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Just Like Heaven Is the Antithesis of Laborious Weekend-Long Festivals

This article was originally published on Respect My Region

We’re in the thick of an era defined by abundance, and the key takeaway from it is this: less is more. Just because musicians can churn out double albums every six months doesn’t mean they should. If, instead, they filter tracklists down to seven or eight of their best cuts, replay value increases and the memory of their art lingers far more effectively.

Likewise, this year's edition of Just Like Heaven accomplished what a full day of live music should aspire to, and they did it better than most three-day festivals today. If attendees have their fill from a single day’s lineup, there’s no need for them to come back for round two, three or (god forbid) four. Such events can get strenuous, especially when you start gassing out by the middle of the day and have to worry about pulling through the remainder of the weekend. On May 13, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena opened its gates at noon and called it a night by 11 PM. Within that eleven-hour bracket, the organizers craftily fit in a stellar roster with Tetris-like precision.

It turns out you only need two stages and a dancefloor in between to offer a holistic experience. That and a little focus. Just Like Heaven 2023 was an airtight carnival built around fulfilling the promise of its name. A total of 21 acts put on display a full spread of dreamy pop from every conceivable angle – traditional rock sets to glittery electronic exhibitions; some products of major labels and others independent.

All in all, this made for a sapid blend and a comprehensive one at that.

Each stage was a lane of its own united by the general theme of attracting uncompetitive festivalgoers. The Stardust Stage emphasized bands led by instrumentation and musical proficiency whereas the Orion Stage put forth performative spectacles. Yet, there was plenty of overlap. Think of it like a Venn Diagram: the Orion Stage on one side and the Stardust Stage on the other, both overlapping in a coruscating spaciness at the Clubhouse designated for dancers.

That isn't to say the Sounds and Caribou are even remotely similar, but they each enhanced a common spirit that was thriving among those present in Pasadena this past Saturday.

Take, for instance, Merrill Nisker aka Peaches. Aside from putting on a sexually-charged, NSFW performance ripe with slogans, anthemic chants and fuck-you activism, she dialed up the insolence to 100. Nisker is an electroclash artist for the most part, but she incorporates elements of rock into her work as well … not to mention her act is arguably one of the most punk showcases you can catch today. With this flexibility in mind, it only made sense that Azelia Banks’s set was propped up by EDM beats. Hers was the name that stood out the most as being out of place on the festival flyer, but her set put it all in perspective.

Peaches performing at the Stardust Stage (Photo Credit: A. Osborn)

This way, everything came together. An element that one act would have lurking on the periphery of their aura would take centerstage at another. Just Like Heaven was successful in creating a colorful and stress-free environment with a concise itinerary. Sure, SRTFKR could’ve gone on later and switched spots with Future Islands — one just felt better suited for the heat than the other. It also would’ve been great if fans didn’t have to choose between watching MGMT perform Oracular Spectacular in its entirety and catching M83 across the field. Such events, however, always come with at least one tough decision, and as far as qualms go, these felt relatively easy.

MGMT performing Oracular Spectacular at the Orion Stage in celebration of the album's ten-year anniversary (Photo Credit: R. Polack)

Just Like Heaven is the perfect escape if you’re trying to chase the stars but also sleep in the following morning. The artists put on one massive show after another and the festival organizers did an excellent job of setting it up like a relay. They’ve done it before and hopefully they’ll do it again.

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