The Strokes, Phoebe Bridgers, Caroline Polachek & more keep the party going on Sunday in Pasadena
As if Day 1 couldn’t have been more fun…enter Day 2.
Sunday’s crowds at This Ain’t No Picnic at the Rose Bowl Brookside golf course managed to even top the numbers from the previous day, and looking back at the sea of fans in Strokes t-shirts camped out on the bar all day long, it didn’t take long to figure out why.
But as the anticipation for The Strokes’ headlining set swelled (along with the scorching temps), so did the immaculate vibes at every undercard act’s performance. Sunday was a tough day for catching everyone you wanted to see; the conflicts were downright brutal. But if you were crafty and quick on your feet like I was, then you could easily split half sets all day and take in a little bit of everyone. It also made for a pretty exhausting jaunt, but it was all worth it.
My day started on a zoned-out, relaxed note thanks to the dub reggae sounds of Pachyman. With a permanent smile on his face, Pachy García, who also fronts the synth-psych band Prettiest Eyes, delivered the most positive and chilled-out vibes of the entire weekend at the Back Nine stage, with a sound palette tracing transnational Caribbean sounds from Jamaica to Puerto Rico and back to SoCal. Utilizing a bevy of instrumental samples, which he was quick to point out were all made by him, Pachy conjured a tropical collage of guitar, dub percussion, brass and woodwind instruments that was pure nirvana-like. It was the perfect beginning to ease you into the day: light up a joint, lay down, and ascend to Zion. Praise Pachyman!
Nearby, the Trees stage was all set for a very, very heavy afternoon and evening. Intense guitar bands were about to reign supreme all day: King Woman, Nothing, Shame, Deafheaven, and Descendants were all on the docket, and right off the bat, it seemed like an arms race was brewing.
Philadelphia’s Nothing have been one of the most consistent bands from this sphere over the past decade, and the Nicky Palermo-led quartet were in tight form. Trotting out their signature blend of shoegaze, grunge, slowcore, post-hardcore and almost everything in between, the band slugged out towering, reverb-drenched crescendos and brooding lyrics that his majestic heights thanks to the band’s monolithic stage presence and tight execution.
The energy at the Trees stage did not let up from there. Shame, the incredible rising London post-punk band, were up next, and they proved once again why they’re a god-tier live act. Running through a mix of hits from their two albums and even a brand new one from an upcoming record (which singer Charlie Steen announced to the gleeful crowd), the band thrashed and throttled onstage and fans were quick to do the same in the pit. Steen entered the crowd and stood atop hands, snarling and beckoning the crowd into call-and-response mode. He just might be the best frontman in rock right now. Also, bassist Josh Finerty is a certified maniac, leaping and cartwheeling and pinballing around the stage like an actual crack addict while still laying down inch-perfect basslines. Best show of Sunday.
The bullet train kept on rolling as Deafheaven took to the Trees stage next. The band opened up with some of their dreamier shoegaze material off their most recent album Infinite Granite; I left after a few to take photos of Caroline Polachek, then returned to hear them bust out their iconic Sunbather hit “Dream House.” It was like the gates of hell had opened up. Scorching, shattering walls of noisy black metal and post-rock enveloped the crowd. Singer George Clark unleashed the screams. The crowd swallowed each other up into a pit of anguish and despair. Unbelievable catharsis.
In between that run of Trees sets, I dipped out to watch one of the most electric and eclectic performances of the weekend from Mdou Moctar. The psychedelic rocker from Niger plays Taureg, a style of West African guitar music with a heavy emphasis on noodling. On the behemoth Fairway main stage, he and his band ripped through a heady bevy of jams and hits off of last year’s Afrique Victim, one of Impose’s favorite albums of 2022. Mdou Moctar unleashed one face-melting solo after another, leaving fans with their bodies shimmering and their heads split open. Rapturous.
I’ve always believed Tinashe to be one of the best and most important artists in the R&B sphere, and now that she’s fully free to execute her vision for her music, she’s been unstoppable. The L.A. native was radiant in the late afternoon at Back Nine, opening with her iconic breakout hit “2 On” before segueing into hits off her most recent (independently released) albums Songs for You and 333. The lights, choreography, backup dancers, her gorgeous voice and charismatic stage presence all made for a swooning performance from start-to-finish. A decade into her career, Tinashe keeps on peaking.
