Wednesday 7 May 2014

Live Review : Desertfest, London, UK, 25th April 2014

It was with some level of excitement that I attended the third annual Desertfest. Having attended the inaugural weekend two years ago, I had an idea of what to expect but nonetheless my expectations were still high. Sadly, I only had the money for a day ticket, so I chose the Friday- this enabled me to see Spirit Caravan and gave me an excuse to take the day off work, so I was all set.

I had formulated a rough plan of campaign, mainly based around seeing whatever Wino was involved with. With time limited and the need for some food at some point, I managed to take in five bands across three different venues. All in all, a success!

I started the day in odd fashion at The Vans Store (?!) opposite Camden tube to watch a Wino acoustic performance. The setting was odd, to say the least, as tourists vied to look at shoes amongst assorted metallers, stoners and biker types. Wino took to the stage well past the scheduled start time- not his fault as he took time to point out- the (floor level) stage was set for an intimate and interesting performance. Amongst some tuning issues (“shitty Taylor...I asked for a Gibson!”) the man turned in an inspired and at times shredding performance. Wino’s voice was in full force as he blew through the best material from the “Adrift” solo record- “Don’t Care” making a very welcome appearance- and other material less familiar to me; including a new track about something fairly esoteric which I now can’t recall. Great stuff, with a party atmosphere in full effect. Spirit Caravan partner-in-crime Dave Sherman helped out with guitar and backing vocals later on in the set, before Wino took it all home with a storming cover of Motorhead’s “Iron Horse/Born to Lose.” To hear that solo album highlight in a live setting made the show for me- great vocal performance, great guitar and a doom legend about two metres in front of me. A superb start to the festival.

the close of the set I hot footed it over the road to the Electric Ballroom to catch Monkey3 perform their unique brand of instrumental space/stoner rock/metal. As Wino had over-run, I was concerned that I would have missed ten minutes or so of their set- no such problems arose. The festival was VERY well organised indeed; Monkey3 were taking the stage as I (and many others) entered. The band played absolutely superbly, with the bulk of their set being drawn from 2013’s outstanding The 5th Sun opus. The atmosphere was trance like, the playing tight and effective. Monkey3 played to a very respectable crowd- perhaps ¾’s full?- which for a gig at 5pm at the start of a festival is some going. The crowd lapped it up as a space like atmosphere prevailed, assisted by the large screen visuals as a backdrop. Truly outstanding, the band looked floored by the positive reaction coming their way.

At this point, I broke for a falafel wrap and a beer with a couple of friends heading to the Uncle Acid gig taking place up the road. It is with some regret that I thus missed Sasquatch- I had wanted to see them, but there we are.

Regardless, I made it to the Underworld with enough time to see the bulk of Sixty Watt Shaman’s set. They played inspired and aggressive material dating back, incredibly, over a decade. The crowd were very into this one with the band ratcheting things up accordingly. I had never seen them before, but on the strength of this I certainly would see them again. The band looked the part, played the part and delivered in spades- I was glad I made the effort.

The Electric Ballroom then became my home again, and after a quick check of the vinyl racks on the balcony, I settled in to watch Ed Mundell’s UEMG (Ed of Monster Magnet fame, no less). Once again, I had not heard any of his material which again brings home just how great festivals are. I always prevaricate over buying a ticket because “I’m only really into a couple of the bands that day...” or “I’m not really too bothered about the headliner...” etc etc. These excuses are weak and regrettable, as I have learned that the point of a festival is that you get to see numerous bands for a fraction of a single gig ticket price AND you get to see bands you never would have done in other circumstances. All these things make festivals an absolute win- I saw two bands I wouldn’t normally have checked out and really enjoyed both- thus enriching my own life and contributing to the band’s take home money. Result. Mundell and his two man UEMG turned in a convincing and distinctly American take on instrumental space rock- stratocaster blazing, the solos were note perfect and the rhythm section played tightly, backing Mundell up. This is one space fleet you should catch the next time they land here.

Expectations were then high, not as high as some punters, but high nonetheless for the headliners. Spirit Caravan took the stage after ten pm, but after sound checking their own gear and not coming with any kind of rock star attitude. Wino, now completely grey haired, is not as sprightly as he once was, but his voice and chops are still totally there. Sherman backed up ably with a bass tone that rumbled away, while Henry Vasquez of Saint Vitus fame manned the kit with precision and power. They turned in a career spanning set of heavy and soulful sounds from Jug Fulla Sun onwards. After Vasquez’s snare drum was battered beyond repair, a halt to proceedings was called with Wino frustrated and calling for a joint form the crowd (delivered and graciously received). After a few minutes the trio were ready to resume hostilities and focused on turning in a tight and impactive set. Whenever I  listen to or watch Wino in any of his projects I am always reminded of what Rollins said about The Obsessed; “the sound of a man getting angry really slowly” and it is as accurate  with Spirit Caravan as with any of the man’s other projects. Just like that, day one of Desertfest was over and I faced another tube and train journey home.

In conclusion, I spent £25 on a ticket that allowed me to see five great bands in well run venues that were a stone’s throw from each other. I absolutely endorse Desertfest and recommend it to anyone with an interest in doom/sludge/stoner/psych etc. There will be more than one band that you will be interested in, more than one band you will be glad you bothered to check out for the first time and you will get a well run festival that is superb value for money. All hail Desertfest!

Words by : Richard Maw