With the impending closure of Astroland at the end of the Summer, one question drove this year’s Siren Festival: “will it be the last?”

The lackluster line-ups for the Siren Festivals of the past two years almost indicate that somebody knew this was coming. From 2001-2005, Siren Fest was a haven for people who didn’t want to cough up the $30-$45 tickets to see acts like Modest Mouse and Death Cab for Cutie in their prime. The festival was the perfect assortment of indie staples, up and comers and “who the hell?”s. But the past two years (the only years I’ve been able to attend, go figure) have been mostly “huh? wha? who cares?”

The Scissor Sisters were last year’s big act, with indie darlings Stars as support headliners. Blog favorites Tapes n’ Tapes and Man Man made appearances, along with a well-kept secret of a band, Dirty on Purpose. Not a bad selection, but nothing worth a commute from non-Brooklynites, either. My friends and I spent most of our time people watching, swimming, eating, drinking and enjoying the beach. Although we did catch Stars.

This year’s big act was the New York Dolls, who most Siren attendees would’ve been too young to remember from anything other than their performance at a Motherfucker party at Avalon last year. Others included fizzled-out blog favorites Voxtrot, MySpacely over-famous duo Matt & Kim, Saddle Creek veterans Cursive and Sri-Lankan sensation M.I.A.

The Noisettes: “Scratch Your Name” (download)

The Noisettes were on-stage when we arrived around 3:30, and managed to be watchable after having secured a shady spot under a tree. Their set was solid enough to pique interest, even though they were hard to see and hear.

After seeing the Noisettes, we wandered around the boardwalk, basking in magnificent and atrocious tattoos, skee-ball, sunscreen, tall pina coladas and cheese hot dogs from Nathans. James Iha passed by us with a small entourage of 20-somethings.

M.I.A.: “Bucky Done Gone” (download)
M.I.A.: “Boyz” (download)

We scurried to the Main Stage for M.I.A, but ultimately the problem was the same problem from Siren Fest the year before – Siren Fest is more of a social event than a concert. While it might have been “mostly about the music” for those who could sip free beers in the shaded comfort of the VIP tent, anyone who dared to rough it with the commoners probably would’ve found what I found: horrible sound and a horrible crowd. Most of M.I.A.’s set was largely illegible from the cheap seats, with only Arular‘s “Bucky Done Gone” able to come through without sounding too awfully mangled. Drunken fiends pushed and shoved at points when pushing and shoving could move the crowd no further, and a group in front of me spent a long time huddled around a guy flashing off his new iPhone. Audience members took more pictures of themselves than the bands, a “wish you were here”/”I’m so hip” postcard for their MySpace and Facebook friends, and always the sign of people there to be seen and heard instead of listen. This is fine if you want to hang out with some friends at Coney Island with the added bonus of music in the air, but downright annoying if you’re there to pay attention to it.

After four or five songs, my friends and I looked at each other – there was only one more thing we could do. We purchased some fantastic M.I.A. flip flops (they have M.I.A. in the bottom so that it leaves a mark when you walk in the sand!!) and headed to the Freak Show. It may not have been free, like the music was, but it was air-conditioned, seated, easy to hear and see and ultimately more satisfying.

Wish I could say that I’ll miss you, Siren Fest – but what I really wish is that you had been better.

Noisettes Official Website
Noisettes on MySpace

M.I.A. Official Website (warning: may cause seizures)
M.I.A. on MySpace

Image courtesy of flickr user racoles