The first Desert Daze outside of the Coachella Valley or the Morongo Basin occurred Oct. 12-14. While some may say that all of Southern California is a desert, more or less, the weather on Friday the 12th at Lake Perris was decidedly un-desert-like.
Tempestuous clouds forecast rain—and that forecast came true, leading to a truly disappointing Friday night. However, Saturday and Sunday made up for Friday’s abrupt end.
Planners decided to have just one entrance point for all fans to the festival on Friday. Once you got to the entrance gate to Lake Perris State Recreation Area, a bottleneck meant that it took up to three hours to get to the parking lot. As I waited in traffic, a fellow photographer from another media outlet walked by me and waved; she’d decided to make the 45-minute walk from the park entrance. As I waited in my car, I was witnessed an incredible lighting storm that appeared to be right over the festival. The thunder interrupted the boredom of crawling to the festival entrance.
Once I was finally inside the festival, I was able to catch Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats on the Block Stage, which was an incredible psychedelic experience for both the ears and the eyes. The band played in near-complete darkness as festival-goers transported their minds to Haight and Ashbury.
Welcoming the audience, Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats lead singer Kevin Starrs said, “Hello, California, How the fuck are you? This song is called ‘Mind Crawler.’” A neophyte photographer broke a cardinal rule by hitting the band with a flash and was quickly admonished by the lead singer. Starrs reminded the crowd the band had a new album out, called Wasteland, as he introduced the song “Shockwave City.” A melodious tune with woolly-raw guitar tones, it was perfect for a live set.
I rushed over to the Moon Stage, which was on the beach’s edge. It was massive; gone are the days of Desert Daze’s small stages at Dillon’s Roadhouse in Desert Hot Springs. I suspect the Moon stage was three times the size of the entire bar that hosted the festival in 2012. It was hard to gauge the size of the crowd, but I suspect it was larger than the gathering for Iggy Pop’s appearance at Desert Daze last year. Some fans had inexpensive rain ponchos, but were all smiles during the off-and-on sprinkles of rain. As fans waited, a blue orb pulsated on a large screen, later becoming a swirling dot—giving way to cheers as Tame Impala walked onstage. Lead singer Kevin Parker greeted the crowd: “What’s up Desert Daze?” The crowd responded with praise, and Parker replied: “We are Tame Impala; we are from Australia” as cheers were drowned out by air cannons shooting confetti. Fans got to hear the song “Let It Happen”: “I heard about a whirlwind that’s coming ’round. It’s gonna carry off all that isn’t bound, and when it happens, when it happens (I’m gonna be holding on), so let it happen, let it happen.”
Whirlwind indeed: Fifteen minutes into the set, the band was rushed off the stage; I took cover in the press tent, stage right, to wait out the lighting and rainstorm. We could hear an announcement telling everyone that the show would go on, and that everyone was to seek shelter. However, the show would not go on; we were later told to evacuate the festival site and seek shelter in our cars or inside a masonry building—and the only ones in sight were the public restrooms outside the festival grounds. Campers were told not to go back to their tents for safety.
Early the next day, Desert Daze announced through social media and press releases that there would be free parking for the rest of the weekend, and Friday concert passes would be honored for Saturday—but Tame Impala could not return, because the band had other shows.
On Saturday, the parking-planning woes were washed away as more entrances were opened. This gave me time to explore the grounds. I spotted an old Toyota in the parking lot that would be perfect at a commune in Oregon or parked in front of Pie for the People in Joshua Tree. The grounds were nice; there were elaborate canopy structures on the beach that allowed fans to take a nap, reminiscent of a similar structure at Desert Daze in Mecca that shielded fans from the 122-degree heat. Festival mastermind Phil Pirrone’s preparation made all stages within reach, allowing festival-goers to quickly go from one stage to another. He’s proven the ability to bring incredible music to actual music fans: This is a festival for people who seek out unique music and don’t really care if there is a Top 40 star headlining.
Kikagaku Moyo was one of my favorites on Saturday, returning to Desert Daze after an appearance in Mecca in April 2014, bringing back psychedelic goodness with sitars as oil spheres were projected on the backdrop of the stage.
Slowdive was shoegazy cool, playing an impeccable set including the new song “Star Roving,” off the new album Slowdive. Fans dug “Souvlaki Space Station”; it was perfect music for relaxing on a towel on the nearby beach.
Amping things up, the seven members of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard wowed with loud and fun psychedelic rock that included the fan favorite “Rattlesnake.”
Sunday was a beautiful day, perfect for a stroll along the beach. Artist Carolina Galleran’s “Alien Cactus Garden,” also known as “Desert Daze,” reminded me that the more Pirrone tried to make Lake Perris look like my desert home, the more I missed the desert.
Julia Holter played an early Sunday set, walking onstage and saying, “The sun has arrived. I don’t do this often but I want to be like you.” She added: “What is going on? Are you going to vote?” The audience responds with optimism. She replied, “I have done my job,” before charming the crowd with a new song, “Underneath the Moon,” from her new album, Aviary—a marvelous track that fits her theatrical voice.
The band Goon, from Los Angeles, was a blast—a new Pixies-like band that would make Black Francis proud. The song ‘Green Peppers” is very weird and enchanting; lead singer Kenny Becker, in a sweetly sharp way, croons about a song he wrote when he was obsessed with Taylor Swift: “Everybody wants to be like you; everyone that knows you, really wants to be just like you.”
Preoccupations is a good example of post-punk. Frontman Matt Flegel’s voice is substantial, allowing him to deliver a worthy performance with songs that deal with a contemptuous stew of passion. Flegel checked in with the crowd: “Is everyone OK? Is anyone in the cusp of OD’ing? OK, we will continue playing. “
Earth, from Washington state, played 2008 album The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull in its entirety. Lead singer Dylan Carlson introduced the band: “We’re Earth; we are going to start off with, ‘The Driver,’” a song not on the aforementioned album. Slow and mellow was the name of the game, and Earth was masterful.
The polar opposite of the boys from Washington, Death Grips was a scream fest of force through its hour-long set. Fans went crazy as the nonstop mosh pit and crowd-surfing kept staffers—re-enforced with state park police— busy during this crazy set; it was the first time I saw police inside the photo pit the whole weekend. “Giving Bad People Good Ideas” was a pure mix of heavy metal and hard-core punk.
My Bloody Valentine ended the festival as the headliner. No photography was allowed, so I was able to enjoy the show from the beach; the loud set would have liquefied my eardrums as if a garage band was playing inside my cranium. I was able to enjoy the nearly 90-minute set unencumbered by camera gear, and savor songs such as “Soon,” “Only Shallow” and closer “You Made Me Realise.”
Desert Daze is slated to return to Lake Perris in 2019, so we should expect the logistical challenges to be in the past. One thing is very clear: Pirrone’s quest for the best musical experience possible is within his grasp.