There is a place just two hours east of Los Angeles where the magic that flits about the air is so intensified that it osmosis into your veins with little more then a few quick breaths. Where the space between dwelling spaces is far enough so that the cops don’t never come, and the night is so quiet that you can spit the magic back out of you as loud as it came in. That place is called Joshua Tree, and there’s a reason people go there to flip their shit and get lost in the desert. It’s heady as hell, that’s just a fact. It’s not arguable.
We took the van out there Friday night (January 25, 2013). Our plans for the weekend were to meet up with a few bands and to rage. We succeeded at both.
The bands – The Dead Ships, The Diamond Light, Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers, and Ivory Deville. The first three shot full Jam in the Van sessions, the last put some tracks to the sound board, all seemed to be inspired by the setting. If they weren’t, well then they fake it good.
By a stroke of coincidence we ended up renting a house owned by a musician, so it was littered with instruments, musical imagery, and a superb vinyl collection. The place had like three rooms and some beat up looking rape vans out back that had beds in them. Also might have had lice in them, I didn’t go inside. There were like twenty-ish of us. You can do the math on how we fit in terms of sleeping arrangements, so sleeping was nowhere on the itinerary.
The sessions ran from 1-6 PM Saturday. First we were wowed by the surprisingly soulful sounds of Nicki Bluhm and her band of tenured musicians. They enjoy PBR. Next we were impressed by the fluid unit that is the Diamond Light, a band that seems to sound better and better every time that I see them perform. Their set was punctuated by a rainbow that traversed the sky and printed it on a postcard in all of our memories. The light then dimmed off, we stoked a campfire, and The Dead Ships played us into the night with a sound that was not only big for a three piece, not only big for a van, but big for the desert night. It kept our legs on a steady shake throughout, and howled us into the weirder part of the evening. Their manager, Darren, told me that we were getting an exclusive, never before taped track. Cool, and the whole time I’m thinking, shit man, we’re standing in the midst of something pretty damn exclusive right now.
By the time The Dead Ships wrapped the general consensus in the air was that everyone was ready to move from the recording music stage of our day into the get weird phase of our night. Someone opened a bottle, someone (a lot of people) took out a bag, and slowly the night descended into what you would imagine a night out in the wilderness with a pack of wild musicians would devolve into.
At first it was a regular party. People hanging about, drinking, doing other stuff, laughing, some randomly placed shouts of joy here and there. I’m not sure the exact timing of events on this evening, which should be understandable. I am only sure that it was incredibly early at the moment that I began to notice that things had switched over from a regular party to a wild rumpus. The couch in the living room was thrust aside, someone took an incredibly vintage looking lap guitar off of the wall and plugged it in. Other instruments were soon set up, amps were turned on, and for the next several hours we were treated to a revolving arrangement of talented musicians collaborating with one another in a completely free-formed collage of sounds.
There was a vocal microphone, although it was overly fuzzy, yet there was no shortage of inebriated individuals wanting to take hold of it and spout beautiful gibberish through it’s amplification. At one point a member of The Dead Ships remarked that “this is very David Lynch.” He of course made the statement on his way to pick up the microphone and serenade us with his own rambled thoughts while supported by a guitarist, drums, and two surprisingly harmonic back-up singers while another member of his band convulsed in the background and our driver, Spud, played hype man.
He wasn’t too off with his Lynchian proclamation. As I stumbled from room to room that night, I was greeted with the spontaneity that results from the hallucinations of a house full of musically gifted individuals. Each room was constantly changing as the night went on. In the bedroom with the organ a choir was assembled and led by a pants-less member of the Diamond Light, draped in a shawl and conducting the harmonies with a spectacular smile of enjoyment. The drummer from another local unit, John Wayne Bro, was towering around with a polaroid camera declaring himself the party canary, for reasons that are beyond my comprehension. One particular band member took the party animal award for the night via uncontrollable screams and what amounted to a semi-assault and battery with a maraca of an incredibly stellar set of drums from 1967. It was all in good fun though.
None of the music played that night will ever be remembered as the stuff laid down during the day will be. Yet the memory is quite ingrained, for myself at least, of what the scene was. Just mayhem, pure, unfiltered, millions of thoughts bouncing off of walls and Joshua Trees and campfires, and all these ass-holes running around with their guitars trying to change the world. It was brilliant.
At some point I faded off on the couch to the sounds of Serge Gainsbourg. The Wolf and Bird Dog from Ivory Deville were rambling at my feet, their own legs propped up on their amps. They were the only folks rock and roll enough to not show up with air mattresses, so they passed out on the floor of the room where the next day they would take their first leap as a new band. Laying down the instrumentals for their debut tracks. There was still quite a bit of magic in the morning mist. I doubt it all got swept out when we cleaned up, so we’ll come find it again. That’s how we roll…