@ Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneer Town Palace
By Shawn Mafia and Lisa Lynn Morgan, respectively
Pappy’s is always on their game when it comes to parking. By the time the stream of cars I was engaged with topped the hill, and Pioneertown Road flattened out, we were set upon by a crackerjack team of parking attendants. Strange long-haired, desert mutants with neon yellow Cal-Trans-type vests ushered us down past the venue to absorb all the dirt spaces that downtown Main Street had to offer. We had become the living, breathing realization of Bon Jovi’s song, Wanted Dead or Alive, “I’m a cowboy. On a steel horse I ride . . .” Not a single flesh and bone stallion was stirring this night, at least not the kind that would have been roped and stabled along the main drag during the time when Gene Autry and the boys frequented Pioneertown Bowl and shot spaghetti westerns. If the horses were spooked by hipster facial hair and city slick armpit sweat, the merchants were certainly not. Ole-timey mercantile stores and pottery shops had the lights on and the doors open, as concert goers ambled on past to the outside stage.
I didn’t have any CV Weekly press credentials as I am new to the mag. I was just a chartered scab sent to cover the outside stage hi-jinks; a literary mercenary of the lowest degree, tasked with the duties of catching a glimpse of the headliner, and surviving to tell the tale. Luckily, the girl giving out the arm bands decided to take my word for it. En lieu of scouring the endless list of over 900 concert goers that had already purchased a ticket she banded me and turned me loose into the wild-west circus. Pappy and Harriett’s outside stage is surrounded by block walls and old west themed wooden trim with a wide open sky and a 360 degree panorama of mountains that can be seen from the distance giving the concert goer the odd feeling of being captured inside the O.K. Corral or the Alamo, waiting for the Spanish or the Indians to burn us out as we worship the cult of pop music, pistols drawn and spurs jingling. Leave it to Dave Catching to throw such a gloriously bizarre birthday bash in the nest of such, surreal, desert surroundings. There were no stunt candles or Spiderman cake for this affair. Leave your paper cone hats and noise blowers at home and get ready to swill beer and shake your ass until the cows come home. This was in fact Dave Catching’s incredible birthday spectacular. The man directly linked to such acts as Queens Of The Stone Age, Eagles of Death Metal, earthlings?, and Mondo Generator was turning 53. It was time to pay homage to the one of the hippest beards in modern day rock.
I missed the first act, Disastriod. I asked one of the security guards about them and he said the band sounded killer. That’s good enough for me. These security guard types listened to bands all the time. He looked like a reputable sort. I wouldn’t trust him with my weed or my car keys but, other than that, a solid individual. We have to assume Disastroid was not a total disaster.
The second act, Fatso Jetson, took the stage shortly after my arrival and sang Happy Birthday to Mr. Catching as the crowd raised their cups and joined along. Dave removed his sunglasses and wiped his eyes. It was a poignant moment suddenly squashed by the sound of power chords screaming through the Marshall cabs stacked on-stage. Fatso played a metal tinged swamp blues distinguished by a rhythm section that didn’t so much lay down a groove as pound it in. The drummer played the kit like he was hammering nails with a rubber mallet that had burst into flames. Bodies were in motion as the harp player picked up the rhythm. Blowing into the bullet mic what sounded like strange insect mating calls. He would later double on sax and Fatso Jetson would turn the burner way up on high for a self-styled, stoner-rock jam session with lead singer Mario Lalli bridging the lyrical gap between Louisiana and Palm Desert, and sealing the deal with surf psychedelia punk.
The keyboard player was already fingering the plastic ivories like a high priced hooker as Chris Goss walked center stage to the microphone. An aural kaleidoscope of ill-omened sound loops moved through the air and a stringed melody was played behind the effects as Chris Goss began to sing his lamentable ballad. His vocal inflections evoking Johnny Depp as Sweeney; Goss wore an olive green military style jacket with a strange medallion hanging conspicuously from his neck. He cut a menacing scene, smoking a cigarette with his bald head shining against the stage lights. Through his door knocker goatee, he crooned tales of human suffering. Hipsters from row six on back jaw-jacked over the top of the opening tune. It didn’t take long for Goss to command everyone’s attention as the ballads gave way to a full band, hard rock power play accompanied by Dave Catching on guitar. Throw in a spoken word number on the NYC heroin trade circa 1960-1970, and you have the recipe one of the most powerful and entertaining sets of the evening.
Then, it was Eagles of Death Metal (EDOM). The crowd swelled at this point and punters pushed towards the front of the stage. It had that epic big fight feel as Catching, O’Connor, Castillo, and Jesse Hughes appeared. The group dished out numerous hugs to one another, seemingly amped to be re-united in honor of the birthday boy. EODM are musically akin to a cross pollination of Kiss and Weezer. I envision them someday composing the score for an off Broadway rock opera of “There Will Be Blood”. Hughes proudly sported a handle bar mustache, a lightning bolt guitar strap, suspenders, and a plaid shirt, wiping his brow between songs with a white handkerchief that he would pull intermittently from his back pocket. As the set progressed he wiped everything with the handkerchief including the fret board of his guitar and the starry-eyed fans up in the front.
Midway through the set, the band attempted Cherry Cola with numerous false starts as Hughes ribbed Catching that he couldn’t find the right chords and commented that Darlin’ Dave, “looks like a cross between Santa Claus and John Holmes coming down the chimney.” The crowd roared their agreement and the sand and dust became airborne as the EODM finally found the combination to Cherry Cola’s proverbial safe and moved concert goers to a fever pitched frenzy. Castillo played a stripped down drum kit that he beat like a red headed step child. Catching bent guitar strings with his fingertips like Superman bent steel with his bare hands. A mother-truckn’ Merlin of the fret board, he road fierce waves of feedback while Big Hands on the Bass, wearing a suit and tie, held down the bottom end. It was standing room only in the middle of the Mojave Desert, and no band ever owned it more.
