It was just like heaven, just much hotter I guess…. Since concert promoter Goldenvoice didn’t give me a press pass or a photo pass for the new Pasadena Daydream festival headlined by the Cure, I decided to do it the hard way, the only way to see such a concert: in the front! To accomplish this, you need patience and perseverance, especially on a 100ºF day, but I was determined and I got there early, ran to the main stage and didn’t move from my spot the entire rest of the day. Black was the color of this goth-theme event, which didn’t bring any relief for these poor people braving the harsh sunlight of summer, a few passed out but everyone survived. I completely neglected the bands who were playing on the second stage (Throwing Muses, Chelsea Wolfe, The Joy Formidable, Emma Ruth Rundle and Kaelan Mikla) but I may never have another occasion to be front row for the Cure.
As 2019 did not see a new edition of Arroyo Seco, this new festival (also located at the Brookside Golf Club) was sort of making up for the 2-day event, with, nevertheless, a very different lineup. It was far less family-oriented, more focused on the ‘80s and ‘90s (with The Cure and the Pixies) and on this Oaks stage where I spent the day, the lineup was especially interested in the other side of the Atlantic with 2 bands from Glasgow (Mogwai and The Twilight Sad) and of course a UK band (the Cure). In the middle of this, Sacramento Deftones played their alternative metal during a furious and high energy set, but there were die-hard fans for each band.
The Twilight Sad played when the sun was still at its zenith, and despite a sound system still chaotic, they managed to impress the crowd. It was a real accomplishment, since this early crowd, which was already packed along the rail at 2 pm, had to be there for only one reason: the Cure. The Twilight Sad’s singer James Graham was really intense and theatrical, shaking his body, both arms apart, while flickering with plenty of emotional drama over the band’s loud shoegaze fuzz. Their darkness and gloominess were fueled by intense distortion and Graham’s distinct vocals but their wall of noise didn’t even bring a cloud in the sky. However, the thunder of their guitars unpacked loud sonic layers, which had sometimes an expansiveness reminiscent of their countrymen Mogwai.
Mogwai was precisely following with an almost instrumental set of their more serein music which immersed the crowd in a dark and luminous ambiance. I just like how Mogwai’s music let fragile and sad melodies escape, during the most climatic part of their tortured moody fuzz. Although they didn’t play any songs of my favorite album of theirs (‘Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will’), the relatively short set was filled with their signature cinematic compositions, bright lights ascending into white noise, and spacious and enigmatic soundscapes expressing the most intimate human struggles.
The crowd for Deftones got wild and rowdy, at the image of what was happening on stage. Singer Chino Moreno and bassist Sergio Vega were bouncing and jumping everywhere while their set was all ache and anger, fully expressed by Moreno’s very peculiar vocals, landing between mourning laments and dark angry groan. It even got very passionate, especially when the singer bent over the crowd to sing a duet with a woman standing just behind me during a very moody ‘Knife Party’. Their experimental blend of hardcore punk alt-metal was not exactly a familiar sound for my ears, but there was an undoubted fire in their performance and they certainly got the only crowd surfing I saw during the entire day.
The Pixies came and effortlessly conquered the place with their crazy but so-familiar strong structures, enigmatic lyrics, Black Francis’ strong screams and the bass lines of Paz Lenchantin who now replaces Kim Deal. They played the classics, an avalanche of them, ‘Gouge Away’, ‘Bone Machine’ ‘Wave of Mutilation’, ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven’, ‘Where is My Mind?’, ‘Here Comes Your Man’, ‘Caribou’, ‘Debaser’, ‘Gigantic’… plus plenty of songs I didn’t really know. It was a full set of 25 songs with no encore – but they were not the headliner after all – and never got too heavy on the most recent songs. I actually never really spent any time with their not-so-great 2016 album ‘Head Carrier’, and I can’t say the new songs (from their upcoming album ‘Beneath the Eyrie’, set to be released in 2 weeks) did anything for me, despite the nice harmonies with Paz. They played about seven of them, of course, I had never heard them, but it was difficult to imagine ‘Death Horizon’ becoming a classic when compared to a hooky classic like ‘Here Comes Your Man’, or a puzzling punk deconstruction like‘Vamos’. One of the new songs ‘This is My Fate’ was nevertheless intriguing in a sort of creepy way as Black Francis sang it as if he was covering a Tom Waits song. But the Pixies live on their well-deserved legend and I was just there to scream with them ‘if Man is five, then the Devil is six,… Then God is seven!’ or any other mythic Pixies line. Black Francis/Frank Black/Charles Thompson is still an impressive screamer that propelled the familiar songs to a perfect punk place, especially their most chaotic ones, and they are still a great live band to watch in action. They got great reception for the songs with Spanish lyrics, this was a good way to communicate with an LA crowd, without actually talking to the audience during the entire set.
