With Desert Trip steaming its way to Indio for yet another weekend of bucket-list performances, it’s time we share with you the best and worst from Desert Trip 2016. If you’re headed to Desert Trip this weekend, check out our pro tips below, as well as our favorite performances in order from most favorite to least favorite. All in all, Desert Trip was an experience of a lifetime. I’d say it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but it’s happening again this weekend!
~ THE BEST OF DESERT TRIP ~
The Roger Waters Experience (“Fuck Trump”)
Mind-blowing. Roger Waters played select songs from the entire Pink Floyd catalog from Meddle to The Wall; and they served it to us with a new quadraphonic sound system. It almost had a three dimensional feel that made you feel every sound through your whole body. At the start of their show, I thought a train was ripping through the Polo Field!
On top of the enormous life-like sounds, The Roger Waters Experience also pleasured us with a great use of visuals. No surprise there, that’s like a must when it comes to Pink Floyd. The graphics for each song were stunning, it was like watching a film-to-orchestra. The first part of their set had animation similar to that of The Wall. Later in the evening the artwork would change. During “Wish You Were Here” there was a planned interruption of sound with brash sirens and helicopters. The stage would again morph into something new with a smoke stack rising far above the stage, while the LCD screens projected the industrial building seen on the cover of Animals. Eventually the screens would transform into brick walls.
Waters’ set was the most political of the weekend. By the time he got to his Animals set he took the opportunity to deface and defile Donald Trump, regardless of how many Trump supporters were in the audience. The screens now displayed images of Trump with the words “charade” and “joker” written all over his pink face. It didn’t stop there; the screens projected Trump in a KKK hood, naked with a small penis, while sucking a dildo… Eventually during the song “Dogs,” Waters brought out one of his inflatable pigs with an image of Trump morphing into a skull that read “Ignorant, Lying, Racist, Sexist, Fuck Trump and his Wall, Trump is a Pig.” The opposite side of the pig said “Divided We Fall.” Then the screen flashed multiple controversial quotes said by Donald Trump (such as “Mexicans are rapists.”).
During “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” Waters had a group of children come on to stage to do the second verse, they wore black t-shirts reading, “Derriba el muro” — Spanish for “Take down the wall.” In my opinion, it was one of the most powerful statements he made all night.
At the end of the night, Waters seemed to have questioned himself mentally and suddenly said out loud, “Ah Fuck it.” He then read a poem he wrote in 2004 titled “Why the Good Can’t Prevail (watch video here). With emotions running high, Waters and company then moved on to play “Vera” and “Bring the Boys Home,” with Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius harmonizing on the backing vocals.
The Roger Waters Experience did not hold back at all, and just like the title of the last song they performed, we were all left “Comfortably Numb.”
The Rolling Stones (and Paul McCartney’s Reaction)
The Rolling Stones, as always, brought the fun rock show home. Jagger was skipping up and down the catwalk, while Keith Richards laid his signature grin on the crowd with a cigarette cliff-hanging from his mouth. While I was watching the Rolling Stones on stage, having a blast as though they were still in their prime, there was also another show going on behind me. I looked back and about four rows behind me in one of the luxury suites was Sir Paul McCartney and his posse sitting and watching the performance. More importantly, Jagger introduced the next song saying, “We don’t usually do this, but we are going to do someone else’s song,” and the next thing was the bassline to The Beatles’ “Come Together.” Immediately everyone turned their heads to see McCartney’s reaction. Without a stop — legend watching legend — McCartney’s face lit up as a huge smile took over his face. He clapped just like the rest of us. The moment was priceless, and I kind of got the chills from the experience. It was real, and in the moment; it did not get much better than that for me.
The Stones wrapped up their set with classics such as “Gimme Shelter,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Brown Sugar,” Can’t Always get What You Want, (which they employed the USC choir to kick off the beginning chorus), and finally, “Satisfaction.”
Paul McCartney and Neil Young Performing (for the first time ever) “Why Don’t We Do it in the Road”
The highlight of McCartney’s show was when he brought out his special guest, Neil Young. They played a rendition of “A Day in the Life” and the second verse after the dream sequence turned into the chorus of “Give Peace a Chance.” After that song and for the first time ever, McCartney and Young performed “Why Don’t We Do it in the Road” — a bluesy White Album classic. Everyone was completely into it and he ended the set with “Back in the USSR.”
