Today was the day I decided to have it all. Maybe it was walking up High Street circa noon to hit Music and Video Exchange and buying a ham and cheese crepe for breakfast to go with my cup of coffee. Maybe it was the simple fact that for all the drinking I did yesterday, I wasn’t hungover in the slightest. Maybe it was just the entire galaxy of good music playing out the middle day of this fest. Whatever it was, I was on board today. All the way. Let’s go.
And go I did — or, I guess I went. Whatever. The schedule was packed today. Really. From the time I rolled into The Black Heart to the time I left The Black Heart — digging a certain symmetry in starting and ending each day at Desertfest‘s smallest venue, definitely — it was basically nonstop. Whereas yesterday I got to basically park myself at The Purple Turtle, at the expense of seeing Ancestors, but still, there was none of that happening this afternoon and evening. As the day wore on, in fact, it only got busier.
My major question was how the hell I was going to see everything I wanted to see. Orange Goblin, Black Pyramid, and Grifter all went on in 25-minute succession of each other, in that order. All three bands — and after a full day of rock. It wasn’t going to be easy.
As far as starts to the day go, however, I couldn’t have asked for something more mellow than an acoustic set from Deville. Frontman Andreas Bengtsson took the stage on his own, just him and a guitar. He was plugged in — Desertfest: “Where Even the Acoustic Guitars Run through Orange Stacks” — and he ran through a charming set of reworked Deville tracks, including “Lava,” which I recalled from their recently posted video for the song. Roadsaw frontman Craig Riggs and I would have an interesting conversation later about how much videos matter again now, but watching Bengtsson perform, there was clearly more to his songwriting than a funny video could convey. I don’t know the name of the last song he played, but it was a classic Kyuss riff, and hearing it through an acoustic was like finding a copy of Paranoid in a museum. Read: just right.
There was a 40-minute break between Bengtsson and the next band at The Black Heart, which was Steak, so I made use of the time and went across the street to The Underworld to check out some of Shrine ’69‘s set. They were young, but heavy, and no one told me, but apparently giant embroidered v-necks are the new t-shirt and jeans. Fair enough. I was more into the UK natives than I thought I’d be just going by their name, and I picked up their CD to give it a listen later on, figuring no time like the present, and contrary to what I told the French lady who sold me my breakfast, it’s not every weekend I’m in London. Shrine ’69‘s crowd knew them better than I did, and I was glad to default to the judgment of the masses on this one. Helped, I suppose, that I agreed with them. Another quality UK band to add to the seemingly endless list.
Also local, Steak drew a large crowd back at The Black Heart. I had bought their EP yesterday without knowing who they were, and only later found out that the band includes Dan and Reece from DesertScene, who organized the fest. They were solid heavy rock, self-aware stoner, and they proved yet again one of the things I’ve always most enjoyed about this kind of music — the people who are into it, do it. Seeing these dudes made me wish I didn’t live in the asshole of the world, considering the raw passion for what they do and the time and effort they were willing to put into putting Desertfest together across three venues in busy Camden Town, 50-plus bands over three nights. They’ve made it really easy for someone outside of this geographic scene (like I am, despite having people in it I consider friends), to be jealous of it, and they rocked besides. Can’t ask for more than that.
I’d seen the Roadsaw dudes around, shot the shit for a while with drummer Jeremy Hemond, bassist (and Obelisk columnist) Tim Catz, the aforementioned Mr. Riggs and guitarist Ian Ross, and I was looking forward to their set at The Underworld. Not because I’ve never seen them before, but because I knew this was a special show. It was special for me just being here, so I figured being that dudes from basically the same region I’m from (at least relative to London), who flew out just for this show and then were set to fly back home, they’d be really into it, and Roadsaw did not disappoint. Awesome to look by the side of the stage and see the Orange Goblin guys showing respect, and awesome to see Roadsaw throw down. They played a couple tracks off their Desertfest EP, which they were also giving away on CD free of charge — I took two — and “Thinking of Me” and “Long in the Tooth” off the self-titled (review here) were highlights. I’ll have to see if they’re playing at all in Boston come June or July, because as I stood and watched them tear through these songs, it occurred to me that I’ve never seen them on their home turf, and that’s something I should probably get on remedying. They did New England proud.
