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Desert Trip in 2017: What are Dylan, Stones, Neil, McCartney, The Who and Waters Doing Lately?

Desert Trip in 2017: What are Dylan, Stones, Neil, McCartney, The Who and Waters Doing Lately?

Desert Trip in 2017: What are Dylan, Stones, Neil, McCartney, The Who and Waters Doing Lately?
December 18
12:46 2017

It is already one year and two months since the most lucrative concert festival in history occurred. The Desert Trip lineup was unprecedented, and will never be equalled: Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Paul McCartney, The Who and Roger Waters. But it is now impressive to note that none of these legacy artists are sitting back on their laurels in the interim. Let’s take a moment to review their latest activities.

Music fans walk past the Ferris Wheel as they arrive on the second day of the Desert Trip music festival at Indio, California on October 8, 2016. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

Bob Dylan

It is often the case when veteran artists look to keep their pipeline filled that they rely on the past to stay in the public’s eye. Between two uneven albums, for instance, U2 toured on the strength of their phenomenal Joshua Tree album. Both shows I saw on the tour were remarkable, with setlists featuring very little recent material. As for Dylan, he plumbed the vaults for last month’s release Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 13 1979-1981. The eight CD box set gathers material during Dylan’s conversion to Christianity. He is up for a Grammy for his prior Triplicate album, a three record (remember vinyl?) collection of standards. More intriguingly, the actual nomination is for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album. With Dylan’s vocal prowess steadily diminishing (probably as a result of his Never Ending Tour), I expect he appreciates the irony. Even if he doesn’t win, he can still enjoy his prior 38 nominations and 10 Grammy wins. He has long surpassed the need to speak publicly about his work (he won the Nobel Prize for Literature during the week between the Desert Trip concerts, and he finally submitted his required acceptance speech just before the deadline), but one of his prior comments is as good as any:

These songs of mine, I think of as mystery plays, the kind that Shakespeare saw when he was growing up. I think you could trace what I do back that far.”

The Rolling Stones

(Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)

The Rolling Stones on a rooftop, 17th June 1964, before decent oral hygiene kicked in. Left to right: Brian Jones (1942 – 1969), Keith Richards, Bill Wyman, Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts.

Of the two biggest and longest running British Invasion acts still underway (we will get to the other in a moment), The Rolling Stones have let no moss gather. The cliché works. One month after Desert Trip the band released Havana Moon, a live set from Cuba. Two months after Desert Trip, the Stones released Blue & Lonesome, a return to their roots. A collection of blues covers, it was a logical strategy for a band that built its reputation on recording tracks by older American blues masters. The Stones had previewed a track or two at Desert Trip. A year after Oldchella, er…Desert Trip the Stones released Sticky Fingers Live at Fonda Theatre (From The Vault Collection). Although not strictly tracking the album’s playing order (“Brown Sugar” was wisely pushed toward the end of the set), it is an energetic recording. But most interesting of all the band’s recent activities is On Air, a collection of rarely heard radio recordings from their formative years, 1963 and 1964. Various other artists (Led Zeppelin, The Beatles) have mined the BBC vaults with success, and here the Stones evince their infatuation with American R‘nB. As with other artists visiting the Beeb, neither the band nor the engineers knew exactly what was going on, so the resulting freshness (and occasional audio dropouts) are endearing and add to the authenticity. Highlights of the two disc package include a couple originals (including “I Wanna Be Your Man,” gifted to the group by their friendly competitors Lennon and McCartney), “Cry To Me” (nearly approaching the glory of Solomon Burke’s original version), the falsetto of “Have Mercy” and “Route 66.” The latter’s lyrics traverse the country all British bands hoped to conquer. The collection closes appropriately with “2120 South Michigan Avenue,” an instrumental homage to the home of Chess Records, the source of so much of the band’s early success.

Neil Young

Brad Auerbach

Stephen Stills and Neil Young, July 4, 1976 in Niagara Falls, shortly before the demise of the ironically titled “Long May You Run” tour.

