This Ain’t No Picnic Festival Blurs Genres and Generations at the Rose Bowl: Concert Review

The Brookside Golf Club at the Rose Bowl has seen a lot of foot traffic over the last few months, much of it unrelated to the sport. The expansive course has become a convenient setting for several music festivals and cultural events, including This Ain’t No Picnic, which touched down in Pasadena this past weekend.

The all-ages, family-friendly, two-day festival — named after the Minutemen song — boasted a bill that read like an NPR playlist. A clear replacement for Los Angeles’ defunct, and sorely missed FYF Fest, This Ain’t No Picnic had a musical something for everyone — pop, hip-hop, dance, punk and rock were well-represented genres — and featured the sort of left-of-center artists who’ve become darlings of the indie scene, like Phoebe Bridgers, Wet Leg, Beach House, Courtney Barnett (pictured above), and of the last 20 years, as represented by Le Tigre, Caroline Polachek, and headliners the Strokes and LCD Soundsystem.

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Amidst golf ball scraps and broken tees lodged in the grass and dirt, a crowd comprised of varying ages — say 25 to 50 years-old — represented the majority of attendees, but also noticeable was the number of younger children in attendance (those under five were given free entry), outfitted in superior festival wear compared to their parents. The three-generational scope of festivalgoers mirrored that of the line-up which spanned artists from the 1960s through to present day.

There were two distinct poles at Ain’t No Picnic: guitars and decks. On Saturday, on the Fairway Stage, Yves Tumor, who channels Andre 3000, with a band that looks like it’s on loan from Ozzy Osbourne during his Randy Rhoads era, turned it up to 11. Tumor’s metal-studded codpiece (which at one point required some adjusting accompanied by some humping from a roadie), thigh-high leather boots, bondage straps and spiked bracelets added to the showmanship they have in spades with music that’s a cross between Joy Division and Billy Idol. The shredding continued on The Greens Stage with Magdalena Bay’s multi-instrumental producer, Matthew Lewin. The duo’s feel-good jams play like Billie Eilish had she emerged in the ‘70s, except with frontperson Mica Tenenbaum as a sunshine and rainbows K-pop cheerleader avatar.

Nigeria’s Mdou Moctar who cut quite the figure with his and his band’s iridescent caftans and blinding white turbans, tore up the Fairway Stage on Sunday. His confidence washed over the crowd as he smirked, singing intermittently in his native Tamasheq, playing his guitar — without a pick — with rapid movements the “regular” way and over the top of the neck.

Elsewhere, it was the clash of the cool chicks with guitars when Wet Leg joined Phoebe Bridgers to close out her set.

Over on the Greens Stage, Deafheaven, which was delayed, had its sizable crowd on pin and needles. They proved worth the wait delivering a heavy bass, Cure-like sound. Also on this stage were the humor-filled, oft-imitated iconic Sparks who have entered their sixth decade in music. Clad in all-black bar vocalist Russell Mael’s neon yellow pants, it’s only when they go through their high-energy set that you realize just how many hits they have: “Angst in My Pants,” “Tips for Teens,” “Music That You Can Dance To,” “When Do I Get to Sing ‘My Way.'” Quirky as ever, Ron Mael’s keyboard reads “Ronald” instead of “Roland.”

If there was a thread running through This Ain’t No Picnic, it was punk will never die. From classics like Circle Jerks, the Descendents and Mike Watt + The Missingmen to newer groups like the ever-popular Idles, new favorites Turnstile and Shame, the power and release of a punk rock set cannot be denied. Circle Jerks reliably blasted through a song every two minutes or so and Shame tried to gamely do the same. The Descendents ripped through their set with the intensity that comes from experience. Turnstile, one of the most talked about attractions of the festival, drew an overflow crowd. And Idles, who have quickly become main stage material, were in top form. Even missing guitarist Mark Bowen, solid drummer Jon Beavis and emotive vocalist Joe Talbot delivered.

Bridging the guitars and decks were Jungle on the Back Nine Stage. To quote Spotify’s Carly Eiseman, the duo is “the Steely Dan of electronic music” and the crowd danced up a storm during the duo’s set. The performance hit a frenzy when they broke into “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees — apt considering the group’s have been compared to each other more than once.

On the opposite pole, Kaytranada led an eclectic set of dance-centric tracks on the Fairway. The 19th Hole Stage, which featured an excellent array of “cool” DJs, proved more difficult to access. This was particularly true of Honey Dijon who, fresh from her Beyonce collaboration, closed out the evening.

The most challenging area to gain entry was James Murphy and Soulwax/2ManyDJs’ Despacio is Happiness area. Despacio is dubbed the greatest sound system in the world, and for good reason. Pitch-black except for the blue-and-green glow from the McIntosh speaker stacks positioned around the black-and-white checkered dancefloor, a giant disco ball dead-center and red and white spotlight flashing on and off, provided very little visual on the DJ, which is part of Despacio’s ethos. Working with vinyl only, the slow rolling rhythms provided by Murphy and Soulwax’s Stephen and David Dewaele give a sensual feel to the space — especially during a hard-hitting remix of another Bee Gees’ perennial, “Love You Inside Out.”

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