Live Review: Desertfest NYC Night Three, 04.28.19

Posted in Reviews on April 29th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Elder (Photo by JJ Koczan)

The final day of a festival is always bittersweet, in any context. This being the first Desertfest NYC, it was a time to step back and take stock of the event, the crowd, the proceedings, what worked well, what could be tweaked in the future, and in what ways generally it could grow — because if the Desertfests in Berlin, London and Antwerp are any indication of intent, growth is the idea.

So what about it? The venue worked. The Well is a cool spot, and you almost feel like you’re getting away with something out on that back patio. The tent for the main stage worked. The food worked. The free iced coffee cans from Stumptown Roasters certainly worked for me, if we’re defining “worked” as “kept me upright.” The sound worked. The lights worked for the most part. And the location worked. I got street parking both days, no problem. Mark it a win based on that alone.

The second stage room was intentionally smaller and got to be a squeeze, and with the way the door was, you were either in or out — there was no peaking through to see the band onstage. Not that that’s the ideal way of seeing live music, but it’s better than nothing. It was easy enough to get there early, but I heard people noting it just the same. And it was cold. Yesterday more so than the day before. The sun teased a couple times but wasn’t out for more than about 20 minutes at any point, and then it was night, so it got colder. Rain held off, which was a relief, but there was definitely a flux of people going inside for a bit to get warm before going back out to be in front of the main stage. April in New York. That’s a possibility.

But on the whole, given the crowd size and response, the fact that it ran so well from front to back, and the general spirit of those playing and attending comingling and having a good time, I wouldn’t call it anything but a success. Desertfest is a brand, and they were feeling out a new, tough market in New York, but they pulled it off. I was given a t-shirt and I’ll wear it proudly. I hope they do another.

But holy crap was I tired.

Really, just a mess. Doing a festival is one thing. Doing it not completely removed from the rest of one’s life is quite something else, and I could feel myself showing signs of wear and tear especially early in the day before what little adrenaline my deeply flawed body could produce got to work and got me through. That coffee didn’t hurt either. You’ve made a customer for life, Stumptown. I mean that. I don’t usually even drink iced coffee.

Felt like an earlier start than it was at 3:15PM:

Unearthly Trance

Unearthly Trance (Photo by JJ Koczan)

As sadly will happen, Fatso Jetson canceled their trip east to open the third and final day of Desertfest NYC 2019, and I guess it was something of a scramble, but the fest kind of wound up with the opposite. If Fatso Jetson are desert rock, Unearthly Trance are dystopian-expanse-of-concrete-under-a-dark-grey-sky metal. Local heroes from Brooklyn, their 2017 comebacker full-length, Stalking the Ghost (review here), was followed last year by a split with Relapse labelmates Primitive Man (review here), and the few years they spent apart clearly did not dull their impact or atmospheric breadth. Playing in the tent with the sun outside, they were still unremitting in their darkness, and their slow, churning sonic gruel was served up cold to the early crowd, which was perhaps still bleary-eyed from the night before but primed to get bleary-eyed all over again, in no small part to keep warm. That’s a thing, right? Whatever. Unearthly Trance were loud as fuck and bleaker than they were loud. They’ve always been more of an export than a NY-scene band, at least since about 15 years ago, but they gave Brooklyn a showing of some of its best homegrown, and so could’ve hardly been more fitting for that spot.

Sun Voyager

Sun Voyager (Photo by JJ Koczan)

That’s a good band. They’ve got their kinks and quirks to work out — don’t we all — but the second they realize how much power they actually command from the stage, it’s all over. They’ve got newly-announced tour dates in June that begin in Denver at Electric Funeral Festival and will see them bum around the Midwest for a while, and that’s only going to help. More of that. But already their presence is significant. I haven’t seen them since they released Seismic Vibes (review here), which was a debut I was anticipating to an almost embarrassing degree, so they were an absolute must for my weekend, and hearing them do “Open Road” and “God is Dead,” two of the most potent hooks from among the many boogie-driven brainmelters on the record was more than welcome. They would close with the Budgie cover they just issued digitally, “Crash Course in Brain Surgery,” but their energy was infectious and as I stood there and watched I imagined what it might’ve been like to see Nebula 20-plus years ago when they were just really starting to hit it. It couldn’t have been much different. Sun Voyager are awash in potential now and starting to put the work in to pay that off. I will continue to hope they get there.

