FEATURES - JANKY SMOOTH

Why We’re Still Trippin on Desert Trip

Roger Waters shot by Kevin Mazur
Featured Image: Kevin Mazur

Hunters Moon at Desert TripNow that the dust has settled, and we’ve had a little time to reflect and recover from the epic assemblage of music called Desert Trip, the memories keep flooding into our consciousness. (“Epic” gets overused when it comes to music, but this event was the very definition of the word.) It’s super dramatic, but the weekend in Indio’s impact and meaning has sort of been absorbed into our being the last several days. When you love music on an obsessive level like we do, every experience becomes a part of who you are, and a show featuring the bands you grew up worshiping isn’t something you simply move on from. Anyone who went to Desert Trip has to feel like it affirmed something deep inside of their being, and if they don’t, we have to question if they even have a soul.

We’ve detested the nickname “Oldchella,” from the get go for a number of reasons, mostly because it felt disrespectful to the artists and timelessness of what they’ve created. Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Who and the Rolling Stones’ music is not simply, “grandpa rock,” or even “classic rock,” it is the definitive essence of rock n’ roll. When old becomes dead for any of these performers, their music will live on, as joyful, defiant, provocative, trippy, and powerful as the day we first heard it with virgin ears. “Old” implies deterioration, weakness, and feebleness, but no matter how many old bones were on stage during the show, the sounds remained vital, maybe more vital than ever.

Denizens of Desert Trip

Denizens of Desert Trip

Rock n’ roll in this kind of pure form could not be less cool right now, at least with mainstream audiences. Desert Daze, which took place not far from Trip last weekend, saw the nouveau suede fringe set convene to watch a new generation of messy-tressed rebels molest guitars and wail their guts out, and that was super promising for the state of music and where it’s going. But it looked to attract a younger, Coachella-esque crowd and with that came, at least from the pics we saw, the ironic fashion statements and nouveau-boho man-bun contingent. It’s about the music (man) and when you’re watching bands that are so iconic they’ve been made into cartoon characters (more than once) it’s simply another level of experience. A higher one that’s anything but ironic, and not about being seen or “the scene.” Actually being there is as important as saying you were, you dig?

So yeah, despite the $18 chardonnays and the white hair everywhere (the crowd was literally dotted with walkers and oxygen tanks), no show has ever affected us the way Desert Trip did. We attempted to keep a “desert diary” hoping to chronicle every funny, weird and transcendent thing that happened last weekend but in the end, even our most eloquent prose couldn’t convey what we did and felt. So we scraped it all and jotted down these thoughts instead…

Everybody Must Get Stoned

Desert Trip Car Camping

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Two words: Car Camping… No matter how coddled and amenities-loving you are, you should try staying on the grounds of your favorite festival once. Sleeping, eating, hanging and basically living beside fellow music fans is unlike any other human experience you can have. We roughed it for the rock and even with the long walks to camp and sweltering afternoons, it was an incredible experience. The organizers have created a welcoming environment for campers that those who drive in are really missing out on. Plus, we completely avoided traffic! We hear the past few Coachellas have had the same kind of facilities (private showers, activities, wifi and charging stations, food vendors). Our only issue was the hypocritical way the event handled the drug thing. It’s called Desert TRIP for godsakes, yet we almost had the dogs called on our RV due to a forgotten joint (which had a medical prescription attached) found during the car searches on Thursday night. This while planes flew overhead advertising Pineapple Kush and Roger Waters projected images of giant doobies during his opening number.

Desert Trip Stage

How Does It Feel?
Bob Dylan was a big ol’ bore. We posted as much on Facebook after his set, and as expected, we got shit from his fans, mostly fellow music critics. Yes, he’s a poet and he was a revolutionary, but he just doesn’t give care anymore. He hasn’t for a long time. We get that he hates cameras, but whatever direction he gave to the dudes filming for the jumbotrons (the only way most fans could connect, engage or otherwise see him) was downright self-indulgent. Terrible side view shots of the singer and his band at first and then some pretentious black & white videos that rather than enhance his narratives, only served to distract from them. And let’s talk about his vocals for a minute shall we? His voice has always been an acquired taste but geez, it’s gotten extra-grating in recent years. Admittedly we’re more a “Dylan’s Greatest Hits” level fan, but we’ve seen the docs and films and we’ve read some stuff. We’re aware of his influence and talent. But seriously, aside from an appreciation for the lyrical depth of his early work for which he was just awarded the Nobel prize in literature, this legend was/is a total snooze, and saying so doesn’t mean we murdered Jesus.

The Rolling Stones on the other hand, were more alive than ever. Disclosure: shameless Stones mega-fan with the tongue tattoo to prove it right here. But that doesn’t mean we’d be in denial if the band didn’t deliver. If anything, our standards are higher as someone who has seen them kill it in concert since the 80s. Friday night in the desert they were truly giddy. There are so many things we love about the Stones and we’ve written them all in various pubs, mags and blogs over the years, but here’s a couple things we haven’t said yet. We want to thank our favorite band for the following:

Wrinkles,  and for not succumbing to tight faced plastic surgery makeover that some of their peers have. More than any other band, the creases on these guys kinda need to be there. They tell stories that the music only begins to.
Humor.  Mick called Desert Trip, the “catch them before they croak” fest. Vanity aside, he’s never shied away from poking fun at himself. After all these years, he knows his chicken moves are ripe for parody, but he also knows us fans want to see them. And guess what? He’s still got ‘em.
The material.  The Stones will always give us the hits, whether we want them or not (and even after the hundredth time, they make us want them again!) but the highlight at Desert Trip weekend two, for us anyway, saw no ass shaking or lighting spectacle or Satisfaction. It was a paired down sing-a-long from Exile On Main Street, featuring Mick on acoustic guitar and Keef’s nuanced nasel harmonizing. “Sweet Virginia” was sweet, twangy and beauteous. A week later we’re still reliving singing along to this with the crowd and the band.
The Rolling Stones at Desert Trip shot by Kevin Mazur

The Rolling Stones at Desert Trip shot by Kevin Mazur

Thank you for your wine, California,
Thank you for your sweet and bitter fruits.
Yes I got the desert in my toenail
And I hid the speed inside my shoe.

