This Ain’t No Picnic celebrates inaugural fest of everything indie

This Ain’t No Picnic revelers enjoyed a lively weekend of indie music of all styles for its inaugural two-day festival Brookside at the Rose Bowl on Saturday and Sunday. The 80+ degree days featured headliners like Brooklyn electronic-rockers LCD Soundsystem on Saturday and New York rock band The Strokes on Sunday. The festival’s other highlights ranged from Canadian electronic-soul producer and DJ Kaytranada, UK soul-funk band Jungle, Brooklyn art pop singer Caroline Polachek, Australian hip-hop talent Genesis Owusu and Padadena’s own hometown indie-pop singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers.

EVERYTHING AND A PICNIC BASKET

Kaytranada was mysterious and somewhat unpredictable, playing a number of his hit songs wearing all black with some far out Balenciaga silver space sunglasses. Highlights included one of the best songs of 2021, “Intimidated” featuring HER with a sole dandelion flashing on the screen with psychedelic colors. Chance The Rapper-featured track “All Night” and The Weeknd’s “Out of Time” also made the cut. The Kali Uchis-featured “10%” sounded incredible in a live setting with the crowd loving the house song. Kaytranada’s remix of Janet Jackson’s “If” also made a splash.

UK soul-funk act Jungle lit up the sky with their minimalist stage design and lighting, energizing fans with “Keep Moving” and “Talk About It”. Later the screen was flashing in orange during early hit “Casio” while background singers Lydia Kitto and Andreya Triana’s voices soared, blending with the rest of the band. There was a brief moment of the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” mixed into the “Casio” moment which was total fire. New track “Good Times” was amazing live, with stellar percussion and the fans’ hands in the air while dancing along and jumping. White strobe lights silhouetted the band beautifully during a pulsating “What D’You Know About Me” with the entire crowd dancing along. “Time” was equally lively with the fans clapping along and moving to the beat and the band ended with “Busy Earnin'” which banged and glistened. 

Performance artist Caroline Polachek proved she’s just as much about the angelic vocals as she is about the showmanship and charisma. Polachek took the stage in a sea foam green stringy dress serving up some moves on “Pang” while sounding like a songbird. She was surrounded by a stage set of mountains and canyons, giving off BANKS vibes and saying “This Ain’t No Picnic” at the end, “Thank you so much, the energy is amazing here”. The fans sang along to R&B/pop tune “Hit Me Where It Hurts” with Polachek raising her arms up throughout while on “I Give Up”, drummer Chloe Saavedra harmonized wonderfully with Polachek and the two brought to mind early Haim. Matthew Horton’s flamenco guitar stylings brought “Sunset” to life as Polachek’s vocals soared and on “Hey Big Eyes” her worldly sound was rather cinematic, evoking timeless moments of Sarah McLachlan, Kate Havnevik and even Enya as she glided through the mountain on stage. Following the “love song” ballad “Door” in which she completely embodied the song, opening and closing doors, she hit a high note only for the dogs and then Polachek asked her fans, “Did you all see the sunset? That was amazing”. Her version of The Corrs’ “Breathless” was stunning, driving the fans crazy with her “go on”s and sounding very much like a goddess. On “Billions”, Polachek pulled imaginary specks from the air and threw them out to the crowd, with twinkling hands, contorting her body with her arms and hands. “Bunny Is A Rider” was another incredible live moment, with the song’s addicting production keeping the fans moving and responding well.

Australian singer and rapper Genesis Owusu was the consummate performer, rocking the stage in a black robe with red shoulders for the soulful “Gold Chains” with a few dancers joining him. The truly futuristic look matched the funky, danceable hit “WUTD”, with Owusu grooving on the stage with the jacket off in his red suit with a black mesh shirt under looking (and sounding) like a total star. On the soul-pop “Good Times” he was reminiscent of a slightly more animated Jidenna, rocking out to the song and working the entire stage himself, jumping with the fans in the crowd and getting them to crouch down to the ground, while other kids moshed with Genesis and the dancers at the end.

Local hero Phoebe Bridgers was a much-anticipated act, draped in a sparkly black dress for the final date of her tour in her hometown of Pasadena. Her soothing voice kicked off with “Motion Sickness” and she was smiling, belting out a big note at the end. “Garden Song” was lovely with a wonderful vocal quality and a storytelling element in line with Taylor Swift. The stage design and lighting were also gorgeous for this entire performance, with strong use of color. “What’s up?” asked Bridgers. “I learned how to drive in this parking lot. I grew up like eight minutes from here”. “Punisher” was lovely, Bridgers came forward to the microphone with her guitar, as the piano song gently played with her vocals wrapped into a vocoder. She spun around in the red light at the end of the dune in the fog at the end of the song. “Scott Street” was particularly dreamy, starting off as a ballad with 90s-tinged mid-tempo instrumentation kicking in, and Bridgers ran down to greet fans on the festival grounds while the band harmonized together, as Phoebe collected some flowers from fans and got an eye-level look at the many posters designed for her. “Who loves abortion?” asked Bridgers later in the set, “I love abortion. Shout out to Planned Parenthood”. The band sounded wonderful on “Chinese Satellite” and the feel-good mid-tempo had some standout trumpet from JJ Kirkpatrick. “Moon Song” sounded timeless with another lively trumpet moment and on “I See You” Bridgers announced it as “this one’s for people who cry when they get angry”, strumming a different guitar that looked like it belonged to KISS. “Sidelines” and “Graceland Too” were lovely, with the latter complemented with the trumpet holding some special notes and guitarist Harrison Whitford harmonizing beautifully. Bridgers mentioned “Waiting Room” was written in her childhood bedroom, adding that the last time she performed in Pasadena was Pinnochio’s Pizza, “which was sick”. Bridgers introduced her entire band, adding that it was their first time home since May and the band concluded with “I Know The End” with indie rock duo Wet Leg.