Other Beatles highlights were: “Hard Day’s Night,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Helter Skelter,” “I’ve Got a Feeling” and a bunch of other nostalgic classics that kept the crowd singing-along. McCartney even threw a bit of Wings in the mix with “Band on the Run” and “Jet.”
Once he came out for his encore, McCartney acknowledged that the Rolling Stones played a Beatles song and returned the favor by playing a Rolling Stones song. However, the song was “I Wanna Be Your Man” which Lennon and McCartney wrote and also recorded for the Hard Days Night album.
The Who (“The Adele and Lady Gaga of 1967”)
The sun was setting and the sky was a shade of magenta that blended into blue. You could see the silhouettes of the mountains in the desert background. Peter Townsend and Roger Daltry took the stage: “Well here the fuck we are, you all come to watch old people dance,” shouted Townsend. The crowd laughed and The Who bolted into “I Can’t Explain” followed by “The Seeker.” These songs are pretty heavy songs, and the crowd did not seem to be into it as much because they were all in their seats. However, as soon as the sun set and the sky went black, the old people came out to dance (as Townsend would put it).
Townsend was pretty funny most of the night, upon introducing “The Kids Are Alright” he shared: “Many years ago back in 1967, before most of you were born (the crowd laughed), well there are a couple of old cunts out there too, we came to California to the Monterey Pop Festival with Jimi Hendrix, it was down the hill for me so I traded in my guitar for a Jimi Hendrix Stratocaster.” Townsend garnering many laughs and smiles, then said, “we love you for coming out to see us and here is a song for all the young ones” … The Kids Are Alright.
Townsend, full of comedic wit, at one point announced that they were “the Adele, Lady Gaga or even the Justin Beiber of 1967.” The Who also shared how they were “just fat fat fat” (as in massively popular) and that their first number one hit was “I Can See for Miles.” Before we knew it, they were playing the #1 hit. Daltry was having a great time on stage throwing his mic around and it was awesome to see Townsend do his signature guitar strumming. The Who closed their set with “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” I was wondering if Daltry was still going to be able to hit that high scream in the middle of the song, and just like yesteryear, he fucking nailed it.
Neil Young (“…Make Mexico Great Again”)
I enjoy Neil Young, but I went into Desert Trip least excited about his performance. Young’s stage was lined with Teepees and his band’s banner hung in the backbround. At the start of show he had people on stage who appeared to be gardeners; they came out and planted seeds as Young began to play “After the Gold Rush” followed by “Heart of Gold.” After a couple mellow songs it went into full rock ‘n’ roll mode, and Neil Young blew my mind. There was so much energy on stage and his band The Promise of the Real was exceptional. Obviously, Young has been outspoken about politics, especially when it comes to the environment. About mid way through his set he had another group of people come on stage in Hazmat garb spraying (faux) chemicals where the seeds had been planted. He also came out and said, “Come back tomorrow, Roger is going to build a wall and make Mexico great again” — obviously a clever slam at Trump.
To the pleasure of many fans, Young closed out with “Rockin in the Free World.” It seemed his set ran a little long since he said we had to play it in forty seconds (which was not the case).
Bob Dylan (Not Opening with “Must Be Santa”)
I’ve heard so many mixed reviews about Bob Dylan’s shows. They are usually disappointing (because fans want to hear his old hits), and although I was excited to watch a legend do his thing on stage, I knew I probably wouldn’t hear what I wanted to hear, but who cares, it’s Dylan. He has been known to do full shows of Christmas music, but to my surprise Dylan did not open with “Must Be Santa” — instead he opened with “Rainy Day Woman.” You know, that one song about how everyone should get stoned… Well, from then on I knew we were going to have a good show. He played music from classic albums such as Highway 61 Revisited, Bringing it All Back Home, Blood on the Tracks and also a few songs from his newer album Tempest.
