May 26, 2023 Review by Jimmy Alvarez & John Gilhooley
Saturday, May 21, 2023 was destined to be a memorable day – even in a city that has many lights that shine. It was time for The Cruel Festival at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
As expected, the crowd was enormous (100,000+), and the line to get in seemed as if it was a mile long. Fortunately, there were three stages, so it was very spread out. For the seasoned concertgoers attending, it felt like a throwback to the Warped Tour days; call it Warped 2.0.
The sights, sounds, and smells were those you would expect at a mammoth festival like this. First, the crowd was diverse – everyone from every nationality and age group was represented – and the fashion police took the day off as there were lots of fashion hits and misses. Everyone was in a festive mood; friends meeting friends, and strangers becoming friends as everyone was enjoying the atmosphere.
Immediately as I walked through the door I knew this would be a memorable day. The cool kids were out; so were the jocks, stoners, metalheads, and band dorks – although, they were older. The fashion for the day was everything Siouxsie Sioux, a quasi-goth and BDSM fashion fest. At least 100 dudes looked just like 1987 Ian Astbury of The Cult. All was well with concertgoers from stage to stage.
Brookside at The Rose Bowl
Upon our arrival, we realized we missed a few openers, but everyone in the crowd was raving about how good they were. Then we heard people scream, and as we all turned around saw why – it was our good friend Richard Blade onstage introducing the next band. The crowd cheered even louder as Terri Nunn and Berlin took to the stage and fans immediately recognized the iconic song “Masquerade.” From there, the hit parade took off.
Being the seasoned pro she is, Nunn took control and killed it. She segued flawlessly into “No More Words,” “Touch,” and “Animal.” Because it was a festival with a multitude of bands, it was an abbreviated set. Nunn kicked it into high gear and went into “The Metro,” “Take My Breath Away,” and then the crowd got even more animated when Berlin covered The Cult’s “She Sells Sanctuary.”
Photo Provided Courtesy of Goldenvoice – Pooneh Ghana
As the set came to an end, the distinct intro to “Sex, I’m a…” engulfed the festival grounds as she got on a security guard’s shoulders and went into the crowd. Then, as quickly as the set started, it was over.
What an insane way to kick off the festival with a mega-performance by Nunn. There were other bands that followed that added to the hyper-sonic atmosphere.
For instance, best known for “Turning Japanese,” The Vapors impressed everyone. New band Urban Heat also wowed the crowd. Other standouts included The Motels (“Only the Lonely”) and Modern English (“I Melt With You”).
Martin Fry and ABC killed it. Fry was sharp and the band was totally in tune with him. They too drew over-the-top crowd reactions to the ABC hit parade. They played my personal favorite, “When Smokey Sings,” along with other crowd favorites, “(How to be a) Millionaire.”
Photo Provided Courtesy of Goldenvoice – A. Goldberg
They received love and affection from the crowd as they entertained us all with classic, “Poison Arrow,” “The Look of Love” and everyone lost their minds to “Be Near Me.”
Animotion and Gang of Four also took names. GOF delivered a surgical strike of a high-energy performance along with their signature sound. Another band that took us all by surprise was Molchat Doma. The Russian-Belarusian band was very happy to be in Pasadena and they brought their music to life with a very energetic performance that had the crowd dancing as if they were at a European rave.
Sadly, Adam Ant was unable to make the festival, but fans were treated to Squeeze, who filled in nicely. They were sharp and engaging, and they were eager to give the concertgoers what they came for – songs from the key of life: “Take Me I’m Yours,” “Hourglass,” “Is That Love,” “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell),” “Annie Get Your Gun,” and “Tempted,” before they nailed an epic set with “Black Coffee in Bed.”
In what turned out to be an absolutely epic performance, Gary Numan took to the main stage. He hit the stage with guitar in hand, and a stripped down, no-nonsense stage was ready for him as he immediately commanded the crowd to rise up for greatness. Right away, you felt the music – I mean you really felt the sonic vibrations. You felt the KMFDM-Nine Inch Nails-esque electric influence that echoed whispers of My Life with the Thrill Kill Cult. Yet, the sound was distinctly Gary Numan.
The crowd reacted immediately to Numan hits “Intruder,” “Halo,” “The Chosen,” “Metal,” and then the festival grounds turned into an surreal experience as Numan took us on a sonic journey to experience the epic feel come to life of “Cars.”
As the crowd cheered on, Numan gave them a second to take a collective breath before he took them down the rabbit hole of coolness with “Haunted,” “Love Hurt Bleed,” “My Name is Ruin,” and he closed with “A Prayer for the Unborn.” It was by far a performance for the ages.
No sooner than the crowd calmed down, a banner of a hollowed moon and a bunny took center stage and Ian McCulloch took the stage with the rest of his Bunnymen as they opened with “Bring on the Dancing Horses.” Echo & the Bunnymen were definitely crowd favorites; fans of every age knew the lyrics to their music and “Rescue,” “All That Jazz,” and “Lips Like Sugar” drew an enormous response.
Echo’s sound was distinct, however, a familiar baseline was pumping through the speakers, and not everyone knew the words. But everyone got into it as they covered Lou Reed’s Velvet Underground classic “Walk on the Wild Side.”
Other catalog classics followed: “Seven Seas,” “Bedbugs and Ballyhoo,” “Never Stop,” and “The Cutter” also drew animated responses from their fans. We thought the crowd couldn’t get any louder, but we were wrong as the Bunnymen closed majestically with “The Killing Moon.”
