As a next generation New Wave kid, when Goldenvoice announced a brand new festival for late Spring of 2020, my little black heart was overjoyed. Morrissey, Bauhaus, Echo & The Bunnymen — need I say more?! Cruel World was going to envelop my entire Spotify and Pandora streaming life, all into one day. And, then, another day was announced — same lineup and everything!! But, before we could celebrate our little sad hearts out, the entire planet shut down.
Talk about a how it’s a cruel, cruel world…
Two years later, Goldenvoice finally said it was time to pull the trigger and get this New Wave revival fest to the stage. Spanning both Saturday and Sunday of May 14th and 15th, Cruel World 2022 was advertising (mostly) the same lineup as its original rundown, with the exception of Echo & The Bunnymen dropping last second due to… visa problems? At least, that was the rumor going round. That and the big mystery if Morrissey was even going to show up. I had high hopes.
Driving to Pasadena, I watched the temperature soar on my car dashboard. It was already going to be a hot one, as I melted my way to the Will Call office for credentials. Inside the gate, I was a little late, so I shimmied over to Christian Death, rocking the side Lost Boys Stage. Adjacent was the larger Sad Girls stage (or perhaps I got those two backwards, it was hard to tell), with the final main Outsiders stage about a quarter mile hoof away. Not too shabby, just extra sweaty. After a few songs with Christian Death, I ran that aforementioned quarter mile to catch a few snaps of Sextile; that band has a chick drummer who stands up the whole time, something I’ve never seen! I then doubled back in a rush to catch the first few songs of the English Beat. Okay, enough running in this heat…
Familiar punky ska sounds surfaced from the stage, as the English Beat welcomed festival-goers to the midday madness. I do love me a good “Mirror in the Bathroom” from time to time… that sounded like drugs. I meant the song, you heathens. At this point, I was finally able to take a breath to get mutually acquainted with Cruel World Fest and realized everyone around me was in full costume and in the best of moods (despite it being over 100-degrees and everyone dressed in black)! I couldn’t love the retro concert shirts and full-out post-punk attire more. From goth to emo to punk rock to just plain weird, all alternative styles were present and appreciated.
The New Wave-y apathetic style of Cold Cave was next on the Outsiders Stage, with a screen of wild horses passing behind the band members as they performed the first few numbers. It was mellow, so I went to check out the thrash rock of 45 Grave. I later mistook 45 Grave’s guitarist as Robert Smith with the same exact hair, only bleached blonde with blue tips (hey, it was dark, this faux pas could’ve happened to anybody). I do wonder if Robert Smith was there just to hang, though, since I swear I DID run into Gary Numan exiting the photo pit later that night traversing the Bauhaus crowd. But, I’m skipping ahead. Next in line was London After Midnight — a band definitely my vibe. Following that was TR/ST: a solo artist, who hopped around the stage in a sequin-studded bodysuit. I could only stay a song or two before I had to run over to Missing Persons, as I didn’t want to miss out on that set! I skipped to the front just in time for Dale Bozzio to launch into “Words” — I do hear you and I do care, Dale!!!
As if I couldn’t be heart-happy more, AFI frontman Davey Havok’s side project Blaqk Audio went on.
I’m an emo kid through and through; I was in my freshman year of high school when AFI released their 2003 Songs of Sorrow LP, so lemme tell ya — I live for Davey and all Davey-related entities. And, it helps that Blaqk Audio is straight EDM-infused fire. Right out the gate, Davey launches into “Stiff Kittens”, admittedly the only song I researched out ahead of time. If ‘New New Wave’ isn’t a thing yet, please let Blaqk Audio be the bellwether.
I couldn’t stay too long, though, as I didn’t want to miss Johnny Rotten light up the Public Image set. Screaming and stammering, Rotten stole the PIL stage, made all the more entertaining in an Easter-colored suit jacket. The far-out, futuristic performance of Drab Majesty was next before The Damned took over the party reins. It was around this time that I had to run to the media room just to stop running around and sit for a second. Plus, water — lots and lots of water. I resurfaced refreshed in time for The Church, of whom my love knows no bounds. Oh, speaking of water, props to Goldenvoice for keeping everyone hydrated in the heat with free water all day long! It was a marvelous sight to see security guards chucking water bottles to everyone and anyone who needed it in the amassed crowds! It really shows Goldenvoice cares by going this extra mile.
