Desert Flower Bring Their Smoldering, Intense Heavy Psychedelia to the East Village Saturday Night
On Sundays starting at around 11 in the morning, there’s a flea market at Paperbox in Bushwick. Along with the antiques and tchotchkes and book stalls and used vinyl, there’s street fair food out back, and if you’re of age there are drinks at the bar. A lot of people go here for daydrinking ($3 drafts until 2 PM, yikes!), or to bring the kids and see some live music, because they have bands here. And some of them are fantastic: psychedelic cumbia group Consumata Sonidera treated the crowd to a sizzling show here a couple of weeks ago. The highlight of this past week was a tightly ferocious set by heavy psychedelic band Desert Flower. Although they mash up some very famliiar styles, most of them from the 70s, they’re one of the most individualistic bands in town: there is no other group in New York who sound remotely like them.
One of the keys to their sound is the contrast between the two guitarists. Migue Mendez plays a Gibson SG through a Fender amp with the reverb turned up most of the time, delivering creepily echoing, deep-space quasar leads, menacingly shivery flurries of reverb riffage and sunbaked stoner blues lines. Paola Luna plays a Telecaster, varying her attack from gritty, terse, blues-based riff-rock, to a menacing, sustained minor-key clang. Bassist Seba Fernandez and drummer Alfio Casale cluster and churn as they propel the songs’ generally slow-to-midtempo grooves. Out in front of the band, singer Bela Zap Art sways slowly, eyes closed, completely lost in the music as the waves slowly rise and then break behind her. Much as she has a bluesy wail to match Heart’s Ann Wilson, there’s an elegance and nuance in that powerfullly modulated alto of hers, with touches of cabaret and nuevo tango. Considering that musicians tend to be night creatures, Desert Flower ought to be even more careeningly powerful when they play Sidewalk this Saturday night, November 14 at midnight
The Paperbox show opened with a flurry of drums and growling, trebly bass, Fernandez playing off to the side of the stage as the briskly ominous stomp built steam, part early Siouxsie, part early 90s NYC gutter blues, part punk, Mendez building to an all-too-brief, searing solo toward the end. And a listen back to the recording reveals something that was anything but obvious at the moment: the song doesn’t have any chord changes!
The band likes to segue between songs, and they did that right off the bat, Mendez and Luna flinging dark fragments of melody against each other before the rhythm section came back in, Luna’s sepulchral upper-register shrieks capping off Mendez’s heavy blues lines and mighty, majestic slide playing. Zap Art bent her notes with a surreal, lysergic ominousness as the song built slowly to a peak.
The most epic song of the set was Traveler, a slow, haunting 6/8 noir blues dirge written by a composer friend from Buenos Aires. After that, they went back to the riff-rock with a moodily shuffling new number, Zap Art bringing to mind blue-eyed soul belters like Genya Ravan when she hit the impassioned, blues-drenched chorus. The band’s most intense original was another marauding 6/8 minor-key anthem: “Falling down from the grey skies,” Zap Art wailed again and again over the twin guitars’ sharkteeth attack. The sarcastic march that followed, like the Dead Kennedys taking a detour into circus rock, was every bit as potent. They wound up the show with a tight, furious cover of Moonage Daydream that looked back to the live pyrotechnics of the Mick Ronson-era version of Bowie’s band.
And the opening act was good too. It would have been fun to have seen more than the last handful of songs by noisy, intense power trio Slow Suck. Frontwoman/guitarist Kiki Sabater has an individualistically dirty but melodic sound that brings to mind early Bauhaus as well as what Courtney Love was doing on the first Hole album, i.e. before she went completely off the rails. Sabater’s songs don’t follow any kind of predictable verse/chorus pattern, and the rhythm section behind her negotiated those tricky transitions between slow and sinister and screaming punk rock with an impressive elegance, particularly the bassist, whose thoughtful hammer-ons and slinky melodies darkened an already vivid, gloomy ambience. Sabater’s unselfconsciously anguished wail drove it all home.