Live Review: Desertfest NYC Night One, 04.26.19

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.

Heavy Temple

High Tone Son of a Bitch

Here Lies Man

Black Cobra

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2 Responses to “Live Review: Desertfest NYC Night One, 04.26.19”

  1. Mike H says:

    Did High Tone Son Of A Bitch play The Alan Parson’s Project song Eye In The Sky. They did here last week and the damn thing has been stuck in my head ever since. Not really feeling the band, but that was straight out of left field and the biggest earworm in a long time., Damn them. Yeah Ramzi Ateyeh is from Buzz*Oven and Sourvein. The Skull…I know exactly what you mean. Eric Wagner has a presence about him too. It was his birthday when they were up here and they play a couple Trouble songs at the end of the extended set…it was awesome. I hope this fest becomes annual and I can get my butt down to it one of these day. Great reviews and phots as always.

    P.S. Congratulations on the impending return to NJ.

  2. Noe Gutierrez says:

    Enjoyed your review brother. Thank you!

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