Roy Jurgens on
Near the end of JJUUJJUU’s rager of a set Saturday night at the sixth annual Desert Daze, lead singer Phil Pirrone — the festival’s founder — shouted words of sincere appreciation to the crowd: “I want to thank everyone who worked at putting together Desert Daze. Everybody works so hard on this and we’re like a big family. We put so much love into this. Thank you so much for doing this with us.”
He pretty much nailed the vibe of the gathering, spending its second year at the Institute of Mentalphysics in Joshua Tree. It’s 2017 in terms of technology, 1967 in heart and soul. Grandparents would be proud.
And speaking of that generation: Desert Daze’s septuagenarians did not disappoint. Iggy Pop, the 70-year-old Godfather of Punk, led the convulsive crowd in a set of his hits; Welshman John Cale, 75, used the desert as the backdrop for excursions into the avant-garde.
While awaiting Iggy Pop on Saturday night, an acquaintance said, “I’ve been here two days and I have yet to meet an asshole.” Moments later, of course, somebody crashed into handicapped patrons and young girls while experiencing a fit of frenzy, but that was an anomaly. Besides the eclectic lineup of talented weirdos, Desert Daze continued to offer a captivating setting, great food and wacko film, art and light installations. And a chance to “check out.”
Here’s what we checked out Saturday, starting in the wee hours in the campground:
2:20 a.m. — A security guard shivering in the 50-degree chill is invited to borrow a chair and a blanket. There’s no question that security is of the utmost importance in this day and age, and you wish they had it a little easier.
10:13 a.m. — Ate breakfast burrito over at the Mystic Tent whilst listening to the beautiful neo-classical stylings of Li Daiguo plucking his erhu.
11:49 a.m. — Entering a small conal structure lined in burgundy velvet and gold lamé and teeming with pillows, a visitor contemplates his existence for a while and thus was reduced to his primal self before being reborn upon the desert sand. This place certainly can get to you.
12:52 p.m. — Hailing from Tijuana, Mint Field starts the day with a set of gorgeous dream-pop. Built around the duo of Amor Amezcua and Estrella Sánchez, the band derives their magic from a record collection older than they are. Cocteau Twins, Lush and Slowdive come to mind.
1:15 p.m. — There are Germans here. Very amiable ones. We discussed the Bundesliga and the world’s only punk-rock soccer club, St. Pauli FC.
1:33 p.m. — Kicking off the day on the Moon Stage, Frankie and the Witchfingers prove to be the perfect band to play your backyard bender, if you had a time machine and headed back to 1968. Did you own those “Nuggets” compilations? Yeah, you get the picture. While it’s endearing and flattering of these bands to be mining primeval influences, I find myself in search of a new drug.
2:06 p.m. — Longtime Joshua Tree staple Jesika Von Rabbit — like her main project Gram Rabbit — defies simple description. Backed by a solid rock band led by producer extraordinaire Ethan Allen, she plants her Korg front and center and proceeds to rock out with an ever-revolving collection of delightful weirdos swirling around her. There was even a Donald Trump sighting. He did not throw Bounty paper towels into the crowd.
2:20 p.m. — Got a kiss from a granny pushing a walker, because why not?
2:31 p.m. — Bolted up the hill to catch the end of Winter’s set on the Block Stage. They are a lovely mishmash of dream-girl jangle with a Sonic Youth noise bridge erupting out of nowhere. It’s a daring move and they pull it off nicely.
3:20 p.m. — The Germans we met earlier are members of the Krautrock combo Camera. A hypnotic Autobahn, if you will, drawn from a tradition of hearing music among the mundane sounds of everyday life. And yet, not so much a blatant Xerox of Can, Neu, Einsturzende Neubauten and the groundbreaking Kraftwerk, but a meticulous reworking of those inspirations into something completely new. They’re also much warmer than their grandfathers.
4:10 p.m. — After Camera’s art noise, Thurston Moore’s guitar scrapings on the Moon Stage were a different dish from the same buffet table. It happens to everyone; Moore has aged gracefully. The alternate tunings and toying feedback are still there, but gone is the acid. My Bloody Valentine’s Debbie Googe is a more than capable bassist, but fans cannot be blamed for missing Kim Gordon’s sneering art-school swagger. Seeing Googe playing with Moore is a bitter reminder that we’ll never see Sonic Youth again.
