April 11th- 21st
North Palm Springs, CA.
If I had to sum up Desert Daze, an 11 day, 200 band spectacle that ran parallel to the Coachella Arts & Music Festival this year, I would refer the reader to the scene in Blues Brothers when they pull up to a Road House to play a fake gig and the woman says, “We have both kinds of music here, Country and Western.” Except the woman is replaced by an LA area promoter guy and he’s saying, “We have both kinds of music here, Psych and Rock.”
I learned a few tricks in a decade of attendance at the annual Coachella Arts & Music Festival, main one being the "MAGIC HOUR" concept, which is to say that the time between dusk and sunset is a "MAGIC HOUR": The hot sun receding behind the mountains but still spreading life-giving warmth, the light possessing a particularly magical quality- it's is a god damn magical time, and what I've learned is that almost any band playing during the MAGIC HOUR is going to sound amazing, and the crowd will be into that band, because it is the MAGIC HOUR.
I planned my first visit to take full advantage of the MAGIC HOUR, going so far as to check the sunset/dusk times online prior to departure. Spanning 11 days- April 12th to April 22th, Desert Daze was a DIY epic. So epic that by choosing Day 5 as my first visit I had already missed the following Artists: Weight, Corners, Waxy, Mr. Elevator, Slipping Int Darkness, Old Testament, The Soft Pack, Dengue Fever, Deap Vally, Juju, Highlands, Blackfeet Braves, Chad & The Meatbodies, Haunted Tiger, Business Cats, Forever baby, Blue Junle Death Hymn Number 9, The Audacity, Wyatt Blair, Summer Twins, The Lovely Bad Things, Pangea, Bleached, Zodiac Death Valley, Owenstone, Stab City, Sandy Pussy, Drug Cabin, Kind Hearts & The Coronets, Sister Ruby Band, Lilac, String Fellow Hwaks, RT & The 44's, Gangi, Vanaprasta, Dante vs. Zombies, Moving Units, Tomorrow's Tulips, Pilots, Pool Honeys, Hindu Pirates, Wet Illustrated, The Shrine, Rumspringa, Sean Wheeler & Zander Schloss, Mayfly Dance, The Abigrails, Feeding People, Driftwood Singer, Allah-las.
PHEW! That is only 4 days worth of bands for an 11 day festival, over 200 bands over the 11 days, and let me tell you it was quite an impressive logistical accomplishment. In fact, the aplomb with which the Moon Block Party entity managed 200 different bands and what must have been in excess of 2500 people over close to two weeks signals their arrival as an impressive DIY phenomenon in their own right, taking their place against other Southern California DIY entities of the last decade.
You could compare the Moon Block Party Crew to Fuck Yeah Entity.
The venue, Dillon's Road House, was easy enough to find. Start in central Palm Springs and take Indian Canyon Road North for 20 minutes, over the 10 freeway, past the brand-new Western Wear outlet on the other side of the freeway, take a right and drive three blocks- boom. The venue/festival had ample parking behind the bar, in a dirt lot with broken glass scattered about, to be perfectly accurate, but it was off-street which was welcome, because Desert Hot Springs has a Mad Max/post-Apocalyptic feeling even during the day.
The promotional information had promised both and in-door and out-door stage with art and food trucks to accompany the bands and all was as described. The food trucks on duty on the 16th were REFRESH TRUCK and TORNADO POTATO and then there was an ORGANIC POPCORN. Dillon's Road House is not some kind of hipster take on the desert Road House bar environment- it's an actually Desert Road House located in an area with lots of local color, so the crowd was a mixture of young and old, hipster and non-hipster. Buying my first beer of the evening (Budweiser in a bottle) I listened to a local gush over the presence of so many young people and how awesome it was to see everyone. Bear in mind it was about 5:30 PM and the local was clearly hammered in a way I recognized from going to dive bars in the Tenderloin district in San Francisco in the mid 1990s.
The first band I watched was
YELLOW RED SPARKS(ORANGE COUNTY, CA.): Yellow Red Sparks is three piece: guy on drums/backing vocals, guy singing playing acoustic guitar/singing and girl playing her cello sometimes as a stand up bass, sometimes as a cello and once playing a ukelele/backing vocals. I was impressed by the general level of put-togetherness from a band playing the 6 PM outside slot at a first-year festival in the middle of the California desert. The singer has a voice that puts him in the general category of Jeff Magnum or the guy from the Decemberists- readers from my blog will know that this isn't to my personal taste, but it was clear that they drew and held the attention of those present. The cellist/bassist really worked the instrument and drew interest from the Security Staff- I was standing by myself near a Security Guard and he leaned over and said "Her guitar, it is too big." The only criticism I would offer is that they should abandon the Audience involvement stuff and just blaze through the set- the songs are strong enough that they don't need to do the Audience solicitation material.
