On Saturday night (Oct. 15), the site of a shirtless Iggy Pop crowdsurfing after just the second chorus of his opening song “I Wanna Be Your Dog'” was as rare, majestic and primal as spotting an iguana out in the wild. It was a feat that was six years in the making for Desert Daze.
The rock ‘n’ roll survivor is the godfather of what this festival has come to represent over the course of its young history. Out at the Institute of Mentalphysics — a site designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1920s — the three-day riff-fest returned to this particular dustbowl for a second year. Iggy was the main draw, filling out the dirt basin in front of the main Moon Stage for a crowd-pleasing rager of a set that included numbers such as “Lust For Life”, “Repo Man”, “1969” and his classic cover of The Dee Jays‘ “Real Wild Child (Wild One)” — whose title Iggy continues to embody.
“Turn on the fucking lights. Let me see everybody,” said the 70-year-old punk, ready to charge into one of his most famous joints. “Pick me up baby, I’m a passenger.” Out in the front of the crowd, teenage Starcrawler frontwoman Arrow de Wilde was seen on the shoulders of a friend, gaping in awe at one of her idols.
Somewhere in the middle, New York Brooklyn trio Sunflower Bean also stood with jaws in the sand. “Was that the best moment of my life?” asked frontwoman Julia Cumming, after the rock legend took on The Stooges‘ “Search And Destroy”. As Iggy sang “all of this is yours and mine” on “The Passenger”, you saw that sense of community in the audience; a pan-generational crowd of musicians, music lovers and visual artists united in this bastardized church where psych met grunge, rock met funk and inhibitions were banished. The most refreshing part of Desert Daze festival in 2017 wasn’t just the brilliantly curated lineup, but the sense of liberation that came with feeling able to just lose yourself in a music festival among likeminded interlopers, without worrying about the risks you may have taken coming.
“Fucking thank you. Fucking thank you!” repeated Iggy. “California, I salute you.”
His sentiments were shared among all the acts there this past weekend. Festival organizer, booking agent and musician (with his own psych band JJUUJJUU) Phil Pirrone could be spotted throughout the days and nights, running around watching the sets, keeping the operation moving, even playing a show of his own. “It feels like I’ve never left,” he said on the Friday afternoon, which said it all in terms of the amount of life he’s poured into this annual celebration.
Those who got down to the site early enough on Friday were treated to a rare collaborative performance from Drinks; a project between Welsh songwriter Cate Le Bon and White Fence’s Tim Presley. Deap Vally too — a duo from Los Angeles, who are part of the Desert Daze family, with drummer Julie Edwards being married to Pirrone — whetted the appetite for a weekend’s worth of dirty guitar licks and heavy drumming. It was Ty Segall, however, who turned things up another level for the first night over on the Moon Stage, playing out of his skin and growling through a brilliantly noisey reimagination of Devo’s ‘Gut Feeling/Slap Your Mammy’.
Following him were Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile, on the day of their joint album release for collaborative LP Lotta Sea Lice. They were here to play Barnett’s first ever festival headline slot, alongside an all-star band including Janet Weiss from Sleater-Kinney on drumming duty. Their set was as much about friendship as it was world class musicianship. “I love you, Court,” said Vile, before playing lead single “Over Everything.” The pair ran through their respective solo material too — the highlights of which were mostly Barnett’s numbers, including goosebump-inducing outings through “Depreston” and “Avant Gardener.”
Saturday morning woke up to a staff slowly recovering from either the pastiche pop party thrown by Ariel Pink on the Block Stage, or the jazz-y, Afro-beat rave brought by The Budos Band inside the Wright Tent that took everyone across the midnight finishing line. “The Eagle has landed,” said one staff member over the walkie talkie system. Was it Iggy? Was it Eagles Of Death Metal frontman Jesse Hughes? Potentially, it was former Velvet Underground guitarist John Cale, who stuck around all of Saturday before his evening avant-garde masterclass on the Block Stage.
As the sun began to close in on another brutally hot day, Sunflower Bean announced themselves as “jacked up” inside the Wright Tent for 45 minutes of highlights from their 2016 debut Human Ceremony and some as-yet-unreleased music too ahead of a much-anticipated follow-up record. Across the site on the Moon Stage, stoner metal trio Sleep performed their seminal 1992 album Holy Mountain in full. A strong stench of marijuana hung in the air, of course. By the time Australia’s King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard followed suit, the crowd were ready for a psychedelic freakout courtesy of this seven-piece’s concoctions, particularly frontman Stu Mackenzie’s universe-expanding guitar lines. Post Iggy, Chicago fivesome Twin Peaks charmed the socks off the Block Stage crowd, with several crowdsurfers staying the course for their grunge-y cover of The Rolling Stones‘ “Dead Flowers” and their own hits, including “Flavor.”
While Spiritualized sound-checked early Sunday morning ahead of their headline slot that evening, LA’s Death Valley Girls took a moment to speak with Billboard, answering the question: what is it about Desert Daze that’s so unique? “Well, what isn’t Desert Daze?” asked frontwoman Bonnie Bloomgarden, succinctly.
The final day’s best-ofs included composer Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, garage rockers LA Witch, psych jam band Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Mazzy Star frontwoman Hope Sandoval playing with The Warm Inventions.
Aptly, however, it was the Palm Desert’s very own Eagles Of Death Metal who prepared the fully feral Desert Daze audience for the joys of Spiritualized. “Welcome to my front yard,” said lead singer Jesse Hughes, performing to all the “fellas” but mostly all the “ladies”. Charging into a cover of Bowie‘s “Moonage Daydream,” the disco atmosphere was a reminder that rock’n’roll can be a celebration of what’s come before, but it mostly has to be a reason for what’s here in the moment.
Desert Daze 2017 was a chance to escape the world as we know it and feel the force of life in some of the most extreme conditions. For those who engaged, the rewards were pretty unforgettable.