Desert Trip Review



By Jarrett Bellini | @JarrettBellini

Apparently This Matters: The Column

White people. White people everywhere.


Many of them rich. 


Some waking up with a stark reminder as to why it's been 30 years since they last dropped acid.


"Sir, you're gonna need to get out of my daughter's kiddie pool."


"Sorry. I used to be better at this."


Some might argue that the six headlining artists at Desert Trip should be saying the same thing: I used to be better at this.


But they'd be wrong. Because the wildly anticipated three-day rock festival in Indio, California proved one thing: These guys still have it.


It was dubbed by many as "The Concert of the Century."


Others simply called it "Oldchella" because of the venue - the same desert oasis Empire Polo Club property used for the annual Coachella music festival which draws a younger, sexier crowd of people who know how to do younger, sexier things like ... Snapchat. 


Desert Trip was for their parents. And it delivered.


(Note: This review primarily covers the first weekend. See the end for a full and complete update on weekend two and why it was - perhaps - better.)

From Best to ...  Least Best





All of the artists were fantastic. And remarkably still alive. But if I had to rank the performances here's how they would stack. 

(1) Roger Waters

At a canter. It was damn near perfect, and few venues could technologically and atmospherically provide the full-bodied experience created by Roger Waters at Desert Trip. The surround sound and visuals were spot-on. The song selection was flawless. And, as a personal added bonus, Waters even played "Vera" which is sort of my weirdo, Pink Floyd guilty-pleasure. In short: Many pants were soiled. 

(2) Neil Young

Speaking of soil ... and water ... and Native Americans. Neil Young was the other clear winner of the weekend. He was poignant and perfect. Well ... almost. The performance was, perhaps, only marred by "Texas Rangers" which is a dumpster fire of a song and should not only be removed from further setlists, but taken out into the backyard and shot. Other than that, Neil Young was astonishingly good.

(3) The Who

Along with Paul McCartney, The Who was one of two artists I hadn't yet seen live. So, this was especially fun for me. Make no mistake - Pete Townshend is the coolest person in rock n' roll. And I also have to give a special shout out to Zak Starkey - Ringo Starr's son - who is incredible on drums. Keith Moon would be proud. Their best song of the night: "The Rock."

(4) Bob Dylan 

Fully expected this to suck. Totally didn't. 

(5) The Rolling Stones

While The Rolling Stones always bring their best, this set didn't quite stand up to the show I saw last year in Atlanta. Though, to be fair, that was also my first Stones experience. So, don't read too much into the Stones finishing fifth in my ranking. I did, however, dock them a few points because Mick seems to have an annoying nervous tick where he constantly asks the audience, "How you doing?" Still fine, Mr. Jagger. Same as five minutes ago. Thanks for checking in.

(6) Paul McCartney

Someone had to come in last. Which is completely unfair. But, all things considered, Sir Paul's performance just didn't resonate (for me) on the same level as the others. I like the Beatles. I don't love them. That said, "Blackbird" was beautiful. And full credit to Macca for being the only headliner to bring out a guest performer. Neil Young joined him on "A Day in the Life," "Give Peace a Chance," and "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?"

The Good



Here is a haphazard, unorganized list of the festival's highlights. 


Getting In: No lines. No waits. Limited scrutiny of bags. The staff was top notch! Often, festival logistics are improperly managed and seemingly set up to give misguided youth, hopped up on a perfect storm of poor life decisions and Monster energy drinks, the opportunity to enjoy undeserved power trips. 


The kind where they confiscate your Chapstick just because they can.

"I don't care! You cannot have Chapstick! Throw it in the bin! Do it now!"


"OK. But, just FYI, you misspelled 'No Fear' on your neck tattoo."


Bob Dylan: This was the big wildcard going into the festival. Would he play classics, or would it be another evening of songs from "Tempest" mixed in with Sinatra standards? We got the former. And it was spectacular. Especially the "Masters of War" encore.


Pigs (Three Different Ones): This was the song you have to see to appreciate. And YouTube won't do it justice. 


The Bathrooms: I can't speak for the facilities located in general admission (which may or may not have been a collection of 5-gallon paint buckets from Home Depot). But, at least for those of us in the grandstand, pit, and middle seating, the toilet situation was a thing of beauty. Air-conditioned trailers. Clean. And with the absolute bare minimum of requisite three-day accumulated concert piss on the floor. I literally didn't wait a single second for a urinal.


Roger Waters from Start to Finish: Best performance I've ever seen. Full stop. And I've seen a lot of shows.


Sasha Allen: For almost fifty years, Merry Clayton and Lisa Fischer have owned "Gimme Shelter." But on Friday, perhaps in front of the biggest audience of her career, Sasha Allen absolutely crushed this classic Stones song.


Photo Exhibit: The giant rock and roll photo gallery was amazing. And not just because it was air conditioned. We're talking something like 36,000 square feet of old images of the headlining acts at Desert Trip. My favorite was one of Neil Young offering a joint to his dog.  The crowds inside got a little thick, but totally worth it. 


Water Stations: The free water fill-up stations were excellent. Heavy flows. Good taste. No dirty festival Wookiees using it for a bath tub.


