There is an element of art to curate niche music festivals. Over the past decade, the craft has also become more refined. And this is a good thing for music fans. Case in point is the recent Cruel World Festival that was held on the Brookside golf course adjacent to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
Promoter Goldenvoice got it right. But that doesn’t surprise me. First of all, they were booking each of these bands back in the Eighties. Secondly, Paul Tollett – who created Coachella – is a genuine fan of music and puts a lot of thought and consideration into festival line-ups.
This was a dream line-up for fans of the Eighties. Leaning more towards the edgier acts it still provided a well-rounded buffet of many of the best bands and songs from the era.
The festival was initially intended as a one day event for 2020 and sold out within minutes before it was cancelled due to the pandemic. They smartly added a second day when it returned in 2022.
We passed through the gates early in the day just as some of the newer bands including Soft Kill, Black Marble the KVB, Automatic and Sextile each with their distinctly inspired eighties sound hit the stages.
The layout for the three stages is massive which is a big plus as the crowd grows in size throughout the day.
The biggest crowd when we arrived was found at the merch line. We waited for an hour as it snaked towards a massive booth with what had to be over a hundred different festival and band shirts up for offering.
As Christian Death belted out a set of their vintage confrontational goth rock on the small stage, we made our way to the middle stage for a 30 minute set from the more radio friendly English Beat. Dave Wakeling opened their set with a clever jibe aimed at headliner Morrissey’s venue-wide meat ban. “You know, Hitler was a vegan.” Filled with their fun sing-a-long hits, their set was over faster than you can say ‘I Confess.”
Our next step was over to the small stage to hear “45 Grave” with lead singer Dinah Cancer belt out some vintage horror punk songs like “Partytime” and “Evil”. It is always odd to see a band that was been crafted for a dark filled room to be performing outdoor in the bright sun, but they pulled it off.
We sat in the shade under a tree at the same stage to hear “Missing Persons”, one of the iconic KROQ radio era bands. They introduced some feel good afternoon nostalgia to the day with a string of their hits including “Mental Hopscotch”, “Words”, “Destination Unknown” and “Walking In LA”. The audience loved it.
Next up at the main stage was an act that I was really looking forward to seeing, Public Image Ltd. It was a long walk from the small stage to the main stage and leave it to the original punk Johnny Lydon to start his set 5 minutes early. Not only that, he roared onto the stage, bringing a boatload of bravado and energy. He remains a polarizing figure, but I loved his set and all of its snarling anger.
I made a decision to stay closer to the main stage and wait for for The Church which meant listening to The Damned’s set on the middle stage from afar. They still sounded exceptional and the fans were definitely loving it.
The Church is an Australian darker edge psychedelic post punkish group that seemed like an odd choice for the mainstage until you realize that they have remained an intact band since the Eighties and have released over 21 studio albums. Their set was extremely satisfying and they closed it out with one of my favorite songs from the era “Under the Milky Way”.
We missed the Violent Femmes set and waited instead to see DEVO – one of my all time favorite live acts. I moved close to the stage for their set. They sounded exceptional and brought along all of their clever sarcasm. They even had mid-set costume changes – all as the sun was setting. Good times.
Psychedelic Furs were up next and they dished up all of their hits. Nostalgia at its best.
Bauhaus hit the main stage in the dark and added some powerful imagery to their presentation.
We headed back over to the middle stage to see Blondie. They had the second billing slot on the night to Morrissey. She is 76 years old. Can she still sing and rock? The answer is absolutely! Her band was super tight and the sound was top shelf. Three songs into their set, I was in complete agreement with their billing. They deserved it and were definitely the highlight of the day for me.
By the end of their set, it was pushing up against 10 PM. After 8 hours of music, I was ready to call it a night. Sorry, Morrissey. I have seen Morrisey twice – once seated in the very last row at the Inglewood Forum. The other time was standing directly above him on the stage at the first Coachella. Despite his eccentricities he is a worthy headliner with a formidable body of great songs.
As we walked to the car, I looked up to see the stunning Super Flower Blood Moon shining down upon us.
It was the perfect punctuation to our day.
Good night, Cruel World.