RISING STARS ON THE CHARCUTERIE BOARD

The charcuterie board was full of flavor and risk-taking in terms of rising talent at This Ain’t No Picnic. One such act was UK post-hardcore band IDLES whose lead singer Joe Talbot is both menacing and deeply spiritual, sweating through his shirt halfway through the set, kicking his leg in the air during the chaos of “Never Fight A Man With A Perm”. Talbot got real and mentioned “The Wheel” being about his “mother’s demise and my addiction”, with fans moshing and the drums driving while Talbot was a complete force on the stage. Talbot also mentioned how immigrants make the U.S. a better place and the band played the irresistible punk-rock tune “Danny Nedelko” with lively “yeah yeah ay ay ay”s. Talbot was sincere with his fans and concluded by saying “I want to thaink you very much for your patience, your energy and your love” before also thanking the festival and grounds staff and playing and barking out the punk tune “Rottweiler”.

British indie rock band Wet Leg impressed with guitar-led “Chaise Longue”, “Obvious” started out as pretty ballad with whistling and picked up to a thrilling rock song and “Ur Mum” was alluring with it’s bratty and riffy vibes. Miami-based experimental rock/electronic act Yves Tumor was decked out in a punky look with a sort of Cabaret, S&M thong baring butt cheeks and leather boots. The muffled sound was sounded cool on “Secrecy Is Incredibly Important to the Both of Them”, with a standout guitar instrumental. Mid-tempo “Jackie” and slightly psychedelic “Crushed Velvet” were two other memorable tunes from the set. Arooj Aftab, the first Pakistani artist to win a Grammy (this year) wore all black with elbow-length blows and a jacket with red accents and the folk/singer-songwriter played a stirring set with her band playing acoustic guitar, harp and banjo for the serene “Mehram”. Her music is calming and Aftab’s voice has a wonderful tone and occasional flutter, with material that is wonderful in a live setting and also totally appropriate to score movies. 

THE WINE & CHEESE

Brooklyn’s LCD Soundsystem were consistently solid, delivering the robotic mastery and harmonies on the danceable “You Wanted A Hit” and the imaginative “Someone Great” really came alive in a live setting with vocals as well from Nancy Whang and drummer Pat Mahoney. Rocked up dance song “Losing My Edge” had moments of David Byrne with lead singer James Murphy speaking the spoken word portions of the song. A giant disco ball sparkled throughout “Home”, with outstanding instrumentation on piano, percussion and guitar. Murphy said, “Thank you for coming to see everybody” and added “If you come tomorrow you should go to this DJ tent to hear some cool young people DJing”, referring to the unpredictable non-stop Despacio party tent. “This is Nancy Whang, we’ve been a band for 20 years this year”.  LCD Soundsystem performed “New York I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down”, channeling the sadness of the bluesy rock song, while also bringing the theatrics to the song. “Dance Yrself Clean” and “All My Friends” concluded the indie-disco dance party.

New York City’s The Strokes had lead singer Julian Casablancas in sunglasses and a leather vest, hitting his high notes and his deeper tones on indie rock tune “Under Control” and “Meet Me In The Bathroom”. The anthemic “Bad Decisions” was catchy as ever, with guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. working overtime and Casablanca’s vocal killing. “Thank you, thank you very much”, said Casablancas. He laughed and asked, “You guys music’d out yet? I don’t believe you”. Garage song “Barely Legal” had excellent guitars and the fans were singing along followed by wonderful synth from Fabrizio Moretti on “Ask Me Anything”. The lights flashed like crazy for “Juicebox”. Other memorable moments included the always entertaining, danceable rock tune “Someday”, “You Only Live Once” and the driving “Reptilia”.

Australia’s Courtney Barnett is proving to fit in as an indie rock blend of Kacey Musgraves and Sheryl Crow in the best way. The bluesy indie rock “Avant Gardener” offered great harmonies with her band while garage song “Nameless, Faceless” brought a solid guitar instrumental. Her 2021 song “Write A List of Things To Look Forward To” was the perfect cap to an excellent, consistent set about all the things we get to do now that the era of masks is hopefully coming to a close.

UK R&B singer Jorja Smith got the crowd moving for her hit “Be Honest” and for the heartbreaking ballad “Addicted”. Entertainer Tinashe brought the silky vocals and hot dance moves to “All My Friends” and “Bouncin'”. Canadian singer and multi-instrumentalist Mac DeMarco delivered his brand of psychedelic pop with tunes like “Chamber of Reflection” and “My Kind of Woman” and Atlanta hip-hop duo Ying Yang Twins kept things crunk and crazy for “Salt Shaker” and “Wait (The Whisper Song)”. 

HISTORY ON THE FIELD

The variety at This Ain’t No Picnic was marvelous and it was a historic two-day event with two bands leaving their mark. Hermosa Beach punk band Circle Jerks played the date as part of their final North American tour, recently celebrating 40 years of their record Wild In The Streets. New York electroclash band Le Tigre played their first show in 17 years, delighting fans with their boppy hits “TKO”, “Hot Topic” and the whimsical punk rock song “Deceptacon”, all while spreading their message of love, acceptance and standing up for marginalized people —on the internet and otherwise.

For those looking to keep the party going, Goldenvoice has announced Portola coming to San Francisco’s Pier 80 (September 24 – 25), and for those who missed This Ain’t No Picnic, a number of stellar acts are playing Portolo as well as a host of others.

Words by Michael Menachem
Photos by Eric Han