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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Guillermo Prieto

As you drive in the dark to the Joshua Tree Music Festival on Highway 62, you have to look carefully for the right turn. As I tried to enter, I was met by a security person manning a handmade level barrier with the word “Alto” hand-painted on it.

I stopped. Lucky for me, I am bilingual.

This was the 10th year for the fall Joshua Tree Music Festival, which took place Oct. 8-11 at the Joshua Tree Lake Campground. This micro-festival takes place an hour away from the spot where those mega-festivals take place in Indio. With the help of volunteers, this is definitely a DIY affair. Familiar faces were everywhere, helping with everything from food to production to the construction of the grounds.

Gene Avaro Jr. and the Family (which just finished a national tour with RCA recording artist Elle King) provided the soul of the festival: The musical genes of the Evaros were sprinkled all over this fest. On Thursday night, Gene Jr. and the Family performed at the Boogaloo stage and was a crowd favorite. I loved Ronkat Spearmans Katdelic, who funked things up after the Gene Jr. and the Family set. 

The Boogaloo Stage had an excellent lounge that rivals those at the mega-festivals. It came free with the price of admission—and included complimentary beans and rice on Thursday.

On Friday, the Ben Miller Band brought a mishmash of Appalachian style rock that was exceptionally cool. Meanwhile, Brooklyn funk band Turkuaz turned in a well-executed set; imagine an Anglo George Clinton who listened to the Talking Heads on a regular basis.

Although you would think the festival would be packed with psychedelic bands, anyone in attendance would be very pleased with the diversity of music—and the precise set times, which is a rarity these days.

On Saturday, Oakland’s Bang Data was a stand out hip-hop act. Daby Touré brought African fusion to the Indian Cove stage that was awe-inspiring.

You could consider Gene Jr. the emcee of Joshua Tree, as he hosted a variety bands. The Desert Rhythm Project with Gene Evaro Jr. on keys, Bryanna Evaro on bass and Michael Reyes on lead vocals was another example of how the Evaros dominated multiple stages.

Moon Hooch brought EDM with two saxophones and drums; the group was full of energy and had fans dancing during the beat-driven set.

One of my favorites on Sunday was Xavier Rudd and the United Nations, an Aussie band whose heavy reggae tunes were well-received.

It’s a pleasure to be at a fantastic musical happening with no VIP section and no special entrances—just the chance to hang out with joyful individuals who just want to listen to music for the sake of music.

The Eighth Annual Desert Stars Festival brought more than 30 bands to two outdoor stages and one indoor stage at Pappy and Harriet’s on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 25 and 26.

In other words, attendees really had some tough decisions to make regarding which bands to see.

The Desert Stars Festival is a traditional celebration of all things desert. Promoter Tommy Dietrick started the event as the Clean Air Clear Stars Festival in 2007, and changed the name in 2013. Via the festival, Dietrick did a excellent job of promoting the galactic efforts by the Mojave Desert Land Trust. MDLT had a petition table to urge POTUS to create several new land monuments. Dietrick reminded everyone to sign the petition and thanked MDLT for preserving 60,000 acres in the desert.

To my surprise, I ran into some music fans I met at a metal show in Orange County, and a couple I saw at the mega FYF Fest earlier this summer. I also saw a handful of West L.A. faux-hippies who apparently get their fashion cues from H&M, creating a look that would cause Ken Kesey to roll over in his grave.

Thankfully, music took center stage over fashion.

On Friday, Dead Meadow was a highlight. Dead Meadow perfects the new psychedelic genre with an original interpretation of bass, guitar and drums that allows you to just relax and listen as you groove under the Mojave sky.

Spindrift was on early on Friday; the band is always a crowd favorite with spaghetti-Western instrumental surf-rock. New song “Kama Sutra Tiger Attack” would be outstanding in a remake of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Alex Maas of the Black Angels is a regular at this festival—and to Pappy and Harriet’s. Maas had the honors of playing on the handmade Tee Pee stage, constructed by Tommy Dietrick himself. Alex Maas used minimal equipment and kicked ass.

