A venue typically used for college football games and iconic flea markets, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena was transformed into a mecca for the avid fans of boygenius, Clairo, Dijon and Bartees Strange on June 3rd. The second day of the re:SET festival took place at the Brookside, where an abundance of Doc Martens and cowboy boots shuffling in excitement set the mood for an iconic lineup of alternative-indie pop.
Promptly at 5:15, Bartees Strange walked onto the stage and began the opening act. Pasadena’s 11pm curfew is the cause for this punctuality – although no one was complaining. Strange’s powerful vocals reverberated through the field. “I can feel the weight rushing over me”, he sang. His velvety-smooth vocals walked the audience through jazz-infused guitar strums that made continual reappearances throughout his set. Strange was able to not only hit the high notes extremely well, but also effectively transition between intense guitar melodies to loud drum solos in a fluid fashion. He brought about a great energy to wind down the day and transition into the evening. “Happy fuckin pride! I’m so pumped to see boygenius!” he exclaimed in the middle of his set. The audience cheered back in agreement. After this pause in the set where he spoke to the audience, Strange got back to work. During Wretched, the punk-y synths in the background shifted the vibe and induced high-energy peppiness into the crowd–perfect for an opening act. Strange gets into his groove with Flagey Go, creating a danceable energy coupled with an intense beat switch during the middle of the song. Overall, Stranges’ vocals and synths were perfect at encapsulating what an opening act is supposed to do–get people hyped for the artists to follow.
During the intermission between Bartees Strange and Dijon, some songs by the Strokes and Arcade Fire gently rang through the field. People sipped on purple cocktails and soaked in the SoCal sun in anticipation for the next act.
At 6:16 on the dot, Dijon stepped onto the stage, forgoing any greetings or words at all. He began at his mixing board, filling the air with transcendental throbbing strums and cymbals. Around three minutes in, Dijon’s sweet vocals kicked in. “I like how you look when you undress…I like when you…” he sang melancholically during Big Mike’s. The guitarist working with him was incredible at contributing to the slow but sweet and melodic musical atmosphere. I admired how his guitar riffs stopped and started in near perfect conjunction with his voice, which felt paradoxically energetic and soothing at the same time. Dijon took the audience through a set of pulsating synths, heavy bass rhythms followed by a sudden energy shift in the middle of the set, led by crashing symbols and loud vocals. As a slower set in comparison, it felt like there was a mismatch between the lower energy of Dijon and the peppiness that Bartees Strange brought to the festival. However, I see this being a great transition into Clairo’s earlier style of music that is on par with Dijon’s mellowness.
“This song is hard to sing,” admitted Dijon when it came time to sing one of his hits, Dress. But as time went on you could tell Dijon was enjoying himself too–which is a factor always palpable when it comes to live performances. I particularly liked how experimental Dijon was with his instruments, with light violins kicking in when you least expect it. “Give me a thumbs up!” said Dijon as he went into his final two songs of the set, picking up the energy a bit more. Rounding out Dijon’s set was a well-deserved drum solo for Dijon’s drummer Henry.
Following the performance by Dijon, I–and likely the rest of the crowd–felt myself in a foggy haze as the sun started to set and the air got chillier. People began to sit down and put on their jackets as light indie rock played in the background. The green was visibly more crowded now, with a tangible buzz in the air–everyone’s ready for Clairo and you could feel it.
On time yet again (shoutout Pasadena’s curfew), Clairo appeared on the big screen in black-and-white. She sat clad in a gray cardigan and black sunglasses, pensively playing the piano. At the end of her first song, the cardigan came off in an almost symbolic way as she began the next with a newfound energy, riffing her guitar passionately. During this set, her normally soft voice transforms into a powerful engine of vocals that moved across the stage and into the audience. The thumps of her guitar coincide with the audience’s cutesy side-steps and jumps. It was clear Clairo and her guitarist have a sync and rhythm that is unmatched. Not only that, she was also accompanied by an insanely talented saxophonist who added a refreshing twist to her regular tunes. This addition differentiates Clairo’s live performances from her streaming platform recordings.
For North, Clairo takes off her sunglasses and illustrates the sunny yearning of the song through her performance. The saxophone was incredible (which I want to reiterate because it is something that truly makes Clairo’s live performances so unique). After the saxophone solo which closed out North, Clairo swapped her electric guitar for an acoustic one for Alewife. The singer knows how to change the mood so effectively from the upbeat North to slower Alewife and make the transition flow naturally. She picked up the pace with Softly, which she actually sang twice due to an unexpected brief interruption during the first rendition. It was interesting to note that her second rendition of Softly felt intentionally slower, not only with the tempo but with also the energy of the song as a whole – bringing a more personal touch.
