Music Tastes Good In Long Beach, September 29th & 30th 2018
‘This festival has a really really nice vibe, it’s fantastic’… this is what Bernard Sumner told us in the middle of New Order’s set, on Saturday night at Music Tastes Good, and it can’t be a bad thing to get such endorsement from the frontman of a legendary band.
Music Tastes Good, in its third installment on the Long Beach waterfront, had a lot of heart and a lot of food: the festival mixes music and tasty dishes, the two most instantaneously enjoyable things you can have and if I didn’t spend much time eating food in the giant ‘Taste Tent’ which was offering about everything you could imagine, I had plenty to do between the two music stages, which were offering a large variety of musical acts. For a festival headlined by a UK synth-electronica band famous in the ‘80s, the lineup was not turned to the past, at the image of Sumner who has said in interviews he was ‘not nostalgic whatsoever’
There was a lot to see in 2 days, and Saturday brought diversity from No BS Brass Band – because a festival always needs a good brass band to punch you in the face with horns – to Cumbia-revivalists Los Master Plus, who sounded like Chicano Batman meet Kinky. Quintron and Miss Pussycat were another oddity from New Orleans, a man behind a genre-defying funky organ and a Miss Pussycat singing and dancing just after a DIY puppets show that I partially missed… it was a weird number, bringing an artsy rock touch to a family festival, but that was the seductive approach of Music Tastes Good, a festival featuring crazy acts like these, combined with the polished and extravagant mainstream of a Janelle Monáe set.
Saturday afternoon had its load of rebellious performers, and UK’s new sensation Shame was a great surprise, with frontman Charlie Steen running the stage with the band’s loud rock guitars as if they were the offspring of the Gallaghers brothers and the Sex Pistols. They were wild and funny, and when he took his shirt off and jumped in the crowd, I knew he was taking his frontman role very seriously. He has declared that live shows are a joke that’s gone too far, and I totally got what he meant, this guy wanted it all, especially the showman’s attention while dripping an entire water bottle on his face and screaming in the middle of the audience. Sunday afternoon had another rebel, Ezra Furman, a red lipstick rocker with a blistering sound and a provocative message: ‘Have you felt angry lately?’, he asked us, ‘It’s normal because you live in America!’ He was all fired up and angry with a heart on his sleeve and song titles as opposite as ‘Suck the Blood from my Wound’ and ‘Maraschino-Red Dress $8.99 at Goodwill’, but delivered with the same dramatic interpretation. Later on, Parquet Courts treated us with a laid-back set, transforming intense tropical dancefloors into fun mosh pits, with a smart blend of sweet ‘60s, VU-esque experimental noise, and straightforward punk fast bullets.
But the festival was especially big on female performers, a nice statement when you know that repetitive studies have shown that females are always in minorities during these large music gathering, Cherry Glazerr, fronted by the ferocious Clementine, shook up the mid-afternoon torpor with a torrid set filled with sweetness, Princess Nokia was a serious badass, and it didn’t take long for her to own the place and the crowd, all sexes and ages included, with her red miniskirt and bold mic placements. The rapper seemed to dictate her own rules of what a performance should be, asking everyone to let ‘people of all colors’ get in the front…
Big Thief’s Adrienne Lenker was a bit worried to be ‘sandwiched between two such badass bands’ (Cherry Glazerr and Princess Nokia) but she had nothing to worry about, as her set was a stunning one, and so well received by the crowd that, when she asked how long she still could play, people replied ‘forever’. She told us she was playing songs to calm her down, and I obviously got a big Conor Oberst-Emmylou Harris vibe. She was that kind of storyteller, with a range of rich emotions and a crazy beautiful voice, elegantly flying over poignant melodies. There was simply no artifice during her set, just the pure magical combination of brilliant and subtle guitar work, bringing unexpected details with vivid emotional vocals, the type of show-stopper-music that takes you by surprise and makes you drop your gourmet food to actually listening.