Ruby the Hatchet

Ruby the Hatchet (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Forerunners of Philadelphia’s burgeoning heavy psychedelic movement, Ruby the Hatchet brought presence and the chops to back it up in kind to their set outside on the main stage. The Tee Pee rollers were fresh off Grim Reefer Fest in Baltimore on April 20 and were on the West Coast earlier this year supporting 2017’s Planetary Space Child LP (review here), and I’ve seen them live a few times at this point, so to find them locked in wasn’t really a surprise as such. The difference was just what they were able to do in being so locked in. It was a classic heavy rock show. Frontwoman Jillian Taylor led the way through the show, with Johnny “Scarps” Scarperia setting the foundation in riffs somewhere between psychedelic rock and proto-doom, Lake Muir‘s bass and Owen Stewart’s drums pushing the groove forward and the keys — it was quite a setup — of Sean Hur adding texture beyond what one finds in the standard boogie rock of the heavy ’10s. Their next album will say a lot for what the ultimate story of Ruby the Hatchet will be, but their live show left nothing to question about who they are as a band, and the Uriah Heep cover for a finale was a particularly nice choice. Hail heavy prog.

ASG

ASG (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I’ve never been a huge fan of North Carolinian four-piece ASG. Not for lack of respect for the work they do, the time they’ve put in touring, the quality of their records, and so on. Sometimes it just doesn’t click, and I’ll readily acknowledge that’s me and not the band, who obviously weren’t hurting for proponents as they packed out the tent outside at The Well, the chilly air getting chillier and the vibe getting its collective buzz on. I grabbed a can of coffee — honestly, if it had been a bucket, I’d have grabbed that — and watched them for a while and tried to figure out the mental block was stopping me from getting on board. Their 2018 album, Survive Sunrise, was a pick in the Year-End Poll, and I’ve been writing about the band on and off since I saw them in 2011, but everybody else had me beat by far in terms of being into it. My loss, I’ve no doubt. It usually is with that kind of thing. Gave me a chance to go inside and get warm.

Duel

Duel (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Does Duel‘s reputation precede them yet? Maybe, given the fact that the room with the Desertfest NYC second stage was filling up 80 minutes before the Austin, Texas, four-piece were slated to go on. Part of that was wanting to keep warm, but the band were setting up their gear and looked surprised to see the expectant faces staring back at them. Fair enough. Duel have a pair of killer studio records under their collective belt for Heavy Psych Sounds in 2016’s Fears of the Dead (review here) and 2017’s Witchbanger (review here), and they’re about to unleash the third, Valley of Shadows (review here), on a speedy turnaround May 17 and do the bulk of their label’s impending West Coast package tour earlier next month as preparation for heading to Europe for a month on the road there. So yeah, Duel seemed to be in a good place as they came back on stage at their appointed time and destroyed that tiny room in a way that would’ve translated well to the stage outside, playing like a band taking their delivery to the next level and doing their best work to-date on all fronts. They were riotous and a pleasure to watch. It once again got slammed in the small second stage space as they rose to the occasion, and while everyone there may or may not have known what they were in for, they will next time. Duel are very quickly making themselves essential. A do-not-miss reputation won’t, and maybe doesn’t already, hurt.

Monolord

Monolord (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I’m not sure if Monolord‘s new album — which will also mark their jump from RidingEasy Records to Relapse — is done, or if they’re just already touring for it, but the Swedish trio might as well have been flashing a sign from the stage that said, “NOW IS THE HEADLINING PORTION OF THE EVENING.” Indeed, they and Elder who would follow made up the headliner spots and in the case of Monolord, their primeval riffing, ultra-grooving largesse, chemistry boomed like it was in a meth lab and still-just-dudes-who-like-to-play-loud stage presence was already a highlight of the weekend by the time the first song of their set was done. They’re on the road in the US only briefly this time, having done the Psycho Smokeout on the West Coast as well as this, but they’ll be back for sure after a summer spent in Europe. And I don’t know when they’re record’s coming out, but you’d be a fool not to hold a place on your best-of-the-year list for it whenever it actually happens, because if Monolord have proven anything to this point in their career, it’s consistent. Other bands play, Monolord kill. Make the t-shirt with the spoof logo and sell a million of them. You’re welcome.

Green Milk from the Planet Orange

Green Milk from the Planet Orange (Photo by JJ Koczan)

All three members of Tokyo’s Green Milk from the Planet Orange played seated. Or at least for the most part seated, since I don’t think any of them stayed sitting the entire time, up to and including the drummer, but the arrangement gave their set on the second stage a jazzy feel, with their mega-freaked-out astro-prog heavy grind enhancing that mood. A neon green bass was visible even on what all day was the dark side of the stage, and they likewise were a beacon of weirdness in an undulating sea of riffery. A band on their own wavelength aren’t always easy to listen to — and I’d imagine Green Milk from the Planet Orange‘s new record, which they had for sale outside in the merch area, is plenty frenetic — but the trio made the math add up in their sound and were fun even as they dared the crowd to keep up with them. Most couldn’t, frankly, but that’s the nature of the kind of progressivism a band like that taps into. It’s never been and it never will be for everyone. It was awesome to witness, however, and for the technical prowess and the weirdo vibes coming off the stage, they were a highlight unto themselves. You need that sore thumb band sometimes.

