Martin Roy on
Saturday was hump day at Desert Daze. Another day of merriment along Lake Perris with a lot of semi-naked people who you didn’t need to see semi-naked.
A collection of bizarro acts set the tone for a day of musical exploration that ended with the Flying Lotus 3D set, which looks like an awful idea on paper, yet went over with flying colors, pun intended. Outfitting several thousand fans with 3D glasses at a moment’s notice was no mean feat. And projecting an experimental electronic music show within the confines of a rock stage — as FlyLo did two years ago at the late, lamented FYF Fest — upped Desert Daze’s spectacle quotient. With the air full of THC and the eyes full of mind-bending visuals, I’m pretty sure some folks saw God.
■ Also: See our Day 1 coverage
Among the torn fishnets, trucker hats and boys in dresses, here are some highlights from Day 2 …
The half-hour we wish we had back
Fans have enjoyed the pseudo-intellectual silliness of Devo for a long time. Many of a certain generation recall joyfully pogoing to them in the early ’80s. But asking your crowd to sit through a dated, half-hour mockumentary on your band’s marketing efforts before you take the stage is kind of arrogant. You can do this at your own concert. You don’t do this sort of thing to a festival crowd that has limited time in which to see as many acts as they can. It’s disrespectful to the other bands on the bill. After about 10 minutes, people began speculating if Devo was going to be playing at all. When they finally did take the mainstage Saturday — a rare live gig that despite rumors is not part of a “farewell tour” — they whipped it good, as they were quiet brilliant. And why wouldn’t they be, they’ve only been at this for nearly for 46 years.
Most improved players
Early live representations of Pussy Riot were little more than an onstage political screeds set to noise. But the Russian activists have blossomed into a musical force. Their set on the Theatre stage fit somewhere between M.I.A. and riot-grrl punk, and it included an ironic foray into Mikey Cyrus-style pop, as well. All criticism aside, anybody willing to take on Putin’s government like this deserves mad respect.
Coolest vampires in the sun
Oh dear, who scheduled Portland’s doom-folk-goth-drone-psych-rockers Blackwater Holylight at 2:10 in the afternoon? The all-female quintet made a good accounting for themselves on the Block stage, despite that bright orb in the sky. This is the type of band that would have been best played at the witching hour. I’m relieved they didn’t catch fire.
Best avoidance of an international incident
Given what is presently occurring in Northern Syria, it’s not easy being Turkish right now. That didn’t stop Amsterdam-based Turks Altin Gün from showing everyone a good time. Their Middle Eastern grooves were the perfect mid-afternoon soundtrack alongside the lazy beach-goers splashing around in the lake.
Klaus Johann Grobe makes music for the hip young German industrialist on a getaway holiday in Mallorca. Bathed in irony, das ist dicker käse, das für die zeit deiner eltern bestimmt ist, aber geeignet für die hipsters. (It’s some thick cheese, which is meant for your parents’ time, but ironically suitable for the hipsters.) If you tried real hard you could even hear Falco’s ghost trying have sex with Kraftwerk. So bad it’s good.
Best “Chocolate and Cheese”
Gene and Dean Ween are the quintessential anti-rockstars, just Philly boys who were keen on having a laugh. And then whole thing got out of hand and became a successful career. It is always interesting to see die-hard fans of bands like this, and as they performed their 1994 album “Chocolate and Cheese,” it was like watching a bizarre Reddit basement subculture come to life.
Best Keith Moon impression
Coady Willis of Seattle’s Big Business is simply terrifying on the drums. Together with Jared Warren (who like Willis also plays in the Melvins and whose amplifier array looks as if was lifted from various pawn shops), they make an unholy racket.
Best place to eat some dust
Parquet Courts are that band you’d think would be best in a sweaty club in front of 400 people. The last time they came through L.A., though, they headlined the Novo, and they more than held their own during their late-afternoon set on main stage. The crowd kicked up clouds of dust during their spirited set, filled with tracks off their critically acclaimed 2018 release, “Wide Awake.”
Band most likely to follow you back
Oakland’s Lumerians, purveyors of something they call “doom-jazz,” proved more than just another Desert Daze eccentricity. On the Theatre stage, they were something far more interesting and sinister, a strange cross between Sisters of Mercy and Mutemath. Their songs creep upon you like a serial stalker you kinda enjoy having around.
Most rampant makeout session
Many couples could be seen deep into canoodling during Temples melodic set of psych Brit-pop, showcasing their new album “Hot Motion.” James Bagshaw has that earnest, soothing voice that inspires the makeout sessions, with intertwined limbs and beating hearts. It didn’t hurt that by the time they took the Block stage, the evening chill had set in.
What Is That Godawful Racket? Award
The Locust. Every year, Desert Daze books a confrontational act or three such as this. Last year, it was the sound and fury of A Place to Bury Strangers. This year, San Diego noize insects the Locust proved daring, brilliant and unsettling, challenging the audience to alter what they perceive music to be. They are a band that repulses you at first, until you open up to appreciate the visceral maelstrom they are creating. It is very interesting to see such virtuosos, artists that could have taken the easier route and played some sort of commercial melodic music, instead choosing to venture into this uncharted territory of bizarre song structures, staccato rhythms, bursts of white noise, with blood curdling shrieking over the top of it. They are truly jazz from hell.
And the annual word from the founder
Desert Daze mastermind Phil Pirrone has always been very judicious with set times for his psych-rock band JJUUJJUU. (Were I the king, I’d demand the headline slot every night.) Clad in long white lab coats, the lads performed their fuzzed-out musical experiments to a crowd of willing human research subjects.
Photos by Matt Cowan