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Cruel World Festival: What it was like before threat of lightning shut it down

Iggy Pop had been on stage at Cruel World Festival long enough to lose his shirt – which really takes him no time at all – when midway through his sixth song on Saturday his sound was cut.

Severe weather was heading toward the festival grounds in Pasadena, an announcer’s voice told the crowd. Everyone needed to evacuate immediately.

As this sank in, the mood at the Brookside at the Rose Bowl golf course shifted from confusion to shock and anger to tears.

On Sunday, festival promoter Goldenvoice announced that Siouxsie, Iggy Pop and Gary Numan, who also played Saturday, would return to the festival grounds Sunday, May 21 to perform for previously ticketed fans. Siouxsie will play an extended set, not just the hour she was originally given, in what will be her only North American performance of the year. Parking will be free.

So what happened Saturday night? Lightning had been seen in the distance as Iggy sang “Raw Power” a few songs earlier. That had prompted the Pasadena Fire Department, after storm warnings from the National Weather Service, to pull the plug on Pop and the Human League, who were playing on a separate stage at the same time.

Worst of all, headliner Siouxsie, the final performer that a majority of the crowd was there to see, would not be allowed to sing a note on Saturday in what was supposed to be her first United States show in 15 years.

Billy Idol performs on the Sad Girls stage during the Cruel World music festival at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Echo & the Bunnymen perform on the Outsiders stage during the Cruel World music festival at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Billy Idol performs on the Sad Girls stage during the Cruel World music festival at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Iggy Pop performs on the Outsiders stage during the Cruel World music festival at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

The band Squeeze performs on the Sad Girls stage during the Cruel World music festival at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Billy Idol performs on the Sad Girls stage during the Cruel World music festival at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Fans of Echo & the Bunnymen sing-a-long during their performance on the Outsiders stage at the Cruel World music festival in Pasadena on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Iggy Pop performs on the Outsiders stage during the Cruel World music festival at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

The band Squeeze performs on the Sad Girls stage during the Cruel World music festival at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Billy Idol performs on the Sad Girls stage during the Cruel World music festival at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Billy Idol performs on the Sad Girls stage during the Cruel World music festival at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Jae Matthews of Boy Harsher performs on the Lost Boys stage during the Cruel World music festival at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Boy Harsher performs on the Lost Boys stage during the Cruel World music festival at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Echo & the Bunnymen perform on the Outsiders stage during the Cruel World music festival at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Ian McCulloch of Echo & the Bunnymen perform on the Outsiders stage during the Cruel World music festival at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Siouxsie and the Banshees fans shout her name after the Cruel World music festival was cut short due to inclement weather at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Fans of Echo & the Bunnymen dance during their performance at the Cruel World music festival in Pasadena on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Iggy Pop performs on the Outsiders stage during the Cruel World music festival at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

As the event was shut down, here’s a look inside the Cruel World music festival at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Gang of Four performs on the Sad Girls stage during the Cruel World music festival at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Fans of Modern English cheer during their performance at the Cruel World music festival in Pasadena on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Max Lacey poses for a photograph in a bed of black roses during the Cruel World music festival at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

The Vapors perform on the Sad Girls stage during the Cruel World music festival at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Gang of Four performs on the Sad Girls stage during the Cruel World music festival at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Robbie Grey of Modern English performs on the Outsiders stage during the Cruel World music festival at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

The Soft Moon performs on the Lost Boys stage during the Cruel World music festival at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Gang of Four performs on the Sad Girls stage during the Cruel World music festival at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Fans of Modern English cheer during their performance at the Cruel World music festival in Pasadena on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

The Vapors perform on the Sad Girls stage during the Cruel World music festival at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

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“She’s not going to leave her fans,” said Steffine Aguirre of Alta Loma, one of the hundreds of Siouxsie fans in disbelief as crews dismantled Iggy’s equipment half an hour later. “We’re not going to leave until they take us off the property.”

A good day

Until the weather dealt a cruel blow to Cruel World, the day had been a gorgeous celebration for young punks, old New Wavers, and goths of indetermination age, there to enjoy the best of the alternative rock that arrived in the late ’70s and ’80s.