Elder

Elder (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Elder are arguably the most forward-thinking band in the current American heavy rock underground. By starting out young, they’ve become the spearhead of a generation of acts, and the work they’ve done throughout this decade is unmatched in its scope and the sheer will toward exploring new ideas. Plus it’s heavy. And plus, it rocks. I mean, there are a lot of krautrock bands out there. They’re in Europe. And the US has its fair share of heavy in various stripes, whether it’s desert rock or psych or doom metal or whatever the hell else we’re on this week, but what Elder tie together with their sound is a signature blend of influences that no one else can match, and their style of songwriting is inimitable. The way their parts interact with each other like Nick DiSalvo, Michael Risberg, Jack Donovan and Matt Couto have a musical conversation on stage. The way they’re able to build tension subtly and find just the right moment to swap out trajectories and head someplace else. It’s brilliant in the very real sense of luminosity. They are important, yes, because their influence will continue to spread, but they’re also incredible just to stand back and watch play. Every bit the headliner at this stage in their career, and I suspect they will remain that way for as long as they choose to do so. This is a special band doing special work on their own terms. Long may they reign.

Mick’s Jaguar

Mick's Jaguar (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I’m not going to pretend I had it in me to stand there for the entire Mick’s Jaguar set. I didn’t have it in me to stand there for the entire Elder set — I had to go sit inside for a couple minutes at one point or another — but I’d seen every band on all three days of Desertfest NY, so you’re damn right I stuck around and waited for them to go on. I love how New York’s version of party rock is still just a little mean. It’s the punk lineage, or at least the spirit of that culture, because even when a band like Mick’s Jaguar come out on the second stage and start tearing into songs from 2018’s Fame and Fortune (review here), there’s still a little edge of “fuck you” to the good time they’re having. Like they’re saying, “fuck you we’re fun.” And they were a blast. It was late and dark in the room, but a lot of people had gone home after Elder, so Mick’s Jaguar were kind of the pre-after-party for the after-party happening after the show. I knew vaguely what to expect going into the set, but as tired as I was and as much as I still had that hour drive home ahead of me, I knew staying for one more song was the right way to go, and hey, no regrets.

The actual after-party was being held at The Anchored Inn around the corner. I said goodbyes at the venue and farted my way over there for a couple minutes to see how the cool kids live. They live boozy. I tried not to put my backpack in anyone’s face, failed, and then once again took my leave. Maybe I hadn’t been ready after all for Desertfest NY to end. Maybe I was delaying that drive home.

Either way, the toll would be paid this morning. Got to bed before 1AM, but the alarm went off at 5:50AM to get up, pack the car and drive back to Massachusetts so The Patient Mrs. could go to work. It had been traffic all weekend, so I should’ve expected no different. Left at 7:30AM, got in at 1:30PM. Stops for diaper-change, gas, etc., but yeah. Still six hours for a trip that’s ideally not much over four.

That had me pretty much comatose for the afternoon, but I started this review during the baby’s nap and I’m finishing it now after he’s gone to bed. I’m falling asleep while I type and I still need to sort pictures, so I’ll leave it here, but before I go, heartfelt congratulations to Matte Vandeven and Reece Tee on a job well done, and thanks to them, Sarika, Jake and everyone else involved in the festival crew for having me along for it. I felt welcomed in a way that warmed my heart and set the tone for the entire experience. It was much, much appreciated. Here’s to the next one.

More pics after the jump:

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Live Review: Desertfest NYC Night Two, 04.27.19

Posted in Reviews on April 28th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Windhand (Photo by JJ Koczan)

The Well — not to be confused with the Austin, Texas, band of the same name — is around the corner from where The Acheron used to be in Brooklyn and there still stands The Anchored Inn as a congregation point. I was there for not the day’s first cup of coffee before day two of the inaugural Desertfest NYC kicked off back at the venue. It was cloudy and the air was chilled — April in New York — but by the time Electric Citizen were done, the sun was out and would remain so for the bulk of the day. That helped all the more since the main stage was outside.

A large tent was erected on an expansive enclave of a patio space. In back was the merch area, seating at picnic tables and along the other side there was a bar, taco stand, and the raised shipping container up some stairs that had been converted to a backstage lounge, complete with deck. The vibe was immediately relaxed and cool, with another bar inside and the second stage, in a smaller room off to the side of The Well‘s main corridor. My first time in the space, and it seemed ready for the event from its basic structure to the tent outside, though if Desertfest NYC is going to be an annual event, they’ll need a bigger one.