As I walked back to my car a newer model SUV’s alarm was going off making interment sounds of alarms, police sirens, ambulance horns, robot shrieks and metallic distress calls. It seemed to fit in perfectly with Peaches, the final act on the outside stage that night – pre-programed hip hop beats and loops that I could still hear in the distance. The night was young and the strange spectacle was set to rage on into the wee hours of the dark desert. The crowd was a vast sea off hipsters adorned with all manner of sunglasses, skinny jeans, facial hair, and denim jackets. Urban Outfitters meets the Vagos motorcycle club. Peaches was the cherry on the sundae and the ultimate spectacle for the drunken party goers that never want the night to end.
I found parking easily enough on the street, a city block away from the historical Pappy and Harriet’s. I made my way to the outdoor stage just as the crowd was being orchestrated full crescendo, into a mass of punch drunken minions, fully surrendered to the super power known as Eagles of Death Metal. Birthday celebrant, Dave Catching and Alaine Johannes greeted me and several others as they exited the stage. Here, at the near end of a two day long celebration of life and musical kinship, he showed no signs of wear and tear and effortlessly continued to offer himself to those constantly hindering progress to whatever destination he was aiming for. When he got to where I stood, I found myself wrapped up in the most legitimate hug I’ve received in a very long time. Dave’s warmth and graciousness, mirrored by his brother in spirit and song, Johannes, was trademark of the night.
Peaches took the stage with the natural charm of a child performing for a living room of friends. Her themes, however, were by no means, immature. Her message driven art, riddled with profanity that packed a punch, made excellent use of her American given freedom of speech, as she taunted boundaries and comfort zones. Her artistry emulated the ethics of punk to a soundtrack of techno pop. A thespian to the core, she oozed with frivolous fun, rebelliousness and self-abandonment. As Peaches donned an inflatable samurai wrestler costume atop her table, I was drawn to the indoor stage where I had heard Jesika von Rabbit at sound check. I was not alone. More than crowded, it was jam-packed, barring my expert merging skills that usually get me close enough to take decent pictures. Surrendering, I retreated to the sweet spot of sound, directly behind the sound board at the back of the audience, where a monitor televised the performance overhead. The sound inside the venue was incredible, due to a well-run system. It was here, in this element, among a community that adores her, this accomplished performer shined brilliantly. Bringing friends on stage alongside her: the beautiful blonde, choreographed duo, “The Grundles”, OO Soul (double-oh-soul, Larry Van Horn) dancing with the heart of a teenager, John Pope offering up a meaty rap and the masked Gabby Grundle adding to the on stage eye candy, Jesika produced a show that placed every single member of the audience in the palm of her lovely and talented hand. I too was enraptured, and duly impressed. “What a Rock’n’Roll extravaganza this past weekend was,” Jesika shared with me afterward. “Dave Catching is such a great guy and it was an honor to be a part of his birthday festivities! And, of course, I love playing Pappy and Harriet’s. I don’t think I’ve ever played a bad show there.” You should make a point to see her if you haven’t as she opens for Ronnie Spector, July 2nd.
Dirty Jeans from Canada followed and delivered a respectably rocking set, but didn’t hold the crowd like Jesika did. Like a good portion of the population on the dance floor, I wandered outside just in time to see Peaches finish. Walking out onto the stage one last time, Dave Catching and Alaine Johannes held up their glasses. They toasted the crowd, showered words of appreciation to all in attendance, the musicians and each other, to the sound of applause and admiring howls and the bright lights of a hundred camera flashes, and then urged everyone to continue the celebration inside. This time, I found my way to the foot of the stage just in time for the enormous crowd of human flesh and beverage to push their way in and around me. Security was on the floor keeping a watchful eye. When the music started, it was beer showers and a pointless fight to hold your ground. The energy penetrating from the ASTRO ZOMBIES was all-consuming as they delivered flawless Misfit covers as if they were their own. There, on that stage, was my friend Brandon Ray Henderson, in his absolute element, showing no signs of fatigue in spite of the fact that it had been a long day following his performance with Parosella the night prior. Every single, insanely talented member of the band exuded pure joy and punk-ruckus power that was absolutely seismic. Once again, I found myself awestruck at the depth of our local artists, and how they stand out and more than hold their own among the best of the best if not over-shadow them completely.
The other big take away of the night for me was the charisma of Catching and those who are drawn to him. Aside from his blazing instrumental skills and discerning ear, I believe it is his easy going, positive, loving energy that has caused the universe to surround him with amazing opportunities and people. He had said, in explaining his lack of a formal music education that perhaps he played with so many great people because he was just a fun guy to have around. I realize now, that was not in jest, even if he intended it to be. He carries himself with an easy effervescence and a natural zest for the life he has been awarded. We are a secretly insecure bunch, musicians. Dave has a way of making you feel worthy. That in turn, brings out the best in those creative beings around him, allowing creativity to flow fearlessly without boundaries.
The event was a huge success, but not without the incredible hardworking staff that are the Pappy and Harriet’s family. Pappy and Harriet’s is no mere restaurant, tourist attraction and venue. The walls seem to have breathed in all the music and people that have passed through them, and in exhale, emit a truly unique and special atmosphere. It is a building with a soul, much like the art-breeding desert earth it is built on.
Black and White Photos By Robert Wolfgang Laster / robertrosephotography.com