Desert Daze 2019, Day 1: The Flaming Lips, Stereolab and a couple of African show-stealers

The Flaming Lips at Desert Daze (Photo by Josh Beavers)

The opening day of last year’s Desert Daze soirée was marred by torturous delays and a torrential thunderstorm that sent Tame Impala fleeing to the safety of their tour bus after four songs (that’s $125,000 per song if you’re interested in the accounting).

Friday’s kickoff to this year’s festival, the second at Moreno Beach at Lake Perris, went off without any locusts or any rivers running red with the blood of the innocent. In fact, it couldn’t have gone smoother.

“I couldn’t be more ecstatic,” said Knitting Factory CEO Morgan Margolis, one of the festival’s co-promoters. “A few hiccups, but overall feeling proud and humbled. I’m so proud of the teams that put this all together.”

Like a skipping stone, here are a few splashes on how the day transpired:

A headliner most like … a headliner

They saved the best for the first. No disrespect to whatever Wu-Tang Clan, FlyLo in 3D, Ween or Devo will bring the next two days, but no one goes toe-to-toe with the Flaming Lips in terms of throwing a party. They played their (first) opus “The Soft Bulletin” in all its rage, glory and sorrow, and no one was left the same. Their set was a journey, tapping into a whirlwind of emotions that left the crowd contemplative and yet, smiling. And for an encore, “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1” and “Do You Realize??” And, yes, everybody had the most beautiful face.

Best royalty: ‘The Prince of the Desert’

Mdou Moctar, a southpaw guitar-slinger from Niger, who sings in his native Tamasheq tongue. He is brilliance. That is all. Actually, there is more. His backing band is an absolute machine. They set an intoxicating groove while Moctar, known as “The Prince of the Desert,” just twirls his Hendrixian fire over the top. Take this into consideration, it was 2 a.m. and freezing and people wanted to go to bed but could not leave. They were captives. And so they stayed, rosy-cheeked, swaying wildly to a 3/4 time signature, held hostage by these hypnotic haboobs of the Sahel who played deep into the night.

Which witch is W.I.T.C.H.?

Switching from western Africa to south-central Africa: In cheeky bit of scheduling, the Block Stage saw consecutive witches. The similarity ended with the name, however, as Witch are a group of New England stoner-rockers led by J. Mascis (on drums). W.I.T.C.H. are Zambian groove monsters, purveyors of what is known as “Zamrock,” led by the irrepressible Emanuel “Jagari” Chanda, who reanimated his ’70s project with a band of western garage-rockers, brilliantly fusing psych-rock with Afro-Pop. For the record, Frankie & the Witch Fingers played earlier Friday, and L.A. Witch played Desert Daze last year.

Best place to trip during Witch’s set

The electro pyramid, between the Block Stage and the marketplace, was a scene perfectly representing the finer effects of hallucinogenic fungi.

Most improved player award

Whoever squared away last year’s disastrous parking situation. It took four minutes to get from the entry gate to the assigned parking spot, an astonishing improvement over the two to four hours for arriving fans last year.

Most swoon-worthy (Band Reunion Dept.)

Stereolab’s avant-pop stylings were the perfect aperitif before the evening’s main courses. Lætitia Sadier’s chilly charm offensive won over a restless crowd as the sun set over the sandy bergs.

Best doldrum-breaker

DIIV shoegazed away the mid-afternoon haze from the beach, with a soothing set of vintage chorus-reverb-delay-overdrive mush.

Best Desert Daze alteration

Kudos to organizers for moving the Theater Stage down towards the beach and peeling back the tarps, thus preventing the giant plastic carport from becoming the dust-choking sauna it was last year.

Most mind-blowing guitar solo

David Lorca’s (Part Time) angular, nonsensical fretwork brought comparisons to the late, great Robert Quine. It was wonderfully left of center from an indie band — it made no sense but sense it did make.

Most worthy heir apparent to King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard

The Aussies rocked Desert Daze the last two years running, but didn’t return for a third straight year. But L.A.’s own Wand stepped in and delivered a head trip of a set, with a bit more pop sensibility and garage dirt than the celebrated Melbourne lads, but with extended freakout guitar jams galore.

The set that wouldn’t end

Animal Collective had some asking, “Is this still Animal Collective?” Yes, that was mean. Perhaps their pleasing pop warblings would have been better suited to an earlier set time.

And a note from our Fashion Dept.

Desert Daze is the polar opposite to Coachella in terms of fashion consciousness. It seems as though most attendees ventured into a dark thrift store and just grabbed the first thing that felt remotely clean. Not much in the way of Instagram models here, as the crowd is here for — gasp — the bands. Imagine that. And what is it with the epidemic of porn mustaches?

Photos by Josh Beavers