I woke up early yet still stumbled into Dillon’s Roadhouse late; the last chord of Barbarians (not My Barbarian! Maybe your Barbarians…) struck as I hobbled in on my high heels. It was a great chord! But hopefully next time I’ll hear more.
And I was actually one of the early ones. Nature’s Son was a great band that didn’t have the crowd they deserved, though that meant I got a better view of ‘em. They had a total Strange Boys/lazy garage vibe, which was perfect on a sunny day like today.
Considering that young garage rockers from the Back from the Grave era were mop-headed young ‘uns, ain’t it odd that you see more mustachioed young men in this genre than in any other? There was a fantastic mustache on one of these guitar pickers, though my heart looked right past him and leapt a bit when I saw what looked like a Farfisa organ under the fingers of the keyboard player! Later I found out it was something even stranger, a far rarer indie-brand Italian combo organ from the 60s. But at least I guessed the right country of origin—does that make me a good music journalist, or a lousy nerd?
There’s something that’s so perfect about seeing a young garage band in a bar in the desert with the sun blazing into the bar through an open doorway. It makes sense when you think of how Tucson and Texas and Florida and Arkansas all these HOT HOT places produced some of the best no-hit screaming wonders from garage’s golden days. Zakary Thaks and the Outcasts probably played hundreds of shows just like this one, though maybe at all-ages venues considering how young those teen rockers were back in their golden days. Tropical Popsicle may have been of legal age, but they took the teen sound mantle even further than Nature’s Son had: this garage vibe had perhaps a tiny bit of the Texas border sound to it, with just a hint of Swingin’ Medallions, more Allah Las, and more… I dunno what, not really the Sir Douglas Quintet, but something that felt good to watch with cowboy boots on, something a tad bit more down home and dusty. They pitched their tent in the Strange Boys camp too, but the Strange Boys never admit to how much the 60s inform their sound; Tropical Popsicle wore their appreciation of American proto-psych on their sleeve, like White Fence, though with some sentiments that sounded more pissed-off than Tim Presley ever seems to be.
Actually, Incan Abraham outside were more tropical sounding than Tropical Popsicle, especially on their song “Sunscreen,” a sentiment probably lost on the many pink-hued members of the Desert Daze audience. Incan Abraham were also more 80s sounding, their guitars tempered by loads of bright chirping electronic arpeggios, which I assume were preprogrammed on the Macbook prominently displayed in front of one of the dudes. However you’d peg them stylistically, they had the hippies dancing. Their lyrics were sonorous, just a little too rounded to be New Romantic, but definitely something that Molly Ringwald could have fallen in love to.
I kind of preferred Pity Party, a female/male drum/guitar duo that the vast majority of our readers probably are familiar with (Hey! An ex-Raveonette’s in the band!) but whom I hadn’t seen outside of their incredible videos. Heisenflei is actually not the “drummer” so much as she’s the entire band, whacking keys between cymbal crashes and laying down more or less the entire structure of each song, with guitarist M (yeah, like the Peter Lorre film) kind of just accenting what she’s doing.
Yet again, here’s a sexy damned duo—it’s like rock ‘n’ roll is living up to everything the newspapers accused it of in the 50s! Definitely Heisenflei was on a rhythm-driven rampage, but a mid-tempo one, with sparse beats that mostly kept away from the snare and cymbals except as punctuation during the crescendos. She had strong, professional vocals, too, and in the wrong hands they might easily have veered towards a Melissa Etheridge “I wanna move, I wanna wake up!” kind of thing. But Heisenflei phrased her songs a little jazzier, a little funkier, almost like a New Jack Swing chanteuse—envision what might have been if Jane Child had formed the White Stripes! But that’s not quite right, either… I almost want to say this is like a Prince spin-off, like Wendy & Lisa but with more… balls. (Urg, I hate using that masculinist turn of phrase. Testicles do NOT equal great rock ‘n’ roll. Can I just say “swollen labia” instead? As in, “Sure, on some late 70s recordings, Mick Jagger successfully mimicked the staccato exclamations and off-key groans of Richard Hell and Stiv Bators–but he never had their swollen labia!”)
I know I already said this about Ahkiyyini two days before, but Pity Party may have been the best thing on the menu for all three days I attended. Like an abusive lover, Heisenflei pulled us into her world by socking us with those muscular vocals, then making it all about her: “You, you, you, you, you, you, you, you shine! I, I, I, I, I, I, I, I want what’s mine!” We feared what might happen if she didn’t get it! And once we were good and spooked, she freaked us out even more on the second to last song, structured around evil John Carpenter zombie synths and very few words, like something ADULT. would cover.
M was a good sport, too, about being somewhat insignificant when compared to the might of his band leader. But he wasn’t inconsequential, and his backup vocals and ornamental riffs did add a lot to some songs that otherwise would have been sparse. It was like a condiment to her main meal, though on the last song he did hit a few loud fat rock notes, with plenty of swollen labia!
Here We Go Magic outside was even more gentle, though not simple—in fact, if you took Avi Isenberg of Avi Buffalo and sped up his aging process, your cruel science experiment would pump out something a lot like singer Luke Temple, whose band collapses a lot of notes into songs that percolate rather than boil from all that busy energy. Some songs had a country vibe, and others more a Paul Simon vibe, especially “Moon,” which had Temple exclaiming gently about something falling into “The Pacific OOOOOOooooooooooooocean…” a straight-up seventies Simonism if ever I heard one. The rest of the band didn’t exactly “harmonize” so much as they uttered and whispered intriguing non-harmonies, sometimes in unison, sometimes filling in the gaps, with a lot of “la da da da da” from the bassist.