People connect with the Cure, as they do with very few bands, people love the Cure and adore Robert Smith, this is a life-long love affair, an intimate commitment, and a personal story, and when the band arrived on stage at very precisely 8:40 pm, the crowd got very loud. I tried to turn around to look behind me and all I could see was an impressive dark sea of people…. More than 25,000 attendees, they have estimated.
Robert Smith’s voice sounded intact, with the same inflections that I remember from decades ago, this same youthful punch of a voice, floating between despair, anger, life-hunger, and determination. Did I know all the songs? Not really, I was never a die-hard fan collecting every rarity and listening to every B-side, but a lot of songs worked like a powerful time machine because their melodies are forever woven in the ‘80s time fabric…
At ‘Lovesong’, Robert Smith moved a bit away from his mic and sketched a few dance steps for the greatest joy of the crowd. With his legendary messy hair, white makeup and eternal black outfit, he is an odd character,… who else could get away with smudged red lipstick and eyeliner at 60? But between Simon Gallup and his influential basslines working like the songs’ spinal cord, Roger O’Donnell and his irradiant keyboard, Reeves Gabrels and his intuitive guitar licks, Jason Cooper and his mid-tempo light thumps, it was certainly Robert Smith who was emotionally connecting with this sea of people. With songs talking about love, angst, loneliness and back to love, with a fierce delivery that didn’t seem to have aged a day, he proved to be a performer who could move a crowd of this size with a minimum of gesture and about zero stage antics.
The entire band built a powerful atmosphere for more than 2 hours, putting the stage on fire, sonically and visually thanks to some terrific lighting, burning red during a few songs, changing into deep green during other ones, re-creating the ambiance of a goth dance club during the compositions with a metallic and even semi-industrial edge.
And then Smith took his black acoustic guitar with its white star to play the true classics, a rewarding ‘In Between Days’, followed by the anthemic ‘Just Like Heaven’ which will never get old… There also was the collective haaa-haaa chant during ‘Play for Today’, and Robert Smith’s long howls during songs whose lyrics were on his lips of all the faces around me.
The back catalog is vast and you don’t get the impression the Cure is only here to please a crowd. As they browsed 12 of their albums, they gave us the hits, but also the deep cuts, the more experimental ones, playing all of them with the same dark pop edge that would fill a night club the size of a stadium, playing all of them with the same life-affirming energy and joy? Yes, everyone around me noticed, Robert Smith looked happy, very happy, and the first rows got the chance to see a close up of his smile when he decided to take the mic in one hand and sing very close to the edge of the stage, on the left, then on the right…no he didn’t jump in the pit, shy Robert doesn’t do that, but the girls around me got super crazy.
The long encore brought more hits, the highly anticipated ‘Friday I’m In Love’, introduced with a snippet of ‘Where Is My Mind’, an explosion of love and maybe the two best soundtracks of the ‘90s, and once again, Smith got really close to us during the infectious and delicious ‘Close to Me’.
‘It’s been the best day of the summer,’ said Robert Smith all-smile before the grand finale, ‘Boys Don’t Cry’. I knew he was having fun! After a +40-year career, it is rare to watch a band so energized with the material, so inspired during a live performance, and enjoying every second of it. I didn’t see anything else from the festival, I didn’t visit any of their food stands or upgraded bathrooms, I didn’t even need them considering the sweat bath of the first rows. But I didn’t care, there was real magic in the nightly air, barely cooler than the day. The Cure could have been a band whose music is fading away on oldies FM stations, but last night, they were re-energized to their fullest, playing their inventive nuances of post-punk in all their glories, and leaving an indelible print on 25,000 minds in awe.
Pictures of You
A Night Like This
Just One Kiss
In Between Days
Just Like Heaven
From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea
Play for Today
Shake Dog Shake
Friday I’m In Love
Close to Me
Why Can’t I Be You?
Boys Don’t Cry
simultaneously self-effacing and egomaniacs
essentially a disco remix of “Rocket Man” featuring one of the the UK’s biggest stars…
“I literally really need you to jump up and down”
Friday night might kill us but Thursday evening is a blast
it just isn’t the triumph she needed after six years
an impressive sonic ride.
a high-spirited Post Pandemic anthem
a memorable band who were never better than here
almost Pink Floyd-esque