When Josh Fischel founded the Music Tastes Good festival two years ago, he wanted to not only make Long Beach into a touring destination in its own right but also to document the city’s rich scene of local acts.
Fischel died less than a week after the first show of long-term liver disease. But by any measure, he’s achieved those goals many times over.
This weekend brought the third installment of the fest to the Long Beach waterfront, and with its prominent slate of acts. Headliners included major festival staples like New Order, James Blake and Janelle Monáe (the latter two performed Sunday).
But on Saturday night, even as the festival grew, MTG never lost the chill, unpretentious intimacy that the Long Beach local scene is famous for and that Fischel helped cultivate throughout his life.
Even with this slate of Coachella-class headliners, the salty breezes coming in off the water and the defiantly local slate of restaurants spread throughout the grounds made it clear what city this festival represented. Metal, techno, ska and hip-hop fans all mingled between the two stages, the connective thread being less about genre than about geography and pride.
Similarly, while the music was all over the map (in a hip, generalist kind of way) it all felt distinct. Joey Badass’ rapier-sharp hip-hop on one end of the field; Santigold’s electro-dub bass wobbles at the other. New Order’s sincere synth-pop was exactly what the cool night air needed Saturday, a romantic set full of both well-earned nostalgia and hunger for the future.
On Sunday night, Monáe was (as she usually is) the highlight of whatever festival stage she touched.
She’s an inheritor to peak-era Michael Jackson and Prince right now — a high-concept artist with the writing chops and dance moves of top-40 pop and a subversive and inclusive vision all her own. Even at her most down and dirty — like on the hip-swinging “Yoga” and the rowdy, radical “I Got the Juice” — she made an implicit case for a new vision of R&B that championed the weirdos and the marginalized while inviting everyone to the party.
No one else at the festival looked as far into the future or played with as much flesh-and-blood immediacy. For Monáe, a good party is a political act, and she recognized the current need for one.
James Blake, the British singer-songwriter with roots in both avant-garde electronic music and forthright piano-soul, brought spooky new resonance to the end of the evening. While his haunting, bass-rattling tracks might not be the most obvious set closer, he did send off the audience with a meaningful, ruminative vibe to close out the festival.
But, perhaps unexpectedly, it was Broken Social Scene — the Canadian rock collective that helped cultivate the indie wave there in the mid-2000s — that had one of the most salient sets of the weekend.
“We’re your Canadian neighbors, and you’re going to get through this time,” singer Kevin Drew told the crowd, acknowledging what to many was a frightful week of Senate hearings regarding the future of the U.S. Supreme Court.
During the set, Drew brought out Metric’s Emily Haines to play the song they wrote together, “Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl.” They wrote it a decade and a half ago in a spirit of dreamy defiance, but last week, at this moment in American history, they intended it as something more validating for its subjects.
It was the kind of rally and unity that Fischel surely would have wanted for everyone when he created this event.