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Desert Daze 2017: Another stellar year for one of California’s premier music festivals

Desert Daze 2017Photos by Zach Roth, David Evanko, Sheva Kafai & Zane Roessell // Written by Kevin Quandt //

Desert Daze //
Institute of Mentalphysics – Joshua Tree, CA
October 12th-15th, 2017 //

There’s something special about climbing the hills of Big Morongo Canyon Preserve cresting into Yucca Valley that removes one’s self from what exists to the east and west. Gone are the masses of cars and people all across Riverside County or the ticky-tack of Palm Desert, both replaced by the rugged personality of Joshua Tree and the surrounding area.

It’s always a treat to visit these nether regions, but it’s even better when a slew of today’s most exciting rock acts converge on this positively charged piece of land many have fondly come to know as the Institute of Mentalphysics. Plenty of attendees didn’t quite realize how fortunate we were to be able to return to this desert sanctuary for a second year, and just like any good thing, the word had spread about Desert Daze after the music festival’s run last year.

Desert Daze promoter Moon Block really pulled off quite a doozy for the sixth installment of California’s premier psychedelic and garage-rock extravaganza, which occupied more than 400 acres of wild desert earth. With the four-day festival continuing along an up-and-to-the-left trajectory, it was no real surprise to followers that Desert Daze founder Phil Pirrone and crew upped their booking to include legends like Iggy Pop and John Cale. Though the lineup was a shining star for the weekend, it was the amalgamation of the venue, attendees and art that put an extra layer of buttercream on the fest, cementing Daze’s status as a stellar event.

An expanded program featured added stages and a cavalcade of programs, including Sacred Plant Medicine, Modular Sound Baths, Black Metal Yoga and a Women’s Moon Lodge. 2017’s edition also included screenings from comedy duo Tim & Eric such as their Adult Swim series “Bedtime Stories”, which suited those who were looking for a quick chuckle. As far as the art went, there was no shortage of intriguing installations dotted across the Institute. One of the larger, more immersive artworks was Cristopher Cichocki’s “Circular Dimensions” piece as it took over the Sanctuary Hall space with 3-D projections and a variety of dronal soundtracks.

Desert Daze 2017

As stated, Daze attendees could have easily filled their day and night with the programming described above, but the majority of them rarely had much expendable time for those sort of extracurricular activities as the festival consistently churned out a veritable smorgasbord of garage, psych and various other outlying subgenres of rock ‘n’ roll across three stages. While the last statement is generally true, this year saw an expansion into more jazzy areas thanks to BADBADNOTGOOD’s showing on the event’s first day.

Other highlights on Friday saw a wildly energetic performance from French cold-wave band La Femme. These exports don’t cross the Atlantic a bunch, so it was a rare treat for the early arrivals that culminated with set closer “Antitaxi”. Tim Presely (White Fence) and LA-based singer-songwriter Cate Le Bon brought their collaborative project DRINKS to the desert and whipped through a set of angular-leaning art rock. Japanese experimental juggernauts Boris put on a spectacle worthy of the big stages at European metal festivals, as they have for well over two decades. Day 1 also saw Ty Segall and his Freedom Band obliterate the larger Moon Stage, opening with “Alta” and later covering DEVO’s “Gut Feeling”. Courtney Barnett, Kurt Vile and the Sea Lice played just their third headlining show, and while it was evident they were still working out a few kinks onstage, they still managed to dazzle with a mix of songs from both of their catalogs.

It was rather evident early on Saturday that Desert Daze was ramping up for its most popular day in the event’s short history with a combination of legends, today’s hottest acts and a few rarities that peppered the schedule. Detroit stalwarts The Gories offered their Michigan-bred take on garage rock in a powerful display of dual guitars coupled with a sparse drum set. At the Moon Stage, the Marshall amps were stacked high for doom-metal outfit Sleep’s banner performance of their 1992 opus Holy Mountain. Al Cisneros and associates delivered a lead-heavy set to wafting plumes of smoke, playing such classics as “Dragonaut” flawlessly, but the new sound ordinance imposed by the local community became a factor for the San Jose trio that’s known for its abuse of volume.

