In its first year, Long Beach's new music and food festival, Music Tastes Good, made some rookie mistakes.
Attendance was sluggish, especially during the day (though some of that was no doubt attributable to the heat). Sets started late and were sometimes cut short or marred by sound issues. Staff and security often seemed unsure of where things were located or what wristbands got you into which areas. Food vendors ran out of food and ATMs ran out of cash.
But despite more than its fair share of first-time hiccups, MTG provided a great weekend of entertainment for its mostly local crowd. Headliners Sylvan Esso, The Specials and De La Soul did not disappoint, and there were highlights aplenty to be found among the festival's daytime sets and Saturday side stages. (Friday and Sunday were both limited to just one stage — a somewhat odd programming choice, but one that wound up working to MTG's advantage when the crowds were smaller than hoped for.)
Here are some of the many highlights — and a few lowlights — from what still clearly has the potential to become Long Beach's answer to FYF.
Best: the early bands
All the articles that told you to come early to catch some of Music Tastes Good’s best bets weren’t lying. With a solid lineup from top to bottom, it was hard to find a bad time to catch good music, meaning that if you got there before the headliners on any of the three days, you would have likely been treated to blissful surprises like the refreshing new take on R&B from Son Little and serenades from need-to-know Long Beach acts Bootleg Orchestra and Rudy de Anda. LP3 & The Tragedy (the two band leaders are descended from founding members of Los Lobos) brought out a full mariachi band and two tribal dancers to flank them like the Nekromantix. Anyone who tried to be cool and show up late missed out. — Sarah Bennett
Best: the local food (and booze)
After a solid stretch of listening to good music, it’s almost necessary to regroup with a drink and some food. At a lot of music festivals, that means a $15 beer and a $7 hot dog. But at Music Tastes Good — like at Coachella and FYF before it, but at Long Beach prices — there was a curated food court of local restaurants. Favorites like Pizzanista, Shady Grove Foods, Federal Bar and Sophy’s Cambodian restaurant were on hand with special dishes for sale, and Robert Earl’s BBQ, some of the best barbecue in greater L.A., showed up all three days with their new smoker, churning out char-covered meat that falls off the bone faster than you can get it to your mouth. Coupled with ready access to watering holes built into the festival footprint on Saturday (Blind Donkey and Great Society, for two), drinking local was just as easy. — S.B.
Worst: Saturday set time delays
The question: “What time does [insert artist name here] play?” was most often met on Saturday with “I don’t know. How far behind is that stage again?” Starting with the first acts and for most of the afternoon, bands went on late — sometimes up to 30 minutes after their scheduled set time — and many were forced to end early, sometimes after only three or four songs. Los Master Plus, who flew from Guadalajara to play Music Tastes Good, were cut off after just 10 minutes of electro-conjunto magic (cries of “otra” were denied). Le1f — who was performing one of his final shows under that name — was also extracted less than halfway through a set that was already mired in crappy sound. By the early evening, all the stages were back on track and The Melvins, Iron & Wine and more played as scheduled, but it’s hard not to mourn for all the smaller artists who didn’t get their full time to shine. — S.B.
Playing a hypnotic set that leaned heavily on tracks from their just-released third album, Heads Up, the L.A. indie rock quartet was the hands-down highlight of Saturday, and arguably the best set of the whole festival. Warpaint's greatest strength has always been their killer rhythm section of drummer Stella Mozgawa and bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg, and the new album really showcases them on tightly coiled, groove-driven tracks like “So Good” and “New Song.” Once Theresa Wayman's and Emily Kokal's spidery, Cure-like guitars start dancing over those grooves, and the band unleashes their eerily seductive harmonies, the effect is completely mesmerizing. Some longtime fans have complained that “New Song,” with its Bieber-like whalesong synths, is too “pop,” but in the context of their live show, it makes perfect sense. Warpaint aren't selling out to pop music — they're bending pop towards the gravity of their bewitching update of post-punk and dream-pop, and it's thrilling to watch. — Andy Hermann
Best: The Specials return to Long Beach
If you’ve never seen a few thousand people all skank dancing at once, it truly is a sight. Like a slow motion slamdance, skanking comes with a constant smile and good vibes as bodies in various meditative states bounce off each other in time with the upstrokes. This is especially true when The Specials headlined Saturday night, made even more intense by the fact that it was the biggest ska show the city’s probably seen in decades. The Specials took the raw ska of Jamaica and turned it into cheeky punk for the London set, which to Long Beach’s music-fiending teenagers during the band’s ‘80s heydey was a sonic goldmine. Some of those teenagers went on to form little bands called Sublime and No Doubt (and Suburban Rhythm and Reel Big Fish), giving the Brits a special place in the city’s long music history. Their return to Long Beach at MTG was long-wrought and proved that we should more often have the opportunity to dance with a big stupid smile on our face. — S.B.
