The Cure Brings a Festival of Goth to California

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After two very successful annual events, the classic rock extravaganza known as the Arroyo Seco Festival was put on hiatus this year. The two-day festival was a glamorous offshoot of the most prominent American music event, Coachella. While Coachella continues to cater to an ever-younger audience, Arroyo Seco was targeting a more mature audience. The event took place mainly on a golf course and public park adjacent to the Rose Bowl. On August 31, The iconic New Wave rockers, The Cure took over the same venue for a one-day celebration of music mostly from the Goth genre. The show was the brainchild of The Cure’s creator Robert Smith. He handpicked the nine opening acts for a unique line up of bands all with immense musical talent and original creativity.

The Saturday show took place on a blistering summer day with temperatures reaching near triple digits. The entrance to the festival was a struggle for some 25,000 music fans waiting in lines on the hot pavement of the parking lot for over an hour to pass through security checks. But once inside music fans were treated to a serene setting across the massive festival grounds, with grassy rolling hills. The Pasadena Daydream festival took advantage of two of the three-stage areas of Arroyo Seco festival, one a large tent and the other a large outdoor stage. Food and beverage vendors were stacked in strategic areas across the vast green fields. A pond with a water fountain stood at one end of the park. In the far corner, a cooling area with giant fans and misters helped beat the heat for fans lounging in soft inflatable furniture. The festival grounds were so immense that some concertgoers could barely see the stage from where they planted their blankets. Many concertgoers opted to take advantage of strategically cooler areas with groves of shady trees rather than be closer to the stages. But the majority of the crowd pressed closer to the two stages as the day wore on.

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The Scottish group, The Twilight Sad, was the first to take the outside Oaks stage.  The post-punk/indie rock band has been producing original music for more than ten years. The band features lead singer James Graham, Andy MacFarlane on guitar, Johnny Docherty on bass, Brendan Smith on keyboards and Sebastien Schultz on drums. Graham seemed to be channeling the late Ian Curtis from Joy Division during his performance. The Goth punk band was well received by the early-bird crowd singed by the early afternoon sun. Unfornatanely most of their set was plagued by a failing PA system that kept cutting out. But the band soldiered on, and luckily the technical issues were solved by the time the next group,  Mogwai took the stage.

Mogwai is also a Scottish band formed a decade earlier than The Twilight Sad, back in 1995. The band features lead singer and guitarist Stuart BraithwaiteBarry Burns on guitar, piano, synthesizer and backing vocals, Dominic Aitchison on bass and Martin Bulloch on drums. Braithwaite led the band in 45 minutes of compelling moody jam band material. The group ended their set with their 1997 classic jam song. “Mogwai Fear Satan.”

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Over on the Willow stage, a string of female vocalists brought a more demure, all be it Goth inspired, mood to the tented venue. The darker atmosphere seemed to fit the mood of many in the crowd in full Goth regalia, from thick black clothing to Kabuki style makeup. Kælan Mikla, a three-piece punk/no-wave band from Reykjavík Iceland, opened with a short, moody set. The group consists of three girls who perform their own poetry and have been described as an avant-garde, fresh breeze into the Icelandic music scene. The prodding Goth sound would be a good soundtrack for a Game of Thrones Episode. Emma Ruth Rundle, an American singer-songwriter, guitarist and visual artist based in Louisville, Kentucky,  followed with another short, moody set, a bit more folk-inspired. Chelsea Joy Wolfe, an American singer-songwriter and musician, followed with another 30-minute set. The California native led her band blending elements of gothic rock, doom metal, and folk music into a crowd-pleasing cocktail.

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Over on the Oak stage, the most massive crowd of the day had gathered in the still scorching sun for a searing set of music by full metal rockers the Deftones. The aptly named California band is well known for its earsplitting manic live performances that incite mass stage diving and mosh pit madness. Singer Chino Moreno impishly whipped the crowd into a sweltering frenzy. Moreno whirled about the stage as the rest of the band played like madmen on ear-shattering tunes like “Knife Party” and “Hole in the Earth.” The Sacramento band was well received by the Southern California crowd that had swelled massively by the time the band ended their hour-long musical assault.

