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08 Oct 2016

Desert Trip Day 1: Bob Dylan Does His Own Thing, While the Rolling Stones Rock Out

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The Rolling Stones perform on night one of Desert Trip. The Rolling Stones perform on night one of Desert Trip. Kevin Mazur/Goldenvoice

The unofficial nickname of Desert Trip, as everyone knows, is “Oldchella.” The jokes have been flying regarding the possibility of AARP discounts at the Empire Polo Club, where Goldenvoice is holding the three-day affair over two consecutive weekends.

After night one of Desert Trip, it’s official: The crowd at Desert Trip is certainly older than the Coachella audience. Nonetheless, the concert, featuring older legends of rock ‘n’ roll, still had an incredibly exciting vibe.

First up on Friday night, Oct. 7, was Bob Dylan. I’m a fan of Dylan’s recordings from the 1960s; I own all of them and know most of them by heart. But in the ’70s, he went electric and shifted his musical style—and his live shows can be a disappointment if you’re not a fan of everything he’s ever done. In fact, during one recent concert, he apparently did not have a song in his set list from before 1997.

Chuck Klosterman was right in his most recent book, But What If We’re Wrong, when he stated that Bob Dylan does not rock—instead, he serenades the crowd with his lyrics as he goes in whatever direction he wants to take.

Dylan started his set by hinting that he was going to play the classics. He opened with “Rainy Day Woman” (with many people screaming, “Everybody must get stoned!”) and followed with “Don’t Think Twice” and “Highway 61.” The structures of the songs, however, were altered to have more of a country or country-rock sound. Dylan was seated at his piano for most of the night as the giant screen behind him played vintage footage—of construction, a train moving down the track, people during the Great Depression, and so on. Later, “Twist of Fate” was the best song of his set.

It was an honor to see Dylan performing at Desert Trip. Hey, he’s Bob Dylan, and he can do whatever he wants. In his set, which was just more than an hour, he offered a nice mix of classics and more recent material.

As the intermission passed the hour-long mark, growing anticipation for the Rolling Stones could be felt throughout the entire festival. When the show finally began, it was magical.

The Stones rolled in, acknowledged the crowd, and started a two-hour set with “Start Me Up” and “You Got Me Rocking.” Mick Jagger mentioned the band has been in the recording studio recently working on Blue and Lonesome, which is scheduled for release in December. The band played one of the new tracks, a cover of Bukka White’s 1937 Delta blues track, “Shake ‘Em on Down.”

Just about every classic Rolling Stones track, with the exception of “Street Fighting Man,” was played on Friday night. Keith Richards performed “Slipping Away” by himself before the band, sans Jagger, backed him on “Little T&A.” One of the biggest crowd responses came during “Miss You,” as the audience sang the “ooooooh ooooooh” parts and danced to its funky rhythm. Even Sir Paul McCartney, in a private loge directly behind some media seats, danced along to the song with his wife, Nancy Shevell. “Sympathy for the Devil” featured a visual on the video wall of demonic scrolls and symbols.

“Gimme Shelter” featured amazing backing vocals; the female vocal lead who sang the chorus was phenomenal. Speaking of vocals: The encore started with the University of California Irvine choir singing the intro to “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” before Mick Jagger and the rest of the band joined them.

After closing with “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” the sky lit up with a fireworks show that went on for about two minutes before the band finally took a bow.

I’d never seen the Rolling Stones live before, and I can now say that no DVD or live album does them justice. I don’t care how old they are: The band turned in an energetic, packed set. It was pretty damn awesome.

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