When We Were Young, Day 1: Morrissey, Cage the Elephant, AFI serve youth

Morrissey at When We Were Young (Photo by Jazz Shademan)
Morrissey at When We Were Young (Photo by Jazz Shademan)

Day 1 of When We Were Young festival was loaded with expectations. Chief among them were Morrissey’s set, the overall performance of the festival for the Observatory staff and the delicate balance between cross-generational bands. Whether your youth came in the 1980s, ’90s or beyond, When We Were Young sought to serve it.

Rumors and speculation flew around leading up to WWWY about all those things, because, for instance, Morrissey has been known to leave fans in the lurch at the sight of a hot dog. Plus, large-scale events at the Observatory have had their hiccups. Despite this festival’s beefy lineup, there was even a Groupon for admission. Safe to say there were big shoes to fill, and at least for half of it, they were filled.

Morrissey not only showed up, but played an incredible set to hundreds of fans clad in Smiths gear. Not to be excluded were not so subtle political statements in the form of James Baldwin’s portrait covering the kick drum, the entire band wearing “Fuck Trump” shirts and intermittent banter and music sampling issues like police brutality and politics. It was the sort of honesty mixed with melancholy that Moz fans have come to expect, and he rewarded them with a 19-song set that included several songs (“There Is a Light That Never Goes Out,” “Alma Matter” and “How Soon Is Now” among them) that he did not perform last November in Irvine.

||| Photos by Jazz Shademan

The Day 1 lineup did a decent job of timing bands well, as well as mixing young and old favorites.

The day began with David Bazan’s self-described “too many feelings for the daylight” set, which eased the audience into the more full emo bands to follow. His unassuming look made his voice and lyricism that much more gorgeous and captivating.

The meat of the day was made of bands that were perfectly angsty. They scratched the itch of what concert goers wanted to hear from their youth; guilty pleasures that they may or may not always be proud of. Balance and Composure, Plague Vendor, the Get Up Kids, Joyce Manor, Sense Fail and the reliably explosive AFI charged the crowd with energy and inspired big sing-alongs. The most unique act was Streetlight Manifesto, whose horns, kitten backdrop and nearly instantaneous most moshpit really stood out.

Sprinkled in were bands in the headphones of today’s youth. Beach Fossils and HOMESHAKE, with much more mellow psych-rock tendencies, were the calmest sets of the day. Mac DeMarco even took over the drum kit in support of Peter Sagar’s project. Beach Fossils repeatedly declared that they were stoked to be back out playing as they had taken a break and worked on their next album.

Cage the Elephant upped the ante on calm despite playing a majority of undercard songs from their discography. The youngest band that stood out, however, had to be the Regrettes, a group of L.A. teenagers who earlier this year released their debut album, “Feel Your Feelings Fool!,” on Warner. Their frontwoman Lydia Night exudes a confidence much more mature than her age, with a voice to boot.

All of the bands were humbled to be playing and sang praises of their heroes like Bazan, Mike Watt and, of course, Moz — whose gear was worn onstage by more than one performer on Saturday. There was no air of pretension but instead deep honesty which was much appreciated and refreshing.