Two more great sets took place over in the Willows tent, featuring the Welsh band The Joy Formidable and the Rhode Island veteran rockers Throwing Muses. Unfortunately, most people in the vast audience missed their sets as they crowded the MainStage and didn’t want to lose their place.

Black Francis (Frank Black) has been leading the Boston based Pixies as an alternative band since 1986 with punk-inspired rock music that sounded like Grunge before Grunge rock was a musical genre. The singer guiltiest seemed to be reveling in the moment during his 75 minute set in Pasadena. As the massive crowd got a second wind in the setting sun, the band tore through some of their well known, classics eliciting an occasional sing-along.  Songs like “Bone Machine,” and “Caribou,” inspired the sweaty crowd to respond emphatically. The bands cover of Jesus And Mary Chain’s ”Head On,” seemed to fit the festival perfectly.

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After the Pixies set no one left the front of the stage during the hour-long set change. Much of the crowd began to press in more tightly. A man frantically searched for his wife after he went to the restroom. A couple from Mexico city seemed to be lifted off their feet as they were swept forward in the crowd. “We are closer than we were in Columbia,” the man exclaimed. Everyone began to test cell phones to capture the moments. As massive smoke machines began to eclipse the stage in fog, a euphoria seemed to pass over the exhausted crowd. The band emerged eliciting screams from the crowd pushing ever closer to the stage. Then out of the thick fog, Robert Smith emerged onto the stage like a Gothic deity, and a thunderous roar echoed from the massive gathering.

The English band The Cure are probably best known for their string of New Wave hits in the ’80s, but the band was really on the forefront of the Gothic rock genre even before that. Charismatic lead singer and guitarist Robert Smith, the mastermind of the Cure, looks much the same at 60 as he did in the ’80s, resembling a Gothic Teddy Bear. The beloved singer thankfully has maintained surprisingly eloquent vocal skills throughout his career. While the band plays hit songs that is not what distinguishes their live shows from other groups in their genre. The band under Smith’s tutelage is first and foremost a jam band. The groups live performances are legendary, and they are simply the best live band of their musical genre. The two and a half-hour show in Pasadena was a relatively short one for the group known for their marathon performances. But they managed to squeeze a wealth of music including 27 songs, into the phenomenal set. The band can seemingly take a song in any direction they fancy on Smiths whim. The group can jam a song like the epic “ A Forest” for 30 minutes or more. But they can also play a perfunctory version like at the Santa Barbara Bowl in the last millennium. At that three hour-plus show the band performed past the venue’s curfew and played a mini two-minute version of “ A Forest” as their final encore before being cut off. The Pasadena show saw about an 8-minute version of the moody jam song.

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The current line up of the Cure features a powerhouse quartet of rockers backing up Smith. American guitarist Reeves Gabrels has played with the band since 2012. He was David Bowie’s former guitarist in the band Tin Machine.  He brought relentless lead guitar riffs to the armada of jam songs. Animated bassist Simon Gallup has been bringing heart-thumping rhythms to the band on and off since 1979.  Roger O’Donnell has played keyboards with the band on and off since 1987 and brought magical sounds to the Saturday show. Drummer Jason Cooper joined the group in 1995.

The Pasadena show followed the formula set in London by the band last year during their 40th Anniversary tour by playing most of their 1989 Disintegration album as the core of their show.  The band opened with “Plainsong” before fading into a moody “Pictures of You.” Smith seemed to be enjoying the euphoric mood in the crowd. He would walk to the edges of the stage between songs smiling devilishly. The crowd would surge forward, chanting his name. The enchanting singer also played guitar frequently and even a penny whistle at one point. The band continued mixing deep cuts with some of their biggest hits including,

“High,” “Lovesong,” “In Between Days” and “Just Like Heaven.”  Bassist Gallup shined on a moody jam of  “Fascination Street.” Smith seemed especially giddy while belting out “Friday I’m in Love.” Spirited versions of  “Close to Me” and “Why Can’t I Be You?” followed.  An obviously elated Smith ended the set by saying, “It’s been the best day of the summer.” Then the band launched into a sing-along crowd-pleasing rendition of  “Boys Don’t Cry.”


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