We may have had a princess but we also had two queens, first Santigold on Saturday then the queen supreme, Janelle Monáe on Sunday. From afar, Santigold looked like a Christmas tree, with green hair and a large conic-shaped red dress, and when I got closer I realized that there were dollar bills and plastic bottles attached to her dress like tree ornaments. Her set was carried by her formidable deep voice, the electro-tropical-ska rhythms of her catchy songs, and her larger-than-life personality, she was a queen with a conscience, asking us to live in the moment.. ‘Put your phones down’, she said, a wishful thinking for a crowd very eager to capture a moment of her eclectic set which ended up like a riot, as she invited tons of people to dance with her on stage.
Music Tastes Good had a lot to offer with an impressive diversity for a crowd, which, at first, could have been fooled by the idea of a festival headlined by the legendary New Order on Saturday and superstars Janelle Monáe/James Blake on Sunday. There was nevertheless a large place for upcoming local acts such as Feels, The Fling or De Lux, bands with a ethnic-oriented sound such as LADAMA, Ethio Cali, or Hollie Cook, and even for hip-hop artists such as Berkeley’s Lil B, and Brooklyn’s Joey Bada$$, whom I, unfortunately, missed as I was glued to New Order’s set at the same time. So in a weekend, you could explore the musical worlds of genre-bending comedic Oliver Tree and his huge pants, singer-songwriter Bill Callahan and his cult-figure aura, renown producer Blake Mills and his quiet guitar, and the heavy 70s psychedelia of the Black Angels
The collective Broken Social Scene, who even brought Metric’s Emily Haines for a song, were there to remind us about serious stuff – although they were not the only one to touch politics, as Janelle Monáe demonstrated it the next day. Between their chaotic and unique brand of stormy indie rock, these Canadian friends sounded a bit worried about US recent political misadventures and wanted to make us feel truly alive, ‘We are going to get through this’ told us, Kevin Drew, without getting really explicit. But everyone obviously understood.
But if you wanted controversial, you had to wait for Sun Kil Moon’s always entertaining but very personal streams of consciousness, which were NOT rants, as Mark Kozelek said. It was a thunderous set of spoken words with a minimal of singing, but a flow of stories defying a crowd who was either laughing hard or silently watching all wide eyes. Known for his direct-no-filter lyrics, he had a lot to say, about everything, about people in Ohio who didn’t believe in him when he was young, about Elliott Smith who visited him during a dream, ‘It was nice to see Elliott Smith Again’. But Kozelek, always looking for a controversy, suddenly told us how much he hated Steely Dan, Counting Crows, Gypsy Kings and of course, the Eagles…another punch in the stomach of a so-far well-behaved festival.
New Order were superb and lived up to everyone’s expectations, despite a relatively short set due to festival restrictions. They played the classics ‘Singularity’, ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’, ‘Blue Monday’, ‘Plastic ‘and, with a minimum of interactions with the crowd, they transforming the grass into a giant time-machine discotheque. And even though they closed their set with the unavoidable and beloved ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ while showing a giant Ian Curtis photo in the background, their set was more empowering than sad and more defiant than nostalgic.
But maybe not as empowering as Janelle Monáe’s performance the next day, the set of a true Queen with a throne and a large entourage, a choreographed-to perfection number, carrying the legacy of Michael & Janet Jackson, Prince, Beyonce altogether, with an euphoric stage energy and a queer empowering vision. If the festival had a headliner, she was the number one, with too many custom changes to count. She was just plain good, doing everything at once, from rapping on a throne, to dancing in vagina pants or singing provoking with lyrics like ‘This pussy grab you back’ or ‘Let the vagina have a monologue’. While her music was digging in Funk, pop, rap, soul, and R&B at once, she reclaimed everything from feminism, LGBTQ rights, and Black Lives Matter, leaving no cause unchecked. James Blake had the difficult task to follow this seductive Kansas hurricane, closing Music Tastes Good with his churchy falsetto and spacey soundscapes, habited by gut-stabbing bass, club rhythms while opening a dancefloor or an electronic storm in the middle of a hymn-like song, sounding like a house dubstep remix of a Brazilian carnival.
If Music Tastes Good was unpretentious, the festival accomplished a lot, embracing many genres with an impressive blend of artists during two days of fun,… next year, I may even try the food.