I was relaxing in the billiard room waiting for the Lemonheads when I spied Cain Motter, Venice artist and owner of Domeland, walking outside Pappy’s with a hula hoop. Since flash is always a no-no in music photography, Caine showed off fire-breathing to illuminate himself. Just a normal happening in these parts of the desert.

I was really excited to see the Lemonheads headline. The band kicked things off with “Hospital” and delighted fans through a 12-plus-song set—but there was no cover of “Mrs. Robinson.” Sky Parade with Tommy Dietrick on vocals was great in the indoor stage.

On Saturday, the Cosmonauts spread gloomy acid rock to the main stage—and I loved it. The jam-filled set let one appreciate the difference that psych rock bands bring to this festival.

The Entrance Band is another regular at Pappy and Harriet’s. Guy Blakeslee and Paz Lenchantin form the core of the band, which is well-known in the L.A. music scene. Paz has been the touring bassist for the Pixies for a few years, too. Together, they stood out at Desert Stars, especially with “Back in the City” from the EP Dans La Tempete.

U.K. band Swervedriver headlined the last night of the festival. This group indeed has some dedicated followers; one fan tried to call dibs on the set list while it was being taped to the stage. Swervedriver is touring to promote a new album, I Wasn’t Born to Lose You, and the band included “Autodidact,” “Lone Star” and “Setting Sun” from the new release. The new material was well-received by the hardcore fans.

If you want to experience a buffet of psych rock, Desert Stars is the place for you—and the majestic views that only the Mojave Desert can bring are more than a bonus.

Oakland’s Shannon and the Clams appeared at Pappy and Harriet’s on Thursday, Sept. 24, in support of the group’s fourth album, Gone by the Dawn, which dropped Sept. 11.

The front of the stage was crammed, with one fan dressed in an undersea-themed outfit. You could feel the love for the band as fans talked about the building excitement.

The band’s sound can be described as retro doo-wop, with some influence from early ’80s California surf punk.

“It is an extreme pleasure to play here,” said Shannon Shaw, the lead vocalist and bassist, as she positioned herself onstage. “This is the best place we have played.”

Shannon has a voice somewhere between a soprano and a tenor. She plays a glittery Danelectro bass, and she can be distracting as you listen to her sing as she plays the bass with amazing intricacy.

Those in attendance were ready to hop the night away, mimicking their best moves from a Gidget film. The fun was interrupted briefly by a knuckle-dragging chap who thought it would be a great idea to dive into the middle of the packed dance floor with a beer in a mason jar in one hand, and a full pitcher of beer in the other. The natural laws of moshing took over, and he was quickly dispensed of by those showered by beer.

The surf-pop song “Rip Van Winkle,” from the 2013 album Dreams in the Rat House, got a cheerful response. The first single off the new record is a melancholy love tune: “Corvette” is a metaphor about love. The Corvette never comes as she waits on the corner, waiting for the hot rod to show up.

“Point of Being Right” a wonderful, pessimistic raw love song: “You’re hiding something big from me, something I’ve chosen not to see, my instincts kept me up at night.”

You couldn’t help but be sucked into the expression of love between the band and the audience. It appeared that everyone was euphoric as they lost themselves in song.

This waterless clambake ended with “You Let Me Rust”—a faultless end from a delightful band.

Campout 11 came to Pappy and Harriet’s for three days starting last Thursday, Aug. 27, bringing to Pioneertown the annual migration of “Campers” and “Crumbs” fanatics from all over the United States, Canada and even the United Kingdom.

Custom, of course, dictates that there are dress themes everyday. Thursday’s unofficial theme was “Pink,” in commemoration of fan Karen Pratt-Mills, aka “KPM,” who passed earlier this year due to cancer. A sea of pink demonstrated the strong bond among this family of music fans.

The Hickman-Dalton Gang was the first band to perform inside. Hickman entered stage-right, strapped on his Gibson Les Paul “Lucky Seven” guitar and said: “Lots of love for Karen.” Johnny Hickman was wearing a pink KPM sticker in the style of the ETG logo (Eurotrash Girl). Claire Wilcox, one of the Queen Crumbs, told me Nancy Wheeler produced the sticker to hand out to fans with the help of Jan Switzer and Steve Rizzari. This example of friendship among Campout fans is the type of bond that keeps this mini-festival going.

