The Who's Windmills & Roger Waters' Flying Pig Wrap Desert Trip's Final Weekend
If Pete Townshend was in any way offended by The Who having to serve as a de facto opening act on the final night of Desert Trip, he didn’t show it Sunday (Oct. 16), taking a literal breather mid-set to offer a lengthy teaser for Roger Waters’ closing performance, his tongue only occasionally in his cheek.
“All the bands on this bill know each other because we’ve been in this business over 50 years,” said Townshend. “We’re all friends and there’s no competition; nobody’s gonna blow anybody else off the stage. It’s all love and peace and harmony,” he added, followed by a cheeky use of the F-word. “You can see later on my very good friend Roger Waters with his polystyrene bricks.” (There were none of these this go-round, but no matter.) “I’m a huge fan of Pink Floyd, since I took Eric Clapton to see them at the UFO Club [in London] in the days of Syd Barrett. He’s coming on later and you’ll need to get your brain in gear for that. Some of you may not know this, but it is really a flying pig -- it’s not just the skunk you’re smoking.”
Never in the history of flying pigs, though, has there been as low-flying a pig as the one that nominally flew over Indio on the festival’s concluding evening Sunday, as sustained winds in the 25-35 mph range (and higher gusts) ensured that Waters’ inflatables wranglers kept a tight rein on the sinister porker as they guided it through the rear sections of the 70,000-strong crowd. If there’s one element of Waters’ otherwise successful 2006 Coachella appearance that festival organizers did not want to repeat, it was local police putting out an actual APB for an MIA boar, least of all one now emblazoned with anti-Trump messages that might land in an unsympathetic backyard over in Republican La Quinta.
Any such mishaps were averted, and if not the entire audience had a clear view of the messages on the pig (“Ignorant lying racist sexist,” “F--- Trump and his wall”), there was no missing the printouts unspooling on the other side of the vast field on Desert Trip’s 240-foot-wide LED screen during “Pigs (Three Different Ones)": graphics of the candidate in fat drag; a succession of incendiary Trump quotes and/or malapropisms; and finally, “Trump is a pig,” which a run-through of 1977’s Animals in its dystopian near-entirety made clear was not intended as a term of endearment.
There were a couple of more tender moments in Waters’ set. One had him bringing out a war veteran, Captain Greg Galeazzi, whom he met as part of a musical rehabilitation program at Walter Reed Medical Center in D.C., and who, from a wheelchair, faithfully recreated David Gilmour’s guitar solo parts on “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.” Another had Waters ceding the spotlight during his penultimate number, the acoustic “Bring the Boys Back Home,” to his two backup singers, the women of Lucius, whose feminine lead harmonies added a moving Lysistrata subtext to Waters’ antiwar messages.
Mostly, though, Waters’ 2-hours-45-minute show was all about portent, and ominousness never feels better than when it’s being delivered in the form of a Pink Floyd best-of set. The full moon rising over the Coachella Valley was turned into a bad moon rising as a darkish-side lunar landscape greeted everyone returning from the concessions, along with near-subliminal rumblings from as sophisticated a surround-sound PA that has ever been attempted in a massive live setting. Every time a plane or helicopter sound buzzed through those quad-plus towers, half the audience turned around to see if an aircraft was actually creeping up on them. (Note: this is probably not the first stop you’d want to take with someone more freshly discharged from Walter Reed.) The grotesque animations that used to appear on what now seems like a ridiculously small, circular screen at ‘70s Floyd shows were revived for the Cinemascope-times-3 LED display and mixed in with contemporary sketchwork and live-action footage of prostitution, drug-taking, vicious dogs, and presidential contenders.
No one buying tickets months ago had any idea what kind of show Waters would be doing, off-tour — it could have been Radio K.A.O.S. in its entirety, for all they knew — so, needless to say, a one-time-only Floyd greatest hits set went down exceedingly well. Waters’ 21st century tours of Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall in their entirety left a gap for the airing of some other material, and he filled it here by playing nearly the whole of both Wish You Were Here and Animals, the latter especially being an unexpected focus, with the recreation of the front cover’s power station as a clever backdrop for most of the show’s second half. He also played “One of These Days” as part of this stint for the first time since 1974, and you wondered why he didn’t get to it much sooner, since it’s essentially a five-minute bass solo.
Billboards on the freeway back to L.A. touted a 2017 Waters tour that goes on sale this week, but the musician had just provided the greatest commercial ever (even if he’s promised that next year’s sets won’t be so wholly Floyd). Reince Priebus may be the only American white dude over 40 who won’t be queuing up for that on-sale Friday.
Sunday’s two performances were the only two of six sets on this second weekend of Desert Trip to be identical to what went down the previous weekend. In Waters’ case, that was understandable, given the production values attached to pretty much every number but “Bring the Boys Back Home.” In the Who’s case, there’s less reason why they need to be locked into those exact 22 numbers, but they are not especially into being a deep-tracks band these days, with the exception of the instrumental “The Rock."
There were few complaints, though, even from returning first-weekenders, about the Who’s focus on recognizable songs. (There were, by contrast, a few discouraging words being said about earlier sets by Bob Dylan, because many crowd members took his newer material as an affront to nostalgia and his silence on stage as disengagement, and by Neil Young, with one woman in a bathroom line griping that he “should have played more of his hits, like ‘Horse With No Name.”)
Like all the other seventy-somethings on the Desert Trip bill, Townshend and Roger Daltrey seem to have made deals with the devil, able to still deliver the familiar Who tropes with mostly undiminished aplomb. Daltrey send his mic around the world often enough to make a yo-yo champion dizzy, Townshend had more windmills in him than the landscape between Palm Springs and Desert Hot Springs, and when these two do both in tandem, it’s… well, not the Isle of Wight, but close enough for rock & roll. Especially considering that this was the final night of that 50th anniversary world tour, Daltrey’s voice was in excellent fettle… with one comically memorable exception.
“Now we know what it’s like singing into a hair dryer,” Daltrey had said earlier… echoing a nearly identical comment Mick Jagger had made two nights earlier about the havoc windy and dry conditions could have on singers. The effect only became visible during the demanding “Love Reign O’er Me,” as Daltrey took the “Oh God, I need a drink of cool, cool rain” literally and gulped water from a bottle even mid-verse. When it came time to do the howl at song’s end, Daltrey broke into a deliberately tinny falsetto, then a round of amusingly errant melisma — as Townshend, waiting to strike the last chord, held a look of bemused concern on his face — and then he finally ended this vocal run on… the lowest bass note he’s ever struck. Well, maybe you had to be there.
Will we, next year? The whole setup GoldenVoice created for this one was so comfortably rendered and kink-free — well designed in everything from the poster typography to the architecture of the temporary grandstands — felt too nice to expend on just a one-and-done. Yet an immediate repeat seems unlikely, if only because they used up nearly every still-viable, stadium-sized ‘60s rock legend this time around. Theorizing who could headline a Desert Trip 2, you start wondering if GoldenVoice could make an offer that couldn’t be refused to remaining acts that are otherwise unlikely to reunite because the members can’t stand each other — i.e., Simon & Garfunkel, CSNY, or a return to an all-inclusive Beach Boys.
Townshend expressed a view that they might need to move on to other eras and genres. “You guys came, and we’re so happy to see you, whether you’re young and — as Mick Jagger said, I believe — you’ve come to see us croak,” the guitarist said. “Who are they gonna dig up if they do it again next year? Who knows if they’ll do it again next year? There must be some very old people left. Or maybe the next wave, maybe grunge or punk or something or other.” There’s an idea: Desert Urgh: A Music War.