Siren Festival: M.I.A. and more at Coney Island

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

M.I.A.—6 p.m., Main Stage

Two thoughts popped into my head in quick succession when M.I.A. appeared on stage in disco-ball pants and a feathered police cap. The first was "Wow, she's even more beautiful in real life," and the second was "Wow, she can't dance!" Not that she didn't dance—she did, and it was endearing as hell—but the London-born, Sri Lankan-blooded rapper looked silly moving in sync with her more rhythmically gifted hype woman. The MC's clumsy contortions only added to the playful feel of her set, though.

This was Maya's first performance on U.S. soil in quite a while thanks to visa problems that kept her out of the country since last year, and she was clearly jazzed to be there. At the same time, it felt like her first performance anywhere in some time. Her mic cut out a few times, but the momentum was stunted much more when she asked the DJ (not Diplo, some dude from Philly) to pull back his needle and restart the beat. This happened several times over, and while it made for a sloppy show, nothing was going to diffuse the joy emenating from that stage. I mean, one of the delays was so she could reapply her lipstick.

The girlish playfulness took me by surprise. Given the political nature of M.I.A.'s music and the absence of smiles in her promo shots, I had no idea she would be so buoyant in person. But she was a star up there, the kind of performer that leaves you satisfied in spite of a flawed set. Of course, the set also had some killer music working in its favor once it got in gear. She raps over truly global beats, sounds that hopscotch from Baltimore to Sao Paolo to Kingston to Mumbai and build up blazing heat along the way.

Technical snafus aside, the set had everything an M.I.A. fan could want. When she wasn't taunting us by yelling "I'm single again!" she covered all the bases of her relatively young catalog. There were plenty of Arular hits—"Sunshowers," "Pull Up the People," a triumphant closing "Galang." She bansheed out a strange, entrancing cover of "Where Is My Mind." And she played enough new tracks to get me very excited for her upcoming Kala. I cracked a dopey grin to match her sly smile and wandered off to wallow in satisfaction on the beach.

More reviews plus photos of bands and Coney Island sights after the jump...

Some more M.I.A., then we continue:

The Twilight Sad—1 p.m., Main Stage

Not as bowled over by these Glaswegians' live show as the hype would dictate. Their wall of sound might sound better enclosed in walls of brick. Under the Saturday sun, the songs came off as indiscernable shoegaze sugar cookies—quiet, loud, repeat.

Elvis Perkins in Dearland—2:30 p.m., Stillwell Stage

Okkervil River with Elvis Perkins is high among the ranks of shows I wished I made it out to last year in Columbus, and Perkins, with whom I had only passing familiarity, made me all the more disappointed that I missed that Little Brother's stop. At least I got to see him this time, when he and his band Dearland plucked out sophisticated folk pop that avoided blase, NPR-approved homogeny. Gotta get that record ASAP.

Dr. Dog—2 p.m., Main Stage

This actually started up simultaneously with Elvis Perkins' set thanks to delays at the main stage, so I couldn't see much, and as you can see, I didn't get very close. What I did witness from afar recalled the band's bouncy, triumphant Little Brother's set from earlier this year. Now if they could just lend their coattails to Philadelphian cohorts The Teeth, a band nearly as staggeringly talented, all would be right in the retro pop world.

The Black Lips—4 p.m., Main Stage

Lots of bouncy bands at Siren this year! Atlanta's Black Lips are another group that just can't stand still, and given the chance to experience their beach-party garage rock, neither can I. They killed when I saw them at Athens' glorious rock dive The Union, and the scuzzy pop translated beautifully to the Siren stage. It's good to see their hijinks, including bringing out a live chicken and spraying feathers everywhere, are still in full effect as well. No firecrackers from the stage this time, though. See this band live whenever you get the chance. Theirs was the best set of the day.

We Are Scientists—5 p.m., Main Stage

We Are Scientists were doomed from the start—good luck following the Black Lips—but I'm not sure I would have enjoyed it that much under any circumstances. The band came off as utterly passable alt-rock and nothing more, a third generation dub of the Dismemberment Plan that lost its spontaneity in the static. A few good hooks and a few clever riffs doesn't cut it. Thankfully, an M.I.A. set was waiting on the other side.

Scenes from Coney Island

I skipped plenty of bands I would have liked to have seen, such as Cursive, Matt & Kim and the sort-of New York Dolls. But there was much Coney Island scenery to take in, so I don't feel too bad about it. See for yourself...