Rock Blog: Matt Koch Does Desert Trip
What’s up Rockaholics!
This weekend I had the pleasure of descending upon Indio, CA for this truly epic rock concert known as Desert Trip… Yes, I said “rock concert”, not “festival” as it was being billed. 6 bands over 3 days isn’t a festival in my book… Even if the 6 bands are Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Paul McCartney, The Who, and Roger Waters.
Festival or not, you can probably tell by that lineup that this was a HELL of a good time!
Before I get to the bands, I need to start by giving mad props to all the sound engineers there. In an enormous venue set for 70,000+, everywhere I went it sounded like I was standing in the sound booth (which is where it always sounds best, pro-tip).
Bob Dylan kicked off “Oldchella” on Friday night. Honestly I’ve never been a huge Dylan fan. I was born in ’86 and by the time I knew who he was, I had already discovered the Misifts, Rancid, AFI, etc. and have just always veered towards the heavier stuff since then; so his vibe never really grabbed me. That said, I still appreciate what he’s done over the years and was hoping a live show would make a fan outta me… That didn’t happen here.
The guy is known mostly for his songwriting, but I couldn’t understand a single word of what he sung; let alone be able to actually comprehend and reflect on the Nobel-prize-worthy stories he was telling. Throw in the fact that he didn’t say a single word to the crowd and I was left slightly underwhelmed, but still glad I got to see a legend perform.
Next up were possibly the greatest Rock N Roll band ever: The Rolling Stones. I say that because of one reason: longetivity. For them to have kept the wheels turning relatively smoothly for over 50 years is downright incredible.
They still have the sound and stage presence of dudes in their 30s. They LOOK every bit of their age, but they should. They have all have lived legendary lives of rock n roll and showed no sign of slowing down during a rockin’ set list that was only missing “Wild Horses” in my opinion.
How crazy is that? They have such an insane catalog of hits that they could leave off an epic song like that! Most bands that would be THE song everyone wanted to hear. But for The Stones? “Ehhh, no worries mate. We got 8,000 other songs you love.” (Editor's Note: 20.) Absolutely mind-boggling to witness.
Saturday night kicked off with Neil Young and his current band, Promise of the Real, which includes Willie Nelson’s son on guitar. What a treat. I probably could’ve named less than 6 of the songs he played, but they were ALL awesome. I liked how he just pulled out a giant piece of poster paper with like 50+ songs on it and would just randomly point to one then launch into playing it. That was a cool move that showed they were mixing it up live just for us. The band had a great youthful energy about them and the almost-full moon looming enormous right behind the stage was an added bonus!
Then there was... Sir Paul McCartney! Holy cow! He was way too youthful and spry for a guy that’s been at it since 1960. They must give you some sort of amazing anti-aging serum when you become a knight, because he looked and sounded great! Played 38 songs! I know a lot of Beatles songs are shorter, but that was still pretty remarkable. He even brought Rihanna out, which left me some time to go pee ;)
Sunday was definitely the highlight for me personally. And not just cuz the Hawks won! Here’s all you need to know about Sunday: The Who, yes… The Who were OPENERS!!! I don’t know when the last time that happened was. (Editor’s Note: It was one week prior, at the first weekend of Desert Trip.)
I had heard some rumors that maybe Roger Daltrey wasn’t hitting all his notes like the good ol’ days, so I tempered my expectations. Well boy was I pleasantly surprised. Sure, there were some spots where decades of rock n roll had clearly taken their toll on his voice, but he absolutely NAILED the iconic scream in “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and that was enough for me. Easily one of the coolest moments of the weekend.
Their entire windmill-filled set was awesome, they had Pete Townsend (who got his head split open by an errant Daltrey mic-swing and kept playing without missing a note) turned up extra loud in the mix just in case anyone forgot why he’s the guitar icon he is. While that was totally awesome, I was a little bummed the drums were quieter in the mix, cuz I though Zak (Ringo Starr’s son, Keith Moon’s god-son) did an awesome job.
How do you close out a weekend like that? Well whoever put this bill together made an excellent decision by getting Roger frickin’ Waters from Pink Floyd to bring his psychedelic, effect-heavy experience out to Indio to put the “Trip” in Desert Trip. Under a full moon no less!
One of the coolest, most touching moments was when he brought out a wounded vet to play guitar on Shine on You Crazy Diamond. It was powerful stuff. I was too captivated to look around the crowd for tears, but I could tell there were about 70,000 other lumpy throats as we all took an introspective look at what we perceive as our daily problems and had a real perspective check. What an honor to have a guy who lost his legs fighting for my freedom, sitting there simultaneously melting my face and heart while he channeled his inner-David Gilmour.
Waters took full advantage of the awesome surround sound system they had, using all the different sound effects Floyd are known for: stampedes, drill sergeants, helicopters, clocks, cash registers, and more, all zipping all around your head with so much force you could feel it in your chest. He also definitely took the most advantage of the enormous screen they had up front with all sorts of trippy visuals synced up to the music.
All in all, it was the best way imaginable to experience Pink Floyd. There was an incredible band behind Waters. It took a LOT of musicians to do it, which only made me appreciate David Gilmour that much more. It was kinda tough not to wish he and Nick Mason were there but ultimately Waters and his band did such a phenomenal job that I don’t think anyone can complain. Like I said, it’s just a testament to what they accomplished over the years with just 4 members.
There was also a really cool photography exhibit with pictures of all the bands from throughout the years. They were mostly of everyone hanging out off-stage, being normal guys back in the 60s and 70s. They were rock stars at the time, but not yet legends.
It was powerful walking through that bright white, air-conditioned tent and seeing mostly black-and-white photos of these aging icons I was witnessing. Seeing moments from back in their “prime” had a profound impact on my psyche cuz it got me thinking how even the best-lived, most glorious lives will wind down. (I guess that’s sort of what Desert Trip was a celebration of… Hell, even Mick Jagger said, “Welcome to the ‘Catch ‘Em Before They Croak’ Tour!”) The moments captured in those photos will likely prove to be the best parts of their lives. Better than all the fame and money, was partying and making music with their friends.
I think I’m living a pretty cool life because it’s filled with a lot of loud live music and great friends here in the local Seattle scene. Bands like Windowpane, Ten Miles Wide, Mother Crone, Devils Hunt Me Down, Year of the Cobra, and Woodshed (who are all playing a show at The Tractor on my birthday) may never reach the levels of success that the Desert Trippers did; but I consider myself lucky to get to share my own (albeit less glamorous) rock n’ roll debauchery with so many wonderful and talented people.
Even while contemplating my own mortality, I was overwhelmed with gratitude in that fluorescently-lit tent. Grateful to take in such a legendary weekend with my dad and brother in the desert, and grateful for all the amazing local shows that we get week-in and week-out here in Seattle.
Alright well that went a little deep, but sometimes that’s good. I guess in conclusion, come out to as many local shows as possible and spend as much time with good people as possible. Make memories that will last a lifetime. Hope to see you December 2nd at the Tractor!