Iggy Pop, who played three Los Angeles shows in April, was in top form through the five-and-a-half songs that fans got before the night ended. He’d been singing “The Passenger,” his 1977 song that Siouxsie and the Banshees had a cover hit with a decade later when the show abruptly ended at 9:12 p.m. Saturday.

At the same time, the synth-rock band the Human League was midway into its set on the other end of the festival ground. They’d sounded good on the first few songs, including “Mirror Man,” before we headed for Iggy, and had been playing “The Lebanon” when their night also finished.

“Well, that was a strange evening,” the band wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday morning to express their disappointment at not being able to finish their set. “We know a lot of people did not and probably still don’t understand this decision but, having been in this situation once before, we can tell you that a lightning storm at an outdoor festival is no joke.”

A few minutes earlier, Billy Idol had closed down the second stage with a rousing performance that celebrated his long career from his days in the punk band Generation X – the Gen X song “One Hundred Punks” was part of his set – as well as the bigger hits of his solo career in the early ’80s. Idol shared the spotlight with guitarist Steve Stevens, his longtime musical partner, and had a huge crowd singing along to songs such as “Rebel Yell” and “White Wedding.”

Love and Rockets returned three-quarters of Bauhaus to the Cruel World main stage a year after that band, which also includes singer Peter Murphy, played the festival. Love and Rockets, which veers from darker goth tones more to alternative rock, sounded terrific on songs including “Kundalini Express,” “No New Tale to Tell,” and “So Alive.” They looked great too: singer-guitarist Daniel Ash wore a crimson red-sequined suit, bassist-singer David J looked dapper in a suit of magenta, and drummer Kevin Haskins – well, drummers gotta be comfortable, don’t they?

Echo & the Bunnymen were booked to play Cruel World in 2022 until visa issues scotched those plans. Singer Ian McCulloch & Co. sounded terrific on classic Bunnymen tracks including “Bring on the Dancing Horses,” “The Cutter,” and “The Killing Moon.” Unlike Love and Rockets, who presented a visually rich show on the main stage right after them, Echo and the Bunnymen made the confounding decision not to be shown on the video screens, which in a festival setting means the vast majority of fans see only tiny figures on a distant stage. Sigh.

Before that twilight set, Squeeze played a wonderful set at golden hour on the second stage, racing through the beautiful melodies and witty lyrics of songs such as “Hourglass,” “If I Didn’t Love You,” and “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell).” Singer-guitarist Glenn Tilbrook was in tip-top form – his voice truly is ageless – though his singing and songwriting partner Chris Difford was missing from the stage, probably due to the band’s last-minute booking as a replacement for Adam Ant.

The rich English melodicism of Squeeze was similarly found in ABC’s earlier set. Singer Martin Fry wore the second-shiniest suit of the day, a gold tuxedo similar to the suit he wore in a classic music video.

“Am I the only guy in a tuxedo tonight?” Fry joked between songs. “Forty years in show business and they still won’t let me take the tuxedo off.” He continued to talk about the New Romantic scene out of which ABC came, and sounded, well, as romantic as ever on songs that included “All of My Heart,” “The Look of Love,” and “Poison Arrow.”

A much harder-edged sound arrived earlier with the angular, funky post-punk tunes of Gang of Four. The band, which features original singer and drummer Jon King and Hugo Burnham, respectively, and longtime bassist Sara Lee alongside newcomer David Pajo – guitarist Andy Gill died during the pandemic – thrilled their fans with songs such as “Return The Gift,” “I Love a Man in a Uniform,” and “Love Like Anthrax.”

The earliest part of the day featured a mix of bands known mostly for just a handful of songs. Of these, Berlin, which also played Cruel World in 2022, had the most hits to play with songs such as “The Metro” and “Take My Breath Away,” longtime favorites of Southern California audiences.

Others, such as Modern English with “I Melt With You” and the Vapors with “Turning Japanese,” are so identified with those singles that they more or less had to play them at the end of their sets in order to keep the crowd from wandering off and missing their other often quite good songs.

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