The afternoon kicked off soon enough, but though the venue switched from the Saint Vitus Bar the evening prior, the mood around was much the same. It was something Ron Holzner of The Skull would effectively summarize in saying, “About damn time we had a European festival come to the States. A sign of good things to come.” One hopes he’s correct in the foresight.

It was a packed nine-band day, mostly alternating back and forth between the stages, and it went vaguely like this:

Electric Citizen

Electric Citizen (Photo by JJ Koczan)

It had been a few years since I last caught Ohio heavy rockers Electric Citizen, but their 2018 album, Helltown (review here), was a stripped down and switched on groover that at the same time offered the band’s most developed sense of melody yet, so yes, it was something to look forward to. I don’t think they were helped by the early slot, but with the bill as stacked as it was, there wasn’t really anywhere else to put them. There was, fortunately, a good crowd to start the day off, and that only grew in number as the RidingEasy Records five-piece went on, their sound pulling elements from cult rock, glam, doom and proto-metal in order to create a brew that’s readily familiar and nuanced at the same time. They played as a five-piece, with keys alongside the guitar, bass, drums and vocals, and frontwoman Laura Dolan noted from the stage that this was their sendoff for a European tour. They’ll spend the month of May in the UK and EU, playing Desertfest in London and Berlin as well as other dates before and after. They sounded ready to go, to say the least.

Tower

Tower (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Immediately after Electric Citizen wrapped on the main stage, the second stage launched with the classic metal stylings of Tower, who continue a tradition of gritty NY homage to the NWOBHM and early thrash that goes back pretty much to when that sound was current. There’s always been a place for that stuff in New York, and Tower represented well what Brooklyn has done in the wake of bands like Early Man in the last decade and Natur and others in this one, two guitars blazing to coincide with the first off-stage frontperson of the weekend — presumably not the last, though one never knows — and a riotous stage presence that all the more justified that spillover onto the floor. They were probably the most metal act of the day, but still well accessible to the Desertfest NYC crowd. I’ve made the argument a thousand times at this point that classic metal is the domain of the heavy underground. Tower were another notch in favor of that position, and they effectively captured the spirit of the metal to which they were paying homage via their material. Not unfamiliar, but that’s the point.

Danava

Danava (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Back on the main stage, Portland, Oregon, stalwarts Danava answered such metallurgy with a bit of boogie, a bit of NWOBHM dual-guitar action, and a lot of soul. I’ve been fortunate enough to see Danava a couple times over the years, and though my initial impression of them wasn’t positive, they’ve proven consistent in terms of the high-quality of their work on stage and off — my initial impression, in other words, was wrong. The simple fact that they haven’t put a record out in eight years and continue to get booked on shows like Desertfest NYC and Psycho Las Vegas, where they’ll play the pool party in August, should speak volumes to their continued relevance, and though they had the At Midnight You Die single (review here) out through Tee Pee in 2016, you would have to say they’re due for a record. Overdue. But they killed. Founding guitarist/vocalist Gregory Meleney warned the crowd before they played what was presumably a new song, “Nothing but Nothing,” that they might screw it up, but by all appearances they nailed it, which was basically the case for their entire set.

The Skull

The Skull (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Yeah, I know The Skull is Ron Holzner and Eric Wagner from Trouble, and I know they’ve got Rob Wrong from Witch Mountain on guitar alongside Lothar Keller and they’ve got Brian Dixon from Cathedral on drums. They’ve got all that, and I won’t take away from anyone’s pedigree whatsoever. But you know what else The Skull have? Songs. Songs. Songs. They’ve got songs that are memorable. Songs that stay with you after you put the album down and move onto the next thing. Songs that, when they play them on stage, you go, “Oh shit yeah, this song!” as I did when they launched into “When the Sun Turns Black” from their 2014 debut, For Those Which are Asleep (review here) and the title-track of last year’s follow-up, The Endless Road Tuns Dark (review here). Stage presence is a factor, of course, and if you’re going to call anyone in American doom a supergroup, it’s probably fair to do so for The Skull, but whatever they do, their foundation is there in the songs, and it’s the songs that carry them most of all. They were and are the best example I can think of for a band building something new out of a storied legacy.

Worshipper

Worshipper (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Boston’s Worshipper packed the second stage room beyond capacity — there was a line out the door to get in — and played like a band who are about to release one of the best records of the year, which they are in the form of their second album, Light in the Wire (review here). They opened with “Visions from Beyond” and “Coming Through” from that offering and gave a preview of what they’re soon to take on the road in Europe with their Tee Pee labelmates in The Skull — they too will be at Desertfest‘s London and Berlin editions — as guitarist John Brookhouse and bassist Bob Maloney proffered dead-on vocal harmonies on material new and old, guitarist Alejandro Necochea tore into leads and offered more harmony alongside Brookhouse‘s guitar, and drummer Dave Jarvis pushed the entire thing forward, grounding the psychedelic stretches and keeping momentum on their side, which it was for the duration. They were the band I was most looking forward to in the lineup for the day, particularly in light of their new album, and they very clearly played to the momentousness of the occasion at the first American Desertfest. It was the kind of thing I’ll be glad to have seen.

