Friday, March 7, 2008

Union Copy/Paste Vol. II

This was my byzantine word-journey through my Vegoose experience. I took a fair bit of crap for ripping off HST, but I felt it necessary to do a few nods in his direction given the subject matter. Plus, i've been doing that whole first-person meandering narrative bit for a very long time, since before I read (or watched) any Hunter material. Anyways, here 'tis:

A Mostly True Cautionary Tale

My first memory of Nevada is waking up, as it is for most people, I assume. Suddenly, a wave of nausea overtook me, which I chalked up to the loud music playing and my inattention to the road. But after a long night of drinking, singing, and general rudeness that had considerably cut into my sleep, I was in no mood to fight the itch to nap nor the resulting urge to vomit. Nevada is an excellent place to vomit. It is dry and in the mornings it is comfortably warm. And ever since the city committed itself to the “…Stays in Vegas” mantra, the driving populace has ignored such roadside adulteration. It did not, however, soften my bitterness at the loss of all that Gatorade.

I was not alone in this mission, as I still had too much alcohol in my bloodstream to be operating an automobile. However, I always treat these journalistic vacations as solo missions, and the sickness which beat down on my brain only helped to divorce me from the surrounding masses. That’s definitely going to be the word I use to describe the Vegoose audience: masses. Surrounding Sam Boyd stadium was a crowd of hideous clowns and skanky revelers. The upcoming Halloween holiday has always been an influence, I’m told, and the desert wasteland did little to discourage garish black dress-up. A man clearly hired off the street attempted to shanghai me without a press pass, but I evaded him by passing myself off as a photographer. As long as it gets me into the press area for my evening interview, I tell the man, I won’t have to call the site manager and tell him what a bucktoothed mooncalf he’d hired. He wrangled another ticket and assured me that the photo pass would allow me access to everywhere I was entitled and more. I vomited again, on the ground next to him, and moved on to the security line.
Once inside, I set myself to the stalwart task of curing this bastard hangover. As with any properly prepared trip to Vegas, I had a sizable repertoire of medicines, but I knew that I would need the whole load just to set me right that afternoon. A drunk near the toilets asked me to hold his drink, and I absconded with it. Certainly, he would have thanked me for my theft if he were clearheaded. It was cola and whiskey, and it tasted expensive. It went down well with pills. I set out to earn my press credentials.

The Vegoose grounds were set up like a miniature Las Vegas. In some towns, that might be considered disrespectful, but not here. You can gamble in gas stations and there are strip malls devoted to quickie weddings. Even Vegas has a hand in its own parody. A notable difference between Nevada festivals and those of our own fair state is the absence of beer gardens. In Nevada, the whole fucking festival is a beer garden. There were no less than twenty locations to purchase alcohol, and I’m fairly certain I indulged in most of them (the award for best bar going to the lovely ladies at the Double Down stage’s local watering hole). The downside of this is that the drunks are incorrugible multitaskers, and make every effort to do everything they’d normally do while holding their drinks. The charm of these lax drink restrictions wore out after about the tenth spilled drink on my remarkably ironic Acapulco shirt (which was also remarkably absorbent). Other than the always-transcendent Gogol Bordello, no performances really stuck out. I have vague recollections of STS9 being recommended to me by some Vegoose-savvy stranger, and I was pleasantly underwhelmed by them. It is an increasingly rare thing to find a band that still makes an effort to bring the energy of a crowd up while chasing their own tail with impossibly high conceptual aspirations. Kudos.

I was relieved when 4:45pm rolled around and I could sequester myself to the press area for my interview with Josh Homme. It went better than I expected, and I seized the opportunity to write some thoughts down. Blonde Redhead sat at the table next to me, and I played with Amedeo Pace’s pet Papillon while they did an interview with a hapless internet radio DJ.
Josh Homme is everything a rock star should be. He stands 6’5” tall and offers at least two hellos and goodbyes to everyone he meets. I steel myself with the knowledge that he is legally barred from carrying a weapon after an incident involving a beer bottle and the deserving skull of Blag Dahlia, frontman for the repetitive scatpunk band The Dwarves. Josh lights a cigarette before offering a second handshake and asking me how my day was. I ‘fess up to the hangover and he commiserates. “This is the first day in a while that I’m not.” A staff member comes over and informs him that he is not allowed to smoke in this room, nor is he allowed to smoke in any building on the grounds. Her frustration is palpable. Homme puts the cigarette out on his shoe and admits that he knew it wasn’t allowed and that he’d be harassed, but he figured he’d make them put in the effort to come and stop him. He speaks in proverbs. “We don’t try to be hip, we just try to shake hip.” He is tight-lipped about the upcoming Desert Sessions album, simply because there isn’t anything to say other than it’s happening. He says a new Eagles of Death Metal album is planned, and the title will have something to do with the phrase “Heart-on.” He also says he doesn’t have a setlist made for the night’s QOTSA performance. About a thousand terrible and childish questions enter my head and I feel an intense pride as I vocalize none of them. We shoot shit about drinking and rocking and generally positive bullshit that’s not worth reading.

