of its too shortly allotted time, but hey, the chance to see icons play at sunset in a classic setting is one not to go unappreciated.
The final players, overflowing Canadian supergroup Broken Social Scene, fed the tired crowd one last surge of energy with their huge sound and rampant enthusiasm. Kevin Drew spilled his sense of sadness as to the fact that Coney Island is falling to development pressure, and urged us kids to hold onto our rights and not be trampled by the Man. It seemed appropriate that the night should end with a message, one that reverberated throughout the land as Drew encouraged all to scream along to the final song. Though it’s always difficult to assess their lineup at any one point in time, among those present this evening were Apostle of Hustle’s Andrew Whiteman, one of the guys from Do Make Say Think, and Brendan Canning who has just released Something For All Of Us… under the BSS wing.
Though she truly tests a person’s ability to withstand harsh conditions, the Siren Festival was once again an awesome time.