And then by surprise, she swept the audience with 4EVER, her first hit single and a more infrequent occurrence during her live performances. “Some things just never seem to change” she sang, with a… did I see it right? A subtle eye roll right along that line, perhaps an allusion to how some of her more popular music, such as 4EVER, Sofia and others will always induce more appreciation in comparison to the rest of her sets. The saxophonist transformed into a flutist during this song, providing an incredibly melodious instrumental to the popular track. “Clairo seems genuinely happy” noted my friend Roxy in surprise–she had seen Clairo perform before but mentioned that the singer did not seem to carry this degree of enjoyment and cheer. Clairo’s joyfulness was truly palpable in this festival, and it contagiously spread to the audience with her excitingly electric set.
Clairo’s satisfying set left the audience brimming with happiness and anticipation for the main performers of the night, boygenius. It was dark now, and the lines were getting crowded for the Rose Bowl’s iconic $8-15 (depending on the vendor) hotdog stands. Roughly 30 minutes after Clairo’s performance, there was a beautiful rendition of a cultural song by a collective of native Tongva artists. This served as a gentle reminder to pay respects to the history of the land that housed this beautiful festival during sunny June in 2023.
Following a few more angst-filled moments of waiting from the audience, the screen finally lit up. On it, we saw Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker standing backstage, all huddled around a single microphone. They sang the short and sweet melody of Without You Without Them, and then stepped onto the stage to take in the audience’s roaring cheers.
boygenius brought immense energy for the first song on stage, with all of them dressed identically and working as one unit. The moon shone on them from the background, watching over Dacus’ calm composure, Baker’s passionate guitar riffs, and Bridgers’ energetic screaming. For Satanist, red lights take over the stage as Baker’s sweet vocals work fluidly with the intense guitar rhythms strums in the background. “Will you be an anarchist with me,” sang Bridgers with a hand over her heart. boygenius does an incredible job at delegating the vocals and ensuring each member gets their moment during the piece, without feeling forced or stiff.
For Emily I’m Sorry, Bridgers took center stage for the performance and gracefully sang the audience through their story–through school and Montreal. Baker and Dacus provide incredible support with their backing vocals, enhancing the song in a composed manner that still lets Bridgers shine in her vocals. The most notable part about boygenius’ set was the cohesion of the three singers through every piece, with three voices coming together as one to tie together the lyrics to the music.
True Blue is where Dacus took charge, and her composed stage presence allows her to stand out in this track. The screen was aglow with an organized glitch at the bottom, providing a visual aid for the synth-filled notes of this song. With a beautiful harmonized chorus shared by the three inducing great cheers from the audience, it is clear that their voices gel together to create a cohesive set that more than satisfies the audience.
In the middle of the set, Bridgers provided a “tip for the boys” and warned her fellow bandmates about the high temperature tea that they’d been given on the stage. She then turned to the audience and went “what’s up Pasadena?!”, an allusion to the full circle nature of her performance in this festival–Pasadena being the town where she grew up. Bridgers, Dacus and Baker built good rapport with the audience through pauses and moments like this, adding a personal touch to the set.
For the next songs Cool about It and Souvenir, Baker took the lead with her acoustic guitar and gentle lullabies–greatly juxtaposing her tattooed rockstar look. Dacus comes in occasionally to guide the song along with her simple, gentler vocals. These songs carry more of a somber energy, and boygenius did an astounding job at transmuting this to the audience. People rocked along slowly in comparison to the jumps and leaps that were induced by the first few songs. These slower songs are more reflective of boygenius’ entire discography, yet it makes sense to slowly ease into them with more of an upbeat start and then transition out of them for a higher energy ending with Not Strong Enough.
boygenius did an incredible job at using their guitars throughout – I was thoroughly impressed by the complexity of their riffs and how fresh they sounded for every track. Their performance was not only cohesive and united, but they were also personable to the audience. Towards the end, the large screen began to pan on fans, where some teared up at seeing themselves on the plasma in front of their idols. The atmosphere was incredibly electric, with the audience matching the energy of the performers to their fullest capacity.
Overall, the second day of re:SET provided an extremely gratifying lineup, especially for the immensely overlapping fan bases of Clairo and boygenius. The openers did an incredibly sophisticated job of getting the audience prepared for the main acts, and there was an air of satisfaction towards the closing moments of the concert. The event was both well organized and peaceful, with some even setting up picnics and celebrating an evening of great music with their loved ones. It was the perfect way to spend a sunny Saturday in the beautifully peaceful Pasadena–re:SET made sure of it.