Live Reviews

It’s a Cruel World After All…

Live Review: Cruel World Music Festival in Pasadena, California, Day 2, May 15, 2022

The inaugural date for Cruel World was set for 2020, but Covid-19 had other plans. Now two years later, it has become a reality. Located at the Brookside Golf Course in the shadow of the Rose Bowl, thousands of new-wavers, post-punkers, and goths flooded the fields for a very 80s event. Despite a scorcher of a day, 79% of concertgoers were donned in black. As Fernando Lamas via Billy Crystal said, “It’s better to look good than to feel good.” On Day 2, it appeared that the cruel glitches (lines, ticketing malfunctions, etc.) that had plagued Day 1 were rectified. Several degrees cooler and with a slight breeze, fans only needed to reapply sunblock 17 times.

The 11-hour gothic jubilee (noon to 11pm) was an apparent success. It was an all ages event, but the target audience were clearly those whose adolescence and early adulthood were shaped by these bands in the late 70s and early 80s. However, it was refreshing to see so many young people enjoying the greatest generation of music (great job, parents!). Note: this review includes highlights of the performances actually witnessed by the reviewer.

With Morrissey listed as the headliner, a straw poll would put Bauhaus at the top after a festival-best performance. Eyes were opened to the magnificence of this band. We all know at least a couple of their songs and those from Peter Murphy‘s solo career, but seeing this band live for the first time replaced everything you think you knew about them. The original lineup (Peter Murphy, Daniel Ash, David Haskins, and David J) dragged every last human into some dark magic subculture that evening. Appropriately, a red lunar eclipse coincided with the Bauhaus set, which was surely no coincidence.

Peter Murphy of Bauhaus

Murphy, sporting a shaved head and a Van Dyke beard, may just be the love child of Yul Brynner and Emperor Ming. His rich, deep voice is better than ever, and only the clinically clueless were immune to his spell. The 13-song set was something to behold, including five tunes from their 1980 debut In the Flat Field. The highlight for many was the band’s very first single “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” a nine-minute opus originally recorded live in the studio in one take. The band idolized David Bowie, and recorded their own spectacular version of “Ziggy Stardust” in 1982. When that track was performed, it was as if the man who fell to earth was alive and well and onstage. This may be the year of Bauhaus, as the band has embarked on a world tour. If you’re into life-altering experiences, get your tickets now.

Smiths fans rejoiced when Morrissey was named headliner, but possessed the troubling awareness of the 50-50 shot he’d actually show up. Social media had a heyday placing bets on the chance he’d get to Pasadena. Knowing he has a home in Los Angeles helped to allay some fears of any such possibility. Long story short – too late? – he made it. With his petulance in tow and recent politically conservative leanings, even Morrissey’s biggest fans are tiring of him. Having said that, it was a joy to hear some of the greatest creations of the 80s. Yes, Moz did end up performing five Smiths’ tunes, all exceptional. For this fan, hearing “I Know It’s Over” and “Never Had No One Ever” back-to-back, (just as they are on the perfect The Queen Is Dead album from 1986), was the apogee of his set. His solo work is often scoffed at, but he has done some solid stuff since the Smiths broke up some 35 years ago. He opened his set with the excellent “Irish Blood, English Heart.” Additionally, the wonderful sadness of “Everyday Is Like Sunday” never disappoints. His full set list can be heard on the playlist below, sans the yet to be released, “I Am Veronica.”

At 76, Debbie Harry is still a powerhouse presence onstage. Along with the Keith Moon-inspired (trust me, he’s still got it) Clem Burke, Blondie has been eating to the beat since 1974. The band met fans’ demands and hit all the hits, including “Hanging On The Telephone,” “Dreaming,” “Heart Of Glass,” and yeah, all the other ones.

Burke, Matlock, and Harry of Blondie

Sadly, co-founder and guitarist Chris Stein recently took medical leave from the band, and he’s not happy about it. He recently took to social media saying, “I’ve been dealing with a dumbass condition called Atrial Fibrillation or AFib, which is irregular heartbeats and combined with the meds I take for it. I’m too fatigued to deal.” Ironically, Glen Matlock of the Sex Pistols was sitting in on bass with Blondie. Did he and The Rotten One grab a drink?

As the day progressed, more festival goers were gathering at the stages in greater numbers. Hikers hopped around the three stages throughout the day, including the main stage, aka The Outsider stage, the biggest and busiest, then the Sad Girls stage, followed by the Lost Boys stage. The venue size was quite manageable and making the trek between any two stages or food and drink locations was approximately five minutes – even with the crowds. Set times were arranged with a brief overlapping, so it was possible to take in the majority of the main acts, that is if you were in the mood to do some speed walking. Submitting to Morrissey’s demands (meat is murder, right?), all food choices were of the vegetarian and vegan persuasions. But the food sacrifice was accepted as part of the deal, as long as the alcohol was flowing, especially at the “Tears for Beers” tent. The main, humongous merch booth was backed up the entire day. One concertgoer reported a two-hour wait, while luckily being within earshot of one of the stages.

