Words by Tim Anderl
Tim Anderl is a Dayton, Ohio-based writer whose work has published in Alternative Press, Strength Skateboarding, Ghettoblaster, New Noise Magazine among other alternative weekly newspapers, magazines and online publications/blogs. He’s the former host of the Sound Check Chat podcast and runs a boutique PR firm, Sweet Cheetah Publicity. Growing up in the rich culture of the ’80s lead Tim to a life-long love of music, including post-punk, new wave, darkwave, goth, dream pop.
When Goldenvoice announced their Cruel World Festival over two years ago I thought that maybe I was simply in the midst of some wild Midwest Gen-Xer fever dream from which I’d surely wake up. It was hard to believe that I’d finally be able to see Bauhaus and Devo while standing in the shadow of the Rose Bowl, the same place where Depeche Mode performed their legendary 101 show in 1988. Attending Cruel World quickly leapt to the top of my “bucket list” as I was just a seventh-grade, 12-year-old baby bat without a car in ’88.
After procuring tickets, surviving a pandemic, and suffering through months of discourse on the Cruel World Attendees Facebook page (“Can we wear spikes and chains?” “Where are my tickets?” “Why haven’t they released the schedule?” “Are the food vendors really not serving meat?”), my girlfriend and I finally boarded a plane to LAX on May 13.
We arrived in Pasadena at around noon, meet a friend, and promptly made our way through the least intensive security checkpoint ever (I heard someone brought two Subway footlongs and a three-liter bag of wine in the next day in their backpack). First on our agenda was getting to the Sad Girls stage where Soft Kill was already in the midst of performing. The band, who recently wrapped two months of U.S. tour dates and are headed to the U.K. with Choir Boy later this month, were in fine form and delivered a far-too-brief set comprised of songs from their An Open Door, Choke (“Whirl”), and Dead Kids, R.I.P City (“Pretty Face”) albums. Since I’ve last seen Soft Kill, the band have grown a guitarist, which allowed vocalist Tobias Grave to concentrate on his vocals and commanding stage presence. The set seemed to be well received by the couple thousand attendees (attendance would climb over 25,000 over the course of the day) who’d arrived early enough to catch it.
My friend then decided to break off for Automatic, while my girlfriend and I waited for Black Marble to set up. While waiting, an older gentleman approached my girlfriend to ask if she knew what the set times were and she texted him a copy of the schedule — we’ll circle back to this dude later. Additionally, I spotted the vocalist from Vision Video, a band who’ve made their way into Shadow-Play’s column inches in the past, and introduced myself and briefly chatted. Maybe we’ll see the band in next year’s lineup, who knows?
Brooklyn’s Black Marble, who arrived as a trio for the performance were next, eliciting some enthusiastic hip swaying and dancing amongst the crowd during their 30-minute set. By this time, temperatures in Pasadena had crawled past 95 degrees and I wondered why the band, some in jackets, didn’t appear to be sweating. Well, maybe that wasn’t completely true. Following one particular song, Chris Stewart commented, “It is much more embarrassing to fuck up in the daytime than it is at night.”
Next up at the stage were Dave Wakeling’s The English Beat who have been known to combine songs from his tenure in General Public into The Beat’s sets. This set was no exception as the crowd cheered the opening notes of “Tenderness.” I didn’t notice any public skanking while the band worked their way through a tight set of “greatest hits,” including “Mirror In The Bathroom” and “Save It For Later.”
We somehow managed to mix up stages and times related to Cold Cave’s set and thought we had time to grab a bite before catching them. Sadly, we missed the band, and apparently, Tony Hawk signing autographs in the crowd. Instead, I was standing in line for lemonade and fries (have you truly lived until you’ve seen a woman in corpse paint and vampire fangs eat a grilled cheese), and then another for the trailer bathroom. This is where the older gentleman who asked us for the schedule earlier in the day accidentally cut in front of me. The mohawked dude who’d just walked up behind me asked, “Did that dude just cut in front of you? Want me to kick his ass?” I assured Mr. Mohawk that my bladder and I would be fine.
Needing a brief respite in the shade, our cohort headed to the largest of the festival’s stages, the Outsider stage to take in the sounds of TR/ST, who’s frontman danced furiously across the stage clad in a nude mesh shirt as we relaxed in the grass. Maybe I was high on the moment, or maybe I was catching a buzz on the second hand cannabis, but the clear skies over Pasadena this afternoon were some of the prettiest I’ve ever seen. Surprisingly, and though I was keeping a nostril peeled for them, I didn’t smell a single clove cigarette all day.
Public Image Ltd., a band fronted by John Lydon (or as some know him Johnny Rotten, and others as a despicable Trumper), followed TR/ST on the Outsiders stage, and although conflicting sets by Blaqk Audio (Jade and Davey from AFI) and Drab Majesty proved tempting, the opportunity to take see aging punk royalty prevailed. Two personal highlights of this set, although unrelated to the music, were seeing former MTV VJ Matt Pinfield in a Ministry “The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste” shirt making his way to the front of the stage, and seeing Lydon blow snot rockets from each nostril individually between songs, which immediately brought to mind a line from Judd Apatow’s Freeks and Geeks. “I guess you’d prefer those Sex Pistols? You know they expectorate on their fans. That’s what I want to pay good money for, to get spit on.”
