“Food is the new rock ‘n roll.”
– Justin Warner, chef at Do or Dine
“A knife, a fork, a bottle and a cork /That’s the way we spell New York.”
– Escort, “Cocaine Blues”
“You’re going to what?” The Great Googa Mooga doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but “music,” “food,” and “festival” do, and that’s about all I needed to tell people about the eponymous inaugural festival this weekend in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. If that wasn’t enough to win over the skeptics, I broke it down by the numbers: 75 food vendors, 35 breweries, 30 winemakers, 20 bands, and 40,000 general admission tickets that sold out in a few hours. That’s what happens when you bring together Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio, David Chang of Momofuku (or alternatively, Jimmy Fallon’s fried chicken throwdown against ?uestlove’s “Love’s Drumsticks”), Anthony Bourdain, and James Murphy under Superfly, the events and marketing company behind Outside Lands and Bonnaroo.
The intersection of food and music is nothing new—I Like Food, Food Tastes Good tells you how to make your favorite bands’ favorite foods, James Murphy is an unabashed food enthusiast, and Sammy Hagar has his own restaurant, to name just a few favorite examples—but thanks to Googa Mooga’s advertising in every New York subway stop in the weeks leading up to the event, it’s recently been both lauded and vilified as the ultimate Platonic ideal. Admittedly, $250 per day is a hefty price tag for the Extra Mooga tickets, which allowed you to see panels like “Noshing with…” James Murphy, Aziz Ansari, and David Chang or eat brunch to the dulcet tones of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. It’s hard to argue that there’s anything wrong, though, when you’re sampling three different kinds of pork sandwich while watching Fort Lean, or sipping Thai basil lemonade while Peelander Red plays guitar on top of a Porto-Potty.
Like any festival, there wasn’t nearly enough shade or free water (for once, there were plenty of bathrooms); the festival’s parameters were hard-pressed to fit so many people; and the hottest dishes, like Tom Colicchio’s pork belly tacos and Baohaus’ fried chicken Bao buns, sold out within hours of long lines that just kept getting longer. But concertgoers and foodies alike made up for it by sharing bites, wiping sauce off each other’s faces, and handing out extra water bottles to small children. The thing overheard most, however, was: “What is that, and where can I get it?”
Associate Editor, Senior Staff Writer
Saturday, May 19
If this band were a food we ate, it would be: Vinegar Hill House soft shell crab sandwich
Here’s why: A staple of New England comfort seafood, a softshell crab sandwich cushions cornmeal-crusted crabmeat between slices of soft white bread slathered with aioli (for the uninitiated, that’s mayonnaise flavored with things like garlic and lemon. I know). It’s best eaten in season, which starts in May when the softshell crab molts its outer shell for summer and becomes soft enough to eat.
To go out on an exoskeletal limb, Fort Lean’s frontman Keenan Mitchell is like the crab: Crunchy on the outside, his dyed-blond mane and cut-off t-shirt belie wailing about improving his posture and dreaming that are more sanguine than Sammy Hagar. Slammed between the indie-rock white bread, tribal punk rhythms and clean guitar riffs, songs like “Dreams (Never Come True)” and the too-appropriate “Sunsick” were the perfect accompaniment for a summer day.
Like the soft shell crab sandwich, they were perfectly cooked, with an expert production value and well-mixed set. But despite the instant gratification of the aioli and those strummed, French Kicks chords, there just wasn’t enough meat. For their winning combination of talent and posturing, Fort Lean just didn’t pack enough punch to be more than an opening band. –Harley Brown
Unknown Mortal Orchestra
If this band were a food we ate, it would be: Crawfish Monica
Here’s why: Named after its signature dish, Crawfish Monica serves up the New Orleans version of lobster mac ‘n cheese. Swimming in a sauce with you-don’t-want-to-know amounts of butter and half-and-half, tiny crawfish nest in soft piles of rotini pasta, spiking the palate with nuggets of sweet saline. It’s a heavy dish, and it rumbled in my stomach like Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s bass riffs, fueled by bassist Jake Portrait’s rare Gibson SG. On Saturday, the three-piece’s murky psychedelia surged across the Hamageddon stage with the power of new drummer Greg Rogoff, who looked like Dave 1 from Chromeo.