The Psychedelic Furs continue to wow fans over 40 years after their inception. Singer Richard Butler still possess the swagger from those early days and the voice to match. Fans were treated to some of the best music from the post-punk era, and they knew all the words. The band played the gamut from their career, including “India” from the 1980 self-titled debut album. Watching the crowd, it was a true goth fest reminiscent of a Dragon Con gathering. Butler seemed genuinely appreciative of the love given from fans. A well-earned response for a good guy.

Straight outta Akron, DEVO put on one of the best shows of the day, even pausing for a wardrobe change. Just days before turning 72, Mark Mothersbaugh was at the top of his game, strong voice, stage theatrics, and all. Mothersbaugh, his brother Bob, and Gerald Casale make up the three longest serving band members. With a nearly 50-year history, DEVO sound as relevant as any band from the era. During the excellent “Uncontrollable Urge,” are-we-not-men were dressed in their famous yellow HAZMAT suits. As the song ensued, Mothersbaugh got the urge to begin ripping away the garment from his body, and the bodies of his bandmates. It was a true spectacle. Along with all their other tunes, the band played a couple of their famous covers, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “Secret Agent Man,” as they continue to cement their place in rock and roll history. On a side note, Mothersbaugh has enjoyed a lucrative career scoring films for years, even working on several Wes Anderson movies. Google him!

Milwaukee’s Violent Femmes came charging out of the gate with “Blister in the Sun,” the most well known entry from the 1983 self-titled debut and cult classic. Seven of the 12 songs in the set were from this album, and fans were A-OK with that. Singer/guitarist Gordon Gano has a solid band, which includes his longtime sidekick, bassist Brian Ritchie. As a self-described folk-punk outfit, these guys hit on all cylinders with songs about masturbation (“Blister”), to the spiritual “Jesus Walking on the Water,” whiplashing back into “Dance, Motherfucker, Dance!” The amassed crowd numbers seemed infinite.

Aussie group The Church began their stint with “Reptile,” one of the finer tunes from 1988’s big seller Starfish. The other song on that album that got people singing was “Under The Milky Way,” you may have heard it. The band added a new, unreleased song “C’est la vie” which is not available for the playlist at this time. One fan admitted that the set was a “little too laid back.” Keep in mind The Church are not a punk band!

He may not be the Rotten of the Sex Pistols we all fell in love with, but John Lydon‘s still got it. He and his band Public Image Ltd. sounded fresh and fierce, and when they kicked into the band’s very first single, “Public Image,” it was 1978 all over again.

John Lydon of Public Image Ltd.

With not a Pistols song in sight, classic PiL tunes still lit up the crowd. Lydon’s 1995 collaboration with Leftfield, “Open Up,” was an EDM lover’s dream. However, the profanity-laden “Shoom” surely burned the ears of every child within a 50-mile radius. Lydon – who seems to think he’s always right – admitted, “I could be wrong, I could be right!” from the wonderful closer “Rise.”

The English Beat took the stage at 2:20pm and was given a paltry thirty minutes on stage. It is understandable that bands are limited, but the Beat deserves more. Nonetheless, Dave Wakeling was a ray of sunshine, as usual. He was all smiles as he and the band ran through five classic Beat and General Public tunes. The great Ranking Roger left us in 2019 and actually had been performing with his own version of the band. Dave found a new toaster in Antonee First Class, who did a bang-up job firing up the crowd, with an extended run during a guitar malfunction. The set closer was an extended version of the oh-so-wonderful “Save It For Later.”

Dale Bozzio and her Missing Persons brought some sweet synth-pop to the smoldering throngs of fans. All six songs (with the exception of a snippet of The Knack‘s “My Sharona”) were culled from the debut Spring Session M released 40 years ago this fall. That’s it. That’s the hits. The band released Dreaming in 2020, which consists of, let’s say, re-imaginings of stellar 80s tunes from The The, The Cars, Joy Division, and more. Check it out.

The biggest regret of the fest was the absence of Echo & The Bunnymen, who were reportedly stuck in England due to visa restrictions. That one hurt. The good news is that they must have met the requirements and are kicking off a U.S. tour very soon. Any other regrets are minor. The relatively unknown bands were allegedly fantastic. Check them out here: Cruel World Sampler. Festival organizer Goldenvoice did a bang-up job, overall. Post-fest, fans have flooded social media creating their own Cruel World 2023 wishlists for bands. What do you think: The Cure, The The, Depeche Mode, New Order, Wire, Echo & the Bunnymen? This is hopefully the first of many years of Cruel World festivals. The setlist below includes the 10 top-billed bands. It’s as if you were actually there!

#CruelWorld #SupportMusicians #StayCruel

Cruel World Fest setlist

Categories: Live Reviews

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