The Hickman-Dalton Gang played the first song they wrote together: “Mexican Jail.” Later, Dalton noted: “This song is not on the list, but a pretty girl asked for this song,” as he introduced “My Name Is Dalton.”

With the audience warmed up, bluegrass came to the Campout thanks to Whiskey Gentry, formed by wife and husband Lauren Staley and Jason Morrow. Staley’s voice was impeccable, and Whiskey Gentry hooked me with “Martha”—a song the duo reportedly wrote about a week ago.

The Cracker duo, Johnny Hickman and David Lowery, shut things down Thursday night. Lowery greeted the crowd: “Hello, everybody. Welcome to Campout 11,” before starting with “Torches and Pitchforks,” off of Berkeley to Bakersfield; the lyrics powerfully echo the activism Lowery famously exhibits on behalf of artists’ rights: “We will fight you from the mountains, and we will fight you in the streets, and we will fight you in the valleys; you cannot take what isn’t yours.” The duo also played “Low” in addition to “Eurotrash Girl” and “Duty Free.” Hickman took the lead on vocals for “Wedding Day,” leaving his admirers content.

Friday night’s outdoor stage featured Jonathan Segel on guitar, with Victor Krummenacher on bass, playing cool jams showcasing their instrumental skills. Whiskey Gentry offered a set that was expanded from the night before. Lauren Staley said this was her first time in California; it seemed she might have been hooked on the high desert scene.

Camper Van Beethoven headlined on Friday. The theme: classy dames and able gents. Of course, lead vocalist David Lowery wore a tuxedo. Listening to Lowery sing “Eye of Fatima (Part 1)” was worth the price of admission alone. Segel and Krummenacher shredded and grooved, making people want to dance—with the bonus of hearing Camper Van Beethoven’s cover of Status Quo’s “Matchstick Men.”

Thayer Sarrano, from Athens, Ga., opened on the outdoor stage on Saturday. Her honeyed voice grabbed me, and her song “Shaky,” from her album of the same name, blew me away.

The Queen of Joshua Tree, Jesika Von Rabbit, was up next. Jesika showcased favorites like “You Drive Me Ape,” “Devils Playground,” “Dirty Horse” and “Glamorous Misery,” whose video is astonishing but very NSFW. Jesika ended with “Din Ho,” a fast-paced song about a defunct Yucca Valley Chinese restaurant that gets you wanting to square dance.

Cracker headlined the outdoor show, and many fans wore Bakersfield or Berkeley garb. Cracker played the hits including “The World Is Mine,” “Low” and “Teenage Angst.” Cracker also played the very melancholy but flawless “Almond Grove,” from the group’s latest, Berkeley to Bakersfield: “Yeah, I’m going back home, to the cotton fields to the almond groves, to the old homestead, see my Ma and Pa, see my big brother Jack, he went to Kandahar, but he never came back.”

Cracker does not normally play encores, but the band came back with “You Got Yourself Into This,” also from the latest release. Lowery handed the baton to Hickman to close the outdoor show with “San Bernardino Boy,” a non-autobiographical tune about a young Inland Empire lad who sounds like someone you might run into in this part of the desert.

For those with endless endurance, Frank Funaro played a great Lou Reed set to end Campout 11.

I’ve seen Buzz Osborne several times at Pappy and Harriet’s; last time, he performed his one-man King Buzzo show, which highlighted his crazy charisma as he strolled around the stage with an acoustic guitar.

Last Wednesday, gloom-metal fans got to see Buzz with the Melvins—complete with two drummers, Dale Crover and Coady Willis, who provided the sonic freight train. Jared Warren was on bass, showing off a black eye he said was courtesy of a mugging. He claimed he fought off a dozen or so robbers who said, “Give me all your money.”

The sonic drenching that smashed fans rivaled any sound-bath chamber designed by aliens from Venus in the nearby town of Landers

Thank God for foam earplugs. I felt my kidneys move a little with the roar from Osborne’s guitar—but I have two, and that helps in these sweet situations. I was thankful for the lack of moshing, which was supplanted by cranium-crushing head sways that managed to keep everyone upright.

