This past weekend, the city of Long Beach became a destination for music lovers all across Southern California and beyond for Tropicalia Fest 2018.
With a lineup boasting names such as Mac Demarco, SZA, Toro y Moi, Mild High Club, HOMESHAKE, Kali Uchis, and Morrissey, it was clear that Tropicalia Fest was destined to be one of the highest profile festivals of the year. Located bayside under the watch of the colossal Queen Mary ocean liner, Tropicalia felt like paradise. It was summer again. Clear and sunny skies, mixed with the aroma of tacos, ocean breeze, and the occasional whiff of joints, made visiting Queen Mary’s park a treat in and of itself.
Saturday wasted no time in heating up. Indie rockers Inner Wave performed at the mainstage around noon — a testament to just how packed the day’s schedule was. Across the bridge the Juanga and Chavela sidestages resided, close enough to facilitate quick transitions. The festival did a fantastic job of sticking to a tight schedule; Even if you were waiting at one stage waiting to get a good spot for a certain artist, you still could watch the other stage from a slight distance and not feel like you were missing out.
Under the hot setting sun, droves of people filed into the main stage, eager to see Toro y Moi. Hot off his recent album announcement “Outer Peace” and accompanying single, “Freelance,” Chaz Bundwick took the stage ready to boogie. His drummer played on a minimalist kit, with an eye catching oversized acrylic bass drum that gave the band’s synth heavy setup a splash of color that will undoubtedly become iconicized with Outer Peace. The sample pad set up complimented Toro y Moi’s electronic leanings, allowing the drummer to trigger rich and funky samples that created tight and interesting patterns. Chaz’s voice and keyboard playing were both stellar, and the overmodulated vocal sounds that we hear on “Freelance” translate surprisingly well to a live setting. Toro y Moi is considered one of the biggest names in music, and his band’s flawless performance proves just why.
Across the way, San Diego natives The Frights tore through an incendiary set while hoards of punky moshers accrued. It’s always inspiring to see these guys playing what feel like homegrown hits to such a large and diverse audience outside of San Diego. It’s also inspiring to see Richard wear a gold chain. What a stud.
The Chavela side stage continued to impress, with performances from Frankie Cosmos, Albert Hammond Jr., and Mild High Club. Frankie Cosmos delivered a poignant and lyrical set. Her music showcases her self deprecating wit, which charges her dry melodies with weight and meaning, while Mild High Club played through a handful of lush, transportive psychedelic songs, such as “Homage”, “Skiptracing”, and “Tesselation.” Alexander Brittin wields a 12 string guitar that produces a magically twangy and charming sound. When combined with dreamy retro synths and a dynamic rhythm section, his guitar tone sucked listeners into another world.
Hot Flash Heat Wave infuses catchy pop sensibilities with driving guitar rock. Nathaniel Blum, Ted Davis, and Adam Abildgaard form a formidable three pronged group of frontmen. Each takes turns singing lead on a per song basis. Seeing these guys live felt like the headliners of the night simply because I listen to them so often. I’ve had their sophomore album “Soaked” on repeat for longer than I can count. Tracks like “Gutter Girl” and “Hesitation” incited raucous crowd reaction with their fuzzed out guitar riffs, while tracks like “Glo Ride” show just how funky and soulful they can be.
Sunday began with another headliner in my heart: HOMESHAKE. Peter Sagar walked out under a beating sun dressed for the weather in big sunglasses, shorts, and a bucket hat. He would address the audience through a cute pitched up filter, making him come across as sweet and gentle as his music. When it came time to perform one of HOMESHAKE’s biggest tracks “Give It To Me,” the band intentionally dragged the tempo to slow the song down to essentially half speed. The patience exhibited in this version, although considerably longer, was captivating and hypnotic.
It became clear that this was no ordinary Mac DeMarco show when Mac walked on stage in an inflatable turkey outfit without a band. Full of energy and excitement, the ensuing spectacle that occurred could only be described as chaotic and charming. He was playing tracks off of his computer drinking from a red solo cup and smoking a cigar; as the show continued, Mac eventually disrobed from his turkey suit to reveal another inflatable suit — a stunt that he repeated again until eventually he was fully naked by the end of his closer “Chamber of Reflection.”
SZA closed out the weekend by slaying “Supermodel” — the opener on her brilliant breakthrough album CTRL — then she admitting that she was suffering from anxiety attacks before coming onstage. She was afraid that she wouldn’t be able to fill the shoes of Cardi B, who had dropped on short notice, giving SZA the headlining spot for Sunday. She could not have been any more wrong. The crowd response was incredible and her voice was killer. The band backing her up also had the chops to bring the peaks of her songs to new heights in a live setting.