Live Review: Pasadena Daydream Festival, August 31, 2019
It took 27 years, but The Cure finally returned to perform during the summertime in Pasadena, where back in 1992, the Rose Bowl was the local stop on the Wish tour. That show built on the breakthrough of another of the “Holy Trinity” of L.A.’s favorite British alternative acts, Depeche Mode’s 1988 Music for the Masses tour (captured as the 101 live album and documentary) which established that these dark pop bands–with huge local radio support from KROQ–could reasonably fill the massive venue. (Smiths, as the third act of the Trinity, it’s your move–a massive reunion Rose Bowl show to put them all to shame?)
It’s testament to the deep and growing legacy of The Cure that this year’s return, as the curators of their own Pasadena Daydream festival, this past Saturday, featuring two stages of hand-picked bands, was too large to be contained within the Bowl itself. The one-day festival brought out a massive multigenerational, multiethnic (and multi-styled–goths, representing in full black regalia, of course–but not just so) crowds across surrounding Brookside golf course on a blindingly sunny late summer day. Though not without some infrastructure issues (long, slow lines to enter, a relatively unremarkable VIP area, a lack of stage views from some spots) a largely a positive, feel good energy surrounded the grounds.
Kælan Mikla started the festivities for early arrivers on the Willow stage. The Icelandic trio (trios a recurring theme today, along with the spirit of Siouxsie) refer to themselves as synth-punk, which is accurate, but there is no escaping their gothic/darkwave genre leanings and style. A worthy appetizer and then it’s off to the larger Oaks stage for Scotland’s The Twilight Sad whose unique shoegaze rush and drone and emotive vocals combo sound is well suited for the big stage. They power through a few minor technical issues and then are off after about a half dozen massive tunes. Back at the Willows (a lot of trudging back and forth today for the non-picnicers) Emma Ruth Rundle’s dreamy desertscape-evoking guitar rock smoldered in the thankfully shaded Willow stage tent, as the sun started to crest.
The always reliable Mogwai, veterans of The Cure’s previous one-day touring festival, 2004‘s Curiosa, waste no time and serve up a sampler platter of the full range of their sound, from the rare melodic vocals of “Party in the Dark,” to the synth riff of “Remurdered,” before the usual quiet-loud-quiet-VERYLOUD closing salvo of “Hunted by a Freak” and “Mogwai Fear Satan.” Chelsea Wolfe, burned brightly for the whole of her half-hour set of just a handful of intense folky/gothy songs. Her new album Birth of Violence arrives in two weeks. Deftones were clearly a big draw on the lineup for large pockets of the audience, a first encounter with them for your humble reporter. (Oddly enough, also a Sacramento-born act, as is Chelsea.) Their sound of a more or less constant smear of distorted guitar, entirely too much drumming, and shouting by singer Chino Moreno is not without art, but not all that different to these indifferent ears than the likes of, say, Filter.
Every encounter with Welsh power trio The Joy Formidable leaves one with the feeling “why aren’t these guys bigger here?”, perpetually on the buzz bubble. Great tunes, dynamic players, charismatic and good looking. Pixies take the big stage at dusk, milking an extended “Gouge Away” intro, Paz Lenchantin, no longer just the newcomer, but a full fledged member, holding down perhaps the greatest 3-note bass line in rock history. They deserve (and get) a near full headline size set of about two dozen songs over 75 minutes, including–in a ballsy move–playing more mostly unknown new ones from their as of yet unreleased album, Beneath the Eyrie (due 9/13) than from Doolittle, which they and most fans seem to regard as their classic, always represented heavily in their set lists. In a nice bit of symmetry, fellow original 4AD artist and New England originating band Throwing Muses followed and closed out the Willows stage. Kristin Hirsch’s wail is as powerful as ever as they worked through a good sized set. “Bright Yellow Gun” and “Counting Backwards,” probably the closest they have to “hits,” still pack a punch. And then finally it’s time for The Cure.
It’s actually quite remarkable how much Robert Smith is still Robert Smith after all these years–the personality, the charisma, the hair, the makeup–all of it, unchanged, yet natural in a quite rare way. There are few rock stars whose mere back lit silhouette can evoke as much iconic presence when taking the stage. The current steady live incarnation of The Cure band backing Smith–old members Simon Gallup and Roger O’Donnell along with Jason Cooper and Reeves Gabriel–is very much a pro’s pro band. They faithfully reproduce the hits with potency and energy and only minimal musso noodling here and there. Hits are on order for tonight–“Fascination Street,” “Lovesong,” “Just like Heaven,” and “Inbetween Days” are sprinkled through the main set and receive welcome cheers like returning old friends. The entire seven-song encore, is a half-hour of 80’s-early 90’s hit run that most bands would kill for. But also on display here tonight are the longer, stretched out dirges like “Shake Dog Shake,” “From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea,” and B-side “Burn.” When assembled in a career spanning set, what really comes across is their wild range–the alternating intensity and playfulness of the lyrics, the classic pop instincts contrasting with the unique plain weirdness of some of the early tunes. Yet all of it unmistakably The Cure. If there are any quibbles with tonight’s show, it’s maybe that they play the same exact 27 songs, in the same exact order, that they’ve been playing around festivals this year, if you happen to the type that peaks at set lists. With as rich a back catalog as theirs, one hopes for the odd surprise set list chestnut unearthed to put a unique stamp on their show, but it’s happening.
One of the many admirable things about The Cure, as they head into their 5th decade is that they haven’t ossified and rested on their laurels, which would be completely understandable. There’s an uncommon level of playfulness, generosity and engagement with their fans and the culture. They celebrate their anniversaries, turn up to play at the Rock n‘ Roll Hall of Fame induction, don’t hide from photographers, still love and promote younger bands. When you think about the Rolling Stones who played the Rose Bowl a couple of weeks ago, one really sees what fossils they are, so removed from the culture, only returning to play the hits and cash a check every few years and jet off. They can fill seats but could never put together something as uniquely special as this festival.