Sungrazer was on next, so I stayed put at The Underworld. This was my second time seeing the Dutch natives, who were a highlight of Roadburn last year and who I really consider to be the future of fuzz. Sander Haagmans‘ Rickenbacker rules all. If Sander Haagmans‘ Rickenbacker was running for US president as a republican, I would go against my beliefs and vote for it, because it’s just that awesome. But you know what? Sander Haagmans‘ Rickenbacker wouldn’t run as a republican, because it’s warm and inviting and progressive and doesn’t give a shit if gay people want to get married. It’s fucking great, is what I’m trying to say. His and guitarist Rutger Smeets‘ tones were dead on. They opened with “If” from their 2010 self-titled (review here) and went directly from there into “Octo” from last year’s fabulous Mirador (review here), but what I was really hoping for came later, with the new song “Dopo.” When I saw them last, they played a couple Mirador tracks, and with the acknowledgement that one live listen is no real basis for judgment, I’ll say it seems like they’re going even further into their meandering heavy psych, leaving behind some of the Colour Haze-type influence and doing more of their own thing. Maybe that’s me reading into it, but that was the impression I got, anyway, and it made me excited to hear what they do on their next record. They finished with the Fu Manchu-worthy fuzz of “Common Believer,” which of all the songs I heard today from all the bands I saw, is the one still stuck in my head.
There was a little time before Alunah were set to go on at The Black Heart, but I made my way over there early to get a spot up front. Grabbed a beer and bought a copy of Alunah‘s Call of Avernus before they took the stage, which they did following some technical difficulties with bassist Gaz Imber‘s amp. The troubles were short-lived, though, which I suppose is one of the benefits of having your fest sponsored by Orange — an awesome-sounding replacement for whatever’s broken is never far off. They were cool, unpretentious riffy doom. Vocalist/guitarist Soph Day had the crowd eating out of her hand, and the whole band seemed right at home both with the audience and in the venue. I’m still reminded of Acid King by Day‘s echoing vocals, but that’s hardly a complaint in my mind. Their next record, which will be their first for PsycheDOOMelic — apparently titled White Hoarhound — is one to look forward to. Like Grifter who would play later, Alunah seem to be coming of age as a band and it was exciting to watch. Valient Thorr was on at The Underworld, and I heard later they were great, but seeing Alunah play under their psychedelic lighting effects, I felt like I was right where I needed to be.
This is where things got really tricky. I’d worked out the rest of the evening so that the order of bands was going to be as follows:
Truckfighters at The Underworld (18.30-19.15)
Dopefight at The Purple Turtle (19.15-19.45)
Church of Misery at The Underworld (19.45-20.30)
Orange Goblin at The Underworld (21.00-22.15)
Black Pyramid at The Purple Turtle (21.25-22.25)
and Grifter at The Black Heart (21.50-22.50)
I wouldn’t get to see Serpent Venom or Slabdragger, but this way I felt like I was maximizing the amount of bands I’d see, catching the headliners where last night I didn’t, and still getting back to the hotel in decent time to write about this massive fucking day. Obviously I didn’t see everyone’s set front-to-back, and there was one point where I left The Underworld after Church of Misery thinking Black Pyramid was going on immediately only to find I wasn’t that far into the schedule yet, but basically this plan worked, which I guess is why I felt so victorious as I started this review.
Though I guess it would be hard not to be stoked on any night watching Truckfighters. Yes, it was my third Truckfighters show in a month’s time (see here and here), but as soon as Dango started up the “Desert Cruiser” riff, The Underworld went off. Heads were banged, fists were pumped, fuzz was thick, and where they had been relatively subdued in Manhattan, the Swedish trio pulled no punches for Desertfest. It was intense, heavy desert rock. They followed “Desert Cruiser” with “Monte Gargano,” and at that point, there was no turning back. Oskar “Ozo” Cedermalm showed no wear for the set he did last night fronting Greenleaf at The Purple Turtle, and as ever, their energy was infectious and they brought the crowd along with them via killer grooves and some of the finest stoner riffing to be found the world over. Desertfest was perfect for them and they were perfect for Desertfest.
It killed me to leave, but Dopefight awaited. The British trio were one of the native bands I was most excited to see (seems like I say that for every native band, but it’s true), especially after their debut, Buds, found such favor late in 2010. Knowing their modus of “slow riffs first, then punk out with vocals,” I assumed it would take them a little while to get going, and it did. They played an instrumental intro before unleashing a few cuts off Buds and a new song from their upcoming split with Gurt. Good times were had. Much like Alunah and Steak earlier in the day, the crowd knew Dopefight and had pretty clearly seen them before. I hadn’t, and they killed. “Specimen” and “Nob. Nod. Noi.” made sure I didn’t go anywhere for the duration of their time on stage, though I’ll admit to getting a Newcastle and moving to the back of The Purple Turtle, as the day was beginning to wear on me. Nonetheless, Dopefight were every bit worth sticking through. I hope this isn’t the last time I see them.
