Written by Ace Ubas, Photos by Marcello Ambriz
There really is nothing better than free festivals, especially Make Music Pasadena which has been going on for five years strong in the gorgeous city of Pasadena and has been growing vastly each time. Stages were located throughout the historic Old Town, while shutting down a portion of Colorado Boulevard. This year’s lineup featured bands that have been on the rise in the past year or so such as Electric Guest, Grouplove, Grimes, and Cults. Of course, the festival wasn’t limited to those bands as the smaller stages featured tons of local acts spanning a diverse music genre range. Unfortunately, I was able to cover only the main stage and was unable to cover Grimes, who played about a mile away from the main stage. For the folks in southern California that were unable to make it this year, hopefully you’ll be there next year. Did I mention that it’s free?
The Happy Hollows opened up the main-stage about half-past noon. If you know me, then you’ll know that I simply love and adore this band. They’re easily one of my favorite bands to see live because they’re one of the most fun acts to see with the amounts of energy and genuine joy that they bring on stage. Though the sun was at its peak and the crowd was in the midst of arriving, those that braved through the heat witnessed a set that didn’t disappoint. The band is comprised of vocalist/guitar-virtuoso Sarah Negahdari, bassist/keyboardist Charlie Mahoney, guitarist Matt Fry and drummer Richy Epolito (the latter two are new faces). Having wrapped up their as-of-yet untitled sophomore LP, their set consisted of new songs. If you’ve seen them live recently, you’ll notice that they added a new dynamic in their songs by adding more synths to it, akin to “High Wire” (which you may have heard in a certain Samsung commercial a couple of years ago). Songs such as “Whispers,” “Amethyst,” “Endless,” and “Galaxies” feature synth melodies and also showcase the band’s impressive musicianship. Negahdari’s always impressive guitar ability brings to mind early Sonic Youth while the stellar and stout rhythm section by Mahoney, Fry, and Epolito is reminiscent of Blonde Redhead and The Pixies. They finished up their set with a familiar tune in “Lieutenant” and another new number in “Choplifter.” On the former, however, the band experienced some sound issues as Negahdari’s guitar kept cutting out, especially during the song’s most blistering part that featured precise finger-tapping. But regardless of the issues, the Happy Hollows still put on a great set. At this point, they really should be on your radar in the next few months as they look to put out their upcoming release.
The Los Angeles-based Electric Guest is easily one of the hottest bands of 2012. From playing a free residency at the Echo to playing on The Late Show with David Letterman and numerous festivals around the world, they have certainly skyrocketed in fame and success in such a short amount of time. By the time they got on, a block of Colorado Boulevard was heavily packed with people who were patiently waiting under the hot weather. Their set consisted of songs from their acclaimed debut Mondo, providing a diverse sound of funk, soul, blues, and rock. Slow-churner “Amber” got everyone to sing along and moving to the thick bass riffs. Their single “This Head I Hold” received the biggest cheers (to no surprise) that displayed vocalist Asa Taccone’s impressive falsetto while keyboardist Tory Dahlhoff’s piano melodies got the crowd to dance. To round out their set, they played “Troubleman,” a seven-minute number that was as great live as it is on record. It’s practically composed of three parts that opens with Taccone singing the first couple of verses with an acoustic guitar until drummer Matthew Compton picks up the tempo with his steady and solid drumming. The great musicianship on-stage was mesmerizing enough that the crowd was sucked-in for the entire duration of the song.
New York-based Cults were up next, bringing their signature sound of vintage tunes to the massive crowd of Pasadena. Regardless of what vocalist Madeline Follin or guitarist Brian Oblivion did, girls were screaming their lungs out at every opportunity. With Cults still riding the success of their acclaimed self-titled debut, their set consisted of songs stemming from it. It was impressive that the crowd sang along word for word throughout the entire set, but that’s what a band like Cults does – create infectious tunes that make it easy for everyone to follow. Follin’s impressive vocals really stood out in open air, hitting her higher registers to near-perfection, especially on “Most Wanted” and “Walk at Night.” Oblivion delivered sharp riffs especially on “Never Heal Myself” where it reverberated throughout the whole block. Of course, it was “Abducted” and “Go Outside” that got the crowd screaming insanely. Who can blame them right? That’s what ridiculously catchy hooks to do you.
As the headliners for the afternoon, everyone in attendance tried their best to fill the block and alley as best they could within safety regulations. Fans even trekked the strenuous mile or so after Grimes’ set on a separate stage (where I hear they filled a nearby parking structure that worried the local law enforcement). Some ambitious and dedicated fans even climbed surrounding rooftops to catch Grouplove. It was really a perfect atmosphere since Grouplove just closed out their first-ever headlining tour and this festival served as their homecoming.
Each and every time that I’ve seen Grouplove live, they never ever disappoint. It’s really amazing to see a band showing intense energy from start to finish without ever slowing down. Whether it’s bassist Sean Gadd pumping up the crowd or vocalist/keyboardist Hannah Hooper’s joyous dancing, the band gave 110% to their set and the crowd. What’s even more impressive is that the fans were right along with them, screaming, dancing, singing along, and holding up their homemade banners to show their love. This happy relationship between performer and audience was perfect for a summer day. They opened their set with “Itchin’ on a Photograph” and “Love Will Save Your Soul,” which featured vocalist/guitarist Christian Zucconi’s yearning vocals and on the latter the crowd shouted emphatically the backup vocal parts. They slowed down the pace with “Gold Coast” from their self-titled EP that not many people were too familiar with, but followed it up with a more familiar tune by playing the highly popular “Naked Kids.” Gadd took over lead vocals on “Chloe” while being backed by guitarist Andrew Wessen, who delivered psychedelic riffs filled with tremolo. For their encore, the crowd started to get even crazier as they nearly toppled over the front security barricade because of their jumping and dancing. But nevertheless, no one seemed to get hurt and enjoyed themselves with a few crowd surfers as Grouplove played their top hit “Tongue Tied.” They ended the afternoon with an up-tempo cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” and another fan-favorite in “Colors” that surely satisfied the crowd.