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Thu12122019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Last weekend’s annual Desert Daze music festival offered music enthusiasts a supersize meal of indy, alt, psych, punk and crazy tunes at the Institute of Mentalphysics, with music replacing meditation, yoga and UFOs.

Three days in Joshua Tree offered an upgrade from the one-day edition at the Sunset Ranch Oasis. The traffic jam in Mecca was replaced with a good traffic flow. Also gone were the traffic challenges that occurred during a recent Childish Gambino gig, held at the Institute of Mentalphysics by another promoter, that stoked mislaid reservations about Desert Daze.

Safety was a priority, as every car was subjected to a detailed search, including the opening of trunks. According to one of the security staffers I spoke to, they did remove an ax and a sword from a car on the first day.

Yes, promoter Phil Pirrone of JJUUJJUU had the logistics down for this increasingly ambitious festival. Desert Daze was spread out over the 400 acres of the center. The Moon Stage, for example, was easy to find—you just looked for the harvest moon that was dead-center over the stage. But getting lost was part of the fun; that is how I found a shrine to bygone technology hidden in a path behind vendors.

Desert Daze also included local artists, including Sand and Suede, which features handmade creations by owner Jenn Starr. Joshua Tree clothing designer Totally Blown uses a shotgun to design one-of-kind pieces. I later ran into co-founder Sarah Harris, and she was not packing a 12-gauge—just some joy from the music.

The Death Valley Girls made another appearance in the desert featuring fast-paced macabre garage rock. I bumped into the queen of Joshua Tree, Jesika Von Rabbit, near the small Buddha temple; she was quickly joined by Brant Bjork and Sean Wheeler, two desert kings of rock, for a quick photo.

The Sonics played favorites like “Louie, Louie” and “The Witch,” rivaling Television as the longest-tenured performers at Desert Daze; the band was founded in 1960.

Toro y Moi came back to the high desert, bringing some psychedelic funk to the Moon Stage during a windy and dusty night. Fellow Pappy’s alum Deerhunter also played on the Moon Stage, wearing a hoodie while commenting: “I want to dedicate this next song to Hanna. … I just pissed on my fucking leg,” offering Dezert Daze’s foremost TMI moment.

Saturday brought the Los Angeles trio L.A. Witch, which has been moving up in popularity over the last few years; I first saw the group perform at a small gig at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs.

Saturday’s lineup included another female fronted band—The Coathangers, from Atlanta, who previously opened for the Black Lips in Pioneertown. The Coathangers are a buzz-worthy band; after 10 years of grueling touring, the group has earned respect in the indie scene.

Cherry Glazerr’s animated midafternoon Saturday performance showed off fuzzy and dreamy songs, comparable to those from the defunct band The Like. Thee Oh Sees also played on Saturday; I was happy to have the safety and security of the photo pit barrier, because the last time I saw the band, at my favorite desert roadhouse, I almost broke my ankle trying to get a shot in a mosh pit. Thee Oh Sees bring fun musical proto punk chaos whenever the group appears.

Indie Danish rockers The Raveonettes played on the Block Stage, playing newer songs like “Sisters” and classics like “Love in a Trashcan.” The Raveonettes are releasing a new single every month this year.

Another high desert alum, The Black Angels, played the entire album Passover, a 2006 release; it was a true treat. I first saw Black Angels vocalist Alex Maas in 2013, playing a soldout set at Pappy and Harriet’s.

Primus headlined on Saturday, and Les Claypool’s six-string bass was magical during “My Name Is Mud.” Drummer Julie Edwards of Deap Vally was in the pit during the beginning of the set with her 10-month old baby, Mira, who was wearing giant ear protectors; the toddler got really excited during heavy drum beats, suggesting that Mira received Momma’s drumming genes.

Claypool got partisan by offering a tongue-and-cheek comment poking fun at Donald Trump’s claim “that he can grab a woman’s vagina,” adding, “I say ‘vagina’ because I’m a gentleman.” I presume Mr. Claypool was unable to borrow Roger Waters’ floating pig that featured anti-Trump comments at Desert Trip.

On Sunday, Warpaint’s Jenny Lee took her dog, Ludo, onstage as she performed songs from her 2015 solo record Right On! I love the way Jenny Lee drops the bass lines; she was very impressive as a solo act, dominating the stage as she marched to her interpretation of true rock. She was one of the highlights of Sunday.

La Luz had an early set on Sunday; the group has been building a fan base by opening for bands like the Entrance Band and playing at the taste-making Echo Park Rising fest. La Luz is the only doo-wop surf band whose fans like to mosh—a true mystery.

Deap Vally was a highlight of Sunday’s afternoon, featuring Julie Edwards, the co-organizer of Desert Daze and the spouse of promoter Phil Pirrone. Deap Vally starred the howling vocals of lead singer Lindsey Troy, and the set featured “Gonnawanna” from September release Femejism.

