The third day of this trippy desert festival was living up to its name — the sun beat down mercilessly in the morning and afternoon and was unforgiving at the Moon and Block Stages. Be that as it may, the “desert people” were still on a mission to catch as many acts as possible and push through the sets of the day.
At 1:45, garage and psych rock group Death Valley Girls were starting their set at the Moon Stage to a medium-sized crowd who were somehow withstanding the blaring heat. “Can you believe it?! This is real life and we’re all here together!” front woman Bonnie Bloomgarden addressed the audience. They played heavy-handed boogie-worthy music with songs like “Disco” that got everybody grooving. But they were feeling the heat as well as Bloomgarden cursed the sun, “I’m blaming you!” as she pointed upwards.
The Babe Rainbow took the Moon stage next and continued the theme of grooving psych rock. The crowd got into the hazy, ’60s inspired “Love Forever.” However, the middle of their set proved too hot to handle as two young women passed out from what appeared to be heat exhaustion. Luckily, their friends had water handy and they were able to regain their strength. During “Johnny Says Stay Cool,” the quick hand drums and groovy beat had the crowd moving and crowd surfing too. Frontman Angus Dowling donned a rainbow cape throughout the set and pointed to the balloons in the distance that spelled “BABE” at a nearby vendor tent in approval. Towards the back of the crowd, people were performing their own interpretive dances, including a juggler who was impressively dancing while juggling three bean bags.
Weyes Blood was one of the first to set the tone for the more mellow and melodic acts of the day. She opened the set with “Can’t Go Home,” a slow but stunning acapella song, and the rest of the band joined her on stage after she finished to start “Used to Be.” The audience just stood silently in awe of Natalie Mering’s voice as she sang beautifully, “used to be the one.” “I did some 5-Hour Energy — best performance drug,” Mering shared with the audience after the song. “Who’s on drugs?” she asked before introducing the next song, “Seven Words,” or “Seventeen Words for everyone tripping,” she joked. The performed a George Harrison cover of “Run of the Mill,” saying, “Thank you George Harrison.” After announcing the next song, “Do You Need My Love,” she turned to the audience, “I hope that’s a yes!” to which they cheered. “Well, thank you, I have a lot of love to give,” she shared before closing the set.
Allah-Lahs played to a growing audience at the Moon Stage. “Thanks for sticking around on a Sunday… my supposed best friends split!” singer/guitarist Miles Michaud shared. The distinct two-chord intro to “Sandy” elicited cheers from the audience, who sang along to the chorus, “time after time girl…” and the instrumental start of “Sacred Sands” had the crowd grooving. Crowd surfing began when the drum beat quickened and the guitarist showcased his skills playing a guitar solo behind his head. “It’s a hell of a thing to do, to hold up a sign of your face!” Singer Pedrum Siadatian said to an audience member holding up a large comical sign of his head. They also performed new single, “Fish On The Sand” for the first time ever live.
L.A. Witch has performed at Desert Daze for the past several years, their billing increasing slightly each time. This time, they played to a fairly packed audience at the Block Stage just as the sun was going down. They opened with “Kill My Baby Tonight,” setting the tone for the dark and hazy garage/psych rock set. They slowed down for “Brian,” which rolled out about halfway into a heavy psych groove which the crowd got into. It was clear that they were playing their self-titled album in order, as their transitions were quite seamless barring a sip from a drink or shout from the audience like “I love music!” or “slap your grandma!” which made the singer chuckle. The punk-driven beat of “Drive Your Car” had the crowd jumping and moshing. They closed their set with “Get Lost,” a soulful and slow heavy psych song that captivated the crowd.
Back at the Moon Stage, the Eagles of Death Metal were setting up for what was sure to be an epic show. The band came out to Pilot’s “Magic” and had the crowd singing along, “oh, oh, oh it’s magic!” They opened with “I Only Want You,” pausing for dramatic effect while front man Jesse Hughes moved about the stage before giving the cue to continue the song. The fast pace got the crowd engaged from the get go. Hughes paused often to talk to the crowd, often adding a “can I get an amen!?” to the end of what he was relaying. “Does anyone know what mentalphysics is? We’re gonna experience it tonight, can I get an amen!” From there they played “Complexity,” an upbeat rock song that had the crowd rocking back and forth. “Welcome to my fun yard!” The burly guitarist Danny Joe Ketchum shouted to the audience. “My neighbor is here, Kenny Lee!” he waved at someone in the front audience. “Ladies, are you having a good time?” Hughes asked loudly, to which some of the ladies in the audience cheered and screamed. “Boys?” The call and response continued until the ladies were dubbed the winners of the scream-off. “Every night is ladies night with the Eagles of Death Metal, which is why I wrote this song,” Hughes shared before the dove into “Sliverlake (K.S.O.F.M)” sending the crowd into a dancing frenzy. Hughes took a moment to address the recent terror attack from the Bataclan Paris Eagles of Death Metal Show: “Ain’t nothing to be afraid of ’cause nothing’s gonna happen ’cause we’re having a good time,” he shared.
