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CVLT Nation Captures DESERTFEST NYC 2023 Day One

Charles Nickles

Text and Photos by Charles Nickles

See the Pre-show Here.

It’s Knockdown! It’s Friday? How the hell have I never been here before? Seems a sin until my beer and shot come in at twenty-seven bucks and then I remember there is a strange new way to live in the outskirts of Brooklyn? Queens? It took two trains and a nice, long walk to get here so I’d be pissed if I was on my home turf but whatever, forever we’re presented and accounted and if last night was indication today is gonna be a fuckin blast so let’s gooooooooo already!!!!


I don’t know if Spellbook is doom or fantasy, farce or death, lil’ KISS charming glitter or the postmodern smirk of some yinzer but whatever, dude. It’s cool. Chin up, dick-downed rock and roll over with the glimmer, shake and blasted YEAH!

Valley of the Sun

First band on the main (BIG) stage is Valley of the Sun who let rip from the first fuckin riff with the good old Cincinnati bar charge, jukebox bully beatdown which I swear makes sense the more you say it to yourself.

This is good shit, dude like affordable housing, Camaro rippers or the Browns sinking another season thanks to their continued investment in a fragile sex criminal.

Grave Bathers

Philly fosters a particular breed of dirtbag that’s just a little bit scummier than the rest. I dunno if it’s the water or the neck tats or the juvenile rap sheets that would rattle Merle Allin’s sensibilities but those motherfuckers come correct with an almost transcendently violent sleaze and Grave Bathers are positively DRIPPING with it.

I’m talking total scumfuck swagger that would verge on a terror trip if their riffs weren’t so groovy, their licks so illicit and their lyrics so Roger Corman they might was well have X-Ray eyes.


You’d think that after all this time living in Astoria I would know a LiTTLE something about Greece but nah, man…not really.

I mean, I know Taramasalata is delicious (despite hating fish), Golden Dawn were pieces of shit (but there are bigger problems now) and there were once some dudes in a cave and now reality is subjective AF.

What I did NOT know is that Greece has 1000mods to call their own and with them one of the most righteously rip-roaring stoner rock units continental Europe has to offer and goddamn do they get the blood fired up with their heady blend of rifftastic hesher stewardship and sadtastically slick 90s radio ragers. 

No wonder I’ve spied so many of their t-shirts.

Castle Rat

Okay, I’m just gonna be straight with you and say that I did not capture the full breadth of the Castle Rat experience with my photos and that pains me. I mean, I tried. Like, I really, really, REALLY tried but there was just too much to consider between the dear-horned drummer, lewd vamp guitarist, plague doctor bassist, chainmail rat goddess / ringmistress and, like, some random-ass smoking hot angel of death?

I mean, there was clearly a narrative to this set that i missed in sleepless aesthetic arrest at the Mondo Sexualis Middle Ages shtick and straight-blazed, fuckin’ a doom fantasy rippers which I’ll admit is seriously disappointing because I feel like the story is as righteous as the rock but sometimes its hard to see the forest for the flames, ya know?


I don’t know what it is about Windhand that I find so elusive but whenever I see them (this is the third time over the span of a decade) I just kind lose sight of the band which is not to indicate, in the least, that their music isn’t memorable or moving with its smoky collusion of black psych, doom riffs and sacred wisdom. 

It’s more like they just kind of disappear?

Like the physical elements that constitute four living, breathing human beings dissolve into a singular, animistic movement that throbs and wails and roars like some welcome primeval reckoning and the truths they cry will shake heaven.

Heavy Temple

Why, hello again, Heavy Temple.

Hard to believe it’s been four years since we last raised horns because, at the time, I was sure we’d be all fucked up together and killing it on the regular as you got good and glorious but that whole plague done fucked us up, huh?

I mean, you look good! A little different. New dudes on the axe and skins?

Gotta say, they fuckin suit you and if the hard crush of folks in this room are any indication the new incantation is well-received among your devotees and for anyone not fortunate enough to be hip to the torrid tale of this citywide special please believe their new raaawwwkin death roll is as righteously dirty as your last night in jail.

Colour Haze

Colour Haze Night 2 is as steady a head trip as night one which is impressive considering the pièce de résistance of the Vitus gig was the positively electric reimagining of “Peace, Brothers and Sisters” which they don’t touch this evening. In fact, I’m pretty sure (from my limited and admittedly less that clear-headed understanding of the band) this set is wholly unique from last night which I guess is the kinda thing you do when you’re the preeminent German stoner psych band coming up on your 30th anniversary play your first NYC gigs in forever (if ever?) and you seriously give a shit about the people who love you.

And OH! how the people do.


The fact that I was able to walk out of R.I.P.’s set with what few teeth I still have is a goddamn miracle. I mean, come on. Dude’s mic stand is a fuckin SCYTHE! And I know full well I’ve said that before and will gladly say it again to anyone who’ll listen but you need to understand that if you’re gonna come at me balls-deep in the metal-up-your-ass like that I am gonna wanna party and we all know that it isn’t a party until Charles gets hurt so, you know…small blessings?

Seriously, though, this band is fun as shit and every day I’m not banging my head at one of their gigs feels wasted and, frankly, wrong.

Monster Magnet

Come on, dude. How are you gonna talk shit on Monster Magnet? You just can’t. Band’s been a band since ‘89 and have been pretty consistently pumping out the primo drug sleaze retro space rawk head trip shit ever since.

And I really wish I could impress that on my younger self who took one look at the Space Lord and snorted something about cockrock or buttrock or whatever derisive sobriquet I had for bands that played music that was, you know, FUN but fuck him. 

Let my youth have its ignorance.

I’ll have my beer and this balls out rock and roll reverie which admittedly takes a few to really get going (though hats off for the chutzpah to start a live set with a cover of “Born to Go”) but invariably lands in the cocksure triumph of the Dopes to Infinity / Powertrip diptych megahits which, like, if you can’t get it on to “Negasonic Teenage Warhead” and “Space Lord” what the hell is wrong with you, son?

Written By

Meghan MacRae grew up in Vancouver, Canada, but spent many years living in the remote woods. Living in the shadow of grizzly bears, cougars and the other predators of the wilderness taught her about the dark side of nature, and taught her to accept her place in nature's order as their prey. She is co-founder of CVLT Nation.

Sentient 51423

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