The show was sold out, and fans were crammed in, feeling the raw boom by these skillful rockers. The highlight for me was the song “The Water Glass,” which showcased the superb cadence of the drummers, while Buzz—wearing a druid smock—led the band like a wild wizard: “Here we go, every day, all the way, in the grove, on the move, hoo hoo hah hah.” Osborne asked his band for a restart of the song, saying: “I totally messed it up.” A mistake was not evident to me, nor do I suspect anybody in the audience noticed any goof-ups. But I defer to King Buzzo and his 30 years of performing experience.

Prior to heading to Los Angeles’ FYF Fest for a Saturday, Aug. 22, performance, the London-based band the Savages made its first appearance on the West Coast at Pappy and Harriet’s on Thursday, Aug. 20.

This may have been the first adobe movie-set cantina in which this band has played. The Savages brought a lattice backdrop and special LED lighting that gave the stage the feel of a dark, smoky cabaret, thanks in part to a dry-ice machine.

French-born vocalist Jehnny Beth greeted fans with, “Hello! Are you all right? You are really close,” before kicking things off with distortion-heavy “I Am Here,” off of the Savages' 2013 debut album, Silence Yourself. When you hear Beth sing, you think you may have discovered Lene Lovich and Peter Murphy’s secret musical protégé. The song brought to life some meatheads in the audience, who created an impromptu mosh pit. There was no sign of Big Dave, the bouncer, who usually puts a stop to such shenanigans—but a little moshing is always a plus at a venue that normally quells such activity.

Lucky for me, I stood next a metal pole that is perfect to hold, so you do not fly onto the stage. I was also fortunate to be with Rocio, a hard-core music fan I see at shows all over Southern California. Her training, courtesy of the Marines, helps her in these post-punk-pit situations.

Jehnny Beth at one point addressed an unprofessional photographer who was blasting her with a flash: “No flash. I do not have the complexion for that.” She then quickly introduced an appropriate song: “This is ‘Shut Up.’”

After saying the band was going to play some brand-new songs, Beth introduced one: “The Answer.” Beth showed love to the audience by making sure she made eye contact with her smoldering eyes, even though signs through out the venue reminded everyone to keep the cell phones away. Beth then introduced “Adore,” by saying, “All right: One more new song, and then we play the hits.”

The show included “No Face,” which showcases the shredding kick-ass guitar skills of Gemma Thompson.

Summoning the women in the audience by saying, “Ladies in the front! Come on, ladies. This is for the ladies,” she began “She Will.” Ayse Hassan dropped heavy bass lines that would have fit in at warehouse shows in San Pedro during the old hard-core punk days in So Cal. Fay Milton destroyed the kit with her awesome pummeling.

After the band played “Husbands,” Beth thanked the fans before saying: “This is the last song, and you know what? The Savages never do encores, but this is a long song.”

As she spoke, some tussling broke out in the crowd. After acknowledging it, she continued: “Don’t let the fuckers let you down. So are we going to play this song, or what? We are going to go home and come back, and we are going to do this again. Is that a deal?”

The audience responded with a scream. Beth said: “This song is called “Fuckers.”

Rocio allowed me to share her eloquent mini-review, as posted on social media: “Tonight’s show at Pappy and Harriet’s was almost indescribable. Never have I seen a band for the first time only knowing a couple songs that captured my attention as fully as Savages did. The atmosphere they created by the backdrop, lights and no-flash requirement created an aura of mystery so tangible, men and women alike fell in love with the all-female foursome.”

There was so much buzz surrounding the Pappy and Harriet’s indoor show by Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real that the crew cleared as much space in the adobe music venue as possible.

Of course, there was the normal droning on social media about how Pappy’s should have moved the show outside, where there’s more space. Never mind that it was hot as hell, plus the logistics of an outdoor show are immense.

Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real, aka POTR, started performing live in 2008. One reason for all the buzz: Lukas Nelson is the son of Willie Nelson, and he has toured with his father.