Weedeater

Weedeater (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Some technical trouble with the bass amp before Weedeater went on, but plenty of shenanigans to fill the time and bassist/vocalist “Dixie” Dave Colins spat out auctioneer’s chatter and lines like “crack rocks” and “wow, wow, mom” in checking the mic. The North Carolinian trio — Collins, guitarist Dave “Shep” Shepherd, drummer Ramsey Ateyeh (I think; someone please correct me if I’m wrong) — are on a forever-tour, their last record, Goliathan (review here), having come out in 2015, but they absolutely packed that tent and people went apeshit for them to the point that, when I went into the photo pit later for Windhand, the barricade had moved up in front of the stage to the point that there was no more access to the other side. Weedeater do nothing but deliver, and I know Dixie is kind of playing to character, but dude is working from the moment he hits stage to the moment he leaves. He’s the James Brown of sludge, and Weedeater‘s legend has grown all the more over their nearly-25-years because of that. They played the songs they always play, they kicked ass like they always do, and they proved once more that there’s only ever been and there only ever will be one Weedeater. Accept no substitutes.

Mirror Queen

Mirror Queen (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Let’s face it: you’re never going to beat Weedeater at their own game. Luckily for all involved, Mirror Queen were on a different wavelength entirely. Their progressive-tinged classic heavy rock is a staple of New York’s underground, and with guitarist/vocalist Kenny Sehgal‘s dual-role as the head of Tee Pee Records, their inclusion was all the more fitting. The four-piece, with Morgan McDaniel on guitar, James Corallo on bass and Jeremy O’Brien on drums, bounced and careened through a set that acquitted them well with the Desertfest crowd — doubly fortunate since they’ll be in Berlin soon enough — and asked nothing by way of indulgence while bringing to bear material of melody and weight that wanted neither in perspective or delivery. Mirror Queen have been around, and have had their share of lineup turnover, but the band as they are now was only engaging, and to those familiar with them and not in the crowd, they were a return to consciousness after the bash over the head that the main stage had just delivered. Heavy rock and roll is always welcome, and Mirror Queen were a fitting reminder why.

Windhand

Windhand (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Like Weedeater before them, like Black Cobra the night prior and like Monolord and Elder to follow the next day, Windhand were not an unknown quantity, but for a festival brand feeling its way out in a hard city, they made perfect sense for the bill, and their doom was absolutely massive in the tent that held the main stage. I had been thinking after The Skull played that there was no doom left for anyone else — and certainly Windhand‘s 2018 album, Eternal Return (review here), had more going on than just that — but the Richmond, Virginia, four-piece managed to scrape enough together in order to feel like they were burying the crowd alive in low end. I will gladly argue for Windhand as being among the most important bands of their generation, particularly for those who’ve come up since and have taken influence from the sense of atmosphere they bring to their material in the studio and on stage, and though they had a hard act to follow on the main stage, they lived up to even the mighty expectations that are placed on them at this point wherever they go. They are a headlining band, full stop. They’ve worked hard to become one, and they deserve every bit of significant acclaim they’ve garnered over the years, while still sounding like they want nothing more than to move forward.

Steak

Steak (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Ambassadors from London’s populous heavy underground, Steak were nothing short of a refreshing way to close out the night. They’ve been a staple act of Desertfest London, which guitarist Reece Tee is also involved in organizing via Desertscene, as he was with Desertfest New York, so like Mirror Queen, they also had a family connection to the proceedings, but even their soundcheck drew a crowd keyed in to the fuzz tone and heavy roll they let loose. They were not halfway through the first song before frontman Chris “Kippa” Haley was standing on the front-of-stage riser, and he’d spend a goodly portion of the set up there, toasting the crowd and personifying the entire band’s really-glad-to-be-here mood, which was infectious. They too packed out the second stage room and held the crowd for the duration, begging a revisit for 2017’s No God to Save (review here) and showing off the development in their dynamic since which is set to manifest on their next record, due out before they play Keep it Low in Munich this October. Seeing them live for the first time in I don’t even want to count how many years only made me look forward to that more, whenever and however it might actually show up, and for the first Desertfest New York, they hit stage like a mission statement of what the festival brand is all about, from top to bottom. It was right on and then some.

It was not a small amount of day. As of now, it’s about two hours until it’s time to get back on the road from New Jersey to Brooklyn for the third and final round with Desertfest New York. The weather thus far seems to be uncooperative, but we’ll see how it all pans out this afternoon. Shower first. Shower first.

