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Just Like Heaven, Saturday May 21st 2022

Just Like Heaven
Interpol at Just Like Heaven

The second edition of Just Like Heaven – the first one was in 2019, then was interrupted by the pandemic – was not headlined by the Cure like the first time, but it nevertheless kept his moniker. Interpol was the headliner this year, and the festival didn’t have any other theme than indie music. The frontman of the Hives, Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, may have been the only person to notice a certain trend, as he screamed during his set: “Welcome to the greatest festival of 2005!” But 2005 is not too far away, and none of the acts that played Just Like Heaven seemed dated.

Saturday was certainly another full day of music on the pleasant Brookside Golf Course in Pasadena, the same festival grounds that hosted the Cruel World fest last week. This time, the temperatures were in the ‘70s instead of the torrid heat of last weekend, and it made a big difference. Personally, I didn’t have to drink five water bottles between 2 and 5 pm, and the Hives’ frontman joked that it must have felt like the air conditioning inside a Dubai resort. However, this didn’t prevent a few persons from passing out in the middle of the afternoon. The paramedics got busy as the crowd was quite dense around the Orion stage where I spent my entire day. With two stages and twenty bands playing, I had to make choices once again and since I arrived early, I could secure a first-row spot right away: there was no reason to move. The transition between bands had improved quite a lot since 2019, as a rotating stage allowed a smooth transition between sets, and no time was wasted: we didn’t wait more than 10 minutes between sets: there was definitively no reason to move. I was at the right place for The Raveonettes, Peaches, the Hives, Franz Ferdinand, The Shins, and Interpol…. Sure, I would have loved to see !!!, Santigold and M.I.A. on the Stardust Stage, but the day was already very full and provided many highlights.

If I had to pick one highlight besides Interpol who played everyone’s favorite from “Evil” to “The Heinrich Maneuver” to “Slow Hands,” Peaches definitively stole the show very early on. “Two in the afternoon people,” she told us twice, probably to remind us that this kind of stuff is usually done very late in the evening. In any case, she was bold beyond imagination, performing most of her set braless, with plenty of costume changes, backup dancers/musicians, crowd acrobatics, and punk synth bangers. She was celebrating the 20th anniversary of her breakthrough “The Teaches of Peaches,” and performed all the songs of the album, with a sex-positive attitude and a message more needed than ever these days. She came on stage pushing an ambulatory like a retirement house escapee, wearing a huge vagina hat on her head, then she did several songs wearing a black bodysuit that read “Thank God for Abortion,”… but that was the most covered she was the entire time. Merrill Nisker and her musicians brought insane energy, and a much-needed provocative attitude in these backward times, including a back-of-stage male and female complete nudity following an endless striptease during “AA XXX.” She was unstoppable, climbed on the amps or on the crowd at the sound of her electro-punk anthems. It was by far the most entertaining set of the day, and nobody wanted to follow that insanity.

That was nevertheless the hard task of Wolf Parade, who also had the idea to play their debut album, “Apologies to the Queen Mary” in its entirety. They had interesting fast-tempo melodies performed on the keyboard with intensity and jittery energy. They seemed a bit lost on the large stage: it was not entirely their fault, this was really a huge one, separated from the crowd by a mile-wide pit, or it looked that way. Their brand of manic to visceral indie-rock with the keyboard would probably have been more adapted to a medium-sized theatre.

Earlier in the afternoon, the Cribs played a set on the same stage with a rambunctious, almost raw, energy. The brothers screamed in unison and ran through their set with a youthful presence, although the band formed in 2001, so more than 20 years ago. They stayed very upbeat while their demeanor demonstrated plenty of stage confidence. Interestingly, ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr was a member of the group from 2008 until 2011. He didn’t show up of course, but it would have been amusing to see him on the stage occupied by Morrissey a week ago.

The Cribs were followed by the Raveonettes fronted by guitarist-singer Sune Rose Wagner and bassist-singer Sharin Foo who shook the early afternoon with a dark fuzz wall of guitars. They were loud and awesome, between Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, as they once again played all the songs of their debut album, “Whip It on.” It was a varied set, with melodies piercing the distortion, sometimes throbbing, sometimes with an upbeat touch of rockabilly in the shoegaze, accompanied by plenty of multi harmonies and sharp-edge noisy guitar.

Between the Danish (the Raveonettes) and the Swedish (the Hives), the festival belonged to Nordic rock for a while. If there is a band that understands how to occupy a stage and direct the crowd at the tips of their fingers, it must be the Hives. Frontman Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist was the restless showman, jumping, leg kicking, and arm-stretching in rapid succession with excessive talking. There were too many ”Laddddiiiiees…. and gentlemen” to count, while he spent half of his time on the rail, holding hands with the first rows, or roaming into the crowd. His energy seemed bottomless, acting like the Jim Carey of rock & roll. As the entire band displayed lots of energy to pump up the show, they didn’t have to do too much: the crowd was with them the second they saw their matching black and white suits with zig-zag patterns taking the stage. With so much spectacle to watch, you could almost forget about the music. However, their songs ferociously rocked the place, while their most famous one, “Tick Tick Boom,” was introduced by Almqvist as a classic in the vein of “Dostoevsky or Top Gun, Mozart, Brahms…” These Swedish guys know their stuff.