Yellow Red Sparks is playing the Tin Can Alehouse in San Diego, CA. on May 12th.
Right before YELLOW RED SPARKS ended their set I went inside to watch the next band:
BLACK FLAMINGO (LOS ANGELES, CA.): Black Flamingos is an LA area six piece featuring Miss Ammo (ex-Teenage Talking Cars) on vocals and guitar, two more women, one playing key boards and one playing bass. Then there is a lead guitarist and not one but two drummers. Later in the evening I learned that Neil from Origami Records is their manager. As I watched them I thought to myself, "This sounds like a cross between Warpaint and Dum Dum Girls." I suppose you could have less commercially viable influences, but I was struck, again, by the level of professionalism and the actual quality of the music. It also seemed like Black Flamingos brought an appreciative Audience with them to the desert- Always a plus. Considering that Manimal Vinyl just put out that Chains of Love record, they seem like an appropriate label home for Black Flamingos and then after that- I would say fire one of two drummers- just to thin the travelling band out a bit. I frankly question why the drumming I heard couldn't be replaced by a machine- the appeal of Black Flamingo lies in the combination of the matched female vocals and the guitar work of the lead guitarist.
Black Flamingo is playing the Echo in Los Angeles, CA. on Thursday, April 26th, 2012. They may or may not have a 7” out on Origami Vinyl Record Shop and Label.
Next I went back outside and watched
GOTHIC TROPIC(LOS ANGELES, CA): Gothic Tropic is an LA area three piece: female singer/guitarist, male drummer, male bassist. The way I interpret the name is that "TROPIC" is a reference to tropicalia being a musical influence. Another influence in the sound was 90s era Dischord Records stuff- jazzy time signatures, etc. Considering Abe Vigoda actually DID play Coachella this year, and the fact that they have a female singer/guitarists fronting the band, it seems like this is a band that could make some headway- there being so much room at the margins. This is clearly a band that is in the sonic and cultural lineage of the Smell scene, and they seem like the kind of band that PPM would put out.
Then I had a Korean Cheese Steak from REFRESH TRUCK which was delicious.
Then I went back inside and watched.
DARK THIRTY(Los Angeles, CA.) : Dark Thirty is a three piece- all boys, very much in the mold of a Dead Meadow. Although I personally like Dead Meadow and am looking forward to seeing them at this festival, I don't know if that is a real viable path to a national career as a touring musician. LA area rock projects- whatever their take on "rock" have so much prejudice to overcome at the national level, vs. LA area Art type bands. If you are in something that can fairly be described as a "Rock Band From Los Angeles" you are going to have to win over so many haters, it's either the big leagues or bust. I personally though, liked this band and plan on looking for physical products. It would be interesting if the new record label run by Permanent Records put these guys out.
Then I went back outside and watched.
LIVING THINGS: Living Things, hoo-booy. Five pieces- singer/guitarist, bassist and drummer and two "back-up" singers. I literally knew nothing about Living Things before watching them perform, but according to their very, very, very well written Wikipedia entry, Living Things (band) are an American punk-rock band from St. Louis, Missouri. Living Things is a band of three brothers: Isiah, Yves and Bosh. The lead singer, Isiah, did the sound track for the Runaways movie. Also they signed to Dreamworks in 2004? Did I not mention that? In 2009 they released an LP on Jive Records.
In Spin Magazines Top 50 Albums of 2005 article, where Living Things were awarded #31 for their Ahead of the Lions on Jive/Zomba, the writer said,
"As pissed-off polemics go, the hot-potato debut from these St. Louis misfits lays the gripes on thick while styill managing to rock you like a Category 5. Calling out God (and his son) while bitching about bombs, health maintenance organizations, and the police. Lillian Berlin and his three bros (two biological, one just a bud) attack their never-less-than-Nevermind-catchy songs with roiling, sophisticated righteousness, not to mention chops, tempering their resentment with a palpable lust for life.”
This brings to mind Rise Against in my mind, but what I saw last night was straight up Rock-A-Billy/50s rock. Living Things can not, in their present state, be described as anything other than a Rockabilly Style Rock Band. They seem to be aiming for combining elements of Jack White's thing with Misfits era posturing. It's a principle of mine not to Judge a band for changing artistically, and given my ignorance of their back catalog I can't even honestly say whether they have changed their sound or not. I do find it extraordinary that I'd never heard of them before they played this show. It seems like I should have.
