Remember indie rock? Blogs? At Just Like Heaven festival, Gen X does, fondly

Pop Music Critic

Provided you were standing in the right spot, there was a moment Friday evening when you could hear MGMT’s “Electric Feel” and Louis XIV’s “Finding Out True Love Is Blind” ringing out at the same time over the waterside grounds of the Queen Mary Events Park in Long Beach.

The spontaneous mid-2000s mash-up was one indication of the “early-onset nostalgia” — as another veteran of that period, Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste, described it — thick in the air at Just Like Heaven, an all-day music festival designed to satisfy a longing for the era before rock gave way to hip-hop and downloading was replaced by streaming.

Presented by Goldenvoice, the Los Angeles-based company that also puts on Coachella and Stagecoach, Just Like Heaven assembled more than a dozen bands that came up back when music blogs competed to anoint the latest indie-guitar sensation. In addition to the acts named above — each once hyped by the likes of Pitchfork and Stereogum — Phoenix, Beach House and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were on the bill; the Rapture performed as part of a reunion tour, while Passion Pit made a show of marking the 10th anniversary of its debut album. (The festival was due to repeat Saturday with the same lineup.)


For the promoter, the concert — call it Aughtchella — was a clear business opportunity to attract fans who think they’ve aged out of Coachella, which has turned increasingly to pop and rap in recent years. Many of the groups at Just Like Heaven were Coachella alums, including Phoenix, which topped the desert festival in 2013. Last month, in contrast, the marquee headliner was 25-year-old Ariana Grande.

Yet Just Like Heaven — with an estimated daily crowd of 15,000 (compared with Coachella’s 100,000) — also felt like a response to what’s become known as Gen X erasure: the idea, circulated on Twitter, that the 40-something members of Generation X have been squeezed out of view by the baby boomers and the millennials.

Here, instead of shirtless bros and women wearing thong leotards, baby-carrier-clad parents roamed proudly between the two stages set up in the shadow of the Queen Mary. Fronting the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Karen O — long known as one of indie rock’s wildest lead singers — dedicated her power ballad “Maps” to her husband and 3-year-old son.

And all day, bands such as Washed Out, Beach House and Grizzly Bear performed with determinedly ordinary affects, throwbacks to when an artist could dent the charts without crafting an Instagram personality. Onstage and in the audience, this was a safe space for approaching-middle-aged attitudes.

Musically, Just Like Heaven was a mixed bag. If the Faint once communicated a chilling paranoia about the future of technology, the electro-rock band on Friday sounded somehow underwhelmed by the realization of its dark vision. Passion Pit’s bouncy synth-pop had more energy but lacked emotional depth; its set had a corny children’s-theater vibe.


But other acts made more of this retro-minded event than you might’ve expected. Led by Andrew Wyatt — who won an Oscar in February for co-writing Lady Gaga’s “Shallow” from “A Star Is Born” — the group Miike Snow brought along a horn section that gave some swing to its precisely digitized pop-soul tracks.

The Rapture, back in action after nearly a decade away, was downright ferocious in scratchy disco-punk tunes like “Get Myself Into It” and “House of Jealous Lovers,” the latter of which helped launch the New York rock revival that also gave us the Strokes and Vampire Weekend (both of which are on the road again as well).

Closing the festival, Phoenix walked onstage to a classic even more venerable than “House of Jealous Lovers”: Prince’s “Controversy,” from 1981. But this French group was actually the most effortlessly modern of the night, with elastic but propulsive guitar licks over grooves that suggested a machine even when they were played by hand.

Sure, vintage hits like “1901” and “Lisztomania” reminded the audience of a time when a stylish rock band could expect to score a gold album, as Phoenix did with 2009’s “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.”

But they also demonstrated that old things can still hold life in them.


Twitter: @mikaelwood