Duran Duran and Blondie Bring the Rapture to Cruel World Festival (2024)

In the end, the weekend’s solar storm didn’t end up shorting out this year’s Cruel World festival at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on Saturday (May 11). Instead, bands including Duran Duran, Blondie and Simple Minds lit up the golf course with a fiery musical energy that was all the more impressive for their long tenures. From Debbie Harry’s glittering cloak of mirrors to Duran Duran’s vibrant visuals, the festival’s more than two dozen acts showed they were consummate performing pros whose music remains beloved to their fans — not to mention still played constantly, whether it’s at Trader Joe’s or on the radio.

Last year’s edition of the goth-meets-new wave flavored festival faced its own snafu when a lightning strike in the middle of Iggy Pop’s set caused the sprawling venue to be evacuated before Siouxsie took the stage. This year, some attendees were on edge after last week’s Beachlife festival was canceled due to high winds and Saturday’s solar flares caused fluctuations in power grids and satellites. But Cruel World went off without a hitch, with sunny, balmy skies, the requisite amount of fishnet stockings and black leather, and a generally mellow atmosphere.

With 30 bands spread across three stages, even the most ardent new waver couldn’t sprint back and forth and catch them all. Hard choices had to be made, triaged by those who haven’t been to the U.S. in a while, given the heavy British lineup.

The Stranglers – currently on their 50th anniversary tour — are down to just one original member, after the death of two original musicians during the pandemic. Original bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel ably serves as frontman for the band, which combines an early punk attitude with harpsichord tones and sweet pop songs like “Golden Brown” for an indelible sound that brought the audience to its feet early in the afternoon.

Gary Numan performed songs from his 1979 debut solo album “The Pleasure Principle,” contrasting his recent Los Angeles show at the Fonda which focused on material from the current century. The brilliant Pasadena sun might not be the ideal foil for his darkly industrial sensibilities, but bringing his daughters including newly-minted UK chart-topper Raven up on stage, the L.A. resident seemed at home with the familiar material.

It was a Scottish two-fer on the Sad Girls stage as The Jesus and Mary Chain performed, kicking off with “Jamcod” from their recent album “Glasgow Eyes,” laced with all the fuzz and feedback their fans expect. Ethereal vocalist Zanias joined in on “Just Like Honey” and “Sometimes Always.”

Next up was Simple Minds, playing in the U.S. for the first time in six years and rallying the crowd with much of the same warm enthusiasm as Billy Idol did on the same stage at last year’s Cruel World. Jim Kerr was a rousing force, with notable contributions from drummer Cherisse Osei and vocalist Sarah Brown. The short set touched on high points in their shimmering sound, from heavy-rotation hits “Promised You a Miracle” and “(Don’t You) Forget About Me” to a cover of The Call’s “And the Walls Came Down.”

Soft Cell’s more danceclub-like approach was a marked shift from Simple Minds’ large and soulful ensemble, but nonetheless compelling for longtime fans of “Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret.” The influential album’s songs dominated the set along with projected images of neon-lit strip clubs on screen, an album cover come to life. Marc Almond has been the poster boy for danceable, transgressive sleazepop for at least 43 years now, and his yearning torch songs set to a heavy beat are almost unclassifiable as new wave or any other genre. The band brought out New York “dystopian drag terrorist” Christeene in deathly makeup to gyrate and sing backup on “Nighthawks” and “Sex Dwarf.”

Duran Duran and Blondie Bring the Rapture to Cruel World Festival (1)

Blondie played a fairly long set by festival standards, with Debbie Harry powering through a dozen hits as darkness fell. A highlight was “Heart of Glass,” with Harry donning a poncho covered in mirror shards that played off projections of glittering panes. Clem Burke’s drumming is as muscular as ever, while Harry’s seminal rapping on “Rapture” is an emotional flashback to the Lower East Side of the late 1970s.

Duran Duran showed their staying power with a flashy, encompassing set that kicked off with “The Chauffeur” and never let up, with the familiar James Bond theme song previewing “A View to a Kill.” The band unleashed some fun covers of “White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)” plus a “Girls on Film” meets “Psycho Killer” mash-up with audience participation. Clad in silver jeans and his new wave-errific chartreuse biker jacket, Simon LeBon threw himself passionately into the set, striking a thoughtful note while dedicating “Ordinary World” to the people of Ukraine and also Palestine and Israel. After audience members lit up the sky with phone lights and sang along to “Save a Prayer,” Duran Duran capped the set with “Rio,” and it was clear that the band has been a meaningful part of many fans’ lives all these years.

On other stages, Interpol was one of the relatively newer acts (by Cruel World standards), turning in a solid set of new wave-influenced songs, while Moby turned up to watch Heaven 17 do “Fascist Groove Thang.” Tones on Tail, Adam Ant, The Faint, General Public, Ministry and Placebo were just a few of the other ‘80s and era-adjacent acts that brought out Gen X-ers, Generation Jones, their kids and grandkids for an epic day-long dance party.

Duran Duran and Blondie Bring the Rapture to Cruel World Festival (2024)
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