After that I missed RACES, THE BLACK APPLES, NO & THE HENRY CLAY PEOPLE because I wanted to see Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh do some solo jams at the Ace Hotel, but I must have been minutes late, since I watched him talk to appreciative Audience members for an hour and then leave- obviously AFTER the concert.
Day 2, April 17th was what we Coachella Valley local's call "a hot one," 95 degrees at 430 PM as I drove up Indian Canyon Road to Dillon's Road House. This time I detoured from the main route to take in the nearby community of North Palm Springs, CA. a six block community of trailers and double wide trailers that is legitimate in that it has its own Post Office and Zip Code. Dillon's Road House is technically in the city of Desert Hot Springs, but only just- the main area of Desert Hot Springs being miles away. According to stories in the local paper, the owners of Dillon's Road House have been trying to do a live music festival for some time but were stymied by the city until this year. I can't possibly imagine why a trashy little town like Desert Hot Springs would bother trying to PREVENT live music in their community when they can't even PREVENT drive-by shootings and drug-related murders, both of which are semi-frequent occurrences according to the local paper, but what do I know?
I arrived at 445 PM in time to see the first inside band called
LISTEN: This was a three piece that played indistinct garagey-psych-rock- two guys and a lady on drums. This was the most "local" sounding band I had heard thus far at the festival, and I wondered if they might not be from the Palm Springs area, rather than from Los Angeles. Other then the female drummer, there was not much to distinguish Listen from other bands that work the same area of the rock spectrum.
I couldn’t obtain any information about their releases or upcoming shows.
Then I went outside and watched
MOTHERS OF GUT: Mothers of Gut was a four-piece band- all guys- standard rock band four piece set up, with the exception that the singer/guitarist had a keyboard in front of him. Jazzy time signatures and distorted voxs put Mothers of Gut further on the experimental side of the psych-rock spectrum, but experimental in a way that is familiar to anyone who has ever listened to Captain Beefheart or the many bands since influenced by Captain Beefheart.
While I watched them play I saw they actually had a box of Records, which I later figured out was likely the 2010 LP put out by Family Time Records of Riverside, CA. Mothers of Gut even has an Altered Zones post which accurately describes their music as a “psych-kraut” affair.
Mothers of Gut had better than average stage presence, in particular the bassist, who looked like he was wearing a Kurt Cobain costume, was writhing around on stage to the point where the security guard came up and asked my if he was "OK" or perhaps in need of some medical attention.
They have a show coming up at Pehrspace in Los Angeles, CA on April 28th, 2012.
After that it was back inside for
KILL KILL KILL: This band was a four piece- all guys- with a drummer/guitar/bass/keyboard line up, playing sludgey psych rock. They showed an ability to move from soft to loud, but the loud setting was very loud indeed. There was less blues and more psych influence in Kill Kill Kill then their predecessors on the inside stage displayed, and instrumentally I felt like Kill Kill Kill was a step or two up on the ladder of professionalism from Listen. I couldn’t find any upcoming shows or physical releases on line.
Outside next was:
RACHEL FANNAN: Rachel Fannan is certainly my discovery out of the first two days of the festival. By this time Fresh & Only's had arrived and I was talking to F&O singer Tim Cohen (who I've known for 15 years.) He knew Rachel from her time in the Bay Area (now in LA.) After watching the performance, I later learned that she was formerly in ATP released San Francisco via Santa Cruz CA Sleepy Sun
She performed at Desert Daze as a solo, playing electric guitar with no drum machine. Her performance combined killer country influenced vocals (think the new Best Coast album) with a wry wit and stage presence that reminded me of Colleen Green. I shared the Colleen Green comparison with Tim and he agreed that were some similarities- but only stylistically, not musically. Absence of a drum machine being one of them.
Rachel Fannan is playing the Soda Bar in San Diego, CA. on May 25th, 2012.
After Rachel Fannan I took a break to walk around the grounds- Dillon's Road House basically backs up onto the empty desert, with enormous power lines running in a double set diagonally off to the north and south. Someone had built a tire pyramid and I watched the sun set behind the power lines and the tire pyramid. It was glorious.
Upon my return I watched
HABITS: play inside. Habits was a dance rock three piece who had a fairly enthusiastic audience for their brand of standard issues dance rock. While Habits was a welcome change of pace from the pysch/sludge/rock of the two earlier bands, I couldn't find anything to distinguish Habits performance in my mind, likely due to the fact that I am not a huge dance rock fan. The drummer did shift between a drum pad and real drums- which I thought was interesting. Their performance very much brought to mind the DIM MAK led Silver Lake "scene" and certainly the singer seemed attractive and energetic enough to make a go of it- but they need some catchier songs, for realz. The vocals were very indistinct.