That’ll be good.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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Live Review: Desertfest NYC Night One, 04.26.19

Posted in Reviews on April 27th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Black Cobra (Photo by JJ Koczan)

An unfamiliar context in familiar environs. Desertscene and Sound of Liberation, who together are behind Desertfest in London and Berlin as well as numerous other events, are playing it smart. New York is a hard town to do a festival, and if they’re thinking of making this an annual event, they’re building from the ground up. It’s not about rolling into Brooklyn and trying to nudge arguably the most entitled audience in the US — because fucking everything comes through New York, and is expected to — into embracing your brand, but about introducing what you do in a way that allows that audience to feel like it’s getting in on something on the ground floor.

To that end, the first night of the first Desertfest NYC was held at the Saint Vitus Bar with a welcoming spirit and a due course of volume. To those who’d point out there are no deserts in New York, congratulations on your cleverness. Please send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for your sticker. For those of more discerning cognition, the point was the music, always, and Desertfest NYC 2019 both embraced the space it was in and the audience it drew in delivering an inaugural night that felt like a kickoff as much for the parties behind it as those in attendance.

Four bands would lead in to two days of nine apiece, and the venue for Saturday and Sunday is The Well, but the Saint Vitus Bar is not only pro-shop from top to bottom, but an intimate enough space to still feel like something special might happen. Whatever the future holds for Desertfest in New York City, I’ll gladly argue that something special already did.

Here’s how the night went:

Heavy Temple

Heavy Temple (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Have you told two friends yet about Heavy Temple? I sincerely hope so, and I hope they do likewise. It was my first time seeing the latest incarnation of the Philly purveyors of hard fuzz, who seem to have sacrificed little of their forward momentum for once again swapping out two-thirds of the lineup around founding bassist/vocalist High Priestess Nighthawk. Now in the company of guitarist Lord Paisley — and congratulations to him on the stage name, because that is marvelous — and drummer Baron Lycan (not bad either), Nighthawk remains the commanding presence at the heart of the band. They’re new in this form, but at least some of what they played was readily familiar from 2016’s shorty-long-player Chassit (review here), and with Nighthawk righteously softshoeing her basslines in true “taking them for a walk” fashion” and Paisley and Lyan certainly more than just along for the ride, they showed that the band’s potential has not at all dimmed for the tumult in personnel. They’re recording — guitars next, apparently — and have tour dates lined up with Ecstatic Vision (info here). I’d say by the end of that run they’ll be on fire, but they already were.

High Tone Son of a Bitch

High Tone Son of a Bitch (Photo by JJ Koczan)

I seem to have a preternatural aversion to bands with two frontmen, which is a terrible generalization to make across the board, but true nonetheless. Some people don’t like two guitars. I tend to feel like if you’re going to have more than one person whose primary function is as a singer, you need to earn that aesthetically, either with some harmonies or arrangement depth, etc. Oakland, CA’s High Tone Son of a Bitch brought some aggro noise spirit to both traditionalist heavy rock and Southern-tinged riffing, and indeed there was some interplay between their two vocalists, which helped. They’re a band requiring context, with members of Noothgrush and Kalas aboard and the fact that they were together in the early part of the century before losing guitarist Andrew Kott to drug addiction, and taking more than a decade off only to recently begin a comeback. Even for those without the background though, they seemed to hold their own. They’ve been touring with Weedeater — always helps — and were still getting their feet (back) under them amid some competing vibes onstage, but they acquitted themselves well and their new material seemed to pick up where they left off 15 years ago, so all the better.

Here Lies Man

Here Lies Man (Photo by JJ Koczan)

There was talk afterward of Black Cobra stealing the show — and fair enough — but I’d never seen Here Lies Man before, and among the entire weekend’s lineup, they were high among my most anticipated sets. Their two full-lengths for RidingEasy Records, 2017’s Here Lies Man (review here) and last year’s You Will Know Nothing (review here), have both garnered significant critical praise, but they have yet to capture the kind of word-of-mouth-holy-crap-you-gotta-see-this-band backing they deserve. With shared vocals among guitarist Marcos Garcia, drummer Geoff Mann and bouncing bassist JP Maramba and keyboardist Will Rast prominent in the front-of-house mix, they showed just how far they’ve taken the central conceit of the group they started with — “what if Black Sabbath played afrobeat” is how it’s been phrased in the press releases — and made something new from it that’s neither entirely one or the other but all the more a defined Here Lies Man sound. They jammed with character and held down air-tight rhythm and melody with a sense of artistry and professionalism, and as they move toward their third full-length, they only seemed to be poised for people to catch on to what they’re doing. They were, in short, really, really good. You like bands? Okay cool. Here’s a band. Fucking dig in.

