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Cruel World Festival With Siouxsie, Saturday & Sunday May 20 & 21

Siouxsie
Siouxsie

Because of an unexpected weather scare, the Cruel World Festival turned out to be a two-day festival.  The second evening was not planned at all but some lightning in the sky decided to cut the first night short and Goldenvoice promptly rescheduled Iggy Pop and Siouxsie with Gary Numan for an encore on Sunday. Some people complained but that was honestly the best they could do.

 The festival, located on the grassy Brookside at the Rose Bowl venue, had three stages, but I knew that the main stage (the Outsider stage) would be the most coveted one as Siouxsie was about to make her big return to the stage. It was a very big deal and her festival appearance was advertised as her only show in North America.

I immediately secured a spot at the Outsider stage, which was already quite crowded at noon when the first band, Aurat, launched the festivities. The lineup was really busy, Gary Newman, Echo & the Bunnymen, Love & Rockets, Iggy and Siouxsie were about to play on this same stage and there was no reason to move. Plus, we didn’t wait more than 10 minutes between bands… if I missed Billy Idol and Human League (Adam Ant canceled his appearance at the fest) I know that it’s never possible to see every act at a three-stage festival. I also missed most of the goth fashion on display in the crowd, but I also made a few interesting musical discoveries.

Aurat gave the tone with an aggressive Indian goth act and a front woman (Azeka) channeling her inner banshee with punk screams in the Urdu language. Wearing a black leather sari-like outfit, she was mixing styles and genres while her bassist transformed herself into a perfect female Disney villain with temper tantrums. There was nothing peaceful about this punk-goth act with an exotic twist and their decor of melting candles, waving flags, and the foreign language were all a nice launch of the post-punk fest.

The next act, Gvllow, was equally impressive. The very-tattooed frontman (his body and face seemed to be almost entirely covered with tattoos) re-incarnated the goth and dark wave scene of the ‘80s with swagger and great confidence. The punchy melodies, blending punk, ‘80s goth, and horror were very effective in spite of a clear inspiration from acts like the Cramps and the Cure. He brought Gitane Demone on stage for a song and it was easy to be seduced by Gvllow’s fresh, diverse, and completely unique sonic aesthetics.

Although Siouxsie didn’t play the same day, all the female performers were aware they were opening for an iconic act. Glass Spells’ frontwoman, Tania Costello, acknowledged it while dancing non-stop over the band’s own synth-pop that could turn into a dark and sexy dancefloor.

Minimalist Ella Minus was more discreet on the subject when she was restlessly approaching and moving away from her synth, the only instrument on stage. “I am usually playing late at night,” she said. It’s true that her house beats were more evocative of dark nightclubs than a sunny afternoon but there were more than dancefloor beats in her set as she effortlessly blended her loud whisper with floating wordless interludes and complex soundscapes.

Twin Tribes brought another type of goth-inspired dark-wave vibe to the festival. The slow synth and bass lines of their compositions seemed to scan the entire dark /cold wave and post-punk era, and since they did a song in Spanish, they could have been the Cure/Depeche Mode act with a Mexican twist.

Modern English was a change of style as these English lads were way more upbeat than the general tone of the festival… but they were a lot of fun and performed with a communicative dynamism. Although I was not very familiar with many of their songs, their sound was familiar enough and honestly not goth at all. Their folk-psych post-punk act may not sound like any stereotypical ’80s synth bands that many people nowadays associate with that period, but that doesn’t prevent them from being iconic, mostly because of one famous song. “We are now going to do this song,” frontman Robbie Grey said before playing “I Melt With You.” If you pay attention to the lyrics, the 40-year-old anthemic pop song should not be considered bright despite its upbeat youthful energy.

Post-punk act Molchat Doma was a surprise from Belarus, a cross-cultural experiment coming from the cold. I bet not a lot of people knew about them but everyone agreed that they delivered a very impressive performance proving one more time you don’t necessarily need to understand a language to appreciate music. Molchat Doma, which means Houses Are Silent in the Belarusian language, played their personal take on post-punk and cold-wave music, somewhat reminiscent of the ‘80s British scene. However, the most impressive part of their set was Egor Shkutko’s dark baritone, bringing an authentic Kremlin choir vibe able to give you chills during a hot California afternoon. The music was damned dark with big bass lines, compelling guitar melodies, rhythmic drum machine, and atmospheric synth but it was still very danceable while Shkutko’s moves were simply awesome. Watching all these young bands embracing post-punk with renewed energy and creativity was definitive proof that the genre is not dead.