These songs were better live than what I’ve heard on album, but I still feel Temple and friends stop just this side of true memorable greatness. I can’t look into a man’s soul, so maybe I have the wrong idea, but you get the vibe watching Temple that he’s very content with where his songs are now and feels no need to try to fix what ain’t broken. There was no showboating and no arrogant posturing, but there was something in the way Temple carried the band from one song to the next that felt undeservedly confident, reminding me a bit of Anthony Jeselnik’s standup act: “That was an excellent song. Here’s another one…”
And maybe my comparison of Here We Go Magic to Avi Buffalo was what soured the experience for me, and maybe that’s unfair, because Avi Buffalo is just a standard four piece, whereas Here We Go Magic has all these keys and drum pads and call-and-response vocals and vibrant personalities on stage. But I think that’s my point. Here We Go Magic is not stupid music by any means, but like I would say about 70’s Frank Zappa, adding complexity isn’t the same thing as inspiration, and a lot of Here We Go Magic’s frills and spills were just that: ornamentation. Lovely but not lush. Quiet but not poignant. Maybe a little stupid would do them some good.
Well, aside from “Moon,” a transcendent, vivid song which no amount of criticism from a crank like me can dissipate. At first, I thought it was merely a fitting tribute to the Moon Block party, but then it hypnotized me, transporting me to a specific moment of awe I had never personally experienced; yet it felt like he was reciting my own memories back to me. And I’m not a fan of Paul Simon’s solo career, but on this tune, Temple’s Simon-y vocal grabbed my fucking feet, dragged me under, and then spit me back to the surface way out on the high seas—but all so fast that I never once lost my breath in the water. And when I came up, I literally had this vision: a glassy surface with gently lapping waves, in the dark, with a huge moon reflected in the surface. More like this, please, Luke.
And what an eye this was before the storm of Akron/Family, who followed Here We Go Magic on the outdoor stage and proceeded to tear that mother out! I am even more skeptical of R-A-W-K music than I am of gentle indie rock, but there was no standard rock trope at work here (and if this was folk, it was folk the way Gilbert and George are sculpture): it looked and sounded a lot like the Minutemen, but with better vocals. And almost as if it was planned, they busted out “Another Sky,” whose lyrics carried us from the desert right back to that ocean that Here We Go Magic were just singing about: “Escaping all the glitter and the fray…. you and I were cast into the waves.”
It was the kind of music that makes you stop and stare as you go over the lyrics in your head. But the boys in the band had no patience for our thought processes, and just when we thought we were all mellow adults who would just stand there and reflect knowingly on this stoic art, singer Seth Olinsky jumped down offa that thing and started herding people forcefully with his arms, flinging gals and guys into each other, making the mob sway and jump! And when that still wasn’t frantic enough for them, Miles Seaton actually took off his goddam Nikes and flung them full-on into the crowd, then jumped in after them himself, where Olinsky took to picking him up and spinning him, and/or vice versa.
And oh, beloveds, if you’ve ever known me you’ll know that what happened next was akin to taking Dumbo’s feather—Olinsky actually TOOK OFF MY HAT, dear readers! He took my hat, and started wearing it, and dancing in and around the crowd, and then he passed it to Seaton who put it on HIS head, and all the while the music was going around with just drums and feedback and pre-programmed bloopy things. And while I was flattered, the more Seaton started spinning around in the crowd, the more I began to fear for my iconic fashion statement, which I retrieved from Seaton’s head—and then Olinsky took it back AGAIN, finally flinging it to me when my fashion fears had reached an all-time high. And they didn’t even give me the courtesy of letting me hate them, because the show was just that good—Olinsky’s vocals growled like Frank Black’s, and his guitar noodled wickedly when they whipped out songs like “Suchness,” virtual homages to a young boy’s id.
And please don’t think that’s where my head is when I keep having to praise all these musicians for being sexy—that’s just how they were shipped from the factory. Case in point, the Entrance Band, who played inside next, in the dark, where Paz Lenchantin on the bass was all legs and hair and long long arms, crouching now on top of her amp, now slinking lower than Johnny Ramone’s guitar playing had ever done, all barefoot and sexy/sinister, like the girl in the well from The Ring. But if I admired her slinky sexuality, it’s more because I wanted to be her, to have that kind of confidence and groove, which more or less overshadowed her equally sexy frontman Guy Blakeslee, eight years her junior but a man with classic tastes (and yes, I would gladly taste any part of his body with my tongue, as long as he strums a guitar while I’m doing it). About four songs in, they covered Love’s “A House Is Not a Motel,” and brought such a sinister feeling to the room that it stretched across virtually their whole set, which only slammed back into full-throttle rock and roll lust with another cover, this time the Troggs’ “I Want You.” It was psychedelic and garagy, with very specific reference points, and yet somehow not at all like bands such as Thee Oh Sees—perhaps the Entrance Band is aiming for late 1967, and most bands are January of ’67 at the latest.
Whatever the case, it was late enough for me, and for the cops, who as I learned midway through the Entrance Band’s set had actually caused a ruckus outside during Akron/Family and nearly caused the whole festival to implode! And so Akron/Family was to conclude their set indoors, and by gum, to stick it to the man, I should have stuck around!
But having had enough sex and death for one night, plus the dust of the desert, and the memory of all that great music (and some cauliflower seasoned like popcorn!), I decided to hurry back home to Los Angeles, where it would take me over two weeks to recuperate enough to turn in this report. Happy trails.
-D. M. Collins