5:05 p.m. — Detroit’s The Gories were mighty influential to Jack White when he was dreaming up the White Stripes. Fast forward some 25 years later and White snatched them up on his Third Man Records label. The influences are clear: hoary blues-based rock backed by rolling thunder.
5:26 p.m. — JJUUJJUU, the brainchild of festival founder Pirrone, gave their set a celebratory vibe, as the Wright Tent was stuffed to the gills with friends and family. Their presence on the bill wasn’t charity, however, as their outstanding, frenetic, post-modern set was delivered from outer space via an energetic three-guitar squall and shimmery femme fatales.
6:10 p.m. — With nine Marshall stacks and five Ampeg bass rigs, the lads in San Jose’s Sleep don’t travel lightly. Nor do they perform that way. The occasion here was a performance of “Sleep’s Holy Mountain,” released 25 short years ago. This is intense workingman’s heavy-metal, fat slabs of primitive distortion punctuated by Al Cisneros’ staccato monotone bark. If I was in a biker gang I’d want to stab someone to this. Aren’t you glad I’m not in a biker gang?
7:11 p.m. — Overheard conversations: “I’ve never done shrooms before and my head tastes like soup. Not cream of mushroom soup either, more like cheese broccoli. That makes no sense because I ate mushrooms and I hate broccoli.”
7:29 p.m. — Terry Riley & Gyan Riley: From dinosaur metal to high art, a perfect example of the varied fare at Desert Daze. They played the Block Stage, but they’re the sort of act you’d see at a university performing arts center. The Rileys’ studied musical wanderings went over quite well considering the kids in front of them likely have no idea who Philip Glass is.
7:50 p.m. — Avey Tare gave a bedroom concert. Upon first impression, he’s your average hipster folkie and then he becomes an aural alchemist, manipulating analog tape machines into an Enoesque stutter.
8:26 p.m. — Wailing into the night from the Moon Stage, Melbourne’s King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard — who’ve now released three full-length albums in this calendar year — are not as seedy as the Butthole Surfers, not as noodly as Frank Zappa, not as damaged as Roky Erickson, not as childlike as Syd Barrett. But if you were to put them all in a blender, you’d have a smoothie that tastes like these Australians.
9:21 p.m. — With a dead phone and a pen and paper, we brave the teeming masses and trudge up the hill to see the lesser-known grandfather on tonight’s bill, John Cale. While not as famous as Mr. Pop, one could argue that he is equally as vital. Cale, a founding member of a pretty influential little rock band called the Velvet Underground, has a wide-ranging catalog as a solo artist and composer. His minimalistic neo-classical set served as the calming voice, bringing the kids a sense of peace and levity before the coming storm downhill.
10:15 p.m. — Iggy Pop rocked. There really isn’t much more to be said than that, because that is what he does at its absolute core, he simply rocks. The threat of Iggy permeated the festival throughout the day, as people poured into the grounds for his set at dusk. Backed by a shorn band in business casual, they got down to business quickly on the Moon Stage, with the opening riffs of “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” setting the swollen crowd off into a roiling mosh pit before racing right into “Gimme Danger,” the “The Passenger,” then “Lust For Life.” The medical anomaly that is Iggy Pop was in excellent form and voice, a writhing leathery serpent that would put kids 50 years his junior to shame. Having lost Tom Petty a couple weeks ago, one really has to reconsider not attending every time one of these legends shows up.
11:45 p.m. — Who did Twin Peaks piss off to get this spot on the bill? While they did enjoy a curious overflow after Iggy’s set, they soon departed, as the five-piece Chicago indie-rock band simply couldn’t manage to match the energy of Pop in front of a crowd that was still riled up and looking for a fight. This was unfortunate, because their jangling garage-rock sound would have scored a nice sunset.
12:20 a.m. — After-party at the Artist’s Village, buying friends whiskey drinks. It’s a hipster high school reunion here and I feel like the chaperone. But if Iggy’s not too old, neither am I.