Live Report: Just Like Heaven Fest

Just Like Heaven Fest returned to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena for a day of millennial-drenched nostalgia. After missing the glorious lineup in 2022, my wife surprised me with tickets as a graduation present. With cap and gown still on a hanger in the backseat, we descended upon the fair grounds Saturday for a day of unequivocal indie rock mainstays.

We arrived a little late, double-booked from earning my degree in the morning. Nevertheless, we were a large chunk of the thousands still making it to the venue gates by 3PM. Just Like Heaven (JLH) occupied a small space of the Brookside Golf Course located to the north of the Rose Bowl Stadium. Parking and rideshare issues aside, when you pass through the gates to JLH, you are transported to a micro-Coachella, with the rolling hills surrounding Los Angeles replacing the desert vibes of Indio, CA.

Immediately upon entering the festival grounds we noticed the endlessly long merch line. Food vendor and alcohol lines were also rather long, so my wife and I meandered about, taking in the layout of the grounds and scoping out the stages. The distance between the Stardust Stage and the Orion Stage was very walkable; we missed Azealia Banks performing on the Stardust Stage so we traveled to the Orion Stage to catch some of Ladytron‘s set. Other acts that we unfortunately missed but come highly recommended are The Faint, The Hives (replacing The Sounds, who had to withdraw from the festival due to Visa issues), Cults, and STRFKR. For a one-day festival, we still were able to see half the artists, so we definitely got our money’s worth.

We found some delicious vegan food (JLH offered some phenomenal food trucks, local favorites, and booze offerings) and sat in the grass listening to Ladytron. The first band to truly captivate us, and an act we were anticipating, went on rather quickly after Ladytron thanks to the rapid set changes.

The Bravery, who reformed after nearly a ten year hiatus in 2021, performed midday on the Orion Stage with the sun beating down on their studded leather jackets to an enthusiastic and diverse crowd. Their 50 minute set was a true testament to their late-2000s impact on the indie rock scene. They opened with the main track from their first EP, “Unconditional” and closed with their massive 2005 hit, “An Honest Mistake,” which had the whole crowd singing and dancing along. Mid-set performances that stuck out included their popular track “Believe” and covers of songs from punk bands Fugazi and Black Flag. Honestly, their live sound was impeccable and the band has not lost a touch of their stage presence. The lead singer, Sam, even quipped about being in the studio, working on new material, but they would not be playing ANY new songs. Be on the lookout for the next Bravery record either this or next year. It will be their first original album since 2009!

The next band we enjoyed immediately followed The Bravery, as a quick shift brought The Walkmen to the stage. The Walkmen are a band I am unfamiliar with, however, their Dad-rock and post-punk imbued sound reminded me of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah mixed with Propagandhi. A recently popular band, Idles, is also in a similar vein to The Walkmen, and I witnessed lots of Idles band tees in the crowd. The Walkmen‘s lead singer was brimming with confidence as he navigated tenor vocal stylings and sustained falsetto tones. The lead guitarist’s fuzz tone was also quite unique and I enjoyed his ability to control evenly, rapid tremolo strumming between repetitive, catchy riffage. Their set ended on a slight bummer as the lead singer remarked that they might not be playing for much longer. (EDIT: The Walkmen recently announced a residency of two nights at the Fonda Theatre October 2-3! Definitely check them out.) Regardless whether or not they play again, release new recordings, I am glad I got to witness a killer band that flew under my radar in the 2000s and 2010s.

As The Walkmen left the stage, my wife and I pushed closer in the crowd for one of our favorite artists, Future Islands. We’ve been seeing Future Islands live together since 2016, and we were sure not going to miss this performance. Their set included most of their popular tracks and songs from their new record As Long As You Are. I could tell much of the crowd was perplexed by Future Islands and at one point the lead singer, Sam Herring, mentioned the many “mesmerized faces in the crowd.” Future Islands is still going strong as a lyrics forward, synth-pop outfit that delivers a high-energy performance. My only complaint is that the barrier to stage gap was too large, preventing the usual stage crashing that ritualistically occurs during live performances of “Vireo’s Eye” from their 2010 album “In Evening Air”.