Mother Earth: This was not the song I expected to blow me away, but Neil Young on a pump organ was one of the most beautiful moments of the weekend. 


Renewable Energy: Giant turbines dot the open landscape in this part of southern California. But none of them generate as much power as the wind mill guitar playing of Pete Townshend. It's possible that for two hours on Sunday he was the sole source of electricity for the town of Indio.


The Bad



And now, for balance, here is an equally haphazard and fairly unorganized list of the festival's lowlights.


Collaborations: Throughout the entire weekend, only Neil Young and Paul McCartney shared the stage. And it was a real let down that nobody else even bothered to give it a whirl. There was simply too much talent in the neighborhood to not try something crazy and fun. It was inexcusable.


Dylan's Video Wall: The giant LED screens behind Dylan started out in spectacular fashion - beautiful black and white live footage from really cool angles gave us a great perspective of Bob on stage. However, after just a few songs, it went away and was replaced by abstract artsy-fartsy video of weird things like ... pigeons. One rumor I heard was that Bob only allows video and photography for X number of songs. Hence, the great pigeon takeover of 2016.

Dust in the Wind: Next time ... bring a bandana. Or a gas mask. Or six feet of pink insulation to bind over your face with electrical tape. Because raw desert earth + wind + 75,000 slowly shuffling old people = Booger-palooza. 


Wild Horses: I love this classic Rolling Stones song, but it just failed to deliver. With authority. I can't quite put my finger on what it was, but everyone in my group shared the same look which suggested something went terribly wrong.


Beer Selection: There is a great craft beer barn at Desert Trip. Unfortunately, it was all the way at the end of the south side of the field, making the trek for a decent IPA akin to traveling the Oregon Trail. "Bill has died of cholera." "Amy is eating Bill's poison corpse." "Jesus Christ, Amy." The regular, proletariat beer-stands were limited to super expensive bottles of carbonated piss. Modelo was the best available.


Prices: This wasn't a big shock. Especially when you consider the cost of tickets. But it's still worthy of complaint. Especially because I'm annoyingly cheap, and if required to pay one tenth of my mortgage just to get a solid buzz, I at least want my alcohol to taste better than the bare bottom keg remains at a Frat party. And Tater Tots should not be treated like a delicacy. Mind you, they are a delicacy. But they shouldn't be priced as such.


Getting Out: If you stayed until the very last song each night - and, as a general practice, I do always advise that - you were guaranteed to end up in the bottleneck of all bottlenecks trying to get out. This was Booger-palooza at its worst. Lots of dust. Lots of sneezing.


Jet: I hate this Paul McCartney song with the fire of a thousand burning suns. So, to be fair, even if it was performed perfectly and with surprise guest appearances by Jesus and the cast of Hamilton, I'd still sit here and complain about it. And, yes, I get that this is arguably the pinnacle of all first world complaints: Wah. Sir Paul McCartney played a song I didn't like at a spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime music festival. But still. "Jet" is terrible and people who like "Jet" should feel terrible.


Wish You Were Here: This is one of the best Pink Floyd songs in their catalogue - if not one of the best songs ever by anyone. So, the bar was already set unfairly high. Nevertheless, Roger didn't quite deliver on this version, and his voice seemed to struggle. Of course, the rest of his set was the greatest show on Earth, so all is forgiven.


Merch: I bought the poster. The small one. The $40 one. It's nice. I'll frame it and put it in a prominent location so people will be forced to ask me about it. "Oh that? Just the concert of the century. I was there. No big deal." Everything else at the merch tent was sort of ... meh. Though, I'm not really a concert t-shirt guy to begin with.


Weekend Two Update




The Skinny: I wasn't there, but all indications are that the second weekend was stronger than the first, if for no other reason than fans and performers were able to enjoy a full moon. Which doesn't necessarily affect the actual music. But it does, arguably, have an impact on hallucinogens. So, you know ... they had that going for them. 

Bob Dylan: The biggest difference between Dylan's first weekend and second weekend performances is that for the former he was a mere poet of high distinction and for the latter he was a goddamn Nobel price winner! As far as his setlist is concerned, the only change was the encore, where he swapped out "Masters of War" for "Like a Rolling Stone" and a cover of Cy Coleman's "Why Try to Change Me Now." The difference is more or less a wash. However, unrelated to the actual music, feedback from Indio claims that this time, for the entirety of his set, the video wall behind Dylan actually showed him on stage, and not just weird b-roll of pigeons. Advantage: Weekend two.

The Rolling Stones: Full credit to The Stones for mixing up their setlist between weekends. That said, eff The Stones for giving Weekend Two inarguably better songs. Here's the breakdown: Missing from Weekend Two was "You Got Me Rocking," "Out of Control," "Ride 'Em on Down," "Mixed Emotions," "Wild Horses," "Come Together," and Keith singing "Slipping Away." In exchange, the full mooners got "Get Off of My Cloud," "Just Your Fool," "Sweet Virginia," "Angie," "Live with Me," "Paint it Black," and Keith Richards singing "You Got the Silver." Do your own math, but, without a moment's hesitation, I'd take the setlist from weekend two.