I realize now that they were few American bands as the afternoon continued with Scottish Franz Ferdinand and English Bloc Party. The Hives were a tough act to follow, but Franz Ferdinand didn’t let the energy down with a wall of guitars and a set of leg kicking and elegant indie rock from Glasgow. Their post-Brit pop was sleek with catchy riffs, even classy without being pretentious. Like many bands, they had the song that everyone knows (“Take Me Out”) but they were many sing-alongs coming from the crowd all set-long. If Franz Ferdinand didn’t pretend to top the energy of the Hives – how could they have? – frontman Alexander Kapranos in a blue electric shirt was jumping with his guitar: he looked like a rock star while the band’s positive vibe and upbeat energy were very well received.

Block party had a more idiosyncratic approach, as their music was not too catchy but showed outbursts of energy. With loud pounding drums and special chords, their dance-rock sometimes sounded a bit like TV on the Radio, or more propulsive punk like LCD Soundsystem, but they certainly had an eclectic sound bringing up a very slowed down version of Iggy Pop’s “Nightclubbing” as an introduction for their number “Song for Clay (Disappear Here).” Singer Kele Okereke, who was getting all the attention from the female part of the audience, attempted to join the crowd at one point, but the thread of his mic was definitively too short to everyone’s disappointment.

I would say that The Shins have a special place in my mind and the music world, and their wide-eyed melodies have maintained their pure loveliness after all these years. With big heartwarming choruses, cryptic lyrics, and eerie melodies coming from nowhere else but from James Mercer‘s talented brain, they captivated the crowd while doing many of their classics, such as “Simple Song,” “Saint Simon,” “Kissing the Lipless,” “Phantom Limb,” and of course “New Slang,” They even inserted a bit of Tom Petty’s “American Girl” in their last song “Sleeping Lessons” and you could have barely noticed a change of tempo. Mercer may have a few grey hairs, but he has retained his youthful falsetto, juvenile appearance, and humble demeanor. He announced that the band will be back this summer for a show at the Orpheum celebrating the 21st anniversary of their debut album, “Oh, Inverted World” – the 20th anniversary having been canceled due to the pandemic.

When Modest Mouse took the stage, I may have been a bit tired – it was only my 8th hour of live music after all – as I didn’t really connect with their music despite singer-guitarist Isaac Brock’s strong vocals. After all, I know very few Modest Mouse songs, besides “We Are Between” from their 2021 album “The Golden Casket,” and of course “Float On,” a song responsible for introducing the band to a mainstream audience in the early 2000s. Brock, wearing farmer-style overalls, was more or less barking his lyrics with intense moves. The psychedelic bucolic cartoonish projections on the large screen were a nice distraction, but the band seemed quite distant, standing at the back of the stage, and once again swallowed by the fog.

Bathed in a dim light going from red to blue, Interpol barely emerged from the fog, while standing close to the edge of the stage. They looked triumphant enough to earn their festival headliner title, cultivating mystery and exulting strength while playing their strongest hits – “Evil,” “The Heinrich Maneuver,” “All the Rage Back Home,” “Rest My Chemistry,” “Slow Hands” – as well as some new songs from their upcoming album “The Other Side of Make-Believe” set to be released in July. All around me, I could only see an ocean of people, while the quintet effortlessly cut the smog with their guitars as sharp as their matching suits. Singer Paul Banks and guitarist Daniel Kessler may be the only two original members of the New York band, but their sound is still intact: a dark beauty of a sound, often blending an authoritarian to empowering tone with deep heartbreaks. They have aged gracefully since the ‘90s and frontman Paul Banks even has the intense magnetism of a late David Bowie, without the eccentric stage persona. Despite the dark post-punk tone of their songs, the crowd began to clap along with an almost uncalled-for enthusiasm. Guitarist Daniel Kessler took the piano for their recent single “Toni” and this was a noticeable change from the rest of the show, which seemed too short to the die-hard fans who had been waiting the entire day for them. Interpol came back for an encore, closing their set with “Slow Hands” and sending the crowd in a frenzy for the last minutes of Just Like Heaven. Most of us must have heard the song thousands of times, but nobody can get tired of a masterpiece.

Setlist
Untitled
Evil
Fables
The Heinrich Maneuver
Narc
Leif Erikson
Toni
Obstacle 1
All the Rage Back Home
Rest My Chemistry
C’mere
The Rover
The New
PDA
Encore:
Not Even Jail
Slow Hands

Photos of the festival:

 

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