Festival Review: Cruel World Festival 2024 at Brookside in Pasadena, CA

For the third year in a row, Cruel World Festival returned to the Brookside golf course at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena for a long day of new wave, synth pop, goth, dark wave and all things in-between.

The previous year’s inclement weather didn’t keep the organizers from pushing the envelope in 2024, adding a rotating platform to the larger Outsiders stage to enable nonstop action and the cramming of 30 bands into the crammed day of tunes.  Thankfully the weather cooperated this time around with temps peaking in the high seventies accompanied by a cool breeze; the parasols were out for shade, but the sea of black didn’t overheat.  The festivalgoers lined up early in anticipation of the gates opening promptly at 11:30 a.m., but regardless of their planned destination, the crowd couldn’t help to pause at the Sad Girls stage to take in a bit of Wendy Bevan’s striking vocal performance which set the perfect tone for the long day.

The hands-down highlight of the day was Ministry like you’ve likely never seen them before. With backing vocals (the “Ministrettes”) and strings (the “Ministringettes”), the band went deep into their catalog to perform songs from their first two albums With Sympathy and Twitch as well as a few select tracks from that ’80’s eraFor those familiar with the band’s current industrial metal sound, it was quite an eye-opener, but the Cruel World crowd knew what was up and fully embraced every note of these synthpop masterpieces that ended with “(Everyday Is) Halloween.”  No one seemed to be more surprised by the positive reception than Ministry frontman Al Jourgensen; it goes without saying that this is a show that needs to hit the road!

Returning to Cruel World to perform for the third time in two years, Gary Numan treated the festival by playing his debut solo album Pleasure Principle in his entirety. At 66, Numan is the undisputed pioneer of electronic music and an undeniable force on stage, delivering one of the day’s standout performances with his trademark intensity. Aside from the fact that most of these songs haven’t been performed live in over a decade, the performance was made a bit more special by having Numan’s three daughters join him on stage for backup vocals on “Conversation.” Neither Numan nor his music ever seem to age.

Another standout from the Outsiders stage was Dreamcar, the unlikely mashup of AFI’s Davey Havok on vocals along with Tony Kanal (bass), Tom Dumont (guitar), and Adrian Young (drums) of No Doubt. “Kill for Candy” off of their 2017 debut was in constant radio rotation when the album came out, but touring was never their thing, as they mostly opted for festival performances in support of the album, so when it was announced that the band would be playing Cruel World fans took notice. The verdict of the live set?  Shockingly good … especially for a band that have not performed live together in seven years! A small warmup show at the El Rey Theatre the previous night likely helped dust off the cobwebs and calm any jitters, and the band looked relaxed. Havok’s vocals were in top shape, and there didn’t seem to be anyone having more fun at that moment that Tony Kanal on bass. A new song, “We Rats,” was introduced live, no doubt leaving hope for more tunes and a full tour.

While it would have been easy for folks to camp all day at the main stage, a long walk to the other side of the golf course was rewarded with some of the best performances of the day.  In fact, the Sad Girls stage was absolutely stacked. Patriarchy’s early 12:40 p.m. set was absolutely stunning, and this band should be added to any music fan’s radar. Hot off a West Coast run together, The Mission UK and Nuovo Testamento both delivered flawless sets in front of enthusiastic crowds.  Simple Minds—known for their ’80’s hits–had one of, if not the largest crowds of the smaller stages and frontman Jim Kerr absolutely owned the stage and had the massive audience under his full control.

Of course, with a festival of this size there are going to be conflicts and this year’s festival brought some heartbreakers with the aforementioned Dreamcar set going up against The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Faint playing at the same time as The Stranglers excellent set, and Soft Cell overlapping with both Simple Minds and Placebo which wrapped things up on the “Lost Boys” stage. From the looks of things, a huge number of people skipped Blondie’s main stage performance to catch Interpol, and as Interpol wrapped their set, most people seemed to head either towards the main stage for Duran Duran or the exit.

The criminally low number of folks who hung back at the Sad Girls stage were treated to a legendary performance by Tones on Tail, the band’s first live performance since they disbanded in 1984. No offense to Duran Duran, but it’s been 40 friggin’ years! An expected and otherworldly cover of Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” ushered in a stunning and surreal performance of the classics that included Daniel Ash on alto sax as well as what could have been the band’s first ever performance of “Twist.” Missed it? You blew it big time.

Aside from a few audio glitches on the main stage, the 2024 version of Cruel World went off without a hitch … Even the raging solar flares standing in stark contrast to the goth garb could not stop it. It gets harder every year to pull off a lineup that will keep folks coming back, but between Ministry’s retro ’80’s set, the reemergence of both Dreamcar and Tones on Tail, and the amazing side stage lineup, the festival was well worth the price of admission.

Tones on Tail

Interpol

Placebo

Simple Minds

Dreamcar

Ministry

Gary Numan

The Stranglers

The Mission UK

General Public

French Police

Nuovo Testamento

Harsh Symmetry

Patriarchy

Body of Light

Wendy Bevan

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