Tag Archives: Black Mountain

Psych Fest 2013 – another memorable festival

Psych Fest 2013 was a blast as usual. I’ll go into some detail, but, first, some memories that stick out in my mind…

Sore feet and ears ringing like the bells of Ireland, seeing Black Mountain, The Black Angels, Soft Moon, and Dead Skeletons, getting caught in a downpour, getting to see Joel Gion from the Brian Jonestown Massacre and seeing a young a woman walk through the crowd wearing nothing but a belt and some kind of fringe – no one seemed to notice. All in all, a memorable festival that introduced me to some great new bands, and gave me a fresh look at ones I’d seen before.

The Venue – Carson Creek Ranch

For the first time, the event was held at Carson Creek Ranch, near the airport. I think it will likely be held there every year. It was a pain in the ass to get to, but I think I’ll figure it out a lot easier next year.

I give it a thumbs up overall. There were big grassy expanses with a few shade trees you could sit under in between shows, lots of vendors, three stages, including the amphitheater on the bank of the Colorado River. Lots of hippies relaxing next to the water. Too bad for them I also noticed a fair amount of poison ivy growing on the river bank. Biggest hitch with the venue was the parking area. It was fine at first, but when it got wet it turned into a real mess.

Friday night – Soft Moon and Warpaint win the night
On Friday night the first band to catch my ear–and my eye was an all-girl group called Warpaint. They were hot and they rocked hard. The drummer in particular blew me away. Their music was dark, tribal and not so much catchy as hypnotic. There was one long, Joy Divisionesque jam that really got me in a trance.

The biggest band of the night for me was Soft Moon. They played intense, dark new wave, industrial-sounding music. I saw them at the power plant at Psych Fest 2011 at the small stage and they impressed me then. This time they were even better. The bassist was mechanical and expressionless, while the singer jumped around like crazy, sometimes shouting into the mike and twiddling knobs to produce a squall of distortion. They gave my earplugs a hell of a workout, but I could have listened to them all night.

The Silver Apples…. One of the shows I never thought I would see. I’ve been a fan of this seminal electronic music act for a long time. His show didn’t have the impact on me that I had been hoping for. I think listening to Silver Apples’ recorded comes across as dark and intriguing. In person, it was brighter. I could make out lyrics better and the hippie poetry made it seem a bit more mainstream psych and not as interesting. I loved how obviously joyful Simeon was though. He’s back in the career he loves and has an audience that appreciates him. The kids really seemed to love him.

Saturday – Black Mountain, Kaleidoscope and one hell of a rain storm

The biggest story on Saturday night was probably the hellacious rainstorm that hit around 10:30 p.m., but Chris Kinney and I saw some good shows before that. We started with a few mediocre bands and had a chance to eat, etc. Then we ran into a big dilemma: Black Mountain vs. Kaleidoscope. Both were killer. Both were playing around the same time — Black Mountain at the main stage, Kaleidoscope at the amphitheater. We did our best to catch some of each show.

Kaleidoscope (UK)  is another seminal psych band I was surprised to find a the festival. The UK band put on a hell of a show, very traditional ’60s psych, just like they made back in the day. The light show on the river and in the trees on the other bank really made it magical.

Black Mountain on the other hand, had an excellent old school ’70s sound, from that period when psych was mutating into hard rock. I really enjoyed their spaced-out jam version of “No Hits.”

We wandered around and saw a few different shows. Man or Astroman was enjoyable, but the Levitation tent was packed and we couldn’t get very close. They were sort of a hard surf punk version of Devo. They wore costumes and had a lot of silly banter. “You think these are costumes. They are not. They are the apparatus that allows us to exist in your atmosphere.”

Part of the reason they were so popular was the weather. It was already starting to rain off and on. Os Mutantes was just about to start playing when serious rain started to fall. Then the bottom fell out.

Chris K and I headed to his car to get an umbrella, then the bottom fell out of the clouds and it rained so hard I couldn’t even see him. The parking area was paved with caliche, a whitish clay-rich dirt that was smooth and hard as concrete until it got wet, but the hard rain turned it into horrible clinging mud that built up on my shoes and made stains in my car I still haven’t gotten out.

Chris K and I got separated and ended up bailing. Chris went back to catch some shows, but the bands were moving their equipment to get out of the wet and I was cowering in my car. We ended up back at his place, scrubbing mud off our shoes. Whether any bands played after that I couldn’t say.

Sunday night – Black Angels, Goat, Dead Skeletons and their awesome surprise guest…

As always seems to be the case, they saved some of the best stuff for Sunday night, so I had to stay up late and be worn out at work the next day. Worth it.