One of his major influences is Neil Young. Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real played on Neil Young’s 36th album, The Monsanto Years, and POTR just wrapped up a tour with Young. This may explain the demographic shift at Pappy’s that suggested some in attendance might have seen Buffalo Springfield live while in their teens. Even my hemp-fedora-wearing consigliore friend, who believes all music died when the Beatles left Candlestick Park, was in attendance.

The show was a family affair, with Insects v. Robots opening, with Micah Nelson, Lucas’ brother, at the helm. Insects v. Robots is a trippy band that jams the hell out of every tune while mixing genres and having a blast. At one point, Micah asked Lukas to join the set—but he was nowhere to be found, so Micah asked for help from the audience; a brunette with Catherine Wheel and Phil Collins tattoos volunteered to go bang on the tour-bus door. As they say, the show must go on, and Insects v. Robots got everyone harmonizing to the psychedelic vibe. On several occasions, Micah Nelson asked with a smirk: “Does anyone have any questions?”

Joshua Tree’s favorite cowgirl, Jesika Von Rabbit, was briefly front and center to get a picture of Lukas Nelson. POTR opened with a greeting from Lukas: “How are you guys doing? … I think I have a lot of friends here.” Nelson seems not cocky, but cool, when he smiles; he has natural charisma.

POTR’s set included “Don’t Take Me Back,” a authentic song about a breakup: “I was sittin’ in my daddy’s car, with a joint in both of my hands, smokin’ ’til the smoke wouldn’t stop, and the windows roll down, and I’m rolling around in my mind.” Lukas included a cover of “L.A. Woman” by the Doors that was an excellent way to showcase the band’s skills, before switching genres several times, with music including “Diamonds on the Soles of Your Shoes” by Paul Simon. In a nod to “Uncle Neil,” POTR included “Cowgirl in the Sand.”

Nelson guitar skills were hypnotic; at one point, he played the guitar with his mouth as he kneeled on the stage.

POTR was getting ready to head out the side door—until a chant of “five more songs!” started from frenzied fans. To pump up the audience, Lukas turned out an excellent cover of “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones. Then he remarked: “This is a song we wrote a while ago, ‘The Joint.’”

Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real showed why they more than held their own onstage with Willie Nelson and Neil Young.

As the show ended, I bumped into Jesika Von Rabbit at the bar. She was excited that her favorite Neil Young song had been played.

I have never seen Redd Kross live, nor do I own a Redd Kross record. This confession may result in the removal of any punk cred I may think I have.

I did not know what to expect from the band’s Friday, Aug. 7, show at Pappy and Harriet’s, but I envisioned something in line with contemporaries like Black Flag. I even came prepared by bringing a little muscle in the form of a friend who is a paralegal by day, and a rock photographer by night: I did not want to repeat the Jello Biafra show incident of 2013, which resulted in me getting up close and personal with a speaker monitor, and my eyeglasses becoming a Frisbee.

Entering through a side door was tall lead vocalist and guitarist Jeff McDonald; he has long, flowing hair that would make Peter Burns of Dead or Alive envious.

“This is our Partridge Family show, our roadhouse show,” he told the Pappy’s crowd.

The start of the set featured more of a mellow rock sound, with teases of distortion and cool riffs that gave one the feeling the band was going to ease into the weighty stuff. Opening with glam and power-pop tunes was fine with me, since my trusty new assistant was MIA.

A husky bearded guy in the audience yelled, “You guys are hot!” Steve McDonald replied: “Let’s get hotter.” Jeff McDonald chimed in: “Such a good vibe here.”

I was hooked after a few notes, thinking: How in the hell have I missed Redd Kross? Jeff McDonald’s hair flung about as he and his brother slayed with intensity, putting to shame modern faux-punk bands which are all hat but no cowboy.

Redd Kross killed it, which was not surprising to the many familiar fans in attendance, who joined the choruses of most of their songs. The 13-plus-song set included “Switchblade Sister,” Annie’s Gone” and “Frosted Flake.”