PIL delivered a sneering and commanding performance that included “This is Not a Love Song,” “I’m Not Satisfied,” and “Rise.” In all honesty it was a set that I’d miss a lot of bands, including the afore mentioned ones to catch again.
Choosing between the final songs of PIL’s set and maintaining a good spot for The Church vs. heading across the venue for The Damned also proved to be one of the day’s more difficult decisions. While my friend chose The Damned, who reportedly had a member of Queens of the Stone Age filing in on guitar, my girlfriend and I chose Australia’s The Church. Although the band lacked the theatrics of some of the day’s other bands, they’re still a pristine sounding group, and seeing them play “Reptile” made the choice a sound one. Sadly, we departed for Violent Femmes on an opposite stage missing both “Under The Milky Way,” the Church’s closer, and “Blister in The Sun,” The Violent Femmes opener in the process.
On stage with the Femmes was an enormous, man-sized saxophone, which they seemed to make good use of, a charcoal BBQ grill that I hope someone will explain to me, and later in the set Barenaked Ladies’ Ed Robertson, who joined the band to play guitar and sing “Dance Motherfucker Dance,” and play xylophone on “Gone Daddy Gone.”
Before we arrived at the festival my girlfriend ushered a warning. “At some point today, I’m going to think it is a great idea to get one of those red DEVO hats. No matter how much I plead with you and try to convince you it’s a great idea, don’t let me.” Although I laughed off the thought, as Ohio’s beloved DEVO executed their choreographed dance moves, costume changes that ushered in each appropriate era, and frankly, nailed songs like “Girl U Want” and “Whip It” with a well-earned confidence that only elder statesmen like the group can command, I found myself wishing I had stood in the hours long merch line to procure my own (although not really).
Sadly, DEVO’s set was timed to overlap with Psychedelic Furs, and although I’m seeing them during their Summer tour with X, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see the Butler brothers and company again. True-to-form, the band sounded dynamite. Guitarist Rich Good and saxophonist Mars Williams nailed the solos, and songs like “Ghost In You” and “Love My Way” are still goosebump inducing for this middle-aged cupcake even after 30+ years.
I skipped out on the P Furs’ final two songs, “President Gas” and “India” if I recall, leaving enough time to hoof it back over to the Outsiders stage for Bauhaus, who put on what was arguably the most powerful performance of the night. The highlights for me were “She’s In Parties” and the nearly 10-minute long “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” Peter Murphy, who is arguably at the tippy-top tier in terms of the goth rock vocalists, delivered a croon that sounded every bit as robust as it did decades ago. We heard later that Murphy took a tumble during “Ziggy Stardust” and took it out briefly on the mic stand that tripped him. I hope he’s OK.
For our final set of the night we were treated to the sounds of Blondie. While Debbie Harry didn’t necessarily deliver the pristine vocals she once possessed, no one would be disappointed by the string of hits: “The Tide Is High,” “Call Me,” and “Rapture,” were all, well, rapturous. Of course the band also delivered, “Heart of Glass,” “Call Me,” and “Dreaming.” There was one slightly cringey moment during “Dreaming” when Harry did some spoken word. “I don’t drive very often in New York City, but when I do go out on the weekend to the bank or dry cleaner, it isn’t free to park. But dreaming is free.” …but she’s Debbie Harry, an absolute legend, so you have to forgive her.
The bow at the end of their set, which creeped over in to Morrissey’s start time by a decent margin was well deserved if for no other reason than that Clem Burke is an absolute beast of a drummer. While he was tossing his sticks high into the air and catching them I had to check to make sure they hadn’t brought in Tommy Lee as a ringer. Nope, he is just a badass.
In part because of Morrissey’s pitiful personal politics in recent years, and in part because of our 5 am flight time Sunday morning, we dipped out on Moz’s set in exchange for a shower and a couple hours of sleep.
Ironically, immediately outside of the “meat-free” for the day venue were no less than six hot dog carts and a dozen or so young men and women selling bootleg Morrissey merch by the box full. I’ll be honest that he sounded pretty fantastic echoing through the canyon as we made our way to the car to the sounds of “First of the Gang to Die” and “Every Day Is Like Sunday.”
If I had one lasting regret from entire experience it’s that I didn’t plan to attend the festival again the following day in order to catch some of the band’s I missed Saturday, in particular Cold Cave and The Damned. All in all it was a beyond memorable experience and now that my feet are feeling better – after being put through the paces (20,000 or so according to my pedometer) – I’ve shaken my jet leg, and think I’m finally rehydrated, I’m in awe that I was able to experience it.
The only lasting and welcome side effect is a heart that is still swelling with magical ‘80s nostalgia. So, I’ll concentrate on dreaming of a mystical and macabre world where every time you pass someone in a Siouxsie and the Banshees shirt a baby bat gets their wings, and biding my time until the ’23 lineup announcement.