Black Cobra

Black Cobra (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Hey, guess what. Black Cobra were completely dominant. Well of course they were — that’s what they do, and they do it remarkably well. There was some trouble early on with Rafa Martinez‘s bass drum trying to run away from him — only reasonable, since he was kicking the shit out of it at the time — but he and guitarist/vocalist Jason Landrian took the Saint Vitus Bar stage and pummeled, pummeled, pummeled their way into a massive oblivion of thrash-infused heft, delivered with the efficiency of a band 15 years removed from their first EP who have long since attained plug-in-and-destroy status via touring that, for years during that stretch at least, was well into what most humans would consider “excessive.” They’re three years out from 2016’s Imperium Simulacra (review here), and I certainly wouldn’t mind if they did a follow-up to that offering, which was their most dynamic to-date, but let’s face it, if Desertfest NYC wanted to be sure everyone stumbled out of the bar feeling like their asses had just been handed to them, they called the right band. I thought maybe I’d try an experiment and try to review their set without once referencing an act of violence — really, I thought of it while they were playing and people were moshing, chuckled out loud to myself at the notion and was interested to try — but obviously such a cause would be hopeless. With the venue duly laid waste, Black Cobra wrapped their set and gave the addled room over to the after-party, every bit in the fashion of the headliners they truly are.

One thing I wanted to mention that didn’t fit in the review: I got pushed at this show. I was taking pictures of High Tone Son of a Bitch and was up front for it, and I stepped to the other side of the stage, saw the guy I was getting in front of was wearing a SonicBlast Moledo shirt, said “nice shirt,” turned to take a picture of the stage-right guitarist, and the dude pushed me as if to move me out of his way. I don’t imagine this was someone from the area. I spent a decent few minutes afterwards thinking about the ownership of space, personal agency of one’s body, how one responds to being bullied, my own history in this regard, and so on, and landed pretty much on my initial reaction, which was a hearty go fuck yourself. It’s a show, and shit happens, but if you want to be up in front of the stage so bad, get there first. Otherwise, feel free to kiss my ass.

I saw the same guy after the set as he was walking to the back, and as he passed me, I gave him a little shove. Equal and opposite reaction. No words were exchanged — I didn’t think it required verbal follow-up — and that was it. I didn’t see him again and if I did, I don’t think there would’ve been any residual acrimony. But these moments affect one’s evening, if temporarily, and I was glad to be in a place I enjoy so much and surrounded by so many good people — the New York Faithful Family Reunion 2019 in full effect — who helped put me back in the proper mindset without even knowing they were doing it. It was a great night.

Today the show moves to The Well and it starts in a couple hours, so I’ll leave it there and just say I’m looking forward to it. More pics after the jump if you’re interested.

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Desertfest New York 2019 Makes Final Lineup Announcement; Here Lies Man, Fatso Jetson, Black Cobra, Heavy Temple, Steak & More Added

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 13th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

desertfest new york 2019 banner

Desertfest New York 2019, the first one ever, has completed its lineup for this April. Taking place at The Well and Saint Vitus Bar, the three-night event will be headlined by Black CobraWindhand and Elder and will boast newly-announced performances from SteakHigh Tone Son of a BitchHeavy TempleTowerGreen Milk from the Planet OrangeDuelSun VoyagerFatso Jetson and others. It was always going to be a stacked bill, and well, it’s worked out to be a stacked bill. Obviously the Desertfest brand, with history in London, Berlin, Athens and Antwerp, are no strangers to putting on an event, and as Desertscene and Sound of Liberation partner with NY-based Tee Pee Records, there was really no way this was going to be a flop, and it looks like it won’t be.

Calendar’s marked.

Here’s the final lineup:

desertfest new york 2019 poster

THE 1ST DESERTFEST NEW YORK

FULL LINE-UP + DAY SPLITS ANNOUNCED FOR DF NYC – BLACK COBRA, WEEDEATER, HERE LIES MAN, ASG + MORE

Taking place at Saint Vitus Bar on Friday 26th April and The Well on Saturday 27th & Sunday 28th April, please welcome to the bill:

• black cobra
• Weedeater
• Here Lies Man
• ASG
• Ruby the Hatchet
• FATSO JETSON
• Electric Citizen
• HTSOB
• Steak
• Mick’s Jaguar
• DUEL
• Heavy Temple
• TOWER
• Green Milk From The Planet Orange
• Sun Voyager

Unfortunately, we also have to announce that The Atomic Bitchwax can no longer play due to touring conflicts, along with Cali rockers Dommengang. Both band conflicts were out of our control, but we apologise for any inconvenience caused.