Neil Young: Three of the highlights from our night with Neil Young were a long, jammed-out "Down By the River" an acoustic "Human Highway," and a rocking "Walk On." All were missing from the second weekend. As was "Welfare Mothers." In their stead, Neil busted out "Old Man," "Long May You Run," "Helpless," "Alabama," "Cowgirl in the Sand," and "Like a Hurricane." For some people it's a toss-up. But I think the advantage sways, again, for weekend two.

Paul McCartney: Macca didn't venture too far off his setlist the second time around. He did replace "Can't Buy Me Love" with "Got To Get You Into My Life," and I think most people would take the former. The other change came in the encore where McCartney dropped "I Wanna Be Your Man" for "Birthday" and "Rip it Up." Again, I think the first weekend was, on paper, slightly better. That said, weekend two saw Rihanna take the stage to sing on "FourFiveSeconds." Which I'm sure was a special treat. Neil Young also - once again - joined Paul on stage for same three songs as the first weekend. Nevertheless, regardless of everything you just read, the fact remains that Macca played "Jet" both nights. Thus, everything is terrible.

The Who: Literally not a single song changed between weekends. Same show. Read: Roger Daltrey probably showed copious amounts of man chest while Pete Townshend did windmills all night. Which is to say, The Who was The Who. And we're all better people because of it.

Roger Waters: And keeping to the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" theme to Sunday, Roger Waters - like The Who - also played the exact same setlist as the first weekend. Pigs were flown. Lasers shown. And minds were blown. Just a typical night with Mr. Waters.

Conclusion: All in all, Desert Trip was a both a financial success for (promotor) Goldenvoice, as well as an experiential success for the fans. The second weekend seems like it may have been the better of the two events. But, if you want to stay sane, you can't get too nit-picky about songs. What you can pick, however, is your nose. Because, God knows - a week later - mine is still filled with boogers.

7 comments:

  1. what do you have against white people?

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  2. nice review! i was there for weekend 2 and thought it was awesome/magical/epic/unforgettable/one-in-a-lifetime - personally wasn't a fan of roger waters politics (even though I agree with most - just felt it was a downer) but he no doubt can rock out the Pink Floyd material

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  3. HA! Excellent, accurate review. Most absurd thing about Desert Trip: people complaining that Roger Waters got political. It's like complaining that Mick Jagger wore tight pants.

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  4. One correction: The Who didn't play 'Acid Queen' on 2nd Sunday for some reason (we saw both sets)... WOW, what an incredible event! Thanks for your review.

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  5. Hello, I was lucky to be there both weekends. I felt weekend two was a younger different crowd than weekend 1. Peter Townshend somehow during his rocking windmills cut himself on the forehead and was bleeding and never skipped a beat. I felt Paul vocally was much better weekend two and The Who was just as loud and rocked it the same as weekend 1. Dylan weekend one was good. I had noticed he was being filmed from the front, he then motioned with his finger across his neck to cut filming him and hence the pigeon was on screen. Weekend two the cameras taped Dylan from behind him never showing his face from the front but his performance seemed a tad livelier than weekend 1. Neil Young was great as he was weekend 1 it was a cooler weekend & we did have that amazing moon. Roger Waters was great both weekends, The Stones were great to me both weekends, what I like about The Stones and Waters is they used the entire stage. My 16 year old went with me weekend 1 he was blown away at Mick Jaggers performance, stamina and ability. My son performs in musical theatre & he said that as a performer he respected these musical legends for their ability to perform, sing & play an instrument for 2 hours. Ηe said it takes a lot of energy to be able to just do a show acting & dancing but that he could not imagine being in his 70's and performing at that caliber. I met amazing people both weekends but weekend two had a much younger crowd in the pit & with that came a different vibe than weekend 1. Had a blast both weekends for the exception of Friday night when a drunk angry man was banging on my windows and trying all the doors to get in my truck when I was alone waiting for others to arrive. I did end up filing a report.
    Sunday night some older man in ada was pissed at me (after my brother inlaw let him & a woman sit in my seats.) This older guy left to go in the pit with the female companion and I sat back down in the original seat I had been given by ada James to sit in earlier (I had been there by 4 pm both weekends to make sure I got a seat) He came back 40 minutes later and was screaming in my face over "his" seat.... He knew I was sitting there before and he never asked anyone to save it & it was empty since he left in to the pit. He came back and threw a tantrum and then got up towards the end of the concert and accused me of drinking his water and informed me that he had "aids and parasites!!!" I never drank his water, ADA James gave me cold water from the ice chest in ada. The full moon sure did bring out some lunatics. Weekend 2 there were some of those security guards who were on power trips & yet the next minute I'd meet a nice one like the guard who helped carry my ice cream from one side of the pit to the other side where ADA was for me since I had to fight through the crowd in the pit during The Who to get back to ADA. My Afters Ice cream arrived safe and sound to my seat. I have to give a big THANK YOU to Tony and Jess at concierge in the platinum lounge, James in ADA & the beautiful Wendy in security. They were lovely people and really went above and beyond their jobs to make sure we were all having a good time!!!

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