Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Duran Duran deliver a joyful set of hits at Cruel World music festival in Pasadena

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In its first two years, Cruel World, which celebrates mostly the new wave, goth and post-punk music of the ’80s, would close out its day in Pasadena with darker stuff.

Morrissey malingered magnificently as the headliner in 2022. Siouxsie was a keening Banshee in 2023 in a performance delayed a day by the threat of lightning at the Brookside at the Rose Bowl festival grounds.

This year, with bands such as Blondie, Interpol, Adam Ant, and Simple Minds also on the bill, the headliner experience was something altogether diffferent.

Duran Duran, the ever-stylish English new wave group, headlined Cruel World on Saturday. The band has enjoyed a deserved resurgence in popularity post-pandemic with its induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2022 and a popular tour that featured two sold-out nights at the Hollywood Bowl.

The 90-minute set was as colorful as the cream and lavender jackets worn by singer Simon LeBon and keyboardist Nick Rhodes, as sharp as bassist John Taylor’s cheekbones, and as powerful as Roger Taylor’s drums.

And, above all else, it was fun: How could it not be with so many hits in the Duran Duran catalog and so many memories for a crowd full of fans who were there when Duran Duran videos ruled MTV in the ’80s?

After opening with “The Chauffeur,” one of the few deep cuts in the set, Duran Duran jumped straight into the hits – “Wild Boys,” “Hungry Like the Wolf,” and “A View to a Kill,” their James Bond movie theme followed in quick succession.

“The last month we’ve just been thinking (about Cruel World) and how we’re going to make it the best thing possible,” Le Bon told the crowd in the middle of that run of songs. “And now we’re here and it’s happening!”

All four original Durannies are in their early to mid-60s – older like their original fans, but young for elder statesmen of rock – and they and the touring musicians and backing vocalists all sounded strong throughout the performance. The middle of the set slowed things down a little with songs such as “Careless Memories,” “Ordinary World,” and “New Moon on Monday.”

The end of their night raced through more up-tempo bops. “The Reflex” and a mashup of Duran Duran’s “Girls on Film” with the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” – they covered the latter song on the 2023 album “Danse Macabre” – finished off the main set.

“Save a Prayer” opened the encore with the field in front of the stage awash in twinkling cell phone lights before “Rio” sent the crowd and the festival home for another year.

Here’s what else we caught while wandering between the three stages at Cruel World on Saturday:

A rare reunion: Tones On Tail, a side project of Bauhaus’s guitarist Daniel Ash and drummer Kevin Haskins, reunited at Cruel World to play its first show since 1984, the same year it released “Pop,” the group’s one album. More post-punk than goth, Tones of Tail impressed those who’d slipped away from Duran Duran on the main stage to hear Ash scatter shards of electric guitar atop Haskin’s expressive drumming and the loping basslines of Diva Dompe, Haskins’ daughter.

With Saturday’s performance, Ash and Haskins have now played all three years of Cruel World in all three bands they share – Bauhaus was there in 2022, and last year, Love and Rockets performed. Highlights included the jazzy swing of “Happiness,” “Lions,” and “Go!” which, alas, we missed to head back for the final run of Duran Duran.

New kids, old block: Cruel World isn’t strictly a day for older acts. New groups inspired by the OG bands on the bill also show up, and on Saturday a trio of those stood out.

Dreamcar, which includes the three guys from No Doubt – bassist Tony Kanal, guitarist Tom Dumont and drummer Adrian Young – is fronted by singer Davey Havok of AFI. They play a kind of modern new wave and fans at the main stage in the late afternoon responded strongly to songs such as “We Rats,” “Kill For Candy,” and a cover of David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream.”

After nightfall, two more relatively younger bands showed off what they’ve learned from their post-punk elders, with the English band Placebo mixing singer Brian Molko’s electric guitars with shimmering synths on fan favorites such as “Every You, Every Me” and “Special K,” and the American band Interpol as powerful as always on highlights that include “The Rover” and “Rest My Chemistry.”

Rule Britannia: So much of the music of Cruel World has roots in the United Kingdom, and this year a handful of British bands made their Cruel World debuts.

Simple Minds drew a large crowd to the second stage for its anthemic Scottish rock. “Promised You a Miracle,” “All The Things She Said,” and a cover of the Call’s “The Walls Came Down” were all great singalongs, but they paled in comparison to the response to “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” the band’s biggest hit thanks to its placement in the soundtrack to “The Breakfast Club.” To hear the crowd sing an extended take on its melody as the sunset on the Arroyo Seco was truly moving.

Fellow Scots the Jesus and Mary Chain were also powerful on noisy pop that included songs such as “Happy When It Rains,” “Head On,” and “Just Like Honey,” while Heaven 17’s glossy synth-pop had the crowd dancing to tunes including “Let Me Go” and “Penthouse and Pavement.” and a cover of Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.”

Bowie is also a touchstone for Gary Numan, whose chilly synths and guitars owe a lot to Bowie’s Berlin era. Numan returned to Cruel World on Saturday to play his solo debut album “The Pleasure Principle” in full, and the set felt much more successful than his 2023 turn which featured newer, less satisfying material.

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