2-day weekend passes for ‘The Well’ shows only (Sat + Sun) are still available via www.desertfest.nyc

3-day passes which include access to Saint Vitus on Friday are SOLD OUT

Desertfest NYC will take place at Saint Vitus Bar on Fri 26th April & The Well on Sat 27th April + Sun 28th April

https://www.facebook.com/events/339417893540336/
https://facebook.com/Desertfestnyc/
https://www.instagram.com/desertfest_nyc/
http://www.desertfest.nyc/

Green Milk from the Planet Orange, “Phoenix”

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Desertfest NYC 2019 First Lineup Announcement: Windhand, Elder, Monolord, The Skull, The Atomic Bitchwax, Danava, Mirror Queen, Worshipper and Dommengang to Play

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 27th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

DESERTFEST NYC 2019 BANNER

I’m not trying to toot my own horn here or anything, but I’ve been posting about Desertfest lineups pretty much since the whole thing started. And to me, this already looks like a Desertfest. The first lineup announcement for Desertfest NYC 2019 has been made, and the inaugural New York incarnation of the festival brand in partnership with Sound of Liberation and Tee Pee Records seems to represent multiple sides well. Windhand and their new Relapse labelmates Monolord are given prominent showing, as are Elder — because, let’s face it, if you’re running the first-ever Desertfest on US soil and you don’t get Elder to play, you’re fucking up — and Tee Pee Records is well represented with the likes of The Skull, The Atomic Bitchwax, Danava, Mirror Queen and Worshipper.

Rounding out the bill are L.A.’s Dommengang, who would seem to be the odd band out, but one listen to their Love Jail album that Thrill Jockey put out and you’ll see it’s no mystery why they’re here. I wouldn’t be surprised if they wound up touring east with another West Coast band — Danava come immediately to mind — but of course nothing to that effect has been announced and I’m just speculating.

Point is it’s already a solid bill and in addition to the bands, we now know that the venues involved will be the Saint Vitus Bar and The Well. I’ll have more on the lineup and whatnot as soon as I see it, but early bird tickets are on sale now at the long link below.

Dig it:

DESERTFEST NYC 2019 POSTER

FIRST ACTS ANNOUNCED FOR DF NYC + EARLY-BIRDS NOW ON SALE! We are stoked to welcome Windhand, Elder, Monolord, The Skull, The Atomic Bitchwax, DANAVA, Mirror Queen, Worshipper & Dommengang to the first edition of Desertfest New York – Taking place at Saint Vitus Bar on Friday 26th April and The Well on Saturday 27th April + Sunday 28th April.

A limited amount of 3-day early-bird passes are available for $65 via the below link – https://www.ticketweb.com/event/desertfest-nyc-2019-the-well-tickets/8942735?pl=thewell&fbclid=IwAR28zNtuppWWRVoi3vCXRkeGIg4wOD4FShfPgjbIPDGiOGPDOzbL2vj_UWE

Artwork by the wildly talented Mercerrock (Brian Mercer Design)

https://facebook.com/Desertfestnyc/
http://www.desertfest.nyc/

Monolord, Rust (2017)

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Desertfest NYC Announced for April 2019

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 15th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Well, here we are. Rumors have been kicking around for years about a Desertfest brand extension happening in the US, and the question of where has finally been answered. Seems to me it could’ve just as easily been the West Coast, but as the Desertfest crew are partnering with Tee Pee Records to make it happen, it could really only be Brooklyn. I can’t wait to find out what venues will be involved. The fest is set for April 2019 with the lineup still to be announced.

With the advent of Desertfest NYC 2019, New York joins the ranks of London, Berlin, Antwerp and Athens in playing host to a Desertfest. It’s no minor honor, and it says a lot about not only how this festival has grown into one of the premier event brands in underground heavy, but also how the American underground itself has come up over the course of this decade. No way a Desertfest NYC happens in 2013. Now? It only seems to make perfect sense.

So who will play? What will the interaction be like between Desertfest NYC and the flagship fests a couple weeks later in London and Berlin? Can I go? Can I get a photo pass? How does this economic boon compare to Amazon going to Long Island City for one of its new headquarters? All of these questions will be answered in time, and of course more are waiting to be asked.

For now, it exists. That’s enough to give me a rare moment of patriotic pride.

Here’s the announcement:

Desertfest nyc

DESERTFEST NEW YORK IS HERE

Europe’s leading stoner rock, doom, sludge and psych festival adds another city to its books with the very first U.S. weekender, taking place April 26th-28th 2019 in Brooklyn, New York.
Line-up, venues and tickets revealed next Friday 23rd Nov 10am EST/3pm GMT

Tee Pee Records | Desertfest London | DesertFest Berlin | Desertfest Belgium

https://facebook.com/Desertfestnyc/
http://www.desertfest.nyc/

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