Leaving aside the inscrutability of his love life, Neil Young continues to do whatever strikes his fancy when it comes to releasing music. A couple months after his satisfying performance at Desert Trip, the transplanted Canadian released Peace Trail, a sporadic collection of first or second takes. The production is intentionally ragged and the topics are time stamped observations and news bulletins. A year later Young pulled from the vaults a 30 minute solo acoustic collection called Hitchhiker, recorded in Malibu on the full moon of August 11, 1976. (That’s a month after I took the picture above, shortly before Young disappeared from the ironically titled Stills-Young “Long May You Run” tour). The songs on Hitchhiker are familiar to his legions of fans, and the stoned delivery is part of its charm. Less charming is his latest release, The Visitor. Presumably the title refers to the subject of Young’s vitriol in the songs, almost every track decries what Trump has been doing. The opening single “Already Great” is a direct reply to Trump’s campaign slogan. Young celebrated the launch of the album with a one time solo acoustic performance from a tiny venue in north Ontario, his original bailiwick. On the album, again Young favors rapid and ragged delivery over considered production value. His backup band from Oldchella (Willie’s sons Lukas Nelson and The Promise of the Real) keeps the songs interesting, but on repeated listening the diatribes become unrelenting even if the message is accurate.

Paul McCartney

Sir Paul McCartney (L) and Neil Young perform onstage during Desert Trip. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

With the luxury of the best songbook perhaps in history, McCartney is able to tour when, where and how he chooses. Whenever he appears onstage the results are a joyful celebration of his indelible mark on modern music. His current band (which he has kept together longer than his prior two remarkable groups – The Beatles and Wings) is a well-oiled machine, able to deliver fantastic versions across Macca’s stellar career. A thorough four disc compilation preceded his Desert Trip appearance, but other than various live gigs McCartney kept himself busy in court (suing Sony/ATV Music Publishing in Federal Court to reclaim ownership of his share of the Lennon–McCartney song catalogue beginning in 2018) and doing a film cameo in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, which his fellow traveller Keith Richards had done in a previous instalment of the film  franchise. McCartney also ensured two Beatles reissue campaigns were top notch (the second of which I will cover in my next column): the 50th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Christmas Records.

The Who

Brad Auerbach

The Who, from the pit at Desert Trip.

The other longest running, semi-intact band from the original British Invasion has long been like a boxer who won’t hang up his gloves. Against all odds, The Who continues to bring a passion unexpected and unrivalled in its live performances. It is always best to see the band when they are angry, and surviving members Townshend and Daltrey have had their bouts over the years. They have undoubtedly attained a well-balanced relationship after more than half a century of knowing each other. Townshend was apparently reluctant to join the Desert Trip bandwagon, but when he saw the unbridled joy from the youngsters in the pit (he was not looking at me, although I was yet again in awe of their performance) he realized there was a viable reason for forging ahead. Townshend and his partner Rachel Fuller put together an operatic version of Quadrophenia in 2015, which they briefly toured this autumn to mixed reviews. Daltrey and Townshend continue to engage in an impressive number of charity gigs. Although the band has not released anything new, they have committed to a Las Vegas residency in 2018 after Elton John vacates his lucrative and long-running gig there. Ironic backstory: when Townshend was scheduled in the mid-90s to appear at a Vegas tradeshow to introduce an interactive version of Tommy, a journalist dug up a quote of Townshend saying in effect he’d rather die than appear in Vegas. That ‘before I get old’ mindset caused the producers to hastily set up a satellite interview, a mindset now clearly outdated and overcome.

Roger Waters

Roger Waters’ trademarked pig floats over his performance during Desert Trip. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

An illustration of Donald Trump appears on the screen during Roger Waters performance during Desert Trip. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Pink Floyd was the subject of a glorious and often sold out exhibition at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum entitled “Their Mortal Remains.” The exhibition closed on the one year anniversary of Waters’ appearance at Oldchella. Waters was the final act at Oldchella (Townshend had learned his lesson at Woodstock, wisely letting Hendrix follow The Who), and Waters’ concerts still leave the audience slack-jawed. Waters’ last tour became the highest grossing tour of a solo artist. He was far from alone onstage, and the visual dynamics of the show expand on that which Pink Floyd initiated years earlier. Like Young, Waters pulls no punches when it comes to Trump. Although preaching to the choir, Waters has consistently taken a political stance once his soapbox was established in Pink Floyd. After Desert Trip, Waters embarked on his “Us + Them” tour, which revisited many touchstones of his career. In concert he also previewed his fourth solo album, Is This the Life We Really Want? which was released this summer. Over the years he has been criticized by many for his pro-Palestinian views (one such group is called We Don’t Need No Roger Waters), which should make his reaction to Trump’s recent declaration about Jerusalem interesting, to say the least.

Source: Desert Trip in 2017: What are Dylan, Stones, Neil, McCartney, The Who and Waters Doing Lately?

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Martin Nethercutt

Martin Nethercutt

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