Karen O of indie rock band Yeah Yeah Yeahs could not have been any happier to be in stage at the close of the Just Like Heaven Festival on Saturday.
And the feeling was, quite clearly, mutual in the crowd that filled the grassy fields of Brookside at the Rose Bowl, the rolling greens of the golf course in Pasadena that in recent years has become the best festival grounds in the Los Angeles area.
At the end of a day tromping back and forth between two stages and 20 indie rock acts that arrived in the 2000s, you want someone with the energy and charisma of Karen O to reinvigorate you in the home stretch. And the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, still vital, still powerful, still thrilling two decades into their career did just that.
The band opened with “Spitting Off the Edge of the World,” a slow, moody piece from its strong 2022 album “Cool It Down,” which a few songs later also delivered a highlight with “Burning.”
Fan-favorites were easy to spot — the glowing screens of phone cameras held aloft greeted popular songs such as “Zero” and “Sharp Shock,” and later “Y Control” and “Maps.”
Guitarist Nick Zinner, drummer Brian Chase and touring guitarist Imaad Wasif sounded as tight as ever in the bluesy indie rock the band found in forming in New York City in 2000. Their hour on stage passes swiftly, peaking with “Heads Will Roll” and “Date With the Night.”
Here’s what else we saw during a day spent remembering why the synths and guitars of the aughts made such memorable music.
MGMT put on a show
The indie electronic duo MGMT arrived with much anticipation in the Orion main stage just before the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Anticipation because they planned to play their 2007 debut “Oracular Spectacular” in full.
But also concerns for whether or not they’d be able to captivate the crowd more than Andrew Vaneyngarden and Ben Goldwasser, typically reserved in live performance, have done in the past.
No need to worry on Saturday as MGMT delivered a terrific live production of an album of modern psychedelic rock that featured hits such as “Time To Pretend,” “Electric Feel” and “Kids.”
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Their set opened with six free-form dancers and an overture of sorts of themes from the album before Goldwasser and Van Wyngarden arrived to open the set with “Time To Pretend.” With creative visuals, a charmingly goofy skit about forming the band in college — acted out by two guys in giant paper mache heads of the pair — and a children’s choir on backing vocals for several song on the less-familiar second side of the album, this was the best performance I’ve seen from MGMT.
Night falls on ‘Heaven’
As the sun dropped over the western hills of the Arroyo Seco, Empire of the Sun arrived on the Orion main stage for a typically flashy if distant show from Australian duo Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore.
Wearing a long white-and-black duster and black cowboy hat, Steele stood behind a fanciful podium to sing and play guitar as a pair of dancers marched and leapt around the stage. Highlights included opener “Standing on the Shore” and closer to the ending, “Walking On a Dream,” sounded great. The decision not to show themselves on the screens? Not so great.
Just before Empire, synth rock band Future Islands played a set filled with the emotive songs and performance style of singer Samuel T. Herring. Always fun to watch, Harrington prowls the stage, beating his chest to underscore a lyric and occasionally, as on “Seasons (Waiting for You),” growling as his emotions surface. It’s singing as a full-body experience.
English electronic dance act Hot Chip played the Stardust second stage as the golden hour arrived. Opening with “Huarache,” a song that now seems to have foretold the AI revolution — “Replace us with the things that do the job better,” singer Alexei T sang on the choruses — Hot Chip remains one of the best bands of its type, sometimes employing four different synth players to create its gorgeously layered sound.
Sunny day highlights
Fever Ray, the sometimes stage name of Sweden’s Karin Dreijer, delivered the highlight of the midafternoon on the Stardust second stage.
Dreijer, one half of the duo the Knife, uses Fever Ray for her her more avant-garde music and performance. She arrived on stage in a white suit, lavender shirt and peach tie, her hair bleached blonde and cropped short, her white makeup and black eyes and mouth giving her the look of a petite undead gentleman.
The big moments in her set included opening songs “What They Call Us” and “When I Grow Up,” the latter of which saw her dancing in synchronous movements with her two backing vocalists.
At the start of “To the Moon and Back” she tossed long-stemmed roses into the crowd. For “Kandy” the video screen glowed maroon as she sang by an old-fashioned streetlight on stage, looking perfect for a nightclub singer in a David Lynch film.
The English electronic rock group Ladytron played the Orion main stage earlier in the day, opening with “Ghosts” before playing the aptly named “City Of Angels.”
British band Metronomy preceded Ladytron with a fun, energetic set of electronic dance rock. Highlights included drummer Anna Prior’s spotlight as vocalist on “Everything Goes My Way” and singer-guitarist Joseph Mount’s performance on “Salted Caramel Ice Cream.”
Portland indie rockers Strfkr had the best backing dancers of the day. Its crew of eight dancers wore full astronaut suits complete with closed helmets — had to be so hot! — as the group played songs such as “Open Your Eyes,” on which one spaceman dancer crowd surfer into the audience and then did splits atop fans’ hands, and a dreamy “Bury Us Alive.”
Walking in we caught the Faint, the first of many synth-based bands from a decade that gravitated to those electronic sounds. If Just Like Heaven really is like Heaven the the angels have all traded in their harps for Moogs.
The Faint had fans dancing in the heat of early afternoon to tunes including “Young & Realistic,” “The Geeks Were Right” and “Worked Up So Sexual.”
Just Like Heaven Festival
When: Saturday, May 13
Where: Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena