Desert Trip festival, in the California desert: some of the heavyweights from my teens in one palm-tree-fringed, sun-soaked paradise. Normally I steer clear of anything of this ilk but nevertheless this sounded somewhat appealing. I reminded myself that I’d far rather hang out at my sort of UK festivals, hearing plenty of emerging artists in a friendly atmosphere, all the while imbibing cider and sleeping in a damp tent. There’s the small matter of the ticket price and air fare to LA, too.
Nevertheless I was a bit thrown when a dear relative told me he was forsaking the cold of Manchester and flying out to California to attend the second Desert Trip festival, or ‘Oldchella’ as it’s been called.
So what was the all American festival experience like? Here’s his report…
Desert Trip (according to Jagger “catch em before they croak”)
When the film comes out, it’ll be like Woodstock, to say “I was there”. The line up of the bands needs no comment. The fact that these guys have survived and can perform at this level is a testimony to modern medicine (yoga, vegan diets, AA programmes…).
Here a test for you. Next time you are at a concert, tape one minute. On playback you will hear a fair reproduction of what was played, not what you heard. That’s why playbacks are always so disappointing. I am so fed up of going to the MEN / O2 arenas where the bands blast out the music and it resonates around the arena, your ear and brain combine to just about enjoy the sound. You need the pared-back acoustic sets to really enjoy quality. At Desert Trip, the sound is absolutely right. The playback on an iPhone is almost studio quality. That’s an important start.
Comparisons with the UK for an English writer are inevitable. The organisation is classic US approach, in other words, the customer is king. The search clearance staff joke but take their jobs seriously – they are tough with you if you step out of line (zero tolerance ) but charming and welcoming.
Sadly the food and drink fail. At $11 for a can of beer and up to $28 for a glass of poor wine, there is no concern that there’ll be any drunk and disorderly behaviour here. The food is one up from fast food, but sadly the artisan/ farmer’s market approach of the better UK festivals has not been imported. I guess this may be down to the US obsession with health & safety and litigation. But that would be a poor excuse.
The crowd is, unsurprisingly, made up of around 50% by the rock and roll generation and 50% their children, where they understand the spirit of the blues or where we have managed to broaden their music taste to embrace the magical times we experienced in our youth.
And so to the music. Our noble poet laureate (who, Jagger and Richards individually acknowledged and congratulated ) performed the songs the audience wanted to hear. Rainy Day Women, Don’t Think Twice it’s All Right, and Highway 61 was as good a selection to start as you could have wished for. The huge screens behind the stage showed the band on either side and, in the middle, iconic classic stylised historical photography of 20th Century America, all black and white. Yes, Dylan croaks a lot but his voice is always true.
When Dylan sings Make You Feel my Love, in dreadful modern speak, he 100% nails it. For an encore it’s the inevitable Like a Rolling Stone – shame they didn’t join him on stage for this and one from the American songbook so poignant after the Nobel Prize. As usual, Dylan does not talk to the audience. That’s ok, his music is enough of a communication for every one. My festival companion, not a big Dylan fan, was knocked out.
Even the announcer appears over-excited to introduce The Stones. Jumping Jack transfers his energy to the crowd and we are off. Keef plays with the chords in an enchanting manner to provide variation and maturity to the classics, such as Get Off Of my Cloud. A pleasant surprise is Angie which has been sidelined in recent shows. Jagger leaves the stage, allowing Keith and Ronnie to demonstrate their guitar harmony in You got the Silver. When Jagger returns, it’s the obligatory Midnight Rambler (let’s have a 30-minute version next time please, Mick). Sympathy for the Devil has the crowd “woo-wooing” from the first note. The girlie chorus by Sasha Allen complements Jagger to perfection.
Note: this report is biased. I am 20 rows from the front. I have spoken to someone who is 200 metres away. They are too far away and will not be bothering turning up again.
The choice for encore is the standard, iconic You can’t always get what you Want followed by Satisfaction.
Neil Young never looked particularly healthy, and now he’s a bit older, even less so. But his voice is still the beautiful American Dream. Starting, as all the artists have been made to do, on time, half the audience are not yet in their seats to see his acoustic versions of the trio, After the Gold Rush, Old Man, and Heart of Gold. That’s was your money’s worth, the rest is a bonus.
The band join onstage as the numbers become more rock and roll. The camera too has the chance to capture the full moon for Harvest Moon. Like a Hurricane and Rockin’ in the Free World receive the standing ovations they merit, the band enjoying themselves every bit as much as their audience. Cowgirl in the Sand satisfies all the lead guitarists’ fantasies.
A plane flies overhead advertising the next event. Golden Voice are the cleverest promoters in the world. My companion’s main attention was focused on the gorgeous guy on guitar and organ. She told me she enjoyed the show. High praise indeed.
“Nothing beats a Beatle” was the Manchester Evening News headline some 10 years ago when I first saw McCartney. Close your eyes and it is, at times, The Beatles. Yes, I know Lennon fans will castigate me for such a comment, but this is as close as possible.
Hard Day’s Night and Day Tripper are perfect starters. All the main McCartney lead vocal numbers from The Beatles are covered. A nice touch is a song written for his latest wife and then Paul makes reference to Linda and their beautiful children who are in the audience.
Acoustic versions of And I Love Her and Bluebird are, for me, the best. Interspersed are Wings numbers, with Band on the Run showing the wonderful footage around the 10 people on the album photo – how many can you name ?
My companion’s highlight is Rihanna joining McCartney on stage for FourFiveSeconds. It was special, as was Neil Young joining for A Day in the Life. My companion spent too much time on her iPhone and told me how much better The Stones were. She is difficult to please, next time I’ll bring someone else.
Desert Trip festival, Indio, California October 2016