Later, at the Queens’ performance, with my medicine salvo operating at full strength, I sit between the crowd barriers in the photo pit awash in rock. If there’s a glimmer of hope for modern rock music not made by computers for smarmy teenagers with too many feelings, it is Queens of the Stone Age. They are a living history lesson in the rich legacy of all the rocking that has been, and a testament to where it could go.

If there’s one inalienable clue that Vegoose audiences are, in large numbers, drunken automatons, it was the relatively light crowds for Iggy Pop & The Stooges. I guess it’s not particularly surprising considering the unsung nature of the Stooge’s Proto-punk bloodbath in the late 1960s/early 1970s. In a strange way, The Stooges’ aesthetic was pervasive throughout the festival, albeit in a strange mutation wherein the masses were all too happy to dress up in the most outrageous outfit possible and get wasted, but with the firm contention that nobody would have to get messy and we’d all go back to our window offices on monday. Something would have to cleanse my palate of all of this. Daft Punk.

If there’s anything more universal than a love of light shows, I have yet to find it. A screen flashed in red, and black words the size of monsters appeared and proclaimed such gems of affection as “HUMAN,” “TOUCH,” and “FUCK.” The crowd was immense. In any direction you could look, there was madness. The kind of cheap madness you can get in your own home, admittedly, but still impressive on such an enormous scale. Even in such a densely packed field of open eyes, we all danced like we were invisible. We sang like we were inaudible, and we probably were. Consider the implausability of it all, a desert in a vast realm of deserts, stuffed to the brim with electricity, music, dancing, and happiness. This was the ecstasy oasis. And just as quickly as it began, it ended. A mass exodus of mooing began, and the party continued in the parking lot fueled by entrepreneurial beer vendors.

Some strange convergence of dental assistant conventions and family reunions had sold out every semi-respectable hotel, motel, and campground in a 20-mile radius of the stadium, but luckily a kind innkeeper took some minimal amount of pity on me and offered to give us one of his hourly rooms (usually reserved for prostitutes, junkies, and unfaithful businessmen) for the night. I slept on the floor, unwilling to risk sleeping on whatever was living in the bed.

The second day was all about Rage. The hordes of troglodytic zealots showed up in force, in stunning tribute to everything that Che Guevara devotees hated about Rage Against The Machine. The revolution may not be televised, but there’s a strong chance that if it happens in Vegas it will be inebriated and shirtless. There was only one escape from the horror of these pooka-shell benecklaced dolts. I began drinking early. At the mock sports bar where I was sitting and testing the bartender’s knowledge of rum-based drinks, Ghostland Observatory and Robert Randolph both filtered in through the canvas walls in equal volume. The resulting mash-up, I assert, sounded something like Ratatat and Bocephus fucking. Something about this reminded me of war journalism, sitting in an unpopular bar waxing philosophically about the loud noises shaking the tent walls. “I’m sorry, Reggie,” my speech slurred when I addressed the bartender. “But I think I’ve still got another tour of duty left to serve out there.” And off I wandered, in search of a battle that could use a writer.

Infected Mushroom proved to be the surprise of the weekend. What I had expected to be uninteresting and heavy, ended up being engaging and energetic. What could have easily been accomplished with one man behind a set of keyboards was knocked out of the park by a crew of four absolutely stellar musicians. Not since the Basement Jaxx have I seen an electronic act that was so involved in making a live show (that was entirely independent of laser lights). Even the singer, who was left to repeat himself over and over again (since trance songs tend to have repetitive vocal samples), sold it to the crowd. He must have used the phrase “I’m deeply disturbed, and I’m deeply unhappy” a hundred times, and I believed every one of them. If I were a lesser writer, I would say something like: They really got the crowd going with their uptempo electronica. But I think it’d be a much more accurate hyperbole to say they caused two car accidents out in the parking lot as stunned concert-goers attempted to drive the band’s fabled cities of the future. Suffice to say, if you’ve never heard an Israeli trance band (they’re certainly my first), this would be a good place to start.

Rage Against The Machine was fun for about 3 songs. The anticipation was palpable, as a large portion of the crowd had never seen them live before. Cheers went out whenever anything happened on stage, only to flounder in the band’s tardiness in taking the stage. The jubilation was immediate and furious. Beers went flying, and lyrics were screamed at bloodcurdling volume. At the end of the first 3 songs, the air was wet with perspiration and alcohol and the crowd was giddy on an almost violent level. Every song afterward I moved 30 yards back, hoping to find a balance between a good view and a chill crowd. I never did. At 10:30pm, thoroughly drenched in other people’s excitement, I wandered back to the car. My companion, who had been so eager to boast his driving prowess, quickly began to succumb to sleep, and I took over the wheel. This was a weekend to remember, that was certain, even if it wasn’t entirely for positive reasons. About an hour later I felt my own sleepiness creep up, and reached into the backseat for a near-lethal dose of caffeine. I sucked the 24 ounces of Rockstar energy drink quickly, barely stopping to breathe.
We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the caffeine began to take hold.

Vol. III will be here just as soon as I write something for the newspaper again.

1 comment:

Kathy Miranda said...

this is long!

I linked you on my site,

hope that's okay!