Thousands streamed to the streets of Pasadena on Saturday for what has become an annual ritual – Make Music Pasadena brought dozens of artists all different stripes for a day of free shows. Bands played in streets, alleys, parking lots, bars, galleries, coffeehouses, parks and other locales convenient to Old Town Pasadena. Here are some highlights (with eye-popping photo galleries to follow) from Buzz Bands LA staffers Kevin Bronson and Seraphina Lotkhamnga and contributing writer Dan Frazier:
‣ If it was a lazy Saturday for some, Youngblood Hawke made sure to keep festival attendees in check as they opened with “Wake Up,” the title track of their debut album. But the packed crowd at the Old Pasadena Indie Rock Stage weren’t sleepy. In fact, they were amped for the L.A. quintet to close out the main stage. As the crowd enthusiastically jumped up and down and shouted every lyric back to the stage, it was clear Youngblood Hawke’s anthemic electro-pop was undeniably fun.
“We Come Running” made us all feel young. (–S.L.)
‣ The Record Company continues to be a marvel. Situating the vintage blues trio between sets from pop acts Hunter Hunted and YACHT was like having Howlin’ Wolf as main support at a rave. But you know what? It worked. The combination of Chris Vos’ down-home charisma, his authentic yowl and slide guitar licks connected with the very young crowd at the Old Pasadena Indie Rock Stage. “How ya feelin’?” Vos kept demanding as Alex Stiff and Marc Cazorla kept impeccable rhythms. Well, like we’re on the Delta, not Colorado Boulevard. That was a good thing. (–K.B.)
‣ There was a reason YACHT went on at 3:30, because by this time of the day the sun had taken its toll on the main stage’s audience and they needed some pepping up. Fresh off a tour in Asia and Australia, YACHT reliably spit a much needed jolt of vigor on the sweaty crowd by pumping out they’re self-described “acid-house pop.” Frontman Jona Bechtolt showed off his versatility by switching between guitar, drums, and bass, but when some of his electronic equipment became temporarily botched due to the heat, frontwoman Claire Evans entertained the crowd with her traditional “Q and A” session. Per a fan’s request, she tossed a bottle of water into the front row and a tussle broke out to grab it. She then yelled, “Don’t go all ‘Lord of the Flies’ on us!” and perfectly captured the pit vibe of every outdoor music festival. (–D.F.)
‣ Far from the pogoing, moshing masses in the late afternoon, Will Courtney held court in the slightly-less-steamy Old Towne Pub, and if they gave a trophy based on Sad Songs in Sweltering Heat, he’s the champ. Courtney, formerly of Brothers and Sisters (who spent some time in L.A.), fronted a four-piece he jokingly referred to as “The Wild Bunch” – who had learned the songs only the day before. It was very mountain-man-comes-to-the-city, and during songs like “A Century Behind,” “Gave Into Temptation” and “There’s No Answer,” you got chills. Even the pub’s omnipresent bros showed respect. (–K.B.)
‣ It was undoubtedly a hot day for a festival, especially situated in an asphalt parking lot. Even Robert DeLong‘s computer overheated. But that didn’t mean the show didn’t go on. After placing a tent over the Playhouse District Eclectic Stage, DeLong’s set went off without a hitch making fans in the parking lot feel as if they were at Coachella. The beats really bounced and a ripple effect on the audience when the electro wiz sang “Be not afraid” during ‘Religious Views.” It didn’t take long for crowd surfing to ensue, and it was the perfect ending to his set which he finished with “Happy.” (–S.L.)
‣ It was high twee time when Austin’s Letting Up Despite Great Faults took the stage the Levitt Pavilion. New and old fans stayed on the lawn to enjoy some fuzzy dream-pop as the sun finally began to back off. But bassist Kent Zambrana made sure the energy wasn’t too lax. Jumping up on amps and into the crowd, Zambrana made sure to bring the noisy shoegazing guitars to the forefront for the end of their set. (–S.L.)
‣ More than 10 years into a four-album career that began while many MMP fans were still in strollers, We Are Scientists played a mid-afternoon set in the merciless heat. In festival booking terms, it was a great “get” – the band picked up a few SoCal shows because they were in L.A. for the movie premiere of “After Earth.” Their fans dutifully rocked out, burning off calories while WAS pounded out hits like “Chick Lit” (2008) and “Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt” and “It’s a Hit” off 2006’s “With Love and Squalor.” That cameo by the Rentals’ Matt Sharp was nice, too. (–K.B.)
‣ Bands like Youngblood Hawke, We Are Scientists and YACHT were booked for their energy, while bands like Taken By Trees were booked to soothe the senses. Performing at the Levitt Pavilion in precisely the proper atmosphere (during the evening, with pastel lights painting the backdrop), the band’s lax-dub pop was a superb soundtrack as the sun set. It felt like an evening at a miniature Hollywood Bowl as band founder/vocalist Victoria Bergsman hushed over steel drums and pedal steel. And if you closed your eyes you could feel the soft grass on the lawn turn into sand. (–D.F.)
‣ How do you say “tight fit” in French? The Alliance Francaise Stage, co-presented by the Luckman, was tucked between bricks walls in a half-block long alley. The Lonely Wild somehow made it seem like the wide-open spaces of the Old West, their spaghetti Western-tinged Americana matching the main-stage electronic acts beat for beat for sheer exuberance and intensity. Nothing like a little trumpet at dinnertime. (–K.B.)
‣ The MMP Earlybird Award goes to Freedom Fry and their fans – neither the boy/girl (and American/French) vocals of Bruce Driscoll and Marie Seyrat nor their faithful wilted in the noontime sun. “Summer in the City” was perfect for the occasion; Freedom Fry will remind indie-pop old-schoolers of the band Ivy (with heavier rhythms). There was an even older-school moment too: a cover of “Bonnie & Clyde,” pretty true to what Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot did back in the ’60s. (–K.B.)
‣ And … short and sweet sum up the early set by Young Empress at the Pasadena Museum of California Arts stage (parking lot next to the building – but a parking lot with beer taps). The blast of power-pop melodies came with a cool energy, making us almost forget how strong the heat was. Husband-wife harmonies from Paulie and Crystal Pesh were simply lovely. (–S.L.)
Photos: Youngblood Hawke by Bronson. The Record Company, Robert DeLong, We Are Scientists and Freedom Fry by Laurie Scavo. YACHT, Will Courtney, Letting Up Despite Great Faults, the Lonely Wild and Halfbluud by Carl Pocket.