MUSIC TASTES GOOD FESTIVAL @ LONG BEACH MARINA GREEN PARK
With the seaside air carrying in all sorts of sounds and olfactory hues, the second edition of Music Tastes Good festival took over Long Beach this weekend. And it was like Coachella and Jazz Fest had a love child.
Of course there was the music, and with an endlessly diverse lineup, so much of it was to be discovered. But this year’s fest also imported a gang of chefs, including many from New Orleans, who were tasked to cook up high-end culinary delights (think jerk chicken wings over Jamaican peas and rice, red bean falafel po’boys with cayenne tzatziki, grilled octopus with black garlic emulsion, or slow roasted pork belly and red bean in Andouille xo sauce). After an interlude in the Taste Tent, it was hard to remember you were at a music festival.
But Music Tastes Good seemed to play off without a hitch. Lines were non-existent, staff were helpful and friendly, and Marina Green Park was a pleasant setting with the waterfront and sailboats to one side, and the unique skyline of Long Beach to the other.
The music, likely the biggest draw, was a crucible of cultures, with various languages and continents represented by acts such as Argentina’s Juana Molina, Cameroon’s Vagabon, Guadalajara’s Los Master Plan, or the Cambodian Khmer rock from Dengue Fever.
Organizers were mindful to include homegrown talent like Bearcoon, and the lively Jelly of the Month Club. Bearcoon’s Andrea Walker intimated that she lived in an attic nearby, while Jelly of the Month Club kicked off Sunday dressed to the nines in red and white garb that looked straight off the Third Man Records costume rack.
With only two stages, it was easy to avoid the overwhelming pressure that comes part and parcel with trying to traverse behemoth festivals. The cherry on top was a rotating main stage that allowed for seamless transitions from one act to the next.
The artists were all in on this feature; many bands started up their opening song as the stage began to turn, which injected an anticipatory shot of energy. As LA Edwards’ self-proclaimed “soft rock” came to a close, TV Heads started in with their collective punch in the face opener before you could even see them. As Los Lobos’ saxophonist first came in to view Sunday evening, he was applauding the final sounds of Digable Planets’ set. A rotating stage is the best thing to happen to music festivals since the advent of speakers, and every fest should be so wise to adopt this non-stop approach.
There were so many musical highlights, they were falling out of pockets. Vinyl Williams rode a psych rock wave to deliver new song crusher “Aphelion.” Vagabon’s melodic wails buoyed songs like “Standing There,” and stunning set closer and new song, “Full Moon in Gemini.”
Saturday afternoon, Diane Coffee channeled a good dose of glam rock in to “New Years,” right before Broncho started their set of surfer rock on steroids. As if building off these energies, Slaves (UK) came out swinging with an immediate not giving a fuck attitude. Their opener went straight for the throat; Isaac Holman drummed with the thrash of a petulant child, as Laurie Vincent hit us with the lyrical gem, “Suck it, suck it, suck it!”
Bearcoon’s organic Americana helped usher in a more mild mannered Sunday morning. By the end of their performance, though, feet were stompin’ and duo naturally turned to sing about whiskey. In “Walk With Me,” Solange Igoa’s powerful voice outgrew the New Orleans Stage in a blink.
of Montreal went a bit less costume crazy, instead focusing on a stellar front-to-back performance celebrating the 10-year anniversary of their LP, Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? “The Past Is A Grotesque Animal” was a particular high point from Kevin Barnes and crew.
The night belonged to Ride and Ween. And if you ever wanted to see and hear Joyce Manor without getting kicked in the face, this was your night.
In addition to tunes for the ear, and tastes for the tongue, there were art installations for the eye that dotted the long and narrow bowling alley grassy knoll.
Most fascinating was David Hadden’s Box of Boom, a self-contained menagerie of instruments crammed in to a rectangular enclosure, and operated by a set of buttons that patrons could manipulate from the outside.
Indiana’s Durand Jones & The Indications stole the festival with a set of soul music executed squarely in the pocket. Jones had already won over those at the New Orleans Stage Sunday afternoon when they slid in to their closer, “Is It Any Wonder?,” and drummer Aaron Frazer opened his mouth.
If you’ve seen “High Fidelity,” and recall the final scene when Jack Black’s character stops time with his version of “Sexual Healing,” that is pretty much exactly what happened. There was a collective gasp in the audience as Frazer stayed hunched over his kit emitting silky-for-days vocals over a gentle beat.
Los Master Plus harnessed Ween-like wiseassness in to a dancey, fun, cover-heavy set. With front man El Comanche looking very much like Dog El Bounty Hunter, the band executed a Spanish language medley of “Don’t Speak,” and “Sex On Fire” – with a keytar to boot. Amidst the Latin reggae blend came video game bomb-drop whistle effects, recalling the dizzying production of Midnite Vultures.
Those reeling late in the afternoon on Sunday from a gourmet buffet or too many beers were jolted awake by balls out disco funk from !!! (Chk Chk Chk). Nic Offer, who came clad in s sport coat and wee matching dress shorts, circled the stage hundreds of times over, blowing kisses to the crowd, and leaving in a blaze of glory after 45 minutes of pure fun. Speaking of love children, Offer must belong to Wayne Coyne and Nick Cave.
!!!’s set was a relentless assault from one of New York’s tried and true veteran acts, highlighted when Offer offered up a most memorable piece of “All U Writers” over rubber band bass grooves: “We were out one night inside a bathroom stall / She said her favorite Beatles song was “Wonderwall.”
If that wasn’t enough, Big Freedia’s hyper sexual set turned in to a veritable marathon of twerking courtesy not only of Freedia’s own dancers, but some adventurous crowd participants who threw caution (“Maybe my boss is here?”) to the wind. She said it all when she told the audience, “I came to slay, bitch!”
Whatever musicality may have been lacking in Big Freedia’s set of laptop-driven twerk, was more than made up for when the main stage rotated to reveal Brooklyn’s Digable Planets. Led by Butterfly, Ladybug Mecca, and Doodlebug, the Planets proved some 30 years in to their career that they still have it.
As time started to slip away from MTG, Los Lobos also looked to the rearview as they revisited their 1992 LP “Kiko” on its 25th anniversary. Harp work on “Saint Behind the Glass” added a distinct layer of intricacy, before “When The Circus Comes” felt particularly a propos in front of a festival crowd, despite its melancholy.
Los Angeles’ Rhye, a late addition to the lineup, unveiled a handful of unnamed new songs, including one sexed up jam that was climaxed by a…trombone. But it worked. Their Sade-in-disguise neo-soul remains a gentle force to be reckoned with.
tUnE-yArDs also pulled the curtain back on some new tunes (“He Won’t Get Off My Back, “White Woman’s Voice”), each evidencing Merrill Garbus’ glorious artistic evolution. Her tribal sensibilities and masterful looping remain, but each seem to have been taken up a notch by the manic cacophony of the unreleased tracks.
For a year that has seen the loss of beloved MTG founder Josh Fischel, MTG 2017 act Charles Bradley less than a week before he was to perform, Garbus paused mid-set to set things straight: “We are lucky to be here, lucky to be dancing.”