Worst: The LB BLVD Stage cam
Listen, Music Tastes Good: If you're gonna put big video screens on either side of your main stage, you better have a plan for how you're going to use them. Mounting a single camera on one side of the stage and leaving it there all weekend as those screens' only source of visuals practically screams, “Yeah, we're noobs who didn't quite think this part through.” The bands and even most of the crew either forgot or didn't know it was there; more than once, someone would inadvertently stand in front of it and momentarily turn it into Long Beach's biggest butt-cam. On the plus side, it was fun to watch the bass during Sylvan Esso's closing Sunday night set make the camera vibrate so hard the image blurred. — A.H.
Best: The return of P.O.S.
Minneapolis rapper Stefon “P.O.S.” Alexander was riding high in 2012, with a critically acclaimed new album, We Don't Even Live Here, and an impending national tour. Then, abruptly, he had to cancel everything so he could get an emergency kidney transplant. Four years later, transplant obtained and health issues under control, P.O.S. is back and clearly determined to make people remember what a force of nature he can be. Even though he played his Saturday evening set on the Solar Stage to fewer than 200 people, he and his tattooed DJ, Fundo, tore it up. Many performers on Saturday appeared visibly frustrated with MTG's low attendance, but P.O.S. took advantage of the intimacy by performing much of his set in the crowd, whipping his small audience into a frenzy with politically charged new tracks like “Wearing a Bear” and We Don't Even Live Here's electro-rap party-starter, “Get Down.” It's great to have you back, Stef. — A.H.
Worst: woes at the VIP dinner
While the tomato tartare (which looked a lot like beef tartare) by the team of Makoto Okuwa and James Republic’s David MacLennan was a delicious mindfuck, and the fig upside down cake by Restauration’s Philip Pretty made a fine, chamomile-dusted finish to the meal, the VIP Farm to Taste Experience was cut short for some when two teams ran out of food right before the final seating (This after the dinner was already running 45 minutes behind). Eddie Ruiz and Michael Puglisi were kind enough to prepare a few makeshift quesadillas out of ingredients they had left and DJ Maseo of De La Soul softened the blow by spinning deep and danceable cuts from his personal collection. But many who paid for the full six courses were left without the full experience. — S.B.
Best: Deltron 3030’s trombone player
Not only did the elusive Deltron 3030 come out of hiding to play Music Tastes Good, but the group brought with them a full orchestra which looked as busy as it did beautiful on the Linden Avenue Stage. Producer Dan the Automator conducted the classical musicians in the back row while rapper Del the Funky Homosapien interacted with the crowd and DJ Kid Koala scratched like the ‘90s never ended. But as fun as it was to watch Del bounce around on stage spouting the lyrics to “Positive Contact” and The Gorillaz’s “Clint Eastwood” (on which Del raps), it was even more inspiring to watch the trombone player feeling the music and having a blast getting down to the Deltron — which she did, whether she was contributing with her instrument or not. Miss trombonist was so eyes-closed-happy and into the music at some points, she would catch herself bumping into her fellow horn players. If only we all loved our job as much as her! – S.B.
Worst: too many stages
Early in the day on Saturday, about 30 people watched LP3 & The Tragedy rock out with a mariachi band and dancers on the JetBlue Stage. They probably deserved a whole crowd of people dancing around to their psychobilly-swamp-rock, but with a set time so early on Saturday and three other stages of music to compete with, it was hard to draw a crowd to the one farthest from the entrance. It’s understandable that MTG’s ambitious day two schedule warranted all four stages, but it forced people to choose and oftentimes — especially with the crunched together set times — it spread the audience thinner for some bands than it probably should have been. — S.B.