One of the other great performances landed at the feet of Love and Rockets. The crowd literally went nuts as Daniel Ash, David J, and Kevin Haskins took the stage.
From their opening to the end, their distinct sound had the crowd mesmerized. With killer tunes, “I Feel Speed,” “No Big Deal,” “Kundalini Express,” “Haunted When the Minutes Drag,” “No New Tale to Tell,” “So Alive,” and “Ball of Confusion,” they took no prisoners.
It was a moment in time their fans would not forget any time soon. They closed with “Mirror People” and “Yin and Yang,” and it was another epic performance by an epic band.
The day had not been consumed by night just yet, but the sun was still giving off heat, this time in the name of Billy Idol. Idol and guitar hero Steve Stevens delivered on their mastery of music.
They opened with their Gen X version of “Dancing with Myself,” “Cradle of Love,” “Flesh for Fantasy,” “Eyes Without a Face,” then their Tommy James cover of “Mony Mony,” before shifting to close with “Rebel Yell,” “Hot in the City,” and finally “White Wedding.”
By now the moon had taken over for a very jealous sun. The Human League was on one stage and the other featured Iggy Pop. As we took our places to check out the closers, we all noticed what was taking place over the nearby San Gabriel mountains. As we stood there gazing at this behemoth of dark clouds, one of the photogs said something that gave me goosebumps: “Oh my. Something wicked this way comes.” It was like a scene out of “Stranger Things.” Then, as if on cue, it was time for The Human League and Iggy Pop.
As each of the closers were underway, we all got the news: Due to inclement weather coming our way, the festival grounds had to be evacuated. There was a definite feeling of dismay. The goth kids were dripping in running mascara and others were simply disappointed, while others understood the need for prudence.
As the crowd began to disperse, rumblings were in the air of this show going sideways. For many, they were happy to have seen the bands they did and experience a day with family and friends (old and new).
Before the next news cycle went online, the brain trust at Goldenvoice did something unique. The groundwork had been laid for this event to end as a few other big festivals with a clusterfuck of complaints from fans who came a very long way to see this festival. Instead, Goldenvoice seized the opportunity to do what so many worldwide hoped event organizers would do when something went awry. Without complaints or threats of lawsuits, or many of the things that have plagued large festivals, Goldenvoice stepped up and they did two things that were class act moves.
First: They announced that Gary Numan, Iggy Pop, and Siouxsie would return the next day (May 21st) to play for the crowd, and the tickets from the day before would be honored. Additionally – and this is the classy part – they announced anyone who could not attend were eligible for a partial refund. Hats off to Goldenvoice to handling a difficult situation in the best way possible.
After Saturday’s abrupt end, social media was flooded by loyal Siouxsie fans disappointed about her canceled performance as this was to be her first LA appearance in fifteen years. Waking up Sunday to the announcement from Goldenvoice that Siouxsie would perform along with Iggy Pop and Gary Numan, there were still concerns about the weather as it was supposed to be the same. Would lightning strike twice?
We arrived Sunday afternoon to a herd of fans lining up in the parking lot, dressed in black and willing to take the chance.
First up, Gary Numan took the stage and blazed through his set with gratitude after posting on his own social media, “I’ve been asked to play again as well – I do appreciate that 99% (probably 100% to be honest) will be there for Siouxsie and Iggy (including myself and my entire family) but honored to be asked to play again just the same.”
Numan gave another incredible set and tore through “Intruder,” “Halo,” and “The Chosen.” As he did the day before, the crowd noise intensified to “Metal,” and they went upernova to “Cars.”
Before he called it a night, he laid down “Haunted,” “Love Hurt Bleed,” “My Name Is Ruin,” and closed to “A Prayer for the Unborn.” Numan truly gave a fantastic performance.
Next up, Iggy Pop took the stage in true rock star fashion, opening with his classic “Five Foot One.”
Photo Provided Courtesy of Goldenvoice – C. Rees
His shirt lasted half a song, and his only comment on the reschedule was three songs in with an ear-to-ear grin, “Thanks for coming back!” His blitzing set included “Modern Day Rip Off,” “Raw Power,” “The Passenger,” “Lust for Life,” “I’m Sick of You,” “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” and the crowd erupted as he closed to “Search and Destroy.”
During a short break waiting for Siouxsie to take the stage, you could feel the anticipation in the air. When she appeared, some of the screams I heard were, “You’re a Goddess!” “You’re an icon!” and “I’m crying right now!”
She began with “Night Shift,” “Arabian Knights,” and “Here Comes That Day,” and then showed off her true punk rock spirit by saying – with her cocky, English accent – “I told that fire marshal yesterday it was part of our fucking light show!”
Photo Provided Courtesy of Goldenvoice – Pooneh Ghana
That set the tone of the rest of her set and her fans went crazy, singing every word and dancing in the space they had. Highlights from her epic performance were “Kiss Them for Me,” “Dear Prudence,” “Face to Face,” “Land’s End,” “Cities in Dust,” “But Not Them,” “Christine,” and “Happy House,” all before her two encores.
For the Siouxsie faithful, they got “About to Happen,” “Spellbound,” and she closed with “Israel.”
Photo by Cruel World Festival
Despite the weather hiccup, Cruel World was a huge success under tough circumstances. Fans who debated taking a chance of returning in questionable weather were really glad they did.
You can’t control the weather, and as they say: “That’s rock and roll!” Let’s wait and see what the show organizers have in store for next year!