Cruel World Festival Brings Back the 80s

Written by Dave Arnson

This past Sunday, the Cruel World festival, took over the outer grounds of the Pasadena Rose Bowl. It was like a new wave Woodstock, with a rich dark chocolate goth frosting! There were three stages that you could trek back and forth between, with different acts overlapping set times. In between some of the bands’ sets, it was like watching wildebeest herds migrating through the Serengeti, some great people-watching and some fabulous goth outfits.

I started off the day by watching OG English psychobilly punks The Meteors. Psychobilly can either be defined by punks playing rockabilly licks, or rockabilly guys playing punk licks, and everything in between. The trio’s guitarist had a shaven head full of tattoos and still sang in his Popeye the sailor voice! The English Beat were an explosion of joyful ska, and their 30-minute slot seemed too short for what they could’ve played. LA’s own 45 Grave played a great ‘”best of” set, and singer Dinah Cancer seemed really happy to be up there.

I’d always wanted to see the band, Missing Persons, and their set (again a lot of bands only had 30 -40 min) was a real blast! Dale Bozzio really radiated presence, and their opener “Mental Hopscotch” was hardcore punk fast! Traversing the quarter mile to the far opposite stage to see P.I.L., I “had a moment,” seeing hundreds of people streaming to this huge stage as Johnny Rotten sang the anthemic “Public Image” theme over what I consider just one of the most genius guitar riffs ever. And the guitarist played an electric bouzouki (swoon!) on the first three songs! Rotten’s voice was a little raw and he was actually cracking his voice shouting parts of some songs, but it was real and heartfelt.

I thusly hied myself on over to catch The Damned at the middle stage. As a self-professed “punk rock geezer,” I’ve seen almost all of the OG punk bands but have still never seen The Damned. And what the fuckity fuck! I heard from some reports that there were sound problems the previous day (this festival was 2 days of the same bill), but there was NO EXCUSE for how bad the sound was. You could almost hear the vocals, but it was ALL BASS! You could see the guitarist’s hands playing chords and leads, but it was all but inaudible. Keyboards came through slightly. How does this even happen? I mean, did the bassist just turn up “to 11” right before they went on? Is the sound man completely oblivious to what the sound of the band is supposed to be? Did the band piss the sound man off right before they went on stage? They DID play a delightfully unexpected version of Love’s “Alone Again Or,” but after four songs of sonic torture I had to bail.

Australia’s The Church were perfectly serviceable, and DEVO were awesome as usual–I’d just seen them a couple years ago, their performances and projections are just SO GOOD and they are clearly all still really into it! I thought it kind of interesting that they chose to play two covers, “Satisfaction” and “Secret Agent Man,” although they are still certainly DEVO classics.

I hadn’t seen The Psychedelic Furs since the early 80s; they still hold up as a cool pop band. Singer Richard Butler has some nice emotive moves. I heard years ago that his voice was shot from too much smoking, and indeed, occasionally he would seem to speak instead of sing a line, but overall his voice was fine. I popped over to see about four Bauhaus songs. I know that they’re good for what they do, but I’ve never been a huge fan. It was interesting to see singer Peter Murphy’s new image, he looks like satanist Anton LaVey these days, shaven-headed with a goatee!

The evening was capped for me by Blondie, who started out their set with their very first indie single “X Offender,” Yayy! Like Johnny Rotten earlier, she kinda shouted “Hanging On The Telephone,” but her singing was smooth sailing after that. So many hits! She was truly a regal presence and I’ve seen her be pretty stiff on stage before, but she grooved and moved easily. She was fab and I realized today that she’s 76 years old! Hey, ROLE MODEL! Drummer Clem Burke is still a Keith Moon-like powerhouse and was given a few segments to show off. The lunar eclipse gave both Bauhaus and Blondie a nice celestial touch!

Another amusing aspect of the festival was the fact that there was a walled gothic dance club setup in the middle of the grounds, titled “Club Doom” replete with a big solid shiny dance floor and cranking out all the darkest hits for you to gyrate and undulate to!

I saw Morrissey live about 10 years ago, his band was good, but after having been cooked in the sun most of the day we decided to bail. The main reason that I’d bought tickets for this festival was that Echo And The Bunnymen were supposed to have played, although they disappointingly canceled about five days before the show, the website said something about visa problems and that they would try to get them for next year…oh no, NEXT YEAR?! I will say that the crowd’s behavior was very chill and relaxed, and also water was free, but I hope if they come back it’s not on such a large bill!

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