Across the Narrows

A cadre of smartly dressed and highly stylized individuals descended on New York City this weekend for a two-day, dual-location music festival, Across the Narrows, at Key Span Park on Coney Island and Richmond County Bank Ballpark in Staten Island.

We spent our weekend in Brooklyn, treading amongst the hipsters who sat in empty stands smoking joints and reading “The Odyssey,” or hopping listlessly in front of a centerfield stage usually reserved for the Coney Island Cyclones AAA baseball team.

Sponsored by the good people at PlayStation, the bill boasted the best and brightest alternative acts of today and yesterday (and, perhaps, tomorrow), including the Pixies, Beck, Belle & Sebastian, Rilo Kiley, Polyphonic Spree and a host of others.

And indeed it was the Pixies, a band that had its heyday in the 1980s, that was the highlight of an underwhelming weekend. With the acts split between two venues, each immediately inaccessible to the other, the crowd was divided – Key Span Park barely reached half of its capacity on Saturday afternoon, a rough 2,000 people in comparison to the 8,500 it could hold, according to a security guard. The bands did all they could, though, to keep the vibrations high.

It was not until late Saturday, courtesy of the Pixies, that the crowd seemed finally to be jolted out of the doldrums that had settled over it. The Pixies, who started touring again last December after 12 years of silence, was jagged and electric. Standing before them was like paying homage to idols, it was rock ‘n’ roll reverie. For a band whose average age hovers around 40, they possessed the energy of kids half their age. Frank Black, big and round and balding, and Kim Deal sang like it was 1989 all over again.

Rilo Kiley, hailing from San Diego, played a few sets earlier on Saturday. Veterans of the Saddle Creek record label, the band wound up their U.S. tour in conjunction with Across the Narrows, making it their final stop. Lead singer Jenny Lewis’ sunny vocals brought a little bit of California to Coney Island.

Built to Spill followed, another old band working at still sounding young. For the most part, they managed to pull it off. Doug Martsch, another of the day’s musicians to fall at the upper end of the age spectrum, still sang with the young reedy thinness that has characterized the band’s sound. Their set included a grunged-out version of the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

Other acts on Saturday’s bill included: Gang of Four, Death From Above 1979, and Nine Black Alps. A video feed between sets allowed us to see a bit of the action from across the narrows in Staten Island, treating us to sets from Interpol, British Sea Power, Tegan and Sara, the Ordinary Boys and Lake Trout.

Sunday’s lineup from Staten Island featured headliners Oasis, Jet, Doves, the Lemonheads, Kasabian, Jesse Malin and the Redwalls.

While morale seemed to be up on Sunday (at the very least attendance was), Beck provided a haphazard conclusion to the event, playing what seemed like a medley of his otherwise anthemic songs. The ultimate problem with a performance by Beck is that his greatness always comes through production that is hard to recreate in a live setting. While he played his classics, they lacked that edge that made us fall in love with them in the first place.

The highlight of his set came when his band sat to the side of the stage, being served dinner as Beck took time to play a few acoustic numbers for us (including “Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime,” a song which appeared on the soundtrack for “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”). After drinks were poured into stemmed glasses and they had eaten their fill, they started beating time on the flatware. Beck segued into “Clap Hands,” a bonus track off of his latest album “Guero.”

Belle & Sebastian opened the door for Beck with their dreamy mid-’90s Scot-pop. Lead singer/guitarist Stuart Murdoch, clad in a New York Mets T-shirt, led us through a satisfying, but sadly short, set of both their staple songs (“The Stars of Track and Field,” “Judy and the Dream of Horses,” “If You Find Yourself in Love”) and new material. Considering the length of the set preceding them, a sunny acid-trip courtesy of the Polyphonic Spree, it would’ve been nice to see Belle and Sebastian for a bit longer than we did.

Clad in the sky-blue robes of a doomsday cult, the Polyphonic Spree, all 20 of them, took the stage to bring us sunshine and revelations. Standing on an instrument case (read: altar) front and center, band/cult leader Tim DeLaughter threw his hands up in the air as he sang the good news. This is a strange, catchy band – all smiles and good energy as they thrashed around on the crowded stage (the touring band boasts a three-piece wind section, an eight-member choir, two percussionists, two keyboardists, a harpist, a violin player and various guitarists). Twin machines blew bubbles from either side of the stage, putting the audience into a wide-eyed daze that we were sure would end with a commission to commit murder in their name.

Key Span Park also hosted the Raveonettes, Dragonette, Gang Gang Dance, McCrorie, and Whirlwind Heat on Sunday. And despite the crowd’s stand-still, postured enjoyment, the discombobulated feeling the weekend emitted and the disappointing finale delivered by Beck, Coney Island still managed to rock sincerely over the course of the weekend.

As Hemp Willy, Rilo Kiley’s roadie and friend, encouraged in the Saturday sunshine, “Vibe out to life.” For the most part, with the wind kicking in low across the waters from Staten Island, people did.

-Matthew Fair, Editor-In-Chief; Ashley Marty, Opinions Editor