Music News

Scenes From Nowhere

Page 4 of 4

Sounds about right.

Moments before the White Stripes walk onstage Sunday night, the atmosphere around me grows alarming.

Until now, the weekend has been a musical show-and-tell. Kinky and Café Tacuba, with quirky beats and varied influences, rocked the Mexican avant-garde; Joseph Arthur kicked it folky for what he called his "hippie" minions; Franti, in a solo-spoken word jaunt, inspired an overflowing tent of people to hold hands and absorb his powerful anti-war speech; Timo Maas and Deep Dish dropped jaws with simultaneous worldbeat-informed spins; Jack Johnson and Ben Harper aimed to hit their crowds with acoustic spark but mostly served up wet firecrackers; and Perry Ferrell played amped court jester with an unannounced DJ set. But this is the zenith, the beginning of a one-two Detroit jab and hook along with Iggy Pop and his Stooges.

But in the darkness, a flashing red-and-yellow medical light and siren makes its way through the crowd. Someone is hurt. Not more than 30 seconds later, I peer at a girl standing next to me. Her eyeballs are rolled back into her head. She stands as stiff and straight as lumber. And then she collapses, smacking her head on that beautiful grass, tensing up like a fish out of water, convulsing. As onlookers hover to watch and friends rush to help her, I'm pushed away, and she disappears into the masses. The Stripes launch into the frantic "Black Math." Guitarist Jack White strains like a strung-out CC Deville.

"We can't hear a damn thing onstage," White, wearing a red outfit draped in white tassels, screams with what has to be a phony bluesman inflection (or maybe he really is that much of a throwback).

The onstage disorder and my nervous hopes for my stricken fellow attendee continue for several minutes. Doesn't help that some yahoo walks through the masses with a nude blowup doll on his shoulders, slapping everyone in the head with cheap, plastic porn. This can't possibly he happening right at the height of the weekend, can it? Fortunately, Jack and drummer Meg White settle down, and with "Jolene," a cover of the old Dolly Parton obsessed-woman-on-the-edge tune sung creepily by Jack, emerge as the weekend's patron saints, shredding through one great blues-rock nugget after another. Their status as a two-piece band is a strength, not a hindrance, in a festival setting. They capture the bare-bones essence of rock, gesticulating and attacking their instruments with the rabidity of an asylum fan club.

As for the girl, she shows up at a first aid tent to stage left. She breathes from an oxygen tank, and through her terror, looks blessed to be alive.

The late hours in the Empire Polo Field are psychedelic. The blackness leaves me no compass; I am Pinocchio without Geppetto. I have no idea exactly where I am, and when people shoot into my vision from the periphery, it feels detached, a television documentary on middle-class Western life. The joy I see certainly is not my joy. It's all very weird.

Eventually, in the minutes between when Iggy & the Stooges finish their amazing revival and an uninspired Chili Peppers fronted by a flat Anthony Kiedis deflate expectations (whose choice was that for them to finish things off, anyway?), I find my car. By now, it's a welcome reunion. I am back in control.

Exhausted, I drive toward Blythe. The return trip feels lonely -- scraggly brush ain't so bad compared to pitch black and monotony. I pull off the highway and check into that Best Western in Blythe. The palm trees are a memory now. The only breeze in my room comes from ventilation. There's no music, no openness.

Holding onto my thoughts, I turn off the light and reluctantly slip back into normalcy.(David Holthouse contributed to this report.)

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Christopher O'Connor