Brooklyn’s Coney Island is known for many things— the Cyclone, the Boardwalk, overpriced popcorn— and now we can add ‘festival’ to that list. Now in its sophomore year, the Coney Island Music Festival managed to draw over two-hundred people to Stillwell and Bowery last Saturday, where there were treated to sets by Navy Gangs, The Garden, Public Practice, and this year’s headliner, (Sandy) Alex G. While still a relatively lowkey event with lots of smaller, local bands, the lineup is impressive for its second year, with a healthy mix of both local and more well-known bands from different genres (a step-up from last year). This time, there were enough bands to spread everything out across two stages, allowing concertgoers to comfortably space out their time. Here are some highlights from the day.
Pow Pow Family Band
A pyschedelic-pop ensemble from New York, Pow Pow Family Band is fronted by 26-year-old Miles Robbins, whose claim to fame is actually not music, but appearances in The X-Files, Mozart in the Jungle, and various other movies and TV shows. Yet music has always been his passion, and Robbins has now taken on Pow Pow as a full-time project. While the project has huge potential, they were off to a bit of a wobbly start. They began with a few average songs that at some point started to blend together, and it was difficult to distinguish certain instruments from others. It at first felt disorganized, as if trying to figure out what to do with so many people on stage at once. Nevertheless, as the set went on it seemed they got more comfortable with the stage, which fortunately translated into a few above-average performances that brought the show uphill. The majority of their setlist came from their recently released album All Right, an eclectic mix of pop and experimental that recalls an early Deerhunter.
While Pow Pow still has a bit of a ways to go in finding their coordination and nailing down their live sound, they have a charisma that will make you fall in love with them instantly. Their name alone makes them sound like they belong on a sitcom (one about “a circus that kidnaps talented children”), and the album itself reminds us of a Seinfeld episode. The lead singer had a humorous aire about him; about halfway through their set he introduced his bandmates as his “sons”, drawing quite a few laughs from the audience. Today’s performance proved they are extremely capable of holding a crowd, but it’d be nice to see them explore their options with the many instruments in the band, as at times it felt like we didn’t get to hear enough of them. We look forward to seeing where they go with their next release!
Formed by Samantha York and Vince McClelland (former members of Wall), Public Practice is a relatively new project that seems to draw upon some aspects of post-grunge, but also relies heavily on aspects of funk. Their debut single ‘Foundation’ is not much lyrically, but redeems itself entirely when it comes to instrumental quality, blending funk-style guitars with synths and punk vocals for a rather unique blend of pop funk. Sharp vocals cut through a bed of smooth, funky guitars, discontented cries amongst a rail of melody. While they may not be immediately so, their songs quickly become catchy, and ‘Foundation’ was stuck in our heads well after their set was done. Currently, ‘Foundation’ is the only track available online.
A slap in the face for what is “mainstream”, California natives The Garden are a curious duo. Made up of twin brothers Wyatt & Fletcher Shears, they boast a unique type of hilarity— and some of the best stage presence we’ve seen. Their experimental, wild synth-punk sound seemed especially jarring next to Shannon Shaw’s mellow performance, and the soft (Sandy) Alex G strummings that came after, yet it was a much-appreciated interlude after a day of relatively chill music. The whimsical nature of their songs were in no way lost in the live performance; onstage they looked just as wild as their lyrics sounded. Doing nothing short of acrobatics on stage, they were not deterred in the slightest by the fact that they had to be at the airport a mere hour after the show, and didn’t seem to care that they could very well be boarding their flight back to Orange County with broken necks from rolling around on stage. While their antics made for a bit of confusion and mayhem in the photo pit, the crowd ate it all up, feeding off of their energy and doing their own interpretations of what was going on in front of them. The Garden has crafted their brand out of their carefree spirits, and have gained somewhat of a cult following, attracting fans with the same lust for life. While they are in no way “boyband” material, love for them runs as deep as such, with girls traveling as long as five hours (and from as far as Rhode Island) just to be here with them for these 45 minutes. But it makes sense; their energy brings something new to the table. Once onstage, they were the high-velocity answer to tired fans who had been on their feet all day, restless for a performance— which they got in every sense of the word. It was certainly All Smiles as the Garden arrived, and we can’t say anyone left disappointed.
(Sandy) Alex G
Fresh from the lineup of Pitchfork Music Festival, (Sandy) Alex G hasn’t changed much. His Sunny Day Real Estate-esque album Beach Music is still as memorable as ever, he continues to release stellar singles, and he is still climbing towards success. After the Garden, Alex G’s set felt especially soft and smooth, his voice an angelic interlude over heavy guitars and drums. His poetic and mellow lyrics made up for a humdrum stage presence, and almost justified it, as its difficult to imagine these songs being performed any other way. “Are you guys having fun yet? Hell yeah!” he said over cheers. “Everyone loves this song,” he said of his own song, and it was as if he knew just how talented he was. He began ‘Kicker’, and the audience was thrown in reverse, transported back to the early 2000s. The entire evening was closed off by a short performance of ‘Adam’, a slow, somber song about a bully with supposed feelings for their victim.
And that was the day! We look forward to seeing what Coney Island will bring us next summer, and can certainly think of a few acts that would be perfect!