Surprisingly, there was no soundboard in the audience, so the engineering seemed to be for the band. Perhaps consequently, frontman Ruban Nielson’s falsetto was almost indiscernible among the matching guitar tones, the kick drum, and that bass. It didn’t matter for a funk freakout like “How Can You Luv Me”, which relies on the more rhythmic elements, but too often his falsetto’s flavor was drowned out by the instrumentation. When Nielson soloed out on “Thought Ballune” with Air Guitar-levels of awesome on par with the nearby Grond replica with an actual suckling pig turning on a pit inside, it was a burst of that shellfish decadence. –Harley Brown
If this artist were a beverage we drank, he would be: Wild ginger iced tea from Cooking with Coolio.
Here’s why: There’s no need to have a restaurant called “Cooking with Coolio.” Ever. Nor is there a need to ever have a national air-guitar championship. Ever. Yet, these two things exist and there’s nothing we can do but roll with it. In fact, we only ended up grabbing a drink from the Coolio cooks for the same reason we ended up seeing Nordic Thunder: We were waiting for something else. It was hot, we were thirsty, and wild ginger iced tea had the shortest line. We went for it. While waiting for the next act to take the stage, we got to see Nordic Thunder air guitar to a Beastie Boys medley. While some drinks (see: milkshakes, beer, lemonade of exceptional citrus content) sometimes make you more thirsty, the overwhelming ginger taste in the iced tea left my mouth completely dry. There was simply too much. In essence, the same thing can be said about the excess air-humping of the air guitar world champion. While his pelvic thrusts were a marvel in the world of hip-isolation, his 30 seconds on stage were hard to swallow. Not to mention, later that day at The Roots’ set, he wasn’t air guitaring at all. Phony.
Note: I might just be angry that there was no actual Coolio sighting at Cooking With Coolio – angry enough that I was disappointed with the imagery presented in an air guitar competition. –Michael Zonenashvili
Unchained, the “Mighty Van Halen Tribute”
If this band were a food we ate, they would be: Dinosaur Bar-B-Que pulled pork sandwich.
Here’s why: The first thing I ate at a food festival was a pulled pork sandwich, a regular old pulled pork sandwich. This staple BBQ food wasn’t morphed or molded in any way to fit the more specialized nature of foods at the festival. It wasn’t topped with a mango pineapple-infused sauce, the buns came from a bag, and the price was reasonable. With all that, I thought I’d feel guilty for succumbing to the urge to eat delicious, messy barbecue for breakfast instead of something more exotic or weird. The situation was eerily similar sitting on a hill and waiting for a Van Halen Tribute to take the stage. Where was my hip, indie-rock buzz band featuring a strange unconventional instrument or female drummer?
The soundcheck was a lot like waiting in line for the pulled pork. While the band soundchecked by actually tapping solos on guitar and pounding drums, I admitted to myself and the others, “Okay, this is going to be awesome.” It was a lot like getting to the front of the pulled pork line and being overwhelmed by the smell and the bubbling pots of barbecue sauce in front of me, regardless of my decision I knew I was going to have a good time.
Unchained took the stage only to nail an hour-long greatest hits set. DoppelgÃ¤nger Lee Roth even nailed the banter: “Where’s the BEEEEEEEER at?” The guitarist had used all his remaining hair to create a paltry yet endearing mohawk; but, he was forgiven for nailing “Eruption”. I had realized there was no shame in getting a pulled pork sandwich at a food festival after the set. It may be a standard food, but when a restaurant dedicates its business to mastering this one item, it has to be pretty darn good. The perfect texture of the pork, the light spiciness to the sauce, and its sheer size justified our purchase. Unchained does the same thing: Any kid on YouTube can nail “Eruption”, but these guys dedicate their lives to it, giving it way more substance than some random online video. If a tribute band can get me to flail my arms and terribly air drum to “Hot for Teacher,” I can eat pulled pork for breakfast. –Michael Zonenashvili
If this band were a food we ate, they would be: Momofuku Milk Bar Crack Pie
Here’s why: There’s not much to Momofuku’s Crack Pie. Its ingredients are basically the base ingredients for a cookie or cake, yet somehow along the way, this slice of gooey, cold pie develops a taste to live up to its name. It becomes addicting, spikes your heart rate, and makes you want to borrow $5 from your friend to get a second slice. It’s got a slight fruity aftertaste, something like passionfruit, lemon, or both. It’s hard to figure out exactly what you’re eating in this dense slice of pastry.
