Late morning on Wednesday, October 5th 2016, an just image came across my newsfeed that I immediately saved to my phone and then committed to memory. Yes, Rock and Roll Virginias, set times for Desert Trip in Indio, California were just announced. And as we’re all in the middle of packing our bags and stocking up on toiletries, we now have additional confirmation as to what shape this once (or twice) in a lifetime weekend might take.
Over the last few days I’ve been involved in some incredibly fun and compelling conversations with friends going to Desert Trip, handicapping what approaches the various equally iconic bands and artists might bring to the festival, and what surprises might (or might not) be in store for the weekend. What follows is my personal take, as I wanted to both formalize it and make it public. Regardless of whether I’m anywhere in the correct stratosphere of accuracy or not, this promises to be both an objectively and genuinely historic weekend, and for many of us the Greatest Trip of All. Here’s some of how I think it could all down. See you in the Desert!
Bob Dylan – Why Try to Change Me Now?
Of every artist playing at Desert Trip, Bob Dylan is the one who arguably is the most likely to play whatever the latest manifestation of his “Never Ending Tour” might be, with little regard to the audience or the historic nature of the event. Dylan has long placed in his tour rider the condition that he’ll happily play anywhere in exchange for his standard booking fee (including private, corporate, and casino gigs), but he’s going to perform the show and setlist he wants to play and present whatever he’s in the mood for, with no chance of any outside influence over his show. So, effectively, if you want to pay to have Bob Dylan play a private club for your birthday show or corporate incentive, he’ll happily do it. But if that’s the night that Dylan wants to play nothing but album cuts from his early eighties “Christian Rock” period, you get to love every second of it. My last Dylan show was at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles in June when he played almost all covers from the Great American Songbook and original songs spanning from 1997’s “Time Out of Mind” through 2012’s “Tempest.” Ironically, it was through singing other people’s lyrics that Dylan, consciously or not, allowed himself to be more emotive and vulnerable than any other time that I had never seen him live. Although I would more likely see Dylan as playing in the format of his 2013 “Americanarama” tour and other similar package shows, that is to say one longer set as opposed to two shorter ones, I would expect his Desert Trip set to be a similar combination of Frank Sinatra material and songs from his last five acclaimed albums. The only “wild card” element is that having spent about two-and-a-half months off the road, the ever mercurial Dylan might see this as a chance to reorient his setlist going into his fall tour of the American south. Examples of this include when Dylan went out on tour in the Spring of 2005, randomly featuring songs from 1967’s “John Wesley Harding,” or the 2006 fall run that included several classic song and album cuts from 1965’s “Highway 61 Revisited” every night, along with selections from the newly released “Modern Times.” In similar fashion, do I expect this to be the run of shows where Dylan reintroduces a handful of fan favorites from 1976’s “Desire” into regular rotation for the first time in decades? Absolutely not. But hope springs eternal. While I don’t expect Dylan to show any reverence for the singular nature of the show or the audience attending it, I wouldn’t want him any other way.
The Rolling Stones – You Got Me Rocking
The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, The Eagles, and Fleetwood Mac were among the first bands to propel the business model of the “Baby Boomer Concert Industry.” Which ever was, and to varying extents remains, “You give us $400. We’ll give you one of the best nights of your life.” And more so than possibly any other living showman, Mick Jagger knows how to hold up his end of that bargain. In addition to being an earlier adopter of the practice of trying to let fans request songs through polls on the band’s website, he has personal records kept of the band’s setlists, so that every time that they return to a venue he can make sure they play a certain number of songs that they didn’t play on the last tour. I’ve long pegged them as the Desert Trip act that would be most likely to have a surprise guest sit in (another regular feature of their live shows), or play an iconic song for the first time in decades and/or ever. Some potential deep cuts might include the band playing “Monkey Man” from 1969’s “Let It Bleed” for the first time since 2007, or the first performance in almost forty years to the day of the 1966 hit single “Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow?” The Rolling Stones might be the act to have tipped their hand to the greatest extent, having played a “warm-up” concert this week at the 2016 ATA Management Conference and Exhibition in Las Vegas. In addition to a dozen seminal classics (“Satisfaction,” “Honkey Tonk Woman,” “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll, et al), they played “Mixed Emotions” from “Steel Wheels” for the first time since 1990. The biggest wild card could be if the band wanted to continue (or more accurately revisit) last year’s penchant for celebrating 1971’s “Sticky Fingers.” If so, along with the inevitable “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses,” that puts “Sway,” “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” “Bitch,” and “Dead Flowers,” in play. As far as any potential surprise guests, the last time they played Anaheim in 2013, John Mayer sat in one night and Dave Grohl did the next. Might either of them venture to the desert to play with the Rolling Stones again? Given their penchant for music festivals, love for the one of the biggest and greatest bands of all time, and to the best of my knowledge, lack of current touring commitments, I wouldn’t be surprised to see either welcome face in the desert this weekend. Two other things to look for are if the band will play any songs from their just announced, forthcoming blues album (doubtful). And with the two Desert Trip shows and two nights in Las Vegas being the current extent of the Rolling Stones tour itinerary, it will be interesting to see if this is one of the tours where they include a self-aware/meta version of their 1965 hit, “The Last Time.”