METZ’s heavy punk sound was mosh-pit worthy, as the noise-rock group plays traditional punk that sparked a small circle pit in front of the otherwise mellow Block Stage.

On Sunday night, I hurried to catch Foxygen at the Block Stage set for a 7:30 p.m. scheduled start; attendees could see the stage crew trying to identify an unknown sound issue that finally resolved for a start time around 8.

Television headlined the Moon Stage. An apology came from Tom Verlaine, as he explained the band was asked to start a half-hour late. Verlaine asked for the spinning lights to be turned off, stating, “We’re going to have seizures if you keep those twirling discs on.” The lighting person complied, making it darker on stage. Fans in the front row sang along to “Prove It,” a detective story-themed tune from the 1977 release Marquee Moon.

I have followed Desert Daze since it began at Dillon’s Roadhouse in North Palm Springs. Little by little, this festival has grown to the point where music fans now have an opportunity to hear a lot of progressive music in a setting that’s not too large. Desert Daze is a place to hear great music—not a place just to be seen. Hopefully, the community embraces this DIY festival that has just one purpose: to rock.

Published in Reviews

Desert Daze, which started at the Dillon Roadhouse as a lengthy alternative-to-Coachella event in 2012, will return to the Sunset Ranch Oasis for the second consecutive year, this time during Stagecoach, on Saturday, April 26.

Desert Daze combines local, regional, national and world music acts during a day of music. Local bands War Drum and Slipping Into Darkness have played at the festival; last year, the lineup included the Saharan folk band Tinariwen (who, by the way, will be at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace on Sunday, April 20). This year, the Desert Daze lineup will feature Blonde Redhead, The Raveonettes and actor/musician Vincent Gallo.

The mastermind behind the festival is Phil Pirrone, the founder of Moon Block Party, a festival and concert producer. During a recent phone interview from Pomona, Pirrone recalled the inaugural festival at the multiday Dillon Roadhouse in 2012, and discussed what made him decide to turn it into a one-day event in Mecca.

“We wanted there to be camping. We wanted there to be a wide-open space for it to take place in, and so when it came time to do it again last year … we decided to move it to the Sunset Ranch,” Pirrone said. “But the concept behind it was to just throw an event that would be more for the kind of music that we would like to see than some of the other options out there.”

Pirrone is passionate about the festival being a platform and an opportunity for local and regional acts.

“It’s the strong thread of our overall ethos of creating a new avenue for artist development,” Pirrone said. “It’s not like being a record label; it’s not like being a management company, or anything like that. It’s all about having community artists make their own festival for big artists that they’re friends with and that they also believe in, not only to showcase the band’s music, but also give the band members an employment opportunity. So there’s a huge local element to the festival.”

Pirrone said that the festival has a staff of more than 100 people—half of them are working musicians. He said that he and his staff members taught themselves how to be masters of promotion, booking and logistics when it comes to music festivals. The efforts have paid off.

“We really love the idea of getting some of our favorite bands from around the world that we would (normally) only dream of seeing, let alone producing a show that they would play,” Pirrone said.

How did Pirrone and co. manage to book the enigmatic Vincent Gallo?

“We invited him, and he said yes,” Pirrone said. “I knew that he and I had similar tastes in music, so I thought it was worth a shot. I shot him an e-mail; he wrote me back in a very short response. He was very old-school about it and told me to give him a call. That’s pretty cool in this day and age when everything is done through e-mail, and it was very nice to talk to someone over the phone for a change.”

As for what attendees can expect from Desert Daze this year, Pirrone said the logistics will be much improved, after listening to attendee feedback regarding last year’s festival.

“The campgrounds is just new and improved in every way imaginable,” Pirrone said. “The entire general camping population will be moved to a new area of the ranch where there’s a dry lake that’s huge. It’s soft, dry, and it’s not a dust bowl. There’s easier check-in, easier parking, easier load-in—it’s really ideal. Last year was our first year at the ranch, so there was some trial-and-error stuff going on where we were really learning the layout of the land. We’ve really improved the way everything is laid out this year.”

Art will also be a big part of the festival this year.

“There are going to be a lot of cool and interesting installations from local artists,” Pirrone said. “There’s all sorts of stuff planned in addition to the music. There are going to be a lot of well-known artists collaborating with some of our headliners this year, which is pretty exciting. It’s new ground for us.”

Pirrone said that while he appreciates Coachella, he and his crew are focused on the smaller scale of Desert Daze.

“We want to improve the quality of the festival,” Pirrone said. “We want to maintain the same feeling at the festival, and we also want to maintain the fact that it’s an affordable option. We want to increase the quality without increasing the price too much. We like what’s happening here with the small one-day, one-night, really concentrated thing, and we want to maintain it.”

Desert Daze 2014 starts at 3 p.m., Saturday, April 26, at Sunset Ranch, 69520 Lincoln St., in Mecca. General admission tickets are $45; camping options are also available. For tickets or more information, visit www.desertdaze.org.

Published in Previews