Caroline Polachek is the new queen of futuristic indie pop, and based on all the word-of-mouth buzz, her show is a divine experience. I finally got see that for myself during the golden hour as she led the Back Nine crowd through a spiritual awakening of soaring synth pop. From the quirky, effervescent bangers to the heart-on-your-sleeve ballads, Caroline’s bravura vocals and regal gravitas delivered an awe-inspiring performance. Later in the set in the VIP section, I caught sight of two little girls absolutely vibing together on their dads’ shoulders right as the sun disappeared over mountains; it was the perfect visual representation of what everyone in that crowd was feeling.
As day turned to night, the energy only ratcheted up a notch. The mounting anxiety of the security guards in the photo pit before Turnstile took to the Back Nine stage was a harbinger of things to come. Right as the band launched into “Mystery,” a sea of bodies went flying in all directions. A screaming in my ears emerged from the crowd singing along in ecstasy. Turnstile themselves were as tight and rowdy as ever, a soundtrack to the delirious mayhem ensuing in front of them. After the photo pit I took refuge in the back of the crowd, which swelled larger than any I’ve seen for a hardcore band in my life. In an era where the genre has never been more alive and kicking, Turnstile have cemented themselves as emerging titans whose popularity seemingly has no bounds. Many years from now, we’ll all be able to say we were there.
It’s been over two years since Phoebe Bridgers released her all-time classic album Punisher. She’s toured the world several times over, and played every music festival, award show and late night program out there. And yet, her set is always one of the best you’ll ever see. The sound, the stage backdrop, the lights, the band, and of course the amazing woman behind it all brought their A+ games in a performance that even topped the one I saw at Coachella a few months ago. It was a true hometown return for Phoebe, who acknowledged to the crowd that she grew up “an eight-minute drive” from the very stage she was performing on. And she did not disappoint in bringing the house down once again. Opener “Motion Sickness” immediately pulled us in, “Chinese Satellite” had us praying to the heavens, and “This is the End” brought it all to an epic, emotionally draining end. Ultimately, Phoebe Bridgers was the perfect musician to anchor a late night slot at a festival, and I cannot wait to do it all again.
The rest of my night was a bit breezier and relaxed. From far away, I caught Beach House putting on a religious experience for their devout fans, flexing the shoegazy muscles of their recent output off Once, Twice Melody as well as hits off classic LPs like Teen Dream, Depression Cherry and Bloom. The experience of seeing Beach House relies a bit on sensory deprivation, and Victoria Legrand and Alex Scalley did their mightiest to cut through the festival noise by unleashing their staticky synths, silhouette-inducing lighting rig, and bleary fog machines.
But the name on everyone’s minds for the day were the headliners The Strokes, who easily drew the largest crowd of the entire weekend. To the delight of everyone, Julian Casablancas and company were in tight, tip-top form. “Festivals are weird man, with all the conflicts. If I were you guys, I’d be at Godspeed You! Black Emperor,” Julian remarked dryly, although he gave the masses more than enough reason to stick around. Opening with fan favorite “Under Control,” the NYC garage rock icons raced through a terrific setlist that also included hits “Hard to Explain,” “You Only Live Once,” “Someday,” “New York City Cops” and even “Ask Me Anything” – the first time they’ve performed that one since 2016.
Julian kept the banter relatively low and the band justified the festival-closing spot with singalong-inducing aplomb. I caught most of the set from the way back, but from the looks of it, there wasn’t a single member of the crowd not screaming at the top of their lungs to all the greatest hits. The best way to end a festival is with a bang, and we got that from The Strokes. We got that from pretty much every single act that performed, too. At least I did.
A short jaunt home made the weekend a rousing success at every turn. If you’re an indie-leaning music lover and SoCal native, and looking for the less expensive alternative to a Coachella or Bonnaroo, then This Ain’t No Picnic is the best option out there. I’ll absolutely be there next year, and you best believe I’m bringing all of my friends along. I seriously urge everyone else to do the same. Until then, you can check out more of the Day 2 highlights below: