This review of Day 3 of Desertfest is brought to you by the letter B. It starts in the Black Heart, with a boisterous performance from Black Groove. Opening with a slow-burning barrage of bowel-bugging bass heavy beats and belligerent bellowing, Black Groove set out their stall as purveyors of heavy sludge-doom. Songs build to a frenzy of blast beats and send the crowd into delight, bouncing buoyantly and adding to the classic Desertfest Day 3 aroma of BO and spilled beer.
Thence to the Roaundhouse to sample Blood Ceremony – a witchcraft-influenced four-piece whose vocalist, Alia O’Brien, elegantly blends flute playing with singing and keyboards. After Black Groove’s dense paste of heavy, Blood Ceremony is a refined serving – more brasserie than burger bar – although the ten minutes of the performance this reviewer caught are not particularly diverting.
The next offering in The Roundhouse was Nebula – a nostalgic affair that revived memories from over two decades ago. The Californian three-piece put in a workmanlike shift, providing their usual fare of fuzzed out riffs and finely crafted guitar solos. The only real change of pace came with Full Throttle and the closer Giant, both of which inject some energy into the crowd.
Nebula are followed by King Buffalo, whose prodigious output in the last 18 months – the pandemic trio of records The Burden Of Restlessness, Acheron and Regenerator – has maintained a rare blend of quantity and quality. It seems that while the rest of us were on Zoom quizzes and baking banana bread, King Buffalo were busily solidifying their status as the most creative force in psychedelic rock. Their set drew upon the frustrated energy that fuelled The Burden Of Restlessness, opening with a trio of tracks from that album – Silverfish and brilliant renditions of Hebetation and Loam. Loam in particular gives guitarist/vocalist Sean McVay scope to really lean into his solos and unleashes the full psychedelic power this understated power trio hold.
Dipping further into the catalogue, McVay and companions stroll their way through a blissful Eye Of The Storm, closer from their 2018 opus Longing To Be The Mountain. It was that year that King Buffalo last graced a Desertfest stage, closing the Black Heart with a Sunday headline set, I remember walking out at the time thinking that they were destined to be at the top of the psych rock tree before long and they very much are, just five years later. Incredible fulfilling of potential from a terrific band. All that was left was a blissful run through Acheron closer Cerberus. A tremendous set.
We make the call to try and catch a section of Mars Red Sky’s set in the Underworld which means a quick march south to the heart of Camden. We aren’t alone, the Underworld’s downstairs section impenetrable but the strains of the fuzziest of French groove drifting pleasingly up the steps. This is a band who haven’t moved far since their 2011 self-titled debut, still providing the same chilled out brand of stoner. The point was highlighted by the decision to close with their landmark track Strong Reflection from that record. Still, worth the trip down the hill to see a band who have been creating smiles on the festival circuit for a decade now.
Back to the Roundhouse for Boris. A band impossible to pigeonhole, they delight a hardcore of devotees with a quick bash through Anti-Gone and Non-Blood Lore of recent release No and She Is Burning off Heavy Rocks. Their speed/pop/metal tracks aren’t what interest me about this band though – it’s the tone that guitarist Wata can accomplish when the band slows down and get their doom on. This happens on a few occasions throughout the set to show that when Boris slow down, they are as heavy as anyone on the circuit, too much of this set is comprised of the shorter less crushing songs from their back catalogue for me to walk away fully satisfied, but many in the crowd got what they came for.
Hoping to catch a little of the looped cello prog that Jo Quail has created as a genre we head south again to Powerhaus. The last couple of songs in her set are a reminder that she is a virtuoso performer able to conjure a remarkable range from her instrument. One of our local scene’s absolute treasures.
All that was left was time for a quick bite (a burger, to keep the theme) before the pleasingly alliterative BIG|BRAVE. A full album playthrough of current opus Nature Mortegives the crowd a real treat. With guitarists Robin Wattie and Matt Ball harnessing drones and feedback to incredible effect along with Tasy Hudson’s punishing beats from behind the kit, all overlayed with Robin’s tortured and beautiful screams and whispers the crowd sways almost overwhelmed.
Nature Morte is a remarkable record, building on previous release Vital in beauty, sparsity and righteous fury. Tonight, they play a triumphant version of the album, Matt’s joy at eking ever more ridiculous distortion from his amps showing the pleasure that can be developed from the most devastating of sounds. What a way for Desertfest 2023 to bow out.