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Tue07172018

Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

This year’s Desert Daze lineup includes a lot of psychedelic-rock and garage-rock bands—but it also features an impressive array of R&B and soul singers.

One of the R&B/soul highlights is Lee Fields and the Expressions, which will be performing at Desert Daze on Friday, Oct. 13.

Fields has enjoyed increasing popularity in recent years—but his recording and performing career goes back to 1969. Over the years, he’s toured with Kool and the Gang, Hip Huggers, Little Royal and many other groups.

When I called Fields and asked how he was doing, he responded: “Good. I love it when people ask me that, and I can say that I’m doing good, because I know there are a lot of people in the world who aren’t doing good.”

Fields explained how his career started as he was growing up in North Carolina.

“I got into singing when I was about 14 years old—on a dare,” Fields said. “I was dared to perform in a talent show. A friend of mine dared me, and I went up. I actually wanted to be a businessman. … I went up on this dare, and the reaction of the ladies was just phenomenal.

“I got hired by a band to sing the night I went up. It didn’t take a lot of science to figure it out, and I liked it. I started from that point, and ever since then, I’ve been in the music business.”

If you look for any of Fields’ material recorded before 2009, you’re not going to find much of it.

“It’s very difficult to find my records,” he said. “I do know they are on the collectors’ list, and they’re very expensive. I’m appreciative that people think so highly of my old music; that’s the only reason I can think of why you can’t find anything. There’s not a lot of it out there. I made songs that I felt, and I didn’t record just for the sake of getting a hit record. I was trying to make something I truly liked and I felt good about. I always believed an artist should be true to themselves—and I wanted to be from the very beginning.

“There are so many people pointing out the comparison of myself to James Brown with my voice, but I wanted to be me, so I recorded songs at that time … showing what I could do instead of imitating James Brown.”

After Fields and his current band, the Expressions, teamed up in 2009, Fields soon found himself in the midst of a career resurgence.

“I knew that there was a certain kind of band that would come. I believed in searching for that band, and I was starting to lose confidence that they were going to come,” he said. “But they popped up, and the name of that band is the Expressions. They’re like my musical sons. I’m sort of surprised that it took 40 years for that to happen, but at the point when I was about to just surrender, they came. That’s the band I was looking for all my life—the Expressions. The audiences that I’m playing to, I’m not surprised that they’re feeling what I’m doing, because if you do something that’s real, people can tell what’s real and what is not real. People can feel what I do and know it’s coming from a real source. … I’m not surprised. The only thing that took me by surprise is that it took 40 years, but I didn’t give up hope.”

Speaking of James Brown: Fields provided vocals for the James Brown 2014 biopic Get on Up. Fields said that in the world of R&B, Brown was king.

“Everybody from Michael Jackson to Prince borrowed from James Brown,” he said. “It’s very difficult to step out of James Brown’s shadow. It’s a good thing, because it made me try harder. I’m pleased with the outcome, because I’m still touring, and people are giving me a lot of love around the world.”

Many of Fields’ musical contemporaries—including James Brown himself—were derailed by drug abuse. Fields explained why that never happened to him.

“You hear about so many artists who were great, who headlined Madison Square Garden, and now they’re sleeping in vans,” he said. “I can’t say how much I believe in the phenomenon of God, but I do believe God is real—and I believe that without a doubt. That’s how I managed not to fall into the things that other artists fell into. It’s my faith, and while I believe God is real, I’m not one of those holier-than-thou guys. … I’ve realized I accept the fact that I’m just a mere sinner as everyone else is.”

Fields’ 2016 album, Special Night, received rave reviews thanks to a variety of great R&B songs. I asked Fields what he would like to do in the future.

“I want to write better songs,” he replied. “… I think that people watch what they eat for healthy bodies, because everybody wants to be physically well-rounded, and they’re exercising and eating the right foods. But there are two entities that every human being is comprised of, which is the physical entity, and the mental state of the body. People don’t pay too much attention to getting good food for their brains; the songs we hear, the shows we watch and the things we see and hear every day are food for our minds. If we see and hear damaging things on a consistent basis, almost to the point where we don’t know what is right and wrong, we lose the concept. That’s when mass hysteria steps in. … I want to make stable music, sticking by good principles, choosing choice words over vulgarity and negativity. We can sing about the negative things, but do it in a way that keeps us thinking positive. … Everything doesn’t have to be about lust, vulgarity and anger, and it can be sensible and said in a sensible fashion. Artists today have to be more responsible for the words they use to keep us civil-minded without limiting thoughts.”

