Desert Daze Day 1 Gets Sweaty, Smelly and Savage — King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard Steal the Night
All music festivals are experiences that go beyond simple musical performances. Your experience is largely what you make of it, though it can be influenced by extraneous factors. Sure, like any regular concert, the crowd’s love or disinterest for a band may make a performance seem that much more intriguing or dull. But unlike a concert that lasts a few hours, with a festival you are invested for a day or weekend. The longer you are at the festival, the more chances you have for those moments, small or large, to forge an experience that you are likely to remember. Desert Daze, with its new venue at the Institute of Mentalphysics grounds in Joshua Tree, CA was no exception.
Upon our arrival at parking lot at the Institute, Grimy Goods photographer Wes Marsala and I noticed four checkpoint lines leading to the campgrounds and had realized our rookie mistake of buying beer in glass bottles for the camping portion of our event. While we had plenty in cans as well, the idea of losing our best beer was unsettling. “How many do you think we can drink before we make it through the line,” I asked semi-jokingly. And though I plead the fifth on what happened next, we did have seven vehicles waiting in line ahead of us. Unexpectedly, it took over an hour for us to get through the line though every search we witnessed took around two minutes. We were curious why the wait took seemingly longer than it takes to cross the U.S./Mexico border, but in the early goings of the festival, as with a lot of large events, information and organization were in short supply. After a few other minor SNAFU’s and hours, we had our tent set up and began exploring the grounds.
We needed to kick the tires on this venue and event, and kick them we did. Desert Daze is a smaller affair than most of the top music festivals. No one would reasonably expect Ferris wheel rides, interesting foods to sample, or bazaars. And while there were no carnival rides or apothecary dealers, food options at Desert Daze ran the gamut from basic to eclectic. Indian, Mexican, fresh vegan, pub fare, and others were easily found. Of note, there was a stand that sold a very good slice of fresh baked pizza for as little as $5. As you might imagine in our world where festival cuisine usually starts at $10 for a plain hot dog, the pizza place was deservedly very popular. There was plenty of interesting merch to be had, as well. While in a stall looking at vintage concert posters, I complemented the owner on the collection. The owner was a funny guy and after a few moments of friendly banter, he quipped that he would trade posters for drugs. I had a suspicion that he was joking, and that if he wasn’t, the ibuprofen I had in my pocket probably wouldn’t meet his criteria.
From an infrastructure stand point, there were areas with sidewalks, stairs, ramps, and rails, but if you were to go most places at Desert Daze, you did a lot of walking on the sand. Portable toilets were the only game in town, were plentiful, and in many easy to get to locations, but the portable sinks that accompanied them were almost constantly out of water. Sun exposure was constant. A place in the shade outside of the Wright Tent or the Sanctuary Hall was nearly nonexistent.
Finally, the camping experience could be improved a bit. One of the best parts about camping at festivals is getting to meet and hang out with people after the shows. There wasn’t any real common area in use or much of anything lit up at night. All new acquaintances needed to be made in the sunlight so that you could find their tent later. Given that Desert Daze was a three-day festival, it made sense that there were showers for the campers. The website confirmed it, but what it failed to mention was that it cost $5 per shower. Most festivals would just include shower access with the camping fee. As a result, there may have been a few hundred more odorous people than there needed to be.
Once we got the lay of the land, I followed the sound of Temples playing “Shelter Song.” I was excited to get to them, as they sounded great. Alas, it was the last song of their set. I chatted with a few people that confirmed my suspicions. Temples had played a great set. One of the greatest regrets that I have is that we saw so little of the band.
Next, we waited for The Sonics. The band hailing from Washington, formed in 1964. Though they flamed out after several years, they were revered for their influence on the garage band sound. Because of public interest, the band reformed in 2007 and has been playing since. These guys were all business and went straight into their set. There were some mic issues that lost a verse on the first song and a saxophone for the first three songs. The Sonics did not disappoint and played through the sound issues delivering a very adept set.
Thao & the Get Down Stay Down were performing at the Wright Tent during The Sonics’ set, so we had to miss the end of The Sonics’ set. Such is festival life and would happen may times again before the weekend was over. Thao Nguyen and company were running a bit late and were still getting sound levels when we arrived. Thao said, “Welcome to our sound check. We’ve come directly from LAX.” Ten minutes later, Thao & the Get Down Stay Down launched into four songs from their latest album. The band sounded great, and though I’d liked to have heard more we had to move on to the Moon Stage.
Washed Out took the stage bathed in the purple light of the stage and immediately captivated the audience. Within moments the large crowd was swaying to the atmospheric grove of Ernest Greene’s songs, including “Feel It All Around.” He told the audience that he “hadn’t played in a long time.” If he was apologizing for being a bit rusty, he didn’t need to. They certainly didn’t sound rusty. He played “You and I” as the crowd became an undulating wave of people in the silvery moon light.
It was time to move on to a band that is quickly becoming known for their highly energetic performances. After hearing so many people tell me that King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard was the band they were looking most forward to seeing, my interest was piqued. When we arrived to the Block Stage the band was having sound difficulties. This will be a huge recurring theme throughout this festival unfortunately. While enduring a fifteen with the rest of the crowd, I found myself next to a group of friends. One girl was holding a mascot style panda suit and began letting everyone know that she was going to put on the suit after the second song. She explained that the suit got hot, so she had to pick her moments. She further explained to her friends that the suit got her “a lot of attention” and “would make them all popular,” so the heat was worth it. She too will become a recurring theme to the festival.
When King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard finally started, the crowd erupted into an immediate pit. Not just a regular pit mind you, but a violent swirling cyclone of sand and humanity. The Australian band is equal parts psychedelic and metal. Front man Stu Mackenzie is mesmerizing. It may be the way he contorts his body during the performance. It could be the way he whips his hair around like a deranged 1980’s era head banger. Or, most likely, it’s the epic flute solos that he does in the middle of some of the songs. Regardless, the crowd couldn’t seem to get enough of the band’s particularly lengthy songs. Make no mistake, this band is a ball of electricity. They are a kinetic experience. Notable highlights from the crowd included a guy on his knees on the edge of the pit, flashlight in hand, desperately looking for his missing flip flop. At the last moment, he arose to just narrowly miss being trampled by a crowd of moshers carrying a girl dressed in a Panda suit. I suppose that that’s the sort of thing you should expect at a King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard show.
It was time to escape the pit, so we headed to Deerhunter on the Moon Stage. The band, hailing from Atlanta was just getting ready to play as we made it to the stage. Lead member Bradford Cox was wearing a hooded tunic that made him look like a jawa. He obscured his voice on stage when talking to the audience going from a chipmunk to ogre modulations and back again. He stayed shrouded the entire show. When the band played songs like “Fluorescent Grey” the bass and drums shook your entire body as the guitars washed over your head in fine shoegaze fashion. Others like “Revival” were fun bouncy rock songs that kept the audience bobbing up and down. A bit later, Cox said it was time to “get this thing loose and knock the dust off this shit.” Deerhunter certainly did as the crowd danced and swayed until the wee hours of the morning.
Words: Jon Bostick
Photography: Wes Marsala
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