Cruel World Festival Turns Into Two-Night ’80s Party With Siouxsie, Iggy Pop, Love and Rockets

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Lovers of ’80s music in the synth-pop and post-punk genres rejoiced Saturday as a stuffed roster including Iggy Pop, Gang of Four, Love and Rockets, Echo and the Bunnymen and the Human League performed at the Cruel World festival in Pasadena. The festival had an unexpected second evening of performances on Sunday after lightning cut short Saturday night’s show before Siouxsie was able to play.

It’s not an easy job to give the faithful fans what they want while avoiding sounding like a Totally ’80s greatest hits sampler. Most of the attendees had four decades of hearing these bands under their studded belts, recognizing many of the songs from the very first jangly chord. Though many of the acts have released new music in the ensuing 40 or so years, the audience wasn’t really there to make new discoveries, and the bands obliged with tight sets heavy on MTV staples.

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In the earlier part of Saturday’s program, when newer artists like the Californian dark wave act the Soft Moon and Belarusian post-punk band Molchat Doma performed, younger audience members turned out to watch musicians who prove that the genre has never died — it’s just resting in its coffin for moments like Cruel World.

With tens of thousands in attendance at the grassy Brookside at the Rose Bowl venue, an impressive array of goth fashion was on display from a wide age range of fans, some of whom were children of the elder goths in the crowd. Clad in leather overcoats, lots of black netting and lace, multicolored mohawks and every variety of Doc Martens, the audience members did not stint on their outfits, with the weather blessedly mild compared to last year’s Cruel World and 2019’s sweltering Pasadena Daydream fest.

In late afternoon, Gang of Four fired up the crowd with its signature angular sound. Though some of the spikier chords got a little lost in the daytime outdoor setting — face it, post-punk just sounds better in a smaller club — frontman Jon King compensated with some cheeky showmanship, chucking a microwave into the pit at one point, sitting down for a short break and stalking around the stage effectively during “I Love a Man in a Uniform,” “Anthrax, “To Hell With Poverty” and a spirited rendition of “At Home He’s a Tourist” that had the audience clapping in time. A large graphic behind the band proclaimed “Woman Life Freedom” and “Black Lives Matter” along with British, American and pride flags, sending a welcome message of inclusivity.

Fans were disappointed that Echo and the Bunnymen’s set didn’t include video projection, which is a must for large festivals on flat ground. Since only those in front were able to see Ian McCulloch and company onstage, the band’s competent playing of familiar hits like “Bring on the Dancing Horses” and “Lips Like Sugar” risked sounding like a recording, and the languid medley of the band’s ballad “Nothing Lasts Forever” with the ubiquitous “Walk on the Wild Side” sapped some of the crowd’s energy.

Love and Rockets reunited for the first time in 15 years, bringing Daniel Ash, David J (in a flashy red-sequined suit) and Kevin Haskins together for a harder-edged rock set, with highlights including the trippy visuals of “Kundalini Express” and their stripped-down cover of “Ball of Confusion,” with graphics highlighting the political relevance of the lyrics.

Billy Idol’s fans were among the most enthusiastic and adoring of the festival, especially when the British new wave icon brought out his 3-year-old granddaughter Poppy and asked the crowd to join in on “Happy Birthday.” While a longer set would have given him a chance to do even more Generation X songs, his joyfully energetic “100 Punks Rule” was a high point of the day, along with staples like “Rebel Yell,” “White Wedding” and “Eyes Without a Face” and a crackling Spanish-tinged guitar solo from Steve Stevens. “I just want to thank you for making my life so fucking great,” Idol proclaimed, and it was hard not to be moved by the years of accrued love for his music, even if it was the thousandth time you’d heard “White Wedding.”

Billy Idol at Cruel World
Billy Idol at Cruel World

With night falling, Iggy Pop rocked through “Five Foot One” and several more songs, with Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme’s preteen son dancing up a storm onstage. As Pop sang the lyrics to “The Passenger” (“I see the stars come out tonight, I see the bright and hollow sky”), a few flickers of lightning struck far in the distance and his sound cut out sporadically. A few moments later, a larger and more visible bolt crossed the Pasadena sky, and the sound was turned off for good, as an announcer asked the large crowd to evacuate the area. Though there was no rain or further thunder, the Pasadena Fire Department was taking no chances.

Organizers Goldenvoice regrouped quickly, scheduling a makeup night Sunday at the same venue with Gary Numan, who had already played a full set of his compelling industrial-electronic music on Saturday, plus Pop and Siouxsie — though no Human League, which also had its set cut on Saturday.

For the second night in a row, proto-punk Iggy Pop writhed shirtless as massive video monitors highlighted every vein on his sinewy 76-year old frame. “Deja vu, baby!” he proclaimed as he took the stage again. Ever the showman, he dropped trou twice, spit and itched his butt and managed to turn in rousing hardcore performances of classics like “Lust for Life.” As a grey-haired gent in an impeccable GBH leather jacket and a woman of a certain age fist-pumped and shouted along to every word of “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” there was no sense that this was a nostalgia act — only that the music was as powerful and subversive as ever.

As the sky darkened, Siouxsie, who shed the Banshees long ago, appeared onstage, sounding a bit peeved at the cautious fire department the night before. “I was trying to tell them it’s part of our fucking light show,” she exclaimed, clad in a shimmering metallic jumpsuit.

Like a torch singer in the cabaret of the undead, Siouxsie was lit in black and white on the monitors, creating suitably spooky shadows on her face to go with her tremulous sepulchral voice. For her first U.S. performance in 15 years, she was able to play an extended set of 17 songs, including a second encore with “Israel.” From the drifting clouds of “Dear Prudence” to the bat-like shapes of “Spellbound,” plus old movie clips, lava and women dancing and floating, the visuals enhanced every song.

Though some fans were not able to return for the second night, Cruel World offered partial refunds to those not able to attend. For the others, it turned into a two-night festival instead of one — the better to experience more of Siouxsie, which these days is a rare opportunity.

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