"It's a little Beyond Thunderdome out here, isn't it?"
So spaketh Ivory "Black Powder" Lee of WEAVE!, bedecked in strange spandex and looking not unlike Tina Turner's Aunty Entity. Her band's performance -- a percussive mix of African rhythms, post-punk basslines, and shouted or shrugged-off vocals -- was one highlight among many over the weekend at the Manimal Festival, a two-day gala that took place near Joshua Tree in surprisingly harsh climes. Neither WEAVE!, dressed for a future where human skin is far more thick and resistant, nor the crowd had prepared for the temperature to dip into the 40s by nightfall, or for the brutally consistent howling wind.
Thing is, it didn't much matter. There was a magic in the air that mitigated -- maybe even mingled with -- the bitter cold. It's hard to get peevish whilst listening to great music in a gorgeously alien landscape -- and besides, where else are you gonna go? Pappy And Harriet's Pioneertown Palace, a legendary BBQ joint and biker's hang, is tucked away in the High Desert hills, surrounded by impossible looking rock piles and an even more impossible authentic Western town built by Hollywood in the '40s. It was both the perfect environment for the space age tribalism of Rainbow Arabia, and the throwback twang of groups like He's My Brother, She's My Sister.
Saturday was consistently excellent, culminating in a grand threefer. High off the recent release of their self-titled debut, Fool's Gold blasted through a furious Afrobeat set, eventually dissipating into the crowd after leading a drum-and-chant conga line through the red dirt. High on something else (perhaps) was Alex Ebert, who led Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeroes through a revival-style barnburner even as he mumbled vague new-ageisms and apologized for being too cool in the past (is that an Ima Robot reference?). Afterwards, the eternally cool (with no apology necessary) Hecuba laid claim to Pappy's inside stage. Oh, and Har Mar stole a mic and sung "It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday" atop a table. In a biker bar.
On Sunday, the cold felt a bit more repressive and, truth be told, the day felt a little less stacked with show-stoppers. The high energy of We Are The World, who performed on day one, was replaced with the slower psych grind of
Brooklyn's Exitmusic recent Manimal signee VOICEsVOICEs, and the dark, homespun folk of Oklahoma's Other Lives He's My Brother, She's My Sister, both solidly good in spite of the low turnout*. Pappy's countered with hot cider (plus the booze of your choice), and Alexandra Hope doubtlessly warmed the spirits of a few flagging souls.
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The Polyamorous Affair was driven indoors prematurely, but after waiting for the house band to finish up "Helter Skelter," Eddie Chacon and Sissy Sainte-Marie delivered ample groove to an even mix of bikers and band members, fans and fashionistas. Chairlift unfortunately canceled and West Coast Sound, like so many other attendees, began the drive back to Los Angeles before Warpaint hit the stage (close to midnight), the smell of BBQ and pot on the strong wind to our back. Thanks, Manimal. Let's do it again soon.
*ExitMusic and Other Lives were among the day two cancellations. Due to the aforementioned harsh climes, the writer, however diligent, took beer breaks indoors like everyone else, sometimes listening from afar. Mistakes were made, however he was not, as one of the artists suggested, "lying" about being there. Thanks to VOICEsVOICEs manager Ryan Kofman for the correction.