Hughes seemed to have a script for for just about each song introduction. Before playing the punk-driven, “I Want You So Hard (The Boy’s Bad News),” he shared a back story of his guitarist warding off a female from Hughes, only for Hughes to find out that his guitarist was supposedly in love with him. They were also big on audience participation, taking the opportunity to invite the audience to call and respond “boy’s bad news.” But perhaps the highlights of their set included the guitar-off from Hughes and Ketchum toward the end of their set, and the release of the wacky inflatable flailing tube men to add a height of ridiculousness and fun to finish their set.
The atmosphere shifted quite a bit over at the Block Stage for Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions. The former Mazzy Star front woman and My Bloody Valentine member Colm O’Ciosoig on drums formed together to create soft, haunting music. “Hi everyone, glad you could make it,” Sandoval said shyly, never emerging from the shadow of her silhouette. The focus of their set was very much on the visuals — the big screen behind the stage showed various Victorian portraits with either waves or brush strokes moving past them, adding to the haunting imagery the songs create. She was set up at a xylophone, playing it only for a couple songs including “Salt of the Sea.” “The Peasant” was folk-y and dreamy at the same time, Sandoval’s voice ethereally gliding over the soft acoustic sounds. The entire stage was set with deep purple lighting, no spotlights but two standing lamps with red bulbs under their shades. Paired with the eerie backdrop, the set brought to mind witchy rituals. “I Thought You’d Fall For Me” certainly painted a haunting picture with lyrics like “A day cast in shadows / Moonlight cast the sky.” “On The Low” was the loudest (not by much) of the set featuring Sandoval on the harmonica, closing her set for the night with a soft “thank you.”
Spiritualized provided an entire sonic and visual experience as well over at the packed-to-the-brim Moon stage. The visuals of water and other elements accompanied the theme of each of the minimalist songs, and aggressive light displays were also integral to their set. “Shine a Light”started off with a dreamy theme and gradually built to a screeching wash of sound as they shone the stage lights directly upon the audience while singing “Lord, shine a light on me.” Some of the audience members were no doubt having a religious experience, raising both hands ready and open to receive the lord’s light. “Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space” featured samplings of Pachelbel Canon’s theme and Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love” — a unique mashup that only this group would think to put together. The audience seemed to appreciate the repetition as they watched intently.
Deciding to close the entire Desert Daze weekend with either Unknown Mortal Orchestra or Cigarettes After Sex was not an easy decision, but the softness of Cigarettes After Sex at the Wright Tent was beckoning, especially after being lulled by Hope Sandoval and Spiritualized, it only seemed fitting.
The soft sounds of singer Greg Gonzalez’s raspy vocals were barely audible outside the Wright tent. Couples could be seen swaying together and holding each other to “Sweet,” one of many romantic and sultry songs that would comprise Cigarettes After Sex’s set. Black and white visuals, mostly of vintage, film noir inspired women’s faces with close ups on their deep brown eyes took over the visual screen. A single beam of white light was slightly hitting the mic, which Gonzalez would fade in and out of, and the area smelled appropriately of cigarette smoke. “This is our first festival if you can believe it,” Gonzalez shared. “This song is about getting drunk and being really mean,” he added before starting “Affection,” a dreamy song with a couple surprising elements like the lyrics, “when I tell you to go fuck yourself,” especially when in such a soft tone. Some sang along to the REO Speedwagon’s “Keep On Loving You,” and stayed for probably there most popular song, “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby,” a soft and stunning song with lyrics that can bring out anyone’s emotional side.
And just like that, an intense weekend of music, art, heat, and experiences that ran the gamut was over. Attendees were seen enjoying the interactive art displays one final time before heading back to camp and re-entering reality.
File Photo: Boston Lynn Schulz