The term “festival season” has become a bit of an eye-roller thanks to soulless branding, culture vulture commodification and overzealous hashtaggery, but the abundance of Spring flings the past couple of months has made the concept a very real and restless reality. Coachella kicked off outdoor flocking in April, and in its (literal) dust came a manic May filled with choice all-day happenings that Millenials, Gen-Xers and their elders found themselves having to mentally and physically prepare for. Gen-Z kids were more than ready since last year’s fest flurry, bless ‘em.
But first we all had to acquire tickets, which meant enduring online waiting rooms and exorbitant processing fees (special thanks to The Cure’s Robert Smith for fighting the good fight for fans against Ticketmaster). Then we needed to get “festival ready”– and we’re not talking about fashion or fitness. The heat; the trek; the traffic; the pricey merch and food; the set time conflicts; and the overall prodigious submersion of it all tests even the most passionate music fan, particularly older ones. But it was worth it. At least this writer thinks so, especially as the memories of COVID cancellations and lockdowns slowly fade away.
The post-festival recovery is nearly complete and we’re about ready for Summer’s slate of shows and events, starting with Pride month’s procession of activities (read our guide to those here). We’re still basking in the music memories, still flinging out festival photo dumps on IG and rocking all our merch purchases both official/expensive and bootleg/cheap. Now’s as good a time as any to relive, reflect on and review the fruitage and fun of the recent festival run.
Punk Rock Bowling in Downtown Las Vegas: Friday, May 26-Monday, May 29
LA and OC have historically had a huge presence at the Punk Rock Bowling and Music Festival in Las Vegas, mostly due to its creators being Angelenos. The Stern brothers frequented OG punk locales like the Masque and were inspired by pioneers like X, The Weirdos and The Dickies before forming Youth Brigade in 1980 and ultimately putting on shows at venues such as Sportsmen’s Lodge and the Hollywood Palladium, before turning a bowling league meetup into a festival contender. Today, PRB rivals Vegas’ top destination events including EDC, When We Were Young and Life is Beautiful.
Twenty-four years later, and after COVID forced them to skip the past couple of years, PRB featured favorites such as Bad Religion, Rancid, and Me First and the Gimme Gimmes on Memorial Day Weekend 2023. The highlight was L.A.’s own Suicidal Tendencies playing their self-titled Frontier debut in its entirety on Monday evening. Leader Mike Muir, rocking his signature upturned logo hat, was as voracious and verbose as ever, pacing the stage and submerging himself in the pit during a rollicking rendition of the record (if this is what not getting that Pepsi hath wrought, maybe it’s a good thing) and in between songs, when he spoke about the band’s trajectory and conversations with parents over its seemingly problematic name and lyrics. Ironically or maybe not, the merch booth for Suicidal was the busiest there.
Rancid came a close second in terms of tees rocked in the crowd, and they lived up to their current rank as authentic punk legends, even keeping their spikey legions engaged when a barricade issue led to an imposed 30 minute break mindset. Speaking of iconic t-shirt bands– GBH, The Exploited, Fear, Agnostic Front, The Adolescents and The Damned all turned in potent sets that, even after all these years, had the crowds engulfed by the youthful angst of the times they were written. Of course, none of the headlining bands are young anymore, and the majority of attendees seemed nearly as seasoned. We gratefully watched most of the performances, which also included The Casualties, Hepcat, Fishbone, Face to Face and L7, from the comfort of Monster Energy’s “Old Man Bar” (it actually says that on the wristband). Punk Rock as a movement will always retain an ageless urgency, even if The Warped ones might be turning into the wrinkled ones. The world is still pretty fucked up and the old rants still serve us well. They also continue to inspire a new generation, ensuring PRB will roll on for many years to come.
Cruel World at Brookside Park: Saturday, May 20- Sunday, May 21 (added)
We won’t rehash what’s already been reported and retorted about the bizarre evacuation due to lightning danger on Saturday night, except to say that it was surreal to see Josh Homme’s young son dancing next to Iggy Pop in complete silence before the giant screens told us all to leave immediately or risk being struck by lightning. After a long day of singing, dancing, drinking (and shrooming, according to the lady having a bad trip behind us as we funneled out into the Rose Bowl’s parking lot) at Cruel World, the bad joke in the fest’s name was felt and felt huge. The long awaited return of Siouxsie Sioux to an L.A. stage was not to be, at least not as it was planned.