I have seen Gary Numan before and he is always good: his show was theatrical and very elaborate, and the industrial-synth music was fitted for the festival. With a post-apocalyptic aesthetic and a rewarding stage choreography, he and his band delivered a very dynamic spectacle that was up to anyone’s expectations for a large festival. This may be the reason why he was back the following day, during the makeup show, despite the fact that his set did not suffer from the weather alert. The following day Numan delivered the same explosive and thunderous set, but nobody seemed to be tired of his inventive choreography, enhanced by the ballet of his two skirt-wearing bald acolytes.

Echo and the Bunnymen had the songs, no doubt about it, but in comparison, they were quite static on stage and there was not much to see in the background either, except for a giant moon and their logo. Gary Numan is a hard act to follow! Singer Ian McCulloch, who seemed to have slight tech problems at the beginning of the show, sang with his emotionally expressive voice but didn’t move an inch during the set (and this is the photographer speaking now, he was constantly holding the mic with his two hands, hiding most of his face). The band was nevertheless loyal to their legendary pop brilliance and delivered some of their most powerful melodies (“Lips like Sugar,” “The Killing Moon,” the melancholic “Bring on the Dancing Horses” and “Nothing Lasts Forever” medleyed with “Walk on the Wild Side”). If there were no stage antics, McCulloch joked with the crowd between songs, but I am afraid the jokes were lost in the front rows.

I was surprised to realize how many Love and Rockets songs I knew without being fully aware of them. Love and Rockets’ lineup is basically Bauhaus minus Peter Murphy, and their reunion was the other big deal of the night as Saturday show was their first in 15 years. Daniel Ash, David J, and Kevin Haskins were in great shape and played cuts from their four ’80s albums, including “So Alive,” their great cover of The Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion,” “No New Tale to Tell,” “Kundalini Express,” “Haunted When the Minutes Drag,” “An American Dream,” “Mirror People,” “No Big Deal,” “The Yin and Yang (The Flowerpot Man) and a few more. With glam and psychedelic influences, at the image of the trippy visuals on the large screen and Ash’s flamboyant red-sequined suit, the rocking palette on display was vast and varied. David Ash often sang with a monochrome tone while the cheerful guitar pop melodies were buried under feedback and distorted guitar. They could get very loud or almost acoustic in an instant, while “So Alive” had this undeniable sexy vibe with female legs on display on the giant stage screen. If every song wasn’t poppy and catchy, we were, in any case, far from Bauhaus’ doom-and-death tone, while many songs developed adventurous and complex rocking soundscapes with an upbeat and vibrantly-alive overall tone. After watching black and white makeups melt under the hot afternoon sun, I told myself… this is definitely not goth!

Iggy Pop has never been goth either and he could not finish his set on the first night of Cruel World, as he got suddenly interrupted after “The Passenger” by a “thunderstorm” that never fully realized. Just before the “evacuation,” he brought Joshua Homme’s young son on stage. The kid danced his heart out during “The “Passenger,” under Iggy’s supervision and this may have been the cutest moment of the festival. I have seen Iggy Pop three times this past 2 months (four times if you count the false start on day one of Cruel World) and by now, his stage antics, his “Hello” while waving at us, his lust for life as he slays the stage from right to left with his chaotic limp are extremely familiar. I now know every vein of his shirtless torso, and he is like part of the family! But one thing is certain, you can count on this born showman to put everyone in a very good mood. “Dejà vu, baby!” he screamed when arriving on the second day. His backing band was also different from his recent shows with the Losers in LA: no Duff McKagan, no Chad Smith, no Slash but the really nice addition of a horn section that did more than embellish the Stooges’ songs (“TV Eye,” “Raw Power”, “Gimme Danger,” “Death Trip,” “I’m Sick of You,” “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” “Search and Destroy”…) these horns brought an interesting punch complemented by the inventive electric guitar of Sarah Lipstate, who shone during “Rune,” the opening song, a cover of Noveller, her solo sonic project. His set was in supersonic mode, he spat and barked, rolled his back on stage, and even lowered his pants in a teasing manner before dropping the mic. There is really nobody like Iggy, who at 76, can trash the stage like no other whether he performs on the small stage of the Regent or the giant one of Cruel World.