We left the Orion Stage crowd as we could feel the pressure coming from Empire of the Sun fans. In my personal opinion, one could plant themselves at the barrier of the Orion Stage and have a singular, mind-blowing experience. But for my wife and I, we decided to observe some of the evening acts from afar as the delirium was setting in.

Tensions were building as Empire of the Sun geared up to take the stage. And let me tell you, they did not disappoint. The band has a singular vision when it comes to performing: spectacle. Every detail from the outfits to the guitar solos to the song spacing contributed to their hour long set. Empire of the Sun was the perfect band to watch perform as the day slipped into dusk and nighttime fell across the festival. Besides being dumbfounded by their absolute flawless display of artistry, their message of love resonated with the crowd. Their set signified a change in the overall vibe of the festival.

After we left Empire of the Sun, we ventured toward the Stardust Stage and caught the end of Caribou‘s set. Caribou, a solo project from Canadian musician Dan Snaith, offered a wonderful blend of live instruments and electronic elements. Their light show was also quite entrancing and I am glad we got to enjoy a set from one of the Stardust Stage bands.

The next act to grace the Orion Stage was MGMT performing the entirety of their debut album Oracular Spectacular. My wife and I both wondered how they would fit the entire album, clocking in at around 40 minutes, into an hour long set time. Sure enough, they combined a song-by-song performance of each track from the album with clever skits, outro extensions, interpretive dance, and orchestral/choral arrangements of songs. They started with dancers gracing the stage for an orchestral rendition of “Time to Pretend”. They broke into the record version of their hit song a few minutes later and got into the swing of their performance. Prior to the song “Kids”, they came out on stage in giant paper mache, oversized versions of their own heads, with the set recreating a dorm room circa 2002. During the actual performance of “Kids”, they brought out an actual hockey net and played street hockey against each other during a looped segment of the pre-chorus. MGMT put on a killer show, and crowd was there to eat up every moment from such an iconic album from the 2000s.

A huge regret of the day was not catching any snapshots of Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in her stunning red dress. I made it a point to catch their set as I have never seen the Yeah Yeah Yeahs live despite being a fan since 2006. Nick Zinner is easily one of my favorite guitarists. The band didn’t hold anything back and churned through songs from their entire catalog. Karen O performs in a manner that equally evokes the attitude of Iggy Pop while remaining as controlled and whimsical as Björk. Stand outs from their set included a performance of “Art Star” from their debut EP, giant and inflatable eyeballs being launched into the crowd for “Soft Shock” (which they did way back in 2009 for their Glastonbury set), and Karen O smashing the microphone during their final song. All in all, it was an evening of live performances I will never forget.

Final thoughts: if Just Like Heaven Fest comes around again next year, I hope they go back to a two day format. Longer sets and longer time to switch-up bands I think is a good thing, and there are plenty of bands from the 2000s and 2010s that will bring people back for a day-two event. I felt like it was worth the price, scheduled perfectly, and not overcrowded. There were moments where I felt flustered in the crowds, but that is normal for a rapid fire festival like JLH. The bathroom areas and some of the trash laying around were atrocious by the end of day. As a collective, we need to be way more respectful to the earth and be grateful we get to enjoy moments of pure joy like we did last Saturday.

Will I attend Just Like Heaven Fest again? You better believe I will!

Bands we were able to see: Ladytron, The Bravery, The Walkmen, Future Islands, Empire of the Sun, Caribou, MGMT, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Bands we unfortunately missed while in attendance: Peaches, Hot Chip, and M83 (the list of bands we regretted missing appears earlier in the article).

An honorable mention moment during the festival belongs to one certain individual who made our day. Prior to Yeah Yeah Yeahs, my wife was cold and shivering on the ground as I held her to warm her up. Some sweet person, I will call them the “Kindness Bandit”, threw their shawl, coverup, around us as we sat on the ground. In pure shock, I turned to thank this person, only to see them wave at me and disappear into the night. They had on jeans and a hoodie. Kindness Bandit, if you are out there, thank you for your selfless generosity and we will cherish the Calvin Klein shawl forever!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.