Make Music Pasadena (w/La Sera, Jenny O, Best Coast + more) 6/18 Review

By Ace Ubas

Summer has finally arrived and that means it’s the season for music festivals! There’s Bonnaroo, Sasquatch, Lollapalooza, Electric Daisy Carnival, and Pitchfork Music Fest. But what’s better than a music festival than a FREE music festival! That’s where Make Music Pasadena enters the fray, especially in the Los Angeles area. For the past couple of years, it has grown in both the acts and crowd. Having taken place on last Saturday, this year’s festival was without question the biggest in its history thus far, featuring acts such as La Sera, Saint Motel, Zola Jesus, The Morning Benders, Ra Ra Riot, and Best Coast. With multiple stages across downtown Pasadena, I couldn’t catch every single band, but I did my best to see a diverse group of acts. So if this isn’t on your list for music festivals to attend, then do yourself a favor and add it! Did I mention that this was free?

The first band on the Indie Rock Stage was La Sera. La Sera is the side-project of “Kickball” Katy Goodman, the bassist of noise-pop trio Vivian Girls. It was appropriate that as the sun was beaming through the overcast skies, La Sera warmed the crowd with a 50s/60s pop sound. The majority of the songs from her 35-minute set came from her self-titled debut, released this past February (via Hardly Art Records). On lead single “Never Come Around,” Goodman’s vocals were haunting, yet charming. “Devils Hearts Grow Cold” featured Goodman’s producer, Rob Barbato, providing great vocal harmonies. They even did a cover of The Stone Poneys’ “Different Drum” that brought a wave of nostalgia to the crowd. That is if they’re old enough to know who The Stone Poneys are.

I then made my way to the Mercantile Alley stage where I caught the set of Los Angeles-based songstress, Eliza Rickman. Currently in the middle of her first ever nationwide tour, she brought her beautiful and delicate tunes to Pasadena. After seeing her many times in the past, her opening song was quite the pleasant surprise as it was a new song from her upcoming album. Entitled “Get Your Paws Off My Pigtails, You Left-Handed Devil,” she looped vocal harmonies, claps, and the clanging of a glass jug bottle to create this oriental sounding rhythm. Fan-favorite “Black Rose” from her Gild the Lily EP featured her signature Schoenhut toy piano. “Foot Soldiers” saw Rickman bringing up her cellist, Karen Hall, to play a few unconventional instruments such as a slide whistle and animal noise-making toys. Rickman is truly a joy to watch as she is such a unique performer. The use of toy instruments, loops, a toy piano, and an accordion (like on set closer “Coming Up Roses”) show off her musical creativity and is a definite must-see in concert.

Later in the afternoon, I made my way back to the Indie Rock Stage to watch the epitome of a summer-sounding band in Best Coast. By this time, nearly two blocks of Colorado Blvd. was filled with anxious and excited fans. The Los Angeles-based trio, led by vocalist-guitarist Bethany Cosentino, opened with the lovesick “Bratty B” which got the crowd moving. Their almost hour-long set consisted from their full-length Crazy For You, playing songs such as “Summer Mood,” “Goodbye,” “Each & Everyday,” and “When the Sun Don’t Shine.” Of course, they also had to play the single that got them hipster elite status, “Boyfriend,” to which the crowd danced and sang along to. They also threw in a couple of new songs like “Gone Again” and “When You Wake Up.” You really couldn’t tell that they were new though, as all their songs really did sound the same. At least the group of moshers loved their set, even though Cosentino told them to stop a couple of times.

On the Emerging Artists Stage, Jenny O charmed the crowd with her infectious and lush tunes. She played mainly new songs, which were jazz-like with the really thick, groovy basslines. When playing more of the country and folk songs from her repertoire, Jenny O’s voice really resonated through the courtyard. I couldn’t help but notice that her voice had a Dolly Parton-esque charm to it. I was also impressed with her intricate and precise plucking of her guitar. Her songs were simply fun that even little children found themselves dancing to them. Playful single “Well OK Honey” got the crowd moving and head bobbing with witty lyrics and a real catchy melody. You can’t help but smile throughout her whole set. See her live, and you’ll know what I mean.

Kisses was a band that I was totally unfamiliar with, so I didn’t know what to expect from them. But with the crowd pouring in from the Indie Stage as well as overhearing people saying they couldn’t wait for them to take the stage, I figured that Kisses was going to be a good band to see live. Well, after seeing their set, good is an understatement. Wearing Hawaiian leis around their necks, the Los Angeles-based duo (consisting of Jesse Kivel and Zinzi Edmundson) were simply amazing with their electro, synth-pop sound and turned the courtyard into one big dance party. “Bermuda” was a 70s/disco-inspired number that made my want to put on a pair of bell bottoms. Kivel showed off his charming Jens Lekman-like baritone on “People Can Do the Most Amazing Things,” while “Kisses” provided some nice pulsating beats that I’m sure got the women to swoon. Highlights came from their Robert Palmer cover of “Johnny and Mary” and set closer “Midnight Love” Kivel invited the crowd to dance on stage, prompting event staff to threaten to cut the music if they wouldn’t leave. Kivel was unfazed, though, as he crowd surfed to end their set. It’s only appropriate that their album is entitled “The Heart of the Nightlife,” which captures how Kisses can turn an entire crowd off their feet under a moonlit night.

In a complete musical 180, Zola Jesus (real name Nika Danilova) capped off the festival with her gloomy, dark, and haunting sound. Wearing an all-white outfit, the blonde beauty took to the night setting by creeping along stage in an animalistic manner, as if hunting her prey. It provided great stage presence that accentuated the tone of her music. Her vocals were crooning on “Sea Talk” while electronic claps provided the rhythm. On “Manifest Destiny,” she sang while walking through the sea of fans. Danilova proved how mighty and powerful her voice can be on “Towers,” where she howled her way through the song. Her set was minimal, using only pulsating electronic beats and layered synths as instrumentation, but the real focus was on her captivating voice and stage presence. It was a display of her neo-gothic style that resembled a more modern Siouxsie Sioux.

Overall, this festival featured some really great acts. There was also a great emphasis on artists rising out of the underground scene that need to be kept an eye on. There were tons of stages located throughout Pasadena and it was hard to go to a stage and find a disappointing act. As I mentioned earlier, this festival is getting bigger and better each year. I expect next year to surpass this one, so add this to the list of summer festivals to attend. The downside to music festivals are the hundreds of dollars that go into the price of admission. For Make Music Pasadena, need not worry because it’s totally free! See you all next year!

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