Iggy Pop setlist (May 21)
Rune (Noveller cover)
Five Foot One
T.V. Eye (The Stooges song)
Modern Day Rip Off
Raw Power (Iggy and The Stooges song)
Gimme Danger (Iggy and The Stooges song)
The Passenger
Lust for Life
Death Trip (Iggy and The Stooges song)
I’m Sick of You (Iggy and The Stooges song)
I Wanna Be Your Dog (The Stooges song)
Search and Destroy (Iggy and The Stooges song)

It was finally the hour of Siouxsie, the queen of the festival, who arrived on stage with light fashionable lateness and told us “Can you believe what happened last night? I was trying to tell the fire department it was part of our fucking light show!” In a blinding silver metallic jumpsuit, she was shining like a very bright moonlight and was acclaimed as the iconic goddess she still is. This rescheduled performance worked to her advantage: first, she was able to play an extended set of 17 songs, including a second encore with “Israel,” then, the anticipation coming from the crowd around 8:30 pm was at its peak before she came on stage.

Siouxsie doesn’t wear her hair untamed as she used to during the Banshees’ heyday, and she also wears comfortable shoes – for those saying it’s not punk enough, I would be the last one to blame her for that. However, her stage presence was intact with plenty of moves and high kicks. With her goth-tonal voice, she performed some of the Banshees’ best-known songs like “Night Shift,” “Arabian Nights,” “Kiss Them for Me,” “Cities in Dust,” “Christine,” “Spellbound,” as well as a few songs from her 2007 solo album “Mantaray” (“Here Comes That Day,” “Loveless,” “Into a Swan,” “About to Happen”) as well as a request from “Mr. Jones” (Steve Jones), her cover of the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence.” Her set was a series of old classics, some true emblems of the ‘80s, mixed with less-known songs from her solo album but they were all performed with the same conviction and dedication thanks to her tight band. If some noticed she couldn’t hit the high notes as she used to, I thought her voice was strong. In any case, you cannot expect any singer to sound exactly the same at 65. Her performance was authentic, she did many gracious arm moves, and playful hand signs, and looked genuinely moved by the giant crowd’s reaction.

Being in the front was a chance and a privilege, but I didn’t realize how big the crowd was: organizers have mentioned over 20,000 people, a number which should not surprise anyone for Siouxsie’s first U.S. performance in 15 years. On Saturday, I saw people rushing to the merchandise stand at the entrance of the festival while I was running to the stage, and Siouxsie’s merchandise sold out in two hours that day!

The lighting design of the stage reinforced her luminous presence: she was well-lit and the other musicians were playing in the shadow, while visuals of old movie clips, lava, and women’s floating bodies enhanced the music. The only disappointment of the night was her skipping “The Passenger” – which was nevertheless written on the setlist – and missing the opportunity to duet with Iggy Pop. But we couldn’t have it all and people’s heads would have exploded with so much commanding presence on the same stage.

“Spellbound” was the appropriate song for the encore, as it was the entire crowd’s state of mind – many people around me had traveled from all over the US to see her and for her second encore, she dusted off “Israel,” a song she has forgotten existed, she said. Goldenvoice saved the day by rescheduling her performance so fast. Many concert-goers could stay for the new performance and for the fans who were not able to attend the second night, Cruel World announced they were offering partial refunds.

Siouxsie’s performance was a glorious return to the stage if I have seen one and after a chaotic weekend filled with drama and heartbreaks, it was finally a happy ending in this cruel world.

Siouxsie setlist
Night Shift (Siouxsie and the Banshees song)
Arabian Knights (Siouxsie and the Banshees song)
Here Comes That Day
Kiss Them for Me (Siouxsie and the Banshees song)
Dear Prudence (The Beatles cover)
Face to Face (Siouxsie and the Banshees song)
Loveless
Land’s End (Siouxsie and the Banshees song)
Cities in Dust (Siouxsie and the Banshees song)
But Not Them (The Creatures song)
Sin in My Heart (Siouxsie and the Banshees song)
Christine (Siouxsie and the Banshees song)
Happy House (Siouxsie and the Banshees song)
Into a Swan
Encore:
About to Happen
Spellbound (Siouxsie and the Banshees song)
Encore 2:
Israel (Siouxsie and the Banshees song)

 

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