FARMER DAVE SCHER: performed solo with guitar. I understand that he is a West Side LA DIY fixture- Tim Cohen of F&O's indicated that he had recently played his night in Venice (and that Colleen Green was in the house for said performance.) I also talked to a woman who was selling leather cuffs and purses who said that Farmer Dave is a DIY stalwart on the west side of LA, so it seems to me he deserves respect for that. His set was far, far beyond what you might expect- he showed both stage presence and was a guitar virtuoso- some of his solos left me breathless, mouth a-gape. I will def. be doing additional research on his Venice Beach DIY night.
From his online biography, it looks like he has done production and session work for a variety of respectable Artists, so the talent makes sense.
YOUNG PRISMS: took to the outdoor stage the crowd had filled in. It was a beautiful night. They played a number of songs from their new LP on Kanine Records- which i need to purchase, and showed how they have earned the reputation as one of the hardest working indie bands on the West Coast. Young Prisms is a good example of how long it can take a rock band to "come together" but I, for one, feel like they are headed in the right direction, provided they can stay together in the mean time.
Young Prisms have a new record out on Kanine Records and are touring California with Dum Dum Girls.
Young Prisms were followed outside by
FRESH & ONLY'S: A band at the top of their game, album of Mexican Summer coming out in September. Fresh & Only's is another SF area band with a terrific work ethic and they are seasoned pros on the road. The crowd seemed inspired by their set and wanted them to keep at it after their time window had elapsed. I doubt anyone who reads IMPOSE or my blog is unfamiliar with the sound of Fresh & Only's, so I will spare you the details.
After Fresh & Only's played I left, missing Crystal Antlers, Raw Geronimo and Blank Tapes in a futile attempt to catch Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein do a comedy show at the Ace Hotel. I didn't even get in the door. I bet it was cool, though.
I took the next two days to recuperate and reflect on the festival experience and what it reminded me most of were the Little Radio New Year’s Eve parties in 2006 and 2007, and some of the renewal I might have experienced at Coachella itself through perhaps 2008. There is of course, no comparison when you consider the respective sizes of the two festivals, but when it comes to considering the spirit, Desert Daze is put on by a volunteer collective from the Pomona area, and Coachella is wholly owned by entertainment conglomerate AEG. So, take you pick, I guess.
At the very, very least, Coachella is an enormous pain in the ass and will cost you about 750 all in, and Desert Daze was 5 bucks a day. Looking at it that way the comparison is unfair to Coachella.
I returned refreshed and relaxed for Day 10 of the Desert Daze Festival. I’d spent the intervening days pool side conducting experiments on the length of the cooling effect that you get from taking a dip in the pool during periods of extreme heat.
Friday, April 20st, 2012
I arrived early and caught the first outside band,
ELECTRIC BUFFALO(???): Blues rock influenced four piece, all guys. Guitarist wore a fringed leather vest and a hat with a feather in it, to give you an idea.
Then inside for,
THE GOLDEN GHOSTS(Los Angeles, CA.): All male three piece- kind of a 90s rock throwback, like an updated version of Candlebox. Their “Reverbnation” profile references Black Keys, White Stripes, Kings of Leon and the Strokes, but I’d stick with Candlebox. They weren’t untalented, and rolled up in a sweet Dodge Sprinter van that looked pretty big league.
Back again outside,
WAR DRUM(Palm Springs, CA.): All male four piece from Palm Springs which makes them pretty legit as far as desert psych goes, though not as legit as being from Desert Hot Springs or Yucca Valley. This was very much on psych side of the psych/rock continuum, with proggy keyboard/organ and big jammy breakdowns in the middle of each song.
MILO GONZALEZ: Milo Gonzalez is the guitar/sitar player of festival-mates Insects vs Robots. He played solo guitar, but with lots of flourishes- he is obviously a very talented guitarist. Sample banter with crowd, “This song is half complete and it’s about an enchanted forest.”
JUJU: Juju was another band that was a bit of a revelation. Juju is a two piece, and the main guy is was one of the festival promoters. He played both guitar and bass and would loop them both, swap instruments and sing. Juju obviously has an ear for hooks, the songs were so catchy that I was put in mind of Ratatat, while the looping and instrument switching reminded me of Alex from Dirty Beaches. If this guy is both a promoter and plays in this band, he’s likely to make significant headway. Couldn’t find any information on-line- kind of bummed. I would go see this band locally if they came to town.