Roky Erickson played again this year and I’m glad. He got treated with the respect he deserves and I think he should be at every Psych Fest. We owe him a huge debt. His performance was pretty similar to the one I saw two years ago at the power plant. He seems to do better with his solo stuff than with the Elevators’ material. I listened for a while, but mainly spent that time with Chris K, wandering around the grounds, checking out other acts at the river and looking at the merch tables.

Indian Jewelry was the first band to float our boats. Their music was a mix of psych and electro-clash, dark and hypnotic. The drummer was a particularly hot chick. Really cool designs in the projections behind the band also. We were enjoying the show, but then Chris K’s spidey sense kicked in and he suggested we go down to the amphitheater stage and see if there was anyone worth hearing. There was indeed.

Dead Skeletons of Iceland turned out to be the big discovery of Psych Fest 2013 for both of us. Just as they were about to perform, a 747 roared overhead. Perfect timing. They had a lot of members. Seven, I think. They were extremely together and made me think of a heavier version of Spiritualized.

We were soon faced with another dilemma. The Black Angels were performing and I wanted to catch some of their show even though we were enjoying Dead Skeletons. We made our way to the main stage and heard some of the Black Angels and indeed they were good. For some reason though, Chris K’s spidey sense kicked in once again and we decided to go check out Dead Skeletons one more time.

They were in the middle of an awesome extended jam and Chris suddenly noticed the guest musician: tambourinist Joel Gion of the Brian Jonestown Massacre. He was with BJM at Psych Fest last year, but this is the first time I had a close look at him. He’s older than the fun-loving stoner you see in the documentary Dig, but there’s no mistaking the nonchalant manner and smirk. Seeing him made the festival for me. You gotta love how he got to be a star by playing the tambourine.

We saw another very intriguing group at the amphitheater stage called Goat. They were a Swedish band with a sound that incorporated many influences: prog, funk, psych, and Afropop. Vocals reminded me of Japanese pop. The members wore masks and tribal-looking costumes.

We finished with the Growlers, an old school garage/psych group that we had seen two years ago at the power plant. They had an entertaining show, with stage props that included rainbow penises, space aliens and cactuses. As the show went on, the music delved more into acid rock territory and some demented circus music. Very entertaining.

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Austin Psych Fest day 2: the ladies won this one

Just as expected, my favorites from yesterday were unexpected. The two shows that really got my attention were from girl bands. Both were at the “small stage” at the Beauty Ballroom.

Prince Rama

Prince Rama down in the crowd. The were very shiny. (Chris Kinney photo)

Prince Rama gets into the audience - which clearly got into them also. (Chris Kinney photo)

The first was a duo called Prince Rama of Brooklyn, NY, two ladies performing a sort of electroclash with a lot of percussion, some programmed, some acoustic. One song started with Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” and turned into a really cool tribal jam. For their last song, they got down into the crowd and danced. The crowd loved them. Enough to beg for an encore. We didn’t get one, alas (I guess if every band did that, the festival would drag on forever).

Chris, my concert buddy for the weekend, compares them to Govinda and Fisherspooner.

The two sisters Taraka and Nimai Larson, have an interesting background. They were raised on a Hare Krishna commune in Florida and went to an art school in Boston. They were picked by Animal Collective to perform at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in May 2011. Pitchfork recently gave them a really good review.

Feathers

Feathers singer dances, bewitches the audience - especially the guys. (Chris Kinney photo)

Blue disco ball, smoke machine, black lingerie outfits, Feathers put on a spectacle and the music was awesome. (Chris Kinney photo)

An all-female group from Australia, Feathers also lit up the Beauty Ballroom last night. Lots of percussion, they had a dark, brooding electronic sound, very danceable, and an impressive light show. They were dressed in black and were sexy as hell. I guess you would refer to their stuff as electro clash, but I also thought of witch house. Definitely a darker vibe than Prince Rama.

Here are a couple of their songs on Bandcamp:

Pink Mountaintops

Pink Mountintops, doing one of their folkier numbers. (Charles Wood photo)

The Pink Mountaintops rocking out at Psych Fest 2012. (Chris Kinney photo)

I have enjoyed the light shows so far for all the bands. Most have been computer generated. I really enjoy the old school effects though. We were standing close to this guy, who swirled dye around on plates, with the images projected on screen. Really cool. (Chris Kinney photo).

It wasn’t all about the ladies. I really enjoyed Pink Mountaintops of Canada, which is a spinoff of another favorite band of mine, Black Mountain. The music was at times hard and heavy and at other times rather folky.