Back on the stages, Jay Aston’s Gene Loves Jezebel incited a sing-along before the Violent Femmes amplified the sing-along to absurd heights. Starting with “Blister In The Sun” and going into “Kiss Off” next? Did I happen to mention I’m impressed, Violent Femmes?? By this time, the sun was receding and the amount of festival-goers was getting to be an all-time high… just in time for Devo. Being my first time witnessing Devo in action, I got there early and thank god I did, since the band starts every set with a video of a fake manager going off about Devo being “the worst investment he’s ever made”. After that royally amusing announcement, out came Devo members adorning elastic smiles and, sadly, no red hats. I heard that immediately after I left to Berlin‘s set, they played “Whip It” and put their signature hats on. Damnit. So close. At least I got to see roughly one third of the festival-goers wearing the hat, so it felt like I whipped it adequately… just not “good” by any standards.
Now, let me just say it — Terri Nunn doesn’t age.
Looking like a straight fox, Nunn twirled, danced and even jumped down to crowd level to sing everyone’s favorite Berlin anthems. She’s my hero. Seeing Berlin before at another fest (but only the first three songs, #photographerlife), it was great to catch a whole other part of the band’s set list (since I was late, waiting in vain for Devo to crack that whip). This Berlin experience entailed “Dancing In Berlin”, a masterful cover of The Cult‘s “She Sells Sanctuary” and the wonder ballad “Take My Breath Away”. I was twirling into The Psychedelic Furs photo pit at that point. You could tell The P-Furs were stoked to be there, too. When they launched into “Pretty In Pink”, I was consumed with nostalgia and 80s feels. “Love My Way”, “Heaven”, “Heartbreak Beat”, “The Ghost In You”… I love it all so, so much and finally got to see it live.
It was now down to the final three — Bauhaus, Blondie and Morrissey (maybe). I was still remaining optimistic. Bauhaus absolutely blew my mind next. One minute, I was sauntering around in 80s Top 40 fangirl mode and, the next, I’m sucked into the hazy, delirious world of Bauhaus. It was like a vortex had opened and the scarecrow man appeared… that’s my new name for lead singer Peter Murphy, who used his mic stand and cord to create awkward shadows against a single beam of light at the back of the stage. He’s Scarecrow Man now, crowning himself elegantly so.
I made friends with a girl from Florida on the way to Blondie; we bonded over running into Gary Numan together. That’s a bond for life, if there ever was one. Got to love an ever-revolving festy fam! Blondie’s stage was lit with comic book scenes as Debbie Harry entered, as fabulous as ever. A pioneer of the New Wave scene, you could just feel the crowd’s appreciation emanating her way. We’re all here because of bands like Blondie, doing their thing way back when. After Blondie, there was only the main man of the hour left — Mr. Morrissey.
And… Morrissey was HERE. He SHOWED.
He must’ve been in an extra good mood, too, because he not only showed, he allowed photographers. And, not just some photographers — ALL photographers. From the pit, not from 50 yards away at the soundboard. Woah. I immediately felt part of an elite photo crew, staring up at the legend from just a few feet away. Morrissey gloriously opened with “We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful” (one of my personal favorites), writhing his hands in hatred and hanging his head at all the right parts. It was official — I was in happiness overload. I wanted to beat the crowd out, so stayed for the first three Morrissey songs and leisurely enjoyed another few on my walk out of the Rose Bowl. I hadn’t heard any Smiths songs yet by the time I reached the many, many rolling parking lots, but lucky for me, I got lost and couldn’t find my car for another 40 minutes, allowing “Everyday Is Like Sunday” and I swear (despite what the online set lists say) Morrissey sang “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”. If he did and I wasn’t straight hallucinating from a full day in the sun, it was right when I found my car in the dark… and heaven knew I was miserable now to leave. Goodbye, Cruel World, thanks for the memories! Stay tuned for the full Top Shelf Music photo gallery, coming soon.
Photography by Kristy Rose