From where I was sitting it was hard to see Dylan play. The cameras feeding the Jumbotrons filmed him for the first five songs and then the cameras were set in odd angles leaving fans in the cheap $200 seat (yes, I know that is not cheap at all, but it was for Desert Trip) with no views whatsoever (except for maybe his back). Dylan played a few popular songs like ‘Highway 61,” “Tangled up in Blue,” “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” before closing his set with “Masters of War” from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan Album. At times it was hard to tell what song he was playing because I never heard some of these songs other than when it was just him with a harmonica and acoustic guitar. He played these with a full band so at times I could not make them out.
I’m on the fence when well-known artists who have a plethora of hits don’t play those songs at a show, let alone a music festival where fans shelled out an equivalent to a month’s rent (if not more) to enjoy the entire Desert Trip experience. Needless to say, I also feel like an artist should play whatever the hell they want. However, at something as ridiculously expensive as Desert Trip (and I’m not just talking about ticket prices), artists should consider their fans a bit more and aim for a 50/50 ratio of hits to obscurities. But who am I to complain, I got to see Bob Dylan for free (full disclosure: approved media get complimentary press passes for their published coverage).
It wasn’t just the young and old present at Desert Trip — unlike its big sister Coachella, where teens and 20-somethings fill the majority of the polo field — it was much more than that. There was a global presence at Desert Trip, a unity of classic rock lovers from all over the map. It din’t matter if you were a liberal or a conservative, everyone was here for the music. I heard too many different languages to name, and all sorts of accents. It was beautifully overwhelming. From a thick Southern drawl, to a playful Spanish lisp, and a cheeky British voice, all the flavors of the world were present at Desert Trip – and that is something I don’t think any music festival has ever honed so deeply.
Culinary Experience (Insane Amounts of Great Food)
Although it came at a hefty price (an additional $180 per day), the all-you-can-eat (and drink) Culinary Experience at Desert Trip housed the best food and beverage selections I had ever seen at a music festival. The food was on the higher end of things featuring sushi, artisan pizzas, gourmet sandwiches, gourmet coffee & espresso, craft beers and cocktails galore. Running from 2 p.m. until 6:30 p.m., the Culinary Experience was an awesome option, but whether or not it was worth the near $200 all depends on how much food and drinks you plan on consuming.
Desert Photography Experience
The Desert Photography Experience at Desert Trips was something definitely to be seen. It was a 36,000 square-foot photo exhibit displaying the photographs of all the performing artists throughout the years. On display was the prolific work of photographers such as Terry O’Neil, Lynn Goldsmith, Henry Diltz, Bob Gruen and about ten others. It was a pretty amazing exhibit that allowed you to see old concert photography, full prints of album covers, outtakes and rare photos. It was also a great spot to get some air conditioning and a cocktail.
Pro Tip: Check the exhibit on the first or second day of Desert Trip. I think all the procrastinators decided to finally take a look on Sunday. The line basically wrapped around the building.
~ THE WORST OF DESERT TRIP ~
1. The ticket prices, the food and drink prices… Let’s be real here, Desert Trip was a music festival for the rich and famous. Although there were many broke college kids there, the vast majority was well-off white people. Desert Trip: stuff rich old white people like.
2. The lines in the culinary experience were absurdly long. At times I had to wait a ridiculous amount of time to get food. At $180 a day you should be able to move right through those lines and at least try and get your money’s worth.
3. Parking sucked! Especially lot 1 where it took us one hour just to get out of the parking lot. We literally sat in one spot for 15 minutes at a time. It was worse than Los Angeles traffic.
4. On site staff weren’t very helpful. Some staff did not seem knowledgeable about what was going on and where certain things were. Walkign out of the venue was brutal. I felt like a zombie from the Walking Dead trying to get out of the venue; people bottlenecking as though they seen Oprah! Do yourself a favor, grab a map, get aquainted with the area, know your stealth moves.
5. The idiot who yelled out Trump during The Who’s performance, when Pete Townsend said “Good luck with the election people.” Yeah, that guy was a douche.
All in all, Desert Trip was a mind-blowing experience. Had I not received a press pass through Grimy Goods and the folks at Goldenvoice, I would not have had this experience. So yeah, I’m feeling beyond thankful and fortunate to have been a part of Desert Trip. With that said and in the words of Neil Young, “keep on rockin’ in the free world.”
Words: Wes Marsala
Written for Grimy Goods, October 13, 2016