Old Town Pasadena
With the Sunset Junction Festival filing for bankruptcy and the Silver Lake Jubilee upping admission to $20 a head, one's options for quality summer music festivals in L.A. have dwindled a bit. Meanwhile, at this point the only two free festivals left standing are the Eagle Rock Festival and yesterday's Make Music Pasadena, the latter quickly becoming the lead contender for L.A.'s best.
Spread throughout downtown Pasadena across nearly 30 stages, Make Music Pasadena is organized by the Old Pasadena Management and Playhouse District, who did a wonderful job of appealing to nearly every demographic with their well-curated lineup this year. Indie pop groups Cults and Grouplove drew the biggest crowds of the day, but smaller bands like So Many Wizards took advantage of the intimate settings of the smaller venues, treating the Majestical Roof Courtyard Stage like their own raucous backyard party.Cults kicked off my afternoon at the Old Pasadena Indie Rock Stage, situated in the middle of Colorado Boulevard, where restaurants and storefronts seemed to be thriving due to heavy foot traffic. Most of the employees, however, found a few minutes to poke their heads outside and watch Cults decimate their audience under the hot afternoon sun. As expected for a local music festival, the theme of the day seemed to be horrendous sound issues for the first five minutes of every set. While Cults singer Madeline Follin suffered from monitor issues initially, the band moved past it by the second song, giving way to a gloriously transcendent performance.
Follin nervously tugged at her dress throughout Cults' set, but her vocals were great, as she gleefully belted out hits from the band's self-titled album. Cults originally made their name off the strength of their unique brand of vintage-inspired pop, which comes off more interesting in a live setting. Songs like "Most Wanted" and "You Know What I Mean" vacated the rigid confines of their album productions, evolving into powerful and emotionally resonant pop anthems on stage.Following Cults, I walked over to the Levitt Pavillion to catch local band No, who have been making waves since their debut album last year. After a soundcheck that seemed to last longer than the actual set, the band performed a mix of album tracks and two new songs, which expounded upon the dingy post-punk style of their debut. No sounded exceptionally tight and professional considering their short history. They didn't re-invent the wheel, but the band plainly excels at crafting catchy, well-written rock songs with no gimmicks. Still in the process of greasing their bearings, No definitely have a bright future if they can get around their Google issues, which their singer acknowledged. The Majestical Rooftop Courtyard stage immediately gained my approval afterward during indie band Black Flamingo's set. Though the name was a bit misleading (there was no rooftop), the stage's afternoon crowd was small and relaxed, yet clearly engaged in Black Flamingo's self-described "gothereal" sound. Surrounded by trees and dangling vines, the band's singer joked that she felt she was playing for "fairies and elves." But the intimate setting propelled the band's delicate harmonies and the sparse crowd left more room for the band's morose, reverb-heavy sound to drift throughout the courtyard.