Despite the body aches, we did return to Brookside the next day for the makeup show because how could we not? It also featured a repeat performance from Gary Numan (though it should have been Human League as their set was cut short as well) and Iggy. Numan seemed to be lip-synching to a lot of the numbers, as his vocals seemed perfect and voluminous even as he moved around and danced away from the mic. That said, it was a fun set to watch both times, and he’s always a great showman. Pop continued to embody the rowdy spirit of punk rock, cavorting and capering about the stage shirtless and shameless and sounding as good as ever on Stooges and solo classics. As for our Banshee queen, she delivered the darkly dramatic set fans hoped for, even if the post-punk duet of the century fans hoped for – Sioux and Pop on “Passenger” – never materialized. A word about judging the vocal vigor of musical elders out there still touring: the expectations should never be based on recordings made in the artist’s prime of course, but when songs are changed up to accommodate loss of range and power, all we ask is that the artist give us the same dose of heart however they do it. Siouxsie did just that during her Sunday night show, making for a truly magical moment we’ll always be glad we didn’t miss.
Cruel World has become our favorite festival– the gathering Gen-X needed, especially as Coachella pivoted to modern pop. Will “Gothchella” become “Oldchella” one day? Desert Trip was an incredible experience but it never returned and it was probably less about the age of the artists than the age of the audience. CW’s success foretells, we think, at least another decade of dark delights on stage can and shall be successful, lightning bolts be damned. Shout outs are in order for the next generation of gloom rock as seen by Molchat Dama and Boy Harsher alongside the hooky hits and showmanship of ABC, Echo and the Bunnymen, Billy Idol and Love & Rockets, the later of whom came damn close to living up to the majesty of its paternal band Bauhaus who mesmerized everyone the year prior. Tones on Tail need to play next year, of course.
Just Like Heaven at Brookside Park: Saturday, May 13
It took place a week prior to Cruel World on the same grounds, so in the grand scheme, Just Like Heaven felt like a warm up for many, but it was just as stirring in terms of spectacle. As we explored in our February cover story, the early aughts indie music scene has come back upon us as a “retro” trend thanks to Tik Tok and young bloggers looking for something to be nostalgic about.. They’re calling it “indie sleaze,” basically lumping indie rock bands like The Strokes, The Yeah Yeahs and MGMT with electroclashy artists and bloghouse producers and DJs popular at the time.
For us, the fest felt like a Coachella flashback circa the Indie 103.1/Anthem and Filter magazine era. We can still recall watching Karen O covering The Cramps’ “Human Fly” after Lux Interior’s death at the desert fest, and MGMT performing cuts from Oracular Spectacular when it first came out. The record still holds up shockingly well, especially live, as elevated by the narrative visual elements the group incorporated into the track by track celebration at the Pasadena fest.
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and specifically, Ms. O, beguiled us maybe even more than they did twenty years ago. Everything brought to the stage was bold and immersive, from O’s glistening garb and hair, to the jumbotron visuals, to the selection of songs from throughout their career. They are modern rockstars in a very real and fantastical sense, and the set solidified their standing and the early 2000’s in general, as a creatively rich period that transcended hipsterism and the pre-social media-driven debauchery that it’s remembered for.
BeachLife at Redondo Beach: Friday, May 5- Sunday, May 7
Potential for swelter is always something to consider when heading out to a Spring music fest, but BeachLife’s breezy seaside locale has consistently saved us from that worry the past four years. It was also the only festival that many of us felt safe attending coming out of the pandemic.
The California party vibe behind this one is strong, from the bars to food to layout to bookings. This year, the lineup ranged from classic rock to reggae to pop to good ol’ rock n roll, with headliners The Black Keys, Gwen Stefani and The Black Crowes each providing hit-packed sets for their respective fanbases.
While other festivals are all geared towards specific styles of music, BeachLife expands its scope every year, and this time it was a success all around. For Creedence Clearwater Revival fans, seeing John Fogerty perform CCR music warranted the drive to Redondo Beach all on its own. After a lengthy legal battle with his former bandmates, the voice of Creedence celebrated his recent win in court (which granted him ownership of the catalog he co-wrote and sang on) by playing hit after hit in joyous fashion, with a current band that included some of his kids. From “Proud Mary” to “Bad Moon Rising,” Fogerty was bright and light in spirit and sound. His nimble guitar work was highlighted by ax changes for each tune and his bluesy vocals sounded pretty much the same as they did back in the 70s, sonorous and soulful. He even toasted the occasion with champagne, making the concert feel extra celebratory. The Crowes followed with an equally hit-packed set that saw Chris Robinson bust out more runs and refreshed vocal approaches than we’d ever heard before, bringing out the rootsy rhythms of the band’s repertoire..
Whether you attended one or all, 2023’s Spring slate of festivals filled a much needed void for appreciation of live performance and the vast array of artists still with us and still sharing their craft. But it’s also about the human connection that makes concert environments so special. Festivals give us that in a supersized way. After the past couple years, the opportunity to share music and art and atmosphere and air with others who love it won’t soon be taken for granted, and we hope it never is.
Ready or not, Coachella just announced advanced sale registration today (June 12) and the ticket-buying process begins all over again this Friday, June 16. More info here.
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