Desert Daze, Day One, Friday October 13th 2017
It was my first year at Desert Daze, the small music and arts festival nested inside Joshua Tree Park, the artsy, crafty, dusty extravaganza in the desert, which looks like a DIY Coachella. However, with Iggy Pop headlining on Saturday this year, the festival looked more ambitious than ever. May be the godfather of punk accepted the invite because he recorded his last album Post Pop Depression at Rancho de la Luna, barely 2 miles away from the site of the festival, may be he wanted to be closer to all these young indie bands that populate the 3-day delirium… who knows? In any case the Desert Daze experience is like any other ones, hot and dusty (very dusty) and cold at night, making you wander in the desert between Joshua trees, crazy psychedelic art installations, and bungalows built by the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright and his son Lloyd Wright in 1946. This is the home of the Institute of Mentalphysics created by Ding Le Mei, who came up with some New Age-y philosophy, a sort of super yoga that promised to bring about a ‘Christ-like’ transformation of consciousness, decades ago. This is mystic enough to be the site of a music festival, although there wasn’t really anything mystical in the music I saw on Saturday.
Actually, the place looked very familiar, populated with familiar faces of people and performers I usually see at the Echo. Desert Daze was another occasion to see the always daring Prettiest Eyes (on the main Moon stage!) bringing more weirdness in the middle of weirdness, and even though Pachy the drummer had a broken foot (and could not sit behind his drum set as usual) they sculpted some strange and aggressive psychelic texture in the desert haze. Starcrawler were the other familiar faces doing their thing once again, tearing up on one of the other stages, as Arrow with her usual psychward escapee stage antic, ran into the crowd, spiting blood while Henri Cash tried to destroy his guitar. Sure they were good, but there was nothing really new there, beside their excellent cover of Tom Petty’s ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’. Same thing for Ty Segall, and I know I am spoiled because I live in LA, but I have seen this man so many times, at so many festivals, than his performance had everything as I expected. He was tearing up the dust of the desert, going into some jazzy escapades and of course, he is still the unassuming and undeniable king of fuzz and distortion with noise, math jazz, metal or whatever his trip was during a very rowdy set of adoring and pushing girls trying to get to the front.
Just after Jesus Sons under the very dusty Wright Tent – and they are still doing an excellent old-school country rock with pedal steel and Cash-like whipped tempos – the afternoon had nevertheless started with a bunch of indie bands I didn’t know, like The Orange Kyte, which was interestingly mixing keyboard and a weird use of saxophone into an upbeat combination: you know it’s original music when no comparison at all comes to your mind. Big Search dedicated their first song, a slow melancholic ballad sang with a nasal voice to ‘their friend’ Tom Petty, and overall they had a pretty sound, very Byrds-like. Meanwhile, Tunisian singer Emel Mathlouthi tore up the Wright tent with the real sound of the desert, an operatic cathartic Arabic voice chanting incantations over Bad Seeds-esque electronic beats.
Triptides was reworking the psychedelia of the Doors’ Ray Manzarek with a mad organ and the frontman of Frankie and the Witch Fingers on bass, while Spaceface was having a beach ball party with a playful and colorful army of Pom Pom girls.
La Femme’s set may have been the most fun I had during the entire day, with middle Eastern tempos meets post punk B-52’s with a French touch and heavy accent, plus infectious beats and a row of KORG keyboards and even a rap delivery over funky guitars. They were all over the place, they were funny and were asking for more dust dances. People followed them, carrying their frontman during a memorable stage diving/crowd surfing in the dust
Drinks was weird and obtuse, almost dissonant with a monochord-voice frontwoman, Boris and their double neck guitar brought heavy metal drama, with a black robe and a series of sludgy mono-chord riffs, slowed down to death for the sake of metal. It was almost comical culminating with the use of an accordion, a first for metal.
Almost every time I see Panda Bear, I don’t recognize any of his songs, even though I know two of his albums. His set reminded me that electronica can be kind of boring live, despite his heartfelt reverb vocals and dance beats. But people were really into it, and I had no idea of what he was playing until a song from Tomboy came up and all was forgotten and forgiven.
At this point I was exhausted but there was still Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile promoting their new album and doing a mellow set, as I suddenly found myself surrounded by a few men in their 70s! Things are a bit strange at Desert Daze sometimes,… these two are undeniably super talented but don’t manage to bring any magic during their friendly duos, their songs are good but not great and I have heard a few times coming from the crowd, ‘Come on, play the hits!’ which they finally did with Kurt’s ‘Pimpin’ and Courtney’s ‘Avant Gardener’ to close the set. Before leaving I checked the weirdness of Ariel Pink who was ripping the cold night of the desert with his pop hits, a wolf head and many dance floors, grinded through his kaleidoscopic sonic collages. But at this point I was too tired to dance.
More pictures here