One of the many highlights of the summer for Los Angelians –- especially those who live directly in the area (like me!) -– is the all-day free music extravaganza Make Music Pasadena. This marathon of a festival is perfect for music lovers of every genre — from those looking to discover new favorite bands to those who are itching to see their favorite big-name act –- all without paying one cent! And let’s be honest, who doesn’t like free things? I know I do! So it is no surprise that when two of my loves –- music and free stuff -– combine, there is no way I will miss out. Don’t blame me. I am still in college.

I started my day meandering through the multitude of booths –- with my favorite being the one for Amoeba Records -– carefully creating my game plan for the day. The booths ranged from small independently owned clothing boutiques, to medium-sized businesses like Honest Tea, to giant companies like McDonalds. Most of the booths gave out free samples to happy festival attendees. During my period of wandering, I found myself in a bit of a pickle. I had to make the excruciatingly difficult choice between seeing Milo Greene and Grimes (both spectacular, by the way). Upon the advice of one of the lovely Amoeba workers, I settled on the most adorable alt-princesses of all time, Grimes.

Before I get ahead of myself, I should explain how my day panned out. I spent a good portion of my time at the Old Indie Rock Stage. The first band I saw was The Peach Kings. Their alternative rock music style helped to pump me up and prepare me for the rest of my day. The band’s female vocalist Paige Wood’s performance was highlighted throughout their solid and undeniably fun set.

The next band that performed was Ozma. These Pasadena natives had a punky alternative sound that felt like an updated, more alternative version of Fall Out Boy. They were powerful performers who successfully revved up the crowd thanks to their loud yet enjoyable heavy guitar riffs.

The first band that I didn’t just stumble upon, but actually planned to see was Electric Guest. The Los Angeles-based duo has a light and airy pop style that was distinctly reminiscent of MGMT, which served as a refreshing change from all of the rockier music that dominated beforehand. In fact, one of their songs (ironically) felt similar to “Electric Feel,” which I loved because I miss MGMT like no other.

Vocalist Asa Taccone seamlessly blended his unbelievably strong falsetto and beautiful full voice. During their especially upbeat songs, the band gave off a very Southern Californian, carefree vibe that made me think of Vampire Weekend. Although I was pretty far into the crowd, I could still see the band members moving and grooving without a care in the world. They were having fun while performing, which made the rest of the crowd have just as great of a time.

As a side-note: let me just say that the day of the festival was HOT. I mean it was as if all the power of the sun was bottled up and then unleashed only on the town of Pasadena, searing us poor music lovers to the bone. And being jam-packed in a sweaty crowd didn’t help our cause. The only way I survived the day was when my friend and I discovered a small neon orange water gun on the ground in between sets. We viewed it as a gift from the gods. Don’t worry. We helped out our fellow crowd sufferers as well by spritzing everyone around us with glorious streams of lukewarm water. Whatever works, right?

Back to the music. The next band to perform was one that I was anticipating for weeks -– Cults. While waiting for the indie noise pop twosome to come on stage, I — embarrassingly enough — bounced up and down with unbridled excitement and anticipation. I may or may not have frightened my friend, who had never heard of the New York City-based band before. 

When they arrived on stage, I had a bit of a fan-gasm. I had never seen them perform before, so I naturally had high expectations. Fortunately, they went above and beyond. While the group’s music was a bit less abrasive and aggressive than in their recordings (which is part of their appeal), they still were able to make something new with their music live. I always love when bands perform their music outside of its recorded album package, proving the band members have tangible creativity and actual talent.

Opening with their high-energy track “Abducted,” Cults proved that this was going to be a good set. The highlights of their performance were definitely “I Never Saw the Point” and “Go Outside.” At one point band member Brian Oblivion gave a shout out to the crowd, exclaiming that we were the biggest one he had ever seen. I was proud. The only downside to their performance was the fact that I had to race across Old Town Pasadena in order to get to my favorite indie it-girl of today’s music scene.

After joining the great migration of speed-walking hardcore music fans to the Playhouse District Eclectic Stage, we finally made it to see my darling synth-pop goddess, Claire Boucher AKA Grimes. The crowd was vast and teaming with energy. When she came out, girl was looking just as adorably Grime-y as ever. I am pretty sure she hasn’t showered in at least a week or re-dyed her hair in months. She was fabulous.

While it was amazing to see her perform in person, and her voice (and charming lisp) was just as effervescent and lovely as ever, there were some technical difficulties. After the set opener and highlight “Vanessa,” the music quality just kept getting worse and worse. The crowd would sporadically chant “louder,” and the artist herself even called out to the music crew twice during her 30 minute set, asking them to turn up the volume.

Unfortunately, the overall performance was hastily planned and a bit disappointing. I think that her music would be better suited for a smaller indoor venue with great acoustics so that fans could truly enjoy her musical talents and piano cat performance skills. At times I think that her popularity is a bit too intense for what her music and performance style can provide.

However, the music quality didn’t stop fans from having a great time. At one point, an over-excited fan hopped on stage and danced with Claire, only to be pulled off by a buzz-kill police officer — even though she explicitly stated that her amateur background dancer could stay. There were crowd surfers (a bit odd for her music, but I will let that one slide), bubble blowers (appropriate for her bubbily synth style), and a love-struck fan with a poster that displayed his number for his beloved Claire.

Unfortunately, overall the show was less impressive than it could have been. However, I had been so excited to see Grimes perform live that I still had an amazing time. She definitely had her high points, like when she showcased her awesome electric beats accented with the occasional pterodactyl screech, which was still somehow utterly adorable. I would love to see her perform again when she was more in her element and with an opportunity to reach her full potential and shine. This is totally possible too. Mid-show Grimes announced that she has just moved to Los Angeles. Are you pumped about that fun fact? I am!

With the myriad of musical options that Make Music Pasadena offered, it was hard to make it to every set that I wanted to see. If I had a Delorean or a TARDIS or some other awesome time-traveling device, I would definitely go back and discover new bands in addition to catching Grouplove and Milo Greene, while still maintaining the memories of the awesome performances that I actually had a chance to see. However, overall Make Music Pasadena was an amazing opportunity for music lovers throughout the LA area. If you missed it this time around, I better see you there next year!

For more info:

Make Music Pasadena