Tonight looks to be a big night. I’m looking forward to seeing Tuareg singer Bombino, Thee Oh Sees, The Meat Puppets, and of course the Brian Jonestown Massacre.

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An evening of blackness – Black Mountain and Black Angels perform in Austin, Nov. 19, 2010

The Black Angels - best I could do with my crappy cellphone camera. One of these days I'm gonna upgrade I swear.

Last night was a night for learning lessons. The ticket line into the Black Mountain/Black Angels concert stretched back for what seemed like a half a block, at least 50 people in front of us. You could hear Black Mountain working through the setlist. A big chunk of no doubt awesome rock ‘n’ roll already down the tubes and the line was barely moving.

Meanwhile, the guy at the gate at La Zona Rosa shouted, “Everyone on the guest list, come this way!” and a big group of folks bypassed the line and entered the club. A 20-something guy with a goatee behind me said he used to be friends with one of the Black Angels, but they lost touch. He could’ve been on the guest list and waltzed right on in. His lesson learned: Better stay friends with everyone just in case they make it big if you want to be on the guest list.

My lesson learned: If you pay for a “will call” ticket online, you better have some kind of receipt in your pocket just in case. I heard the doors were opening at 8 p.m., but usually when I go to shows, that just means they try to sell you drinks for a couple of hours before you get any tunes, so I didn’t get down there till 9-ish. By the time I got there, got parked and walked down from the parking garage Black Mountain was just starting up, but I wasn’t worried. I had a will call ticket waiting for me. I’d just go tell them and go right in.

I got in a not-very-long line, made it to the front, gave my name and… They had no record of my transaction. I had to go get in the regular ticket line, which was very long by this time. A scalper-in-waiting kept shouting, “Got any extra tickets?!” Which made me nervous. He knew and I knew it was probably gonna sell out. What if they messed up my order so badly that I didn’t get in at all? I got to the window and they ran my card, handed me a ticket and said, “Oh, you checked ‘print out pass’ instead of Will Call. No big deal.” Very convenient, since I can’t prove otherwise, but I don’t think I screwed up. I think it was their snafu. Especially since at least 4 other people I spoke to had the same experience with will call and had to go wait in line. Pissed me off, since Black Mountain was really the band I wanted to see (I reviewed them in this blog if you remember).

I got inside and heard about a minute’s worth of “Druganaut,”  plus a couple of unfamiliar songs that might’ve been off the new album, Wilderness Heart. Can’t speak for the rest of the album at this point, but what I heard was pretty much in line with the Black Mountain I already know — right in that sweet spot, where ’70s hard rock, psych and prog rock meet, nice early Sabbath vibe on some songs. One song reminded me a bit of classic Deep Purple. And then it was over. Sigh…

Got a gin and tonic in me and a pretty good contact high off the haze of marijuana smoke, then Austin’s own Black Angels took the stage. It wasn’t like the Legendary Pink Dots show, which I’ve described as a ritual of sorts. This was a rock show, put on by a young band whose star is rising. The place was packed full of adoring, very excited fans and the band picked up on that energy and returned it tenfold.

Before the show I heard a few Black Angels songs and liked them, but I didn’t really dig in and check them out, so I was basically experiencing this band for the first time. I spent a lot of time looking for influences. The main one that kept popping into my head was the 13th Floor Elevators. This was darker, more closely akin to goth, but still I felt like the band was doing things Roky Erickson would appreciate. Lots of feedback and reverb in the music. They also had a heavy beat that could be very hypnotic. On some of the songs there were actually two drummers.

Songs that stood out (tracked down by searching the web for key phrases) included: “Bloodhounds On My Trail,” “Science Killer” and “Young Men Dead” as well as the title track to the latest album, “Phosphene Dream.” Definitely a gothic angle to their music based on those song titles. I will be interested to hear the recorded version of the Black Angels after catching them live. Usually I get it the other way round.

Had another crazy guy incident, btw, although not as disruptive as the one at the Dots show. I think this guy was actually sane, but tripping out on something, bordering on freaking out. He kept jumping up and down with his arms out, screaming, like somebody in a Holy Roller church, bumping into me and others. Then he started rubbing around on some girls who would push him away, although one of them didn’t seem to mind that much. Then he stumbled into some guys who I thought were going to punch his lights out. They pushed him out of the way, which didn’t seem to phase him much. Finally, the girls whispered something in his ear. Not sure what they said, but it somehow penetrated his addled brain and he left. All in all I was impressed at how good-natured the crowd was. If you can be that annoying and not get punched, you’re surrounded by some pretty nice folks.

