Review written by Tom Donno and Dave Mulcrone.
We've said it so much already throughout our coverage of Desertfest, this event always maintains its place as one of our favourites on the calendar every year and 2017 was absolutely no different. Continually expanding, Desertfest this year got The Roundhouse to open its doors as the "Main Stage" on Sunday (something we'll go in to more detail in Part 2) as well as creating an atmosphere and buzz around the main hub of the festival that didn't lift once all weekend. The math is simple, riffs + revelry = Desertfest.
In part 1 of our review coverage we're going to run through all the bands we were able to check out across both the Friday and Saturday across all three of The Electric Ballroom, The Underworld and The Black Heart.
In previous years at Desertfest the first couple of hours on the Friday have been slow building, with half empty venues effectively warming up the speakers and a subsequent wait for the incoming tide, this year though, things were different. Right from the off the whole area was absolutely packed out as Grave Lines (6/13) were met with a bustling Underworld rather than what may have been expected based on past experiences. Consisting of members from Sea Bastard, Casual Nun and Throne, the band angrily powered through tracks from last year's impressive full-length release Welcome to Nothing and did grab the attention of some of those inside - to an extent anyway. In the grand scheme of things the band failed to make that much of an impression and their set ended up being largely unimaginative and sluggish.
Heading up the road slightly to the nominated Main Stage for both Friday and Saturday, the Electric Ballroom was housing their first band of Desertfest 2017 in the American psychedelic trio Pontiak (6/13). There were a handful of people with strong interest down the front but other than that everyone inside the venue seemed completely uninterested. If you were stood round the corner from the stage you'd think that the venue had just stuck on some ambient music whilst the stage was being set up. Not really the band's fault, they just weren't the right fit for opening the Ballroom unfortunately.
Back in The Underworld Blind River (6/13) were similar to Grave Lines earlier on in that they drew attention from sections of the crowd but only really in short bursts. They made way to one of the more unique acts on the bill this year in Vodun (10/13) whose performance and style injected a serious dose of adrenaline in to Desertfest Friday. Their sound is a bit more eclectic but it is rooted in heavy slabs of Rock and Doom which kept the Underworld glued throughout. All three elements in the band are excellent but star performance to the drummer, who goes by the name 'Ogoun', as her powerful drumming style really elevated both the band and the tracks beyond what you'd get on record. Special middle finger in the face to the small pockets of morons shouting condescending remarks in her direction - you don't deserve to be exposed to real talent like this you sacks of shit.
Whoever said Cheesecakes were infinite? Do Cheesecakes have to die? Both these questions could be heard within the murmur of The Black Heart as Terminal Cheesecake (8/13) took to the stage. Ridiculous band name aside this was a relatively enjoyable set, with a guest spot on vocals from the lead singer of Pigs x7 whilst Neil Francis tours with Gnod. The Neo-Psychedelic jams were a nice breakaway from the more standard fare at Desertfest.
On then to the Friday night main headliners and the return of the cult favourites in Slo Burn (9/13). The anticipation was very high for this particular performance, evidenced by the huge queue operating in a 'one in, one out' system shortly after the band had hit the stage. A packed out Electric Ballroom were treated to a set of songs many would never have heard live in person before - there was a real sense that for the majority of those packed in to the venue, it was a unique experience to see John Garcia and crew belting through some of these tracks. A short search of the band's history shows that Slo Burn's short run came straight after the demise of Kyuss so musically you can pretty much guess exactly where this sits. Watching the band interacting on stage it was very clear that the four of them were really enjoying being up there together and jamming again - John Garcia doesn't usually show all too much emotion on stage between tracks but he couldn't help but show his appreciation for the strong reaction they were getting. The sound was a bit off at times which did affect the overall experience, it felt like they just needed to turn it up a few notches, but it still proved to be a good opening night headliner. At the close of the festival Slo Burn have announced further shows so if you like the sound of all that make sure you head along, you don't know when you'll get another chance to see them.
Arriving on Saturday you could clearly see that a lot of the Desertfest revellers had allowed the alcohol to run a little too loose the night before, with woozy looking half zombies sprawled across the main hub of the festival for the opening few hours.
First up for us were Brume (7/13) who did a fine job clearing some of those cobwebs with their bass heavy breed of Doom - genuinely, the bass felt like it was ripping your skeleton from your body. Following this it was a real stoner-rock-treat to be able to watch Alfredo Hernandez play drums for Avon (9/13) in the Electric Ballroom. He was the last drummer in Kyuss and the first for Queens of the Stone Age - so justifiably considered one of the most decorated desert musicians of all time. Playing a beautiful Ludwig kit and donning his signature monitor headphones; he brilliantly held the beat as Avon combined sharp funky jams with classic rock riffs. They managed to produce a sound reminiscent of the classic desert scene of the 90s, culminating in an awesome cover of the rare QOTSA classic The Bronze to cap off a great set.
John Garcia Band
A little later on in the evening the Desertfest faithful were treated to round two from John Garcia. Aptly named the John Garcia Band (12/13) this was a set-list which took everyone through his career from start to finish. Smashing out tracks like Gardenia and Green Machine, Garcia kept the packed out Electric Ballroom completely engaged even when moving towards some of his more recent solo efforts. Much like the night before, Garcia was met with a gigantic hero's welcome which someone of his stature in this scene deserves; he again appeared overjoyed by the level of reaction they were indeed receiving taking the opportunity to thank the crowd for both that night and Slo Burn's show on more than one occasion. There is just something about hearing that voice live, great show.
On any other year Garcia's triumphant steamroll down the Desert scene memory lane could well have headlined this event, and had it not been for the rarity of a Slo Burn show the two performances could definitely have swapped places. With that said then, there was of course room for one more act that night and who better to dictate a Saturday night party than the pomp and chaos that is Turbonegro (10/13). Much like with Garcia before them, the place was absolutely packed out, even the balcony level was four people deep at every window. Despite it now being years since the change, there are still people who clamber over each other to say how much they prefer the previous vocalist but even the most ardent old school Turbonegro die-hard would be hard-pressed to argue against the kind of presence Anthony Madsen-Sylvester brings to the fold. He dictates the performance and relationship between crowd and band with such ease many vocalists should aspire to it. It was great to see a brand new Desertfest headliner brought in to the fold this year, one that could bring a Punk dose of energy in to the Saturday night. So far so good on the headliner front then, wonder if Sleep continued the trend the following night (obviously yes) .....
Crowd shot during Turbonegro.