Toward the end of the show, Steve McDonald mentioned the band had a couple more songs to do. “Do you want mellow or heavy?” he asked. The prompt response: Multiple yells for “heavy.” Redd Kross responded with “Linda Blair,” from Redd Kross’ first LP, Born Innocent, first issued back in 1982, and which was recently re-released via cassette by way of Burger/Frontier Records. Yes, cassettes.

My only disappointment from the show was that Redd Kross had not previously been part of my punk-rock catalog.

Friday, 14 August 2015 08:00

Snapshot: Splash House August 2015

To understand Splash House, look to the great Scottish band Belle and Sebastian, which declares: “Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance.”

This formula for success brings to Palm Springs the younger set, which was virtually banned from Palm Springs in the ’80s and ’90s. However, gone are the rabble-rousers popping wheelies with bikini-clad girls holding on for dear life; instead, this is a smaller house-music festival with a more-intimate feel, thanks to approximately 4,000 in attendance.

This was the second Splash House celebration this summer, this time taking over three venues: Saguaro, the Hilton and Hard Rock. The Saguaro’s pool was packed to capacity, requiring security to use a hand-held counter to determine how many people could get in the pool. You could, at times, walk from one end of the pool to the other—if you dared to balance yourself on the armada of floaties.

Fans dealt with the scorching heat by shuttling back and forth in free buses stocked with ice-cold water. The shuttle bus itself was part of the show, with excited music fans dancing to music being pumped in from the speakers—a tradition borrowed from Coachella itself.

By the festival’s second day, everyone appeared to be acquainted. People offered me recommendations on which performers to see. My only quibble: There was no shuttle stop at the Hilton, meaning attendees had to make the short-but-in-blistering-heat walk to the Hard Rock. However, the lack of a shuttle stop allowed me to have a great conversation with Katya Bachrouche, a Lebanese-American international swimmer who shares my love for Lebanese pickled turnips. These random social interactions illustrate how Splash House is more than a music festival; it’s a shared experience between people who want to have fun.

Here are photos from the August Splash House.

I got to Pappy and Harriet’s early for the sold-out Built to Spill show. As I waited out back, one of the bouncers was helping a small, green-shirted hipster who took the band’s name literally: He’d spilled something unrecognizable all over his beard, shirt and shorts. “He was nice, though,” bouncer Matthew said as he returned to his post.

Some people apparently can’t handle their Pappy’s.

By 8 p.m., fans started to rush inside for the 10 p.m. show. The band was already onstage, jamming through three songs, which got some thinking the show had started early. However, it was just a long sound check that served as a preview of Built to Spill’s 16-song set.

The show marked a return to the desert for Built to Spill after performances at Coachella this year. It was not the first time Built to Spill has been to Pappy’s: The band played back in 2008 at the Camper Van Beethoven/Cracker Campout, held every year at this roadhouse. Built to Spill considers Camper Van Beethoven an influence.

Earplugs were definitely needed for the loud, muddy, bluesy and psychedelic set, which started with “Three Years Ago Today,” off Ultimate Alternative Waivers, the band’s first full-length record. It’s a great song, one which showcases the reasons why the band has continued on the Warner Bros. label for 23 years.

Improvisation and distortion filled the spaces between the adobe walls. After the second song, vocalist Doug Martsch asked for an adjustment from the soundboard. The changes made no difference to the audience, as attendees showed their appreciation by harmonizing to the shreds being put down by Martsch’s Fender Stratocaster.

Built to Spill ripped sounds through the desert air with “Distopian Dream Girl,” a classic by this band. Martsch was not talkative, except for an occasional “thanks” and, “How are you all doing tonight?” Instead, he focused on the music.

“Living Zoo”—off Untethered Moon, the band’s new record and the first since 2009—was forceful and crisp.

As I took photos near the front of the stage, I was bookended by a Latina wearing a “Don’t Feed the Hipster” shirt, and a blond who kept saying, “Get pictures of the bass player; he is hot!” Therefore, I retreated to the back of Pappy’s to watch the rest of the show, where I encountered a fan dancing feverishly to “Traces.”

As Doug Martsch walked off, he said, “Thanks a lot, everyone,” and high-fived the front row. The band came back for a brief encore, ending with “Carry the Zero.”

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