Holy Ghost! takes a page from Momofuku Milk Bar. Their stage setup, like the pie, is something we’ve all seen before. It’s a mirror image of LCD Soundsystem’s: side-stage drum kit, aux percussion in the middle, guitar on the opposite side, and a large analog synth rig armed by two members in the back. While the ingredients are standard, the typical DFA spread of electronic sounds, Holy Ghost! changes the flavor with a certain kick that’s as hard to pinpoint, like Crack Pie’s aftertaste.
Maybe it’s the slightly more sexy nature of the vocals. This isn’t Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor singing or James Murphy talking over some disco-infused rhythm. But maybe it’s the ready-for-radio structure of songs like the LCD-sampling “Do It Again” or Cut Copy-esque “Say My Name” that got crowd members to start moving. Either way, the 45-minute Holy Ghost! set left us wanting more, in the dark, in a crowd of moving and sweating people. They would fare better as the afterparty, indoors and with a light show, but we’ll gladly enjoy them in the hot sun. The Crack Pie is an afterparty in and of itself and it’s worthy anytime. –Michael Zonenashvili
The Hot Sauce Takedown
How do you incapacitate two CoS writers? Nine kinds of brutal, tastebud-obliterating hot sauce. In fact, by the third or fourth sample of fever-inducing sauce, we were reduced to blubbering piles of pain, but we powered through.
The first vendor told us that they ran out of homemade tortilla chips to try his sauce on, a fair warning that we were about to eat generic brand chips. What the man should’ve said was “turn back, don’t do this.” However, we probably would’ve felt bad if we didn’t try. As hopeful winners filled small condiment containers with sauce, they quickly tried to sway our votes with words like “habanero” and “sriracha.” We didn’t need any swaying from their fancy spice jargon, the nuclear reds of coconut sriracha sauce, mango habanero, and even a misleadingly hot grape-based jelly were enough to pump us up for our inevitable downfall.
For some reason, we tried every sauce, burning our lips and tongues to seemingly irreversible levels as we keeled over, clutched our faces, and cursed the “Big Gay Vanilla Milkshake” line for being too damn long. –Michael Zonenashvili
If this band were a food we ate, they would be: The Hot Sauce Takedown
Here’s why: Well, both were viscerally painful. Bear Hands played a set of power chord-laced, generic indie rock including a vocalist’s intonation that made his words sound like borderline baby talk. While Bear Hands might have had a larger crowd by the mid-day set, it was a shame people waiting in line for the pulled pork sandwiches were subject to music that was more difficult to get through than Ghost Chili-based hot sauce. The band tried to bolster their setup with a few flourishes of brightly plucked Afro-pop riffs, but in the end it was less exciting than skipping the hot sauce challenge to chug a bottle of generic Tabasco. While the hot sauce challenge rewarded in the end, getting through more than a bit of Bear Hands’ set was more worthy of a pat on the back. –Michael Zonenashvili
If this band were a beverage we drank, it would be: Brooklyn Soda Works cardamom cream soda
Here’s why: There are a lot of different kinds of soda, but Brooklyn Soda Works’ is the only company that seems to know what it’s doing. They gave out samples of a few different kinds, and like true molecular gastronomy, it was literally pleasing to figure out which flavor was what. We decided that lavender iced tea was what you would drink if you drank soda instead of orange juice during breakfast for dinner, and cardamom cream soda was The Roots.
The Roots’ supple medleys are no stranger to anyone even tangentially familiar with hip-hop over the past two decades or your typical Jimmy Fallon fan, but they still astound live. They noodled in and out of allusions to Sir Mix-A-Lot, “Sweet Child of Mine”, and the James Bond theme song between original cuts like Do You Want More?!!!??!’s Biggie-based “Mellow My Man”, only making a noticeably clean break from their signature medleys for How I Got Over’s title track. With such a dense, self-referential set—and in light of Questlove’s Michele Bachmann-gate last year—I wondered how much The Roots played crowd favorites like “Apache” and “Scenario” because they were fun and usually a part of the band’s show or because they were a subtle dig at the Sperry-clad set freaking out in the VIP section.
Whatever the reason, I’m hard-pressed to find a better moment during the weekend’s performances overall than when Black Thought’s nephew break-danced at the end of the set (except maybe when Tuba Gooding, Jr. psyched out ?uestlove, or Captain Kirk played the guitar one-handed, or…). The point is, like cream soda, the Roots will never go out of style. Their jazz/rock/-hop fusion alludes to old familiar flavors like chai, or Dr. Pepper, while still being innovative and damn fun. –Harley Brown