Rumors were around that Japan’s Church of Misery had a new singer and guitarist, the latter coming on as a replacement for Tom Sutton, but lo, when I got back to The Underworld for the start of their set, there was Sutton himself. They did have a new vocalist since the last time I caught them, but as ever, Church of Misery delivered, Tatsu Mikami wearing his bass characteristically low-slung as he stood on the stage monitors. I don’t know who the new singer was — or, come to think of it, if it wasn’t in fact Hideki Fukasawa. He had the noisemakers going and the songs they played off 2009′s Houses of the Unholy (review here) sounded right on, but the stage presence was different, less manic and frantic. Less fake-shotgunning the crowd. It didn’t matter to the crowd, who were dead into it from the outset. It seemed like they didn’t play long, but I guess it just went quick. Either way, they’re touring Europe this month, playing Roadburn next week, and then heading to the States for a cross-country run that includes a stop at Maryland Deathfest at the end of May. Whoever’s in the band, they seemed ready.
Hometown heroes, Orange Goblin made for an especially cool headliner for the first Desertfest Saturday night because in no small way they’re responsible for influencing the current British scene. From Grifter, with whom they’re touring, to the likes of Desert Storm who play tomorrow, Orange Goblin — on the road supporting this year’s excellent A Eulogy for the Damned (review here) — are the statesmen of this scene, and though they’re as raucous as ever, they play the role well. The setlist was amazing. “The Fog” and “Stand for Something” off the new one, plus “Scorpionica” for an opener, “Some You Win, Some You Lose” and a rendition of the anthemic “The Filthy and the Few” that they brought out Craig Riggs from Roadsaw to join Ben Ward on vocals. I know it hasn’t been that long since they were last on my home shores, but I really hope Orange Goblin get to do a US tour for this album. The songs are so tight and crisp, but still rougher live than they are on the record. I’d love another shot at checking them out. You’ll note the headline for this post comes from “The Ballad of Solomon Eagle.” No coincidence there. Orange Goblin were a high point of the weekend.
In fact, I probably stayed at The Underworld longer than I should have, because by the time I got back down the road to The Purple Turtle — a 10-minute walk, basically — Black Pyramid was already well into “Mercy’s Bane” and the room was full. I’d heard a lot of people say they specifically wanted to see them, and I guess since the whole of Desertfest was running a little early, I just mistimed it. I stayed for a little while and grooved out for a couple minutes, and was glad for their success here as I was last year seeing a different incarnation of the band kill it at Roadburn, but soon enough I was back out the door and on my way north (was it north? Felt like north, but it was uphill, and I’m no judge, so take that for what it’s worth) to round out the night at The Black Heart, not before buying a copy of Serpent Venom‘s Carnal Altar album from their merch table in its awesome weirdo packaging. My camera bag was starting to weigh down my shoulder from the heft of the day’s acquisitions, but if the worst that comes of it is my arm falling off, I can’t really say I lost out.
Though by the time Grifter were getting ready to roll, I was tired and I could feel myself being tired. For a soundcheck, the three-piece jammed out a bouncy, low-key riff — it reminded me of something Asteroid might have extended for another six or seven minutes the night before in the same room — and inadvertently hooked the crowd, so that when they stopped, the room erupted in cheers. It was awesome, though kind of a bummer they didn’t just pick up from there and keep going. There were still a couple minutes before their set actually began, but when it did, it was worth the wait. Like last year’s Ripple Music self-titled full-length (review here), the live show showed them as a no bullshit heavy classic rock band. They played a couple older songs off their first EPs, which were well received, and were a cool way to finish up the night. I think a lot of people had gone off to the pub or decided to call it quits on the evening, but those who stayed for Grifter were definitely rewarded for the effort. I did, anyhow. Their set was like the destination I’d been running to all day, and I suppose it was. I’ll be honest: I didn’t make it through the whole thing, with time wearing on and knowing this was going to be the giant slab of probably typo-laden copy it has turned into. As as been the case many times so far this weekend, though, I was glad I saw what I did.
Tomorrow’s Easter — Happy Easter, if that’s your thing — and I think the whole town has the day off, but Desertfest rolls on. It’s the last day, and way more relaxed than was today (no doubt in my mind that was a purposeful move on the part of the DesertScene crew), but I’m still looking forward to seeing the likes of Wiht‘s last show ever, Leaf Hound and Samsara Blues Experiment, so as soon as I can, I’m going to crash out. It’ll probably be another hour or two of putting together the photos for this post [NOTE: No such luck. Post went up at 04.58), but whatever. I got takeout Indian food for dinner and am feeling strong as a result. Days like today, if they happen once, you’re lucky. I’m exhausted, and sore, and I don’t know if I’d call myself “lucky” — something about doing so just makes me think a piano will immediately fall out of the sky and land on my head — but “fortunate” definitely applies.
Thanks for reading. More pics after the jump.
Church of Misery
GrifterAlunah, Black Pyramid, Church of Misery, Desertfest & Roadburn Adventure 2012, Deville, DopeFight, Grifter, Orange Goblin, Roadsaw, Shrine 69, Steak, Truckfighters