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April 2024
Vol. 23, No. 7


Notes from Desert Trip

by Matthew BurkeOctober 2016

Day One
Day one of Desert Trip (or “Old-chella”) had all the bells and whistles of Coachella. The faint taste of sand in the mouth, black boogers snuggling in the nostrils, traffic, over-priced concessions, the scent of marijuana–yeah, you get the picture. But Desert Trip is more like Coachella’s grandpa. Owning an older crowd with a lack of the fraternity brothers stomping around, or flower head-band girls with the gladiator sandals who brought more drugs than water. It was nostalgia for the older folks and a glimpse of the past for the younger.

First up, Bob Dylan. The 75-year-old utilized his signature grunts and mumbles over a set list filled with everything but his hits. Mellow and on point, Dylan’s band played with
professionalism, but Dylan just seemed to struggle through the two-hour set– it sounded like your drunk uncle attempting karaoke. But it’s Bob Dylan! We’ll let it slide.

Most songs blended into one another, causing the mind to drift in and out of your present surroundings (bills, relationships, pizza, Trump’s haircut) before rounding back to the four jumbo screens visible from the front of general admission. You have to picture thousands of people looking to their left or right instead towards the stage. A stage that was about a football field’s length from the front of GA– you just couldn’t see that far.

Now, the Rolling Stones carried a much different energy than Bobby D. Firing out all of their hits with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards dancing and maneuvering as if it were 1966. From afar, it looked as though the 73-year-old Jagger was in his mid-20s, as he shouted and sung with the youthful edge, that Dylan didn’t even bother to mimic. Playing for over two hours, the Stones set the night on fire. Still, those jumbo-screens were running a nuisance. The video was about a second off the audio and it was a bit distracting. But its the Stones. Again, we’ll let it slide.

Day Two
Shaking the first day cobwebs off, the festival operated more smoothly. Traffic and security was more efficient, but that damn dust was starting to make a mudslide in the nose. But who cares, Neil Young sounded great with the sun set, turning the sky into a pinkish hue. The 20-minute embellishment and over-extension of “Down by the River” had tension, release, and numerous guitar solos. “Tomorrow Waters is going to make a wall and make Mexico great again.” Young reveals of Roger Waters plan before dipping into “Rockin’ in a Free World” putting his two-hour set to an end.

Of course, the former Beatle, Sir Paul, stole the show–and possibly the weekend. Just over a 140 minutes of music from his solo work with Wings to the Beatles, Paul played with perfection. He was charming as well, “We know what songs you like hearing,” McCartney told the crowd. “It [the audience] lights up with your phones like a galaxy of stars during certain songs, like Beatles ones. When we play one you don’t know, it’s like a black hole… So here’s another black hole.” He then proceeded to play the Kanye West and Rihanna collaboration, “FourFiveSeconds”–a black hole indeed.

Mid-way through the set, Paul brought out some help form Neil Young to play “A Day in the Life.” It seemed as though the two legends were improvising, smiling, and laughing toward one another. It was great to see $14 millions dollars on one stage, taking risks and giving the crowd something to remember.

Day Three
Oh, the last-day-of-school blues, bitter sweet. It’s Sunday, day three of Desert Trip. Running on 12 hours of sleep since Thursday, an abundance of adult beverages, topped off with whatever mind-altering substances that I would never think about doing– you can sense Monday coming. The Who distracted those thoughts, but not with their music. Pete Townsend’s ego was blocking the jumbo screens–at least the audio matched the performance now. He made sure everyone knew that he wrote the songs, taking all the credit as if his bandmates were just interchangeable pawns. His boasting was topped off with jokes of desist bandmates, John Entwistle (bass) and Keith Moon (drums), making things worse. Roger Daltrey’s vocals were there, but he just couldn’t seem to break though the instrumentals. The Who sounded loud and muddled.

After 22 songs from The Who? everyone patiently awaited Mr. Waters. An orbital object
appears on the jumbo screen above the stage, taking shape in front of galaxies and stars. The object approaches the audience. Heart beats throb through stereo speakers. Louder and louder. Anticipation heightens. Goose bumps form. Heart beats, heavier and heavier. The initial chord strums into “Speak to Me” relieving the tension, cutting you loose into a frigid pool on a desert day.

Of course, David Gilmour was not present, but his replacement(s) did justice. The songs were played as they sound on the album (which we’ve heard about a thousand times), pairing well to visuals that were a highlight of the weekend. “The Great Gig in the Sky” sent chills through the audience, with two female singers delightfully mimicking Clare Torry’s powerful and dynamic vocals. The duo wailed through five minutes of psychedelia, gaining cheers mid-song.

Although, no one is perfect. Roger Waters used his fame to politically preach his hatred toward Donald Trump. Performing Animals with a giant inflatable pig which had Trump’s face next to the words, “Fuck Trump and his Wall.” A little subtle there, eh Roger? It felt as though Waters was stooping to Trumps level of vulgarity, distracting the audience from the awesome tunes. Make great music again instead, Waters.

Sifting and stumbling through a plastic beach comprised of water bottles and beer cups, night three’s shenanigans littered the Empire Polo Club, drawing the curtain on Desert Trip. A polite “Hey, we need to clean this area, can you please make space?” reminds you that Monday is here. All the political innuendos, dust, an estimated income of $50 million, good times, and better company, Desert Trip checks out as an overall success.

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