CHUCK DUKOWSKI SEXTET: Chuck Dukowski was the bassist and some-times songwriter for seminal punk outfit Black Flag and this is his “family band” project, in that it literally contains the members of his immediate family: his wife sings, his sons drum and play keyboards. I think they added Milo Gonzalez-at least according to their website they did- he really shredded in this set, and when I say shredded I mean “played like he was in an 80s speed metal band.”
My final band that evening was:
ELECTRIC FLOWER: Two piece band fronted by former Folk Implosionista Imaad Wasif. I’m not sure if this band is a for-real thing, or if it’s something Wasif does when he’s not doing something else, but they rather reminded me of Japandroids in that they successfully combined wistful, affecting vocals with the dynamic mechanics of guitar/drum two piece.
The last day for me was Saturday April 21st. Dead Meadow was headlining and I was excited for an epic conclusion to my Desert Daze experience. I had already judged it a rousing success, a judgment confirmed by the fact that the promoters simply ran out of wrist bands by day 9 due to overwhelming demand for said wrist bands. Was there room for improvement? Of course there was- there always is. Was Desert Daze a financial success? Unclear. I noticed that by the last day of the festival the “suggested donation” of five dollars had become “five dollar admission.” If I was running that Festival it would have been like that on day one. Ten dollars even.
Before Dead Meadow I watched,
SLEEPY OWL: play inside. Sleepy Owl is a six piece “pure psych” outfit in the manner of Animal Collective, Deerhunter, ETC. The lead singer (male) performed in a dress a la Devendra. Sleepy Owl had two female back-up singers arrayed to one side of the stage. Not really my cup of tea, but I thought they were effective at integrating their influences and pairing it with capable song writing- uneven song writing- but capable.
JOY(San Diego, CA.): Joy was a real discovery- a true entrant for the San Diego area in the hipster metal sweepstakes that seems to be engulfing the blogosphere. They were also the only band that achieved a level of “killing it”- no small feat considering I watched 30 bands over four days. I’m puzzled, though, by their bandcamp profile, where the songs sound completely different. They should stick with the fast stuff I heard at Desert Daze- it was winning.Joy has a 7” available via Thirsty Moon Records in San Diego, CA. Their LP is being released by Cave Punk Records, also of San Diego, CA.
Back inside, but still in daylight,
SILVER CHORDS(Los Angeles, CA.): This band is made up of LA psych scene veterans. In their own words, The Silver Chords performance/studio roster features members who hold or have held tenure in such bands as Warlocks, Psychic TV, The Black Angels, The Black Keys, Cat Power, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Entrance Band, The Meek, Gong, Sky Parade, Black Ryder, Yahowha 13, and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Silver Chords shared a female singer with Spindrift. They certainly suffered from their proximity to Joy in the line-up, certainly they would have been better at night.
STRANGERS FAMILY BAND(???): This was a conventional rock four piece with a keyboardist, all men, they played jammy psych rock that reminded me most specifically of the Doors. Also their keyboardist sort of resembled Jim Morrison, which I suppose is a plus.
POOR SONS(San Francisco, CA.): This was an all male four piece that veered more towards garage rock then psych rock. They showed a lot of energy and some promising song writing and vocals underneath the garage rock fuzziness. I left their set early to watch Spindrift, and it was the only “move” that I made during Desert Daze that I later regretted. I think it’s kind of in the same general category as FIDLAR in being post-Wavves garage rock with pop punk influences. You have to tread lightly with the pop-punk influence, but it’s something that can carry a local band to national prominence. They are a band on this list to keep an eye on.
SPINDRIFT (Los Angeles, CA.): Spindrift is touring with Dead Meadow as support. They currently play what they call “spaghetti psych” i.e. psych rock influenced by the soundtracks to Sergio Leone Westerns. Their set actually bore some relationship to the road house venue as they tossed out instrumental western hit after instrumental western hit with originals in between. Spindrift has been around in some form since the early 1990s, their bio on their website, I gained an appreciation for their endurance. The packed house certainly loved them.
Spindrift is on tour with Dead Meadow.
BAREFOOT SHRUB: This was one guy doing IDM’ey type stuff.
Final act of the festival was
DEAD MEADOW: If you’ve never seen Dead Meadow play a roadhouse in the Desert in April, you darn well should before you die. Just once.
That’s 28 bands reviewed for you. Most of them can be seen as “local” bands in Southern California, so I encourage you to support some of them. Congratulations to the Moon Block Party group of Pomona, CA. Desert Days was a DIY logistical accomplishment that ranks among those for the ages. 200 bands, 12 days, 100 degree temperatures. Quite an accomplishment indeed.