But come on, come on down Sweet Virginia,
Come on, honey child, I beg of you.
Come on, come on down, you got it in ya.
Got to scrape the shit right off you shoes.

Old Man Look At My Life
Paul McCartney at Desert TripWe will never participate in the tired “Stones or Beatles” debate, because truly, we love both bands. The Stones appeal to our subversive tastes more and always have, but the songwriting and chemistry of the Beatles can never be denied. As a child of the 70s we also love Wings a lot. Paul McCartney sounded great and so did his band, but there were simply a lot of tracks we would have rather heard over what he chose. The middle of the set had some odd choices, though they may have been about tempo. Sir Paul seemed a little tired. As with Dylan, we were very conscious of his age as he performed. The difference was, Dylan seemed to want to get through it, while Paul enjoyed it and put effort into the crowd enjoying it. He spoke to us and shared memories and had fun. By the time Rihanna came out (and our prayers, “please no Kanye! please no Kanye!” were answered), it was as if he got a second wind. We don’t see Mac retiring anytime soon, but the demands of a desert festival are probably a thing of the past for him.

Still, if we were to pit Saturday’s two performers against each other, we’d have to give it to Neil Young who played first. Backed by Willie Nelson’s sons, Young came off fervent and fresh. In fact, Young’s set was the closest thing to a freeform jam we’ve even seen at a big concert and it was pretty much flawless, from its acoustic start to electric finish.

Neil Young shot by Kevin Mazur

Neil Young shot by Kevin Mazur

Wish You Were Here
TeePee Car Camping at Desert DazeFour showers, five joints, six visits to the charging stations, dozens of bathroom trips (they were those trailer kind at least), a couple hundred dollars worth of food and drinks, and (most significantly) countless vantage points while watching the performers, made for a dizzyingly magical weekend. The bounty of bermuda shorts and mom jeans meant the security were pretty damn chill on the grounds. As we told a friend when she asked where our seats were—“it’s not about where you are, it’s about where you go.” And let’s face it, older people are gonna go right to the seats they paid for (which by the way, were really comfy, if too close together). Then they’re gonna get tired and leave early. That’s when we moved up. And up again. And up again. We never made it to the pit, but we made attempts to see all six performers as far away and up close as we could get. We were surprised that press seats were so far up in the Grandstand, but then when the lights shown over the crowd we understood- the view was as much a part of this show as the performances. The big money floor seat people missed out on that.

Anyway, we ran late and walked in as The Who were about half way through their set, singing ‘Join Together,’ in an urgent and groove heavy fashion that felt almost theatrical for us as we stomped in. Roger Daltrey was potent as ever, and Pete Townshend did his requisite windmills, even bopping himself on the head, leaving a bloody gash. Now that’s rock n’ roll.

Roger Waters shot by Kevin MazurThe fest culminated with Roger Waters aural and visual assault and by that time we had our choice of seats. Whether due to work the next day or their political leanings, a lot of the more seasoned concert goers went home. We chose the very front of the grandstand area to watch Roger Waters as several seats were open. By now you’ve heard about “the pig,” and the anti-Trump driven visuals. Subtlety has never been a Waters trait, and why should it be? More than any of the other groups on the Desert Trip bill Pink Floyd are the band who pushed the boundaries of reality. Straight up, they are the band you did drugs to for the first time, and if you didn’t, maybe you should have. The random curmudgeons who walked out with sour faces and even flipped us off when our group hollered and applauded for Waters’ anti-Trump sentiments on stage, definitely should have.

Roger Waters "The Pig" at Desert Trip

The closing set presented by Waters at Desert Trip wasn’t about escapism or some psychedelic Wizard of Oz fantasy. It was about harsh reality. Yes, it was political and uncomfortable and in our faces. From the quadrophonic sound system that made us feel like monsters were cackling behind us and bombs were bursting beside us, to the striking images on the huge backdrop, to the Dark Side of the Moon prism projection, to the goddamn moon itself, which decided to be part of the setting, all full and bright and astronomical up there reminding us of our insignificance. Ok so we had a bit of a flashback from that time we ditched 10th grade and put a little piece of paper on our tongue and spun Floyd’s records over and over in our best friend’s bedroom…

Desert Trip PyrotechnicsNo psychedelics were necessary this time, though. As we walked back to our tent and attempted to contemplate what we just saw, putting it into context of the entire weekend -and shit, our entire life- we came to a place of peace and understanding. Music is everything. Music is life. It reflects who we are and informs what we do: friends, loves, political stances, character, all of it. Our chosen rock gods have a lot of power, but it has to be earned. Last weekend it was. At the risk of over-romanticizing (which we were guilty of several paragraphs ago anyway), Desert Fest was the closest we’ve ever come to heaven. One day maybe soon, everyone on stage will be going there for real (or that other place), but the point is, so will all of us.

Words: Lina Lecaro 

Photos: Kevin Mazur & Desert Trip

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