Desert Daze will take place Thursday, Oct. 12, through Sunday, Oct. 15 at the Institute of Mentalphysics, 59700 Twentynine Palms Highway, in Joshua Tree. Weekend passes are $229 to $450. For tickets or more information, visit desertdaze.org.

Published in Previews

Since its inception in 1999, Coachella has continued to evolve—to the point where it’s now one of the most well-known festivals in the world.

This year, it went through a large evolutionary step: The capacity went from 99,000 people to 125,000. The site was also reorganized, with the Outdoor Stage and the Mojave and Gobi tents pulled all the way back against Monroe Street. The Sahara Tent is a permanent fixture on the site, but the interior got all sorts of new effects. There is also a new tent, too: the daytime/early evening-only Sonora Tent. It offered an air-conditioned, club-like atmosphere and hosted a lot of punk-rock acts, like as T.S.O.L., The Interrupters, Shannon and the Clams and others.

Many Weekend 1 attendees took to social media to complain about crowding in the general admission areas. There was some truth to those complaints, as I learned during Weekend 2.

Still, I found it pretty easy to move around the festival with only a general-admission-wristband. I did notice longer lines for the restrooms, and thanks to an increase in the number of disabled patrons attending Coachella, the ADA platforms at all the stages got full early.

Another issue: The lobby area after the security checkpoints got overly crowded throughout the mid-afternoon to late evening. On Sunday night, I at one point found myself in a human traffic jam, in the middle of a large crowd of people trying to push through a bottleneck.

Yes, these are serious issues that need to be addressed for Coachella 2018. Still, I found the festival rather navigable overall.

Some Sunday highlights

• Ezra Furman, the first act on the Outdoor Stage on Sunday afternoon, opened his set with a cover of the Misfits’ “Where Eagles Dare.” His set had a lot of highlights; it was as if Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and the Ramones had a love child. The mixture of piano, a bit of harmony and a punk-rock sound was fascinating.

• Lee Fields and the Expressions was the first act to perform on the Main Stage. Fields has a very powerful voice, even by old R&B/soul standards, and his songs got the crowd going—singing along, clapping and slowly waving hands in the air as Fields sang slow, ballad-like songs about love or changing the world for the better.

• Future Islands’ early-evening set on the Outdoor Stage was just as impressive as the set I witnessed in 2013 when the band performed in the Gobi Tent. Front man Samuel Herring is well-known for his high-energy dance moves, and on Sunday, he pulled them off quite well. After 11 years together, the band is still climbing the ladder of indie-rock success, and doing so without many stage effects or crazy gimmicks. Who knows what we’ll see from them in the future?

• TSOL closed out the Sonora Tent on Sunday night with a fun performance—complete with old-school Los Angeles punk attitude, mosh pits, circle pits and Jack Grisham’s wild banter. He explained that while the band was recording the recent record, the members were one studio over from Snoop Dogg. At one point, the crew joined Snoop for a game of basketball—when John Fogerty drove his Corvette onto the tennis court. Grisham said he politely asked him to move it, and Fogerty simply walked away. Grisham’s response: He pulled up the door handle and put it between his butt cheeks. When Snoop and his crew said that Jack’s actions were “pretty fucked up,” Grisham responded that they didn’t know what punk was about. Oh, and Grisham said he also rubbed his scrotum all over Fogerty’s hood, too. In other news: Grisham pointed out that keyboardist Greg Kuehn’s son, Max Kuehn (who plays in the band FIDLAR), was filling in on drums.

• New Order put on a tremendous headlining performance in the Mojave Tent on Sunday night; it was one of the best shows I saw. The performance was upbeat, included more of a dance music element, and filled up the entire tent, with overflows onto the lawn area. The band played two Joy Division songs for the encore: “Decades” and “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” both of which paid tribute to friend and Joy Division front man Ian Curtis. 

Photo credits (below): Aerial shot, by Chris Miller/Goldenvoice; Ezra Furman, by Greg Noire/Goldenvoice; Future Islands, by Greg Noire/Goldenvoice; Lee Fields and the Expressions, by Chris Miller/Goldenvoice; New Order, by Charles Reagan Hackleman/Goldenvoice.