Thursday 15 October 2015

Live Review: A Day in the Belgian Desert, Desertfest Belgium, Day 2, 10 October 2015

By: Victor Van Ommen

Desertfest Belgium 2015 was my sixth Desertfest. I don’t say this to brag, I say this because I feel this is an important factor to keep into account when I say that I wasn’t blown away by Desertfest Belgium. Orange Goblin, Fatso Jetson, Dozer, Ufomammut, Causa Sui, Mars Red Sky, Monomyth, Stoned Jesus, and The Machine? Well, I’ve seen them all live before, at Desertfest. That’s not to say that this line-up was sub-par – quite the contrary, the line-up was incredible – but I’m beginning to think that every time I go to the fest, I’m stepping into the same party, again and again. Nonetheless, I was able to set that feeling aside and dive into Day 2 of Desertfest Belgium with some degree of excitement. After all, Mars Red Sky and Causa Sui would be closing out my festival experience – I needed to head out early – so this was going to turn into a pretty good Saturday.

I pulled up at the venue nice and early because in my Fine Print feature I talked trash about you guys needing to get up and at ‘em, so it was only appropriate if I did the same. For me, however, being there early had to do with running interviews with some bands so I couldn’t catch any of the early shows. What I did manage was to catch !Pendejo!’s soundcheck, which sounded pretty tough, as well as a quick glimpse of The Progerians, who, due to their time slot, had to play to a lukewarm crowd but managed to bludgeon with their doom rock just the same. Belzebong’s set passed me by, too, which keeps them up top on my catch-ya-later list.

But there’s no sense mulling about what I missed because I also saw plenty of magic happen on the fest’s three stages.As was the case with Monomyth. Even though I’ve seen this band live more times than I can count, their brand of space-rock is one of guaranteed quality, so it was a no-brainer to go see their set. Good thing, too. It was incredible. Their build-ups were spot on and as the light show pierced through the low hanging marijuana smoke the band traveled through a multitude of dimensions, taking off on a first class flight of space-rock virtuosity. The tempos shifted in such a way that only Monomyth can do, and despite having seen them before, their grip on atmosphere kept me mesmerized, once again. They're already confirmed for Desertfest Berlin in April, and I’ll undoubtedly catch their show then, too.

A quick stop at the Beer Garden was necessary after a show like Monomyth’s. I threw back a cold one and took a gander at what food the fest had on offer. There was choice between vegetarian, Eastern European, fries, cocktails, and what I dubbed “The Meat House.” The day was young so I needed a solid foundation to build upon, so The Meat House it was. One Pulled Pork Sandwich and a Johnny Cash burger later and I was ready to take on Greenleaf.

Greenleaf is a band that I want to like considering Tommi Holappa’s involvement, but on record they just don’t do it for me. There’s no click. I’m willing to lay the blame for that on myself because up on stage the band nailed it. Holappa threw himself around like a bull in a china shop, strumming out riffs that reminded of Dozer but drew from a deep blues. His sound was thick and raw, which is something that doesn’t translate for me on their recorded efforts. The biggest surprise, however, was how singer Arvid Jonsson took the role of frontman to heart, putting on one of the most interesting performances of the fest. He’s got the pipes and the looks to do so with, and though he missed a note here and there, it was his passion before perfection attitude that had me hooked. All these elements came together best in “Ocean Deep,” which resulted in winning me over as a fan of their live show.

Greenleaf turned into Mars Red Sky, a band that has a special place in my record collection. From the moment I heard the album teaser for their debut, I was hooked. Their appearance at the inaugural Desertfest in Berlin played a huge role in why I went to Germany that April, and I still talk about that show to this day. The fuzz, the heft, the melody, the tempo, the thematics – it’s all there, and these factors are accentuated in a live setting. Their show at Desertfest Belgium may not have been as impressive as that in Berlin, but that has more to do with the power of first impressions than the band’s performance. They were in good form on the Canyon Stage, extremely confident, and slowed their songs down to a snail’s pace, melting our brains in the process. 

Considering how Mars Red Sky turned my brain to mush, I skipped out on Orange Goblin. I saw them headline in Berlin last April, which made my decision to check out USA Out of Vietnam easier. Turns out I wouldn’t be able to watch USA Out of Vietnam after all due to some internal scheduling conflict, so up the stairs I went for Causa Sui.

Causa Sui was, as expected, right on. They tore off with some cuts from 2013’s “Euporie Tide” before bending our minds with a new cut. Even though Causa Sui have moved onto some improvisational projects since “Euporie Tide,” the new stuff seems to be in line with the classic songs from their 2013 album, perhaps with a little more edge. Causa Sui jammed until the stage manager told them to stop, which they responded to by playing another new song that made my mind ‘pop.’ I expected the house lights to go up some time during this last song because the band was way over time. Luckily that didn’t happen and Causa Sui was allowed to close out my Desertfest Belgium experience in a state of psychedelic bliss.

That’s right, I left without seeing the day’s headliner, Earth, destroy the main stage. One part of me wanted to hang around for that but considering the three hour drive ahead of me and a 9am role call at work, the voice of reason convinced me to get my ass in the car. A good Desertfest nonetheless, but in the future I would like to see a little more diversity in the line-ups.

I’d like to send a shout out to Claire and Dimitri at Desertfest for providing me with the opportunity to check out the festival as a Sludgelord representative. Thanks to Aaron Pickford, too, for coordinating this whole thing.