Brooklyn three-piece Sunflower Beam drew a sizable crowd in the Wright Tent as bassist Julia Cumming commanded the stage better than most while barreling through a set that included “I Was Home”. Elsewhere, it wasn’t surprising to see King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard have a wild and energetic crowd assembled well prior to their hit time. A rabid following continues to grow for the Australian septet that is capping off a massive year filled with multiple studio releases and lengthy tours. Of course, That Fucking Panda made sure to take advantage of the ruckus crowd, getting in a solid crowd surf, as is tradition.

Desert Daze 2017 - Iggy Pop


Iggy Pop

Iggy Pop is a fucking legend, one who is still a ball of energy onstage even as he gracefully creeps into his 70’s and destroys expectations on a near-nightly basis. His setlist at Desert Daze was rather standard, but his persona continues to be anything but.

Meanwhile, those looking for something different were treated to a rare live performance by Black Moth Super Rainbow. With Desert Daze marking only their second show in more than four years, the TOBACCO-led group dazzled on tracks like “Sun Lips”. Sure, a large chunk of the set was reserved for TOBACCO tracks, but their sound had more oomph behind it as they were fleshed out by a full band rather than one man. Nearing the 30-year mark, Tortoise held closing duties for the night, shooting out darts of experimental post-rock before they were cut short at the stroke of 12:30 a.m.

Sunday saw a sustained crowd that was doing its best to shake off a big night after the fest’s second day. Luckily, the mellow sounds of the Allah-Las, plus a few drinks, got fans back into prime form for the closing evening. L.A. Witch followed on the Block Stage, forcefully proving that females belong on this lineup just as much as the opposite sex.

While Eagles of Death Metal continue their domination at the hands of Jesse Hughes and his not-so-merry band of pranksters, it must have felt truly amazing for the Palm Desert band to play Desert Daze. The highlight of the set was undoubtedly their prime cover of David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream”.

Desert Daze 2017

The tent hosted something a tad more on the mellow side as Texas’ own Khruangbin served up their patented combination of surf rock and Thai funk. Tracks like “Mr. White” sounded sublime as the Sunday evening sets were a tad more toned-down than what we witnessed at the same time during the festival’s previous nights. K-Bin’s set led into an equally beautiful one by Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions, as the Mazzy Star vocalist and her sidekicks set the vibe perfectly for the final headliner.

Spiritualized are truly an ideal band to close out the main stage at Desert Daze, and similar to Television last year, these longtime UK legends still know how to thrill a crowd with their pea soup-thick wall of sound. Jason Pierce and company delivered a truly epic performance under the desert stars that opened with “If I Were With Her Now” from their 1992 debut album Lazer Guided Melodies, was punctuated by Laurie Anderson’s “Born, Never Asked” and concluded with “Oh Happy Day”. Classic hits like “Come Together” seem to have a stronger message in these times, and Desert Daze is truly one of those events where the bullshit of reality quickly gets washed away, if only for a long weekend.

Although Cigarettes After Sex are a band on their way to bigger things, we opted to close the weekend with Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Having played the event in 2014 when it was held in Mecca, Calif., UMO were warmly welcomed back. Ruben Nielson was ready to close things out with a bang as they rattled through their current set with highlights such as “Ur Life One Night” and even debuted a new track entitled “American Guilt”.

Growth is generally seen as positive for any sort of event, but Desert Daze remains one of those hidden gems you want to announce from the mountaintops yet also don’t want it to outgrow its unique place in the festival stratosphere. Regardless, Moon Block is carrying a bright torch for how boutique festivals are supposed to be produced, and we applaud their staff with high hopes that they continue to set the bar high.

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