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Proto-metal – the roots of hard rock and prog

I’ve been a hard rock fan ever since I can remember. I’ve moved onto other styles of music, but I always end up listening to the stuff at some point. It’s like comfort food for the ears. But as much as I dig well-known hard rock bands like Zeppelin and AC/DC, I really get a kick out of lesser-known tunes from a time when the music was about to branch off into heavy metal and progressive rock. There was a whole class of music back in the early ’70s that fell somewhere in between. Bands were developing that heavy distorted guitar sound and wanted to rock, but at the same time, they had some complicated ideas they wanted to explore, lyrically and musically. Some of the bands who made this music went on to greater fame as metal or progressive rock acts. Some just put out an album or two and then disappeared.

A couple of years ago, I put together a CD-R full of mp3s with help from the guys at Rate Your Music. For the past week or so, that disk has seldom left my car stereo.

I used to think that kind of music came about because the rock ‘n’ rollers were still doing acid instead of coke and speed, but recently learned that the guys in Black Sabbath were doing coke by the bowlful, so now I’m not sure. Maybe they were doing cocaine all along and it just got too hard to find good acid? (Read my not-too-serious ramblings on that subject here.)

One of my favorite discoveries while assembling that comp was a group called Lucifer’s Friend, with my favorite song being “Ride in the Sky” from the self-titled debut, which features John Lawton on lead vocals – who sang lead for Uriah Heep from 1976 to 1979.

Who would’ve thought a French horn could be an instrument of such heaviness? The Lucifer’s Friend debut sounds just like heavy metal and it came out in 1970 – far ahead of its time. I also downloaded LF’s Banquet, which I liked, but it sounds like a completely different band. Not hard or heavy at all. More of a jazzy pop.

Another favorite that came out of that project is Captain Beyond, which is also a bit on the psychedelic side. Check this out:

I also found out something surprising. The Scorpions, who became hard rock/metal staples, debuted in 1972 an album called Lonesome Crow that sounds very different from the music most fans are familiar with. If not for the German accent, I might think it was early Rush. You can also hear a major Black Sabbath influence.

If you like that sort of thing, check out this thread from RateYourMusic and download or whatever you need to do. There’s a ton of great formerly inacessible early prog/hard rock out there that can be found today thanks to the Internet and those RYM folks really know their stuff.

And if you want to hear a modern group that does that kind of groove today, check out Black Mountain, a group I posted about a while back.

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Black Mountain serves up sweet mix of hard rock, prog & psych

It’s great to find a young band whose members have been listening to the right stuff. Black Mountain is obviously one such band. I found them online and was so impressed I looked them up and ordered two albums and an EP. I have really enjoyed all three – the self-titled Black Mountain (featuring a song you might remember if you used to frequent T61, “Druganaut”), In the Future (featuring “Tyrant”) and the Druganaut EP (with an extended mix of the song, plus three others). They’re like a whole bunch of my favorite bands all rolled into one.

I’ve seen them compared to Black Sabbath (maybe because their name starts with “Black”?) and I’m sure that’s part of the mix, but they remind me of a whole slew of bands from the ’70s that fell into transitional period between the hippie music of the ’60s and what would later evolve into hard rock and heavy metal. They could sound extreme, and engage in dark imagery, but at the same time delved into the mystical and philosophical – the roots of progressive rock.

Some of the bands that spring to mind include Deep Purple, Iron Butterfly, early Rush, very early Scorpions (as in The Lonesome Crow album, which sounds nothing like the Scorpions you probably know), early Judas Priest (as in Sad Wings of Destiny, back when Rob Halford had long hair like a proper hippie).

These guys (Stephen McBean, Amber Webber, Matt Camirand, Jeremy Schmidt and Joshua Wells) have similar inclinations. Their songs rock hard, slow down into trippy dirges, then rev back up into solid kickass. Powerful stuff. Lots of bands are doing psych, lots are doing metal or even classic-sounding hard rock. Not too many are able to mine this particular vein of rock ‘n’ roll. Perhaps it’s because they’re Canadian. Lots of great rock of the style I mentioned came out of that country – Triumph, Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush, and the aforementioned Rush.

Check out this video of Druganaut. Doesn’t it do a great job of capturing that druggy era of the late ’60s/early’70s?

Visit Black Mountain’s website and consider ordering some of their music. (They’re on a nice independent label, Jagjaguwar, so no indie guilt, if that matters to you.) The band is also on MySpace and Facebook.

And btw, there is a band featuring many of the same members called Pink Mountaintops that is more psychedelic and experimental. I have yet to check it out, but you bet I will.

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