The idea of New York’s best acid rock band in the cozy, comfortable confines of Pete’s Candy Store this Saturday night at 10:30 PM is just plain sick. Are Desert Flower going to play an acoustic set? Or are they going to rip the roof off the room like they did at Sidewalk one Friday night in the spring of 2016, when they opened for one of Lorraine Leckie’s quasi-rehearsals in between Bowery Ballroom gigs?
Maybe it was the OMFG moment right before that show when it looked like lead guitarist Migue Mendez’s pedalboard had suddenly died. But even if he hadn’t managed to bring it back to life, the show would have gone on – and on, and on, relentlessly, wave after wave of sonic assault. Classic psychedelic intricacy and interplay and world-class chops, punk rock volume. It was like being transported back to an imaginary Isle of Wight in 1972, right on top of the stage and the crushing banks of Marshall stacks.
As loud as the guitars were that night, frontwoman Bela Zap Art would not be denied. She can sing tango and blues with the world’s best, but this gig is where she gets to cut loose and let that otherworldly, crystalline wail rise to the rafters. Belting to the top of her register, she channeled righteous rage and distantly horror-stricken angst back-to-back with an uneasy allure, at the very edge of terror. LSD is scary stuff. Obviously, it’s not clear if anyone in the band is experienced that way – and nobody onstage was tripping, But that’s what gave this music its initial surreal jolt of microcurrent back in the 60s.
And Desert Flower’s music was sublime. Like a lot of bands with roots south of the border, they like minor keys. In a particularly strange stroke of irony, the best song of the night was Traveler, Mendez’s ominously lingering phrases and furtive pull-offs opening it over Paola Luna’s stately, carefully articulated broken chords. Bassist Seba Fernandez, playing through the house amp, didn’t have his usual crackle, so he stuck with looming ambience. Drummer Alfio Casale was the one guy in the band who treated this like the small-room gig that it was: he knew he didn’t have to hit hard to fill the space. As the majestic 6/8 anthem peaked out, Zap Art’s voice went with it, solace to anyone on what seemed to be a trip that would never end.
The fury of the rest of the set was something that room has probably never seen, at least since the days of popular punkmetal band the Larval Organs there about fifteen years ago. The blast and syncopated crash of Sube, with Zap Art’s enigmatic “going down on the grey skies” chorus was matched by the carnivalesque strut of Warrior. On that one, the band brought up a guest trombonist who put the bell of his horn around one of the vocal mics and then blew feral snorts, a psycho hippo’s death song. It will be worth the trip – in every sense of the word – to see what Desert Flower are going to to do in an even more intimate and far more sonically welcoming space this December 23.