Neil Young + Promise of the Real – Rockin’ in the Free World
Of all the acts playing Desert Trip this weekend, there’s a certain metric by which Neil Young + Promise of the Real are riding into the desert with the highest expectation. Much of this is a result of last fall’s leg of the Rebel Content tour being called among the best in Neil Young’s now fifty years as a pillar of Rock and Roll. They were the greatest live band in the world, in my estimation, only be potentially rivaled by the latest outings of Dead & Co. and Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band. In addition, the latest personal reports (many coming from noted SoCal Rustie Steve Roudebush) from their two shows in Telluride this past weekend did nothing to put a damper on anybody’s expectations. During the Saturday show, Young reportedly was suffering from altitude sickness, and had to take an extended break to utilize an oxygen tank. Young was apparently not wanting let a minor stumbling block tame his latest artistic statement, so he then kicked off a potent and powerful electric set that included banner versions of “Down By the River,” “Powderfinger,” “Cortez the Killer,” “Fuckin’ Up,” and “Rockin’ in the Free World.” The second set alone was as an acclaimed show as any, heightening the excitement and intrigue going into the desert. In addition to the aforementioned stalwart war horses, the songs I’m most pulling for are “Sugar Mountain,” “Comes a Time,” “Words (Between the Lines of Age),” and “Walk On.” Roudenbush also mentioned he heard “A Day in the Life” soundchecked, which Young regularly utilized as an encore on his “Electric Band” tour in 2008. Look for it to serve a similar function here, with Paul McCartney wandering onstage to join in before his set.
Paul McCartney – Maybe I’m Amazed
In August of 2014, I saw Paul McCartney at Dodger Stadium. This was my third time seeing him overall, after the “Back in the U.S.” tour in 2002, and him lending a hand to Billy Joel to help close out Shea Stadium in 2008. After McCartney’s Los Angeles stop on his “Out There” tour, I said, “Any time you go and see Paul McCartney, it’s going to be one of the best nights of your life, full stop.” While Paul McCartney would be an artist whose persona would lend itself to Desert Trip live debuts, resurrections of long-dormant beloved classics, or possible special guest, even his standard setlist from his current “One on One” tour would fulfill an entire series of Rock and Roll dreams. “In Spite of All the Danger,” “Love Me Do,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “You Won’t See Me,” and “I’ve Got a Feeling” are the songs I’m most hoping McCartney feels moved to cross off my bucket list for the evening. Although his setlist has been fairly standard as of late, potential alternates could include “Michelle” and “Get Back,” which I would profoundly love to finally hear; “Jet,” which I’ve always dug hearing and would miss; And “Mull of Kintyre,” which I guess would be nice to have finally heard once. In relistening to my Paul McCartney playlist, “I’ve Got a Feeling” just came on. One of the best opportunities to help cement Desert Trip’s legacy as a truly once-in-a-lifetime event would be to have another artist come on stage and sing John Lennon’s portion of this remarkable album cut. Of all the voices onstage that weekend, Lukas Nelson’s seems best suited to the material. If it happens, you heard it here first. If not, we can all dream, can’t we?
The Who – Won’t Get Fooled Again
The last time The Who performed near Indio, CA (10 years ago), ShakedownNews.com Editor Billy Sunday was there to shoot this video of “The Seeker”
At one point, I thought the band that’s performed at least three farewell tours since 1982 might see Desert Trip as the chance Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend seem to have been looking for (at least on and off) to finally say Who’s Done. Though just as what in 1994 was referred to as “Thirty Years of Maximum R&B” would continue for another twenty years into the extended “The Who Hits 50!” tour, the “Back to the Who Tour 51!” is now in full swing, with dates scheduled well into April 2017. I saw The Who for the second time this past May at Staples Center in Los Angeles, and Daltrey and Townshend were both performing at their respective peaks. The current “51” tour is a similar setlist and vibe from the extended “50” outing, with “I Can’t Explain” being added back into the rotation, with “Substitute,” and “The Rock” continuing to make occasional appearances, and “Relay” showing up on occasion as a remnant from the recent “Quadrophenia” tour. If The Who wanted to mix things up more substantially for their trip to the desert, they could bring back “A Quick One (While He’s Away)” from the first leg of the “50” tour, or the more rarely played “So Sad About Us” or “Naked Eye.” Because dreams are made of hope, I’m pulling for the first performance of “Love Ain’t For Keepin’” since it appeared as a one-off (also for the first time in twenty-two years) in May of 2004.
Roger Waters – Shine On You Crazy Diamond
While I’m not entirely sure what to do with this information, I think it’s worth noting that, to the best of my knowledge, Roger Waters and Paul McCartney are the two artists for whom their two Desert Trip shows are the last of their (currently announced) touring commitments. So although it currently escapes me as to where this might fit in (if at all) into Waters’ career on a larger scale, the last week or so has found him in Mexico playing three what have been called “The Best of Pink Floyd” shows. Though, effectively, he may as well have called them “What you’ve been dreaming of since you were twelve.” Other than actually playing EVERY classic Pink Floyd album in its entirety, this is pretty much the holy grail for casual fans and die-hards alike. Waters last twenty-five song set included broad swaths and tapestries of the iconic albums “Dark Side of the Moon,” “Wish You Were Here,” “Animals,” and “The Wall,” along with historic performances of “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun,” from 1968’s “A Saucerful of Secrets,” and “One of These Days” and “Fearless” from 1971’s “Meddle.” Two of the shows even included an extra pair of album cuts from “The Wall” (“Bring the Boys Back Home” and “Vera”), before playing show closer “Comfortably Numb.” While there’s been speculation that “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse” (which have been closing his second set, pre-encores), would be a more karmically appropriate way to close out this unprecedented festival, look for Waters to bring the whole thing back around beautifully, (metaphorically), coming back from the Dark Side to tear down The Wall.