Just Like Heaven marries the present and (recent) past in a music-first festival in Long Beach

Yeah Yeah Yeahs at Just Like Heaven (Photo by Jazz Shademan)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs at Just Like Heaven (Photo by Jazz Shademan)

Only one artist was heard to utter the N-word on the first day of the new Just Like Heaven music festival in Long Beach. “This is nostalgia …,” said Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste. “Early onset, I guess.”

It was both true and weird. The lineup for Just Like Heaven, which nicks its name from a Cure song but curiously featured only scant traces of the newly inducted Rock and Roll Hall of Famers’ musical DNA, was comprised largely of bands who first made their mark in the Aughts. Most of them are still attractions, some more thriving than others, and many have released new albums in the past two years. Headliner Phoenix, for instance, bookended their set with songs from their 2017 album “Ti Amo,” but got roars of approval for “If I Ever Feel Better” (2001), “Run, Run Run” (2004) and “Lisztomania” and “1901,” each from 2009.

In fact, if you measured approval on the decibel level of the crowd reaction, Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ ecstatic set opener, “Zero,” would narrowly edge out “Lisztomania,” MGMT’s “Electric Feel” and Passion Pit’s “Sleepyhead” (2008). Couples were too busy canoodling during Beach House’s rapturous set, played in dim light and soft hues, to roar very much, but there seemed to be an uptick in embracing during “Lazuli.”

The top four names on the Just Like Heaven flyer boasted three appearances apiece at that other Goldenvoice-promoted festival: Phoenix (2006, ’10 and ’13); Yeah Yeah Yeahs (2006, ’09 and ’13); MGMT (2008, ’10 and ’14) and Beach House (2010, ’13 and ’16). Along with most of the undercard, the music spoke to a certain generation whom the big festival in Indio has put in its rear-view mirror in a savvy move to stay abreast of the popular zeitgeist. Or, as one thirtysomething at Just Like Heaven who has witnessed Coachella’s evolution said, “Suddenly, I feel cool again.”

In that way and others, the fifth event staged by Goldenvoice at the Queen Mary Events Park in Long Beach had to be considered a success. Tonight’s second day sold out quickly when tickets first went on sale; Friday was added later and came just a few VIP ducats away from selling out.

Less extravagant than events calling themselves music and arts festivals, Just Like Heaven, with a crowd of 15,000, was mercifully about the music more than style, “the scene” or celebrity. It was reasonably convenient (forgiving the sometimes-long lines for shuttles between the parking lot and venue), decently organized (once you learned to manage the traffic jams on the pedestrian walkways between stages) and priced so that you didn’t need a trust fund to be there (GA was $99 to $170, depending on what “tier” you got in on). There was a noticeable lack of oppressive branding and people dressing up in costumes. While less diverse musically that the FYF Fests of yore, the vibe was similar.

And on the main stage, Yeah Yeah Yeahs stole the day. Karen O was in show-stopping form from the first thrum of “Zero,” which like the rest of their 11-song set has not aged a day. Playing games with her mic, spewing water into the air and, late in the set, cavorting into the crowd, the frontwoman fed the ravenous crowd the rock-star sustenance they craved. She acknowledged the 10-year anniversary of “Skeletons” prior to chillingly delivering it, ramped the energy back up for what she called “Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ love song” (“Maps”) and finished, appropriately, with “Heads Will Roll.”

Some of the quick-hitting sets — many artists, especially on the second stage, were relegated to 30 minutes — yielded the biggest rewards (and quite possibly rekindled the fondest memories). The Faint (“Your Retro Career Melted,” 2004) and the Rapture (“House of Jealous Lovers,” 2002, of course) gave quick lessons in how dance-punk is done. Miike Snow busted out the horns for their main-stage blast. Peter Bjorn & John played too early and not long enough, but they performed that whistling song (they have a nice new album that came out last October, too).

And She Wants Revenge made the most of their 30 minutes in the bright afternoon sun, even though they are a band that should never play in the bright afternoon sun. “How old were you in 2007?” Justin Warfield asked with a wry smile. “Just a baby.” They closed with “Tear You Apart,” of course.

There were outliers, too. Relative newbies Miami Horror and Washed Out delivered sunny afternoon sets, and Greer — a teenage five-piece from Orange County — impressed with their ’60s-influenced garage-rock. Fans even chanted the name of their adorable rhythm guitarist, Niko.

Somebody had to start the festival, and that fell to Funeral Party, the East L.A. dudes who formed in 2005, released an album in 2011 and tried to play newer material in their 30-minute set only to have sound problems sabotage their efforts for better than half of it.

And somebody had to fumble the lyrics to their biggest hit, and that was Jason Hill of roguish rockers Louis XIV, playing only their third show in seven years. Hill hiccuped during “Finding Out True Love Is Blind,” but beyond that the quartet were their raucous and riffy selves. Until their set got cut a song short, that is.

Photos by Jazz Shademan