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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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Psych Fest 2011: tons of great music in a weird, awesome venue – what a trip!

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I didn’t have any “enhancements” at Psych Fest 2011 last weekend, April 29-May 2 — unless you count the mild contact high I got from all the second-hand pot smoke — but I still had a great, trippy experience. I was especially excited about getting to see Roky Erickson for the first time.
The three-day event was held at the recently decommissioned Seaholm Power Plant which was an excellent setting. All those pipes, conduits, valves, stairways leading into God knows where, openings in the floor leading into mysterious chambers two stories below… All that stuff once had a very practical purpose, but ended up creating a weird sort of aesthetic.
Seaholm has great acoustics – especially the big room containing Stage 1 and all the vendors. Stage 2’s smaller room was a bit louder, but it was pretty cool that those two stages could have shows at the same time and not interfere.
I didn’t catch every band and I’m sure I missed a few good ones, but I saw several shows by acts I knew were going to be great, and they definitely were. I also discovered some new favorites.

Below are some of the highlights. I’m going to break my journalist code and forsake the inverted pyramid. Bands are in the order I saw them, not according to how much I liked them.

(And many thanks to blog commenter Christopher Kinney for turning me onto this festival and being a great concert buddy.)

Friday Night, April 29

Beach Fossils

Beach Fossils

This was the first band I heard when I turned up on Friday. They have a nice postpunk sound. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but they put me in mind of bands like Modern English and the Comsat Angels. The bass and rhythm guitar really captured that vibe for me.

Night Beats vs. Blue Angel Lounge

Night Beats

I had a real dilemma as Night Beats was still performing on Stage 1 as Blue Angel Lounge cranked up on Stage 2. I really started getting into Night Beats, which had a cool twangy cowboy psyched-out rockabilly aesthetic, with projections of RV travel trailers zipping by on the screen behind them.
I was then alerted to the fact that Blue Angel Lounge was cool and needed to be checked out. They were right in my postpunk/goth sweet spot. They reminded me of bands like Interpol and Clinic. Dark and hypnotic. Very good. I’m not the only one who thought so. The crowd got a lot bigger after Night Beats finished and Blue Angel Lounge really got a great response.
If I only I could’ve cloned myself and seen both shows at once.

Atlas Sound

Atlas Sound

Atlas Sound is the solo project of Deerhunter frontman Bradford Cox. He was the first truly psychedelic act I heard on Friday night. Trippy, hypnotic and downright beautiful. He is a one-man band, singing and playing acoustic guitar, using loops and reverb to create an amazing tapestry of sound.

Crystal Stilts
I liked these guys – they came across as very ‘60s, with a Velvet Underground influence.

Tobacco
This is the band that Christopher was itching to see. It’s a side project of several members of Black Moth Super Rainbow. They had a funky mix of hip hop beats and electronic sounds. I thought they were good, and the crowd they drew went nuts over them, but I wasn’t as crazy about it as Christopher was, mainly because I was in the mood for the kind of psychedelic music Atlas Sound put out, full of reverb, feedback and distortion. Tobacco did start to sound more psychedelic as the show went on, getting into some cool, hypnotic grooves.

Saturday, April 30

Pontiak
First band of the day for me. I liked them a lot more than Chris did. They looked like “indie” guys, but their music was drugged out, sludgy metal. They made me think of Soundgarden. Black Sabbath had to be a big influence as well.

Black Ryder
I enjoyed this one. Kind of a gothic shoegaze sound. They harmonized nicely and had some good tunes. At times I thought of the Chameleons.

White Hills
Like Pontiak these guys were a bit sludgy, but more energetic and uptempo, and with vocals.

Sleepy Sun
This was my discovery on Saturday. They had a bluesy, feedback drenched vibe and used a lot of reverb to create a wall of sound. The singer had a good voice – which is important with bands like this. They also had some good tunes. I liked them enough to buy a CD (Fever) and sign up for the mailing list. I have played Fever several times over the last few days and it gets better with each listen. It makes me think of bands from the early ‘70s that had elements of blues, hard rock, psych and prog all at once. They’re mining the same territory as Black Mountain.

Crocodiles

Crocodiles

Best show on Saturday night. Very energetic feedback-drenched sound. They performed a bunch of songs from their excellent album Sleep Forever (in my top 5 from 2010). The singer had a great stage presence. Lots of dancing and jumping around. Wearing sunglasses and a black T-shirt with a grinning skull. He reminds me a young Lou Reed.
I’ve been itching to see them live since I first heard their cover of Deee Lite’s “Groove is in the Heart” on Dandelion Radio — and they didn’t disappoint. They got great crowd response too. Maybe they’re on their way to getting the props they deserve.

Indian Jewelry
They came across to me as a kind of gothic industrial (a style that Chris informs me is known as electro-clash) and featured a stand-up drummer who created a pounding tribal beat.

Soft Moon
Awesome industrial. These guys put on a hell of a show on stage 2, with programmed. Mechanical sounding beats and a vocalist who sometimes sang, sometimes made wicked-sounding utterances. The projection was focused in the center of the room so that the shapes, stars and intersecting lines seemed to rush toward us. Very cool effect that went well with the music.

Black Moth Super Rainbow
I saw them on Saturday night and thought they were powerful and innovative. Funky, with electronic noise and vocals run through a vocoder. I liked them, but I have to admit I didn’t get how crazy everyone went for them. They got a big crowd and a big response. Some people told me they came to the festival to see them specifically. Maybe this is a band that will grow on me.

Spectrum
Another discovery. They were playing at 1 a.m., right around the time our little crew began to run out of steam. If they had gone onstage earlier when I had more energy I would’ve been all over their show. As it was I had to take in part of it sitting outside, trying to rest my feet and my aching back. They were doing a sort of shoegaze, working against drones and doing extended pieces that could either come across as monotonous or hypnotic depending on whether you were feeling it. At times they reminded me of Spiritualized. At other times their music made me think of the long spoken word songs by the Doors like “This is the End” and “When the Music’s Over.”

I think Jim Morrison had to be a big influence.

Sunday, May 1

The Black Hollies
I liked these guys. Sort of a twisted ’60s sound with a Farfisa organ (or something that sounded like one). Like Spectrum, this band reminded me of the Doors, but they were a little more pop-oriented, not as psychedelic.

Daughters of the Sun

Daughters of the Sun

Great discovery. To look at this trio of long-haired musicians from Minnesota, you might expect them to be a metal band — one member was wearing a Judas Priest vest. You would be wrong. Not that I don’t love metal, but this was a lot more interesting. Their music was a very psychedelic mixture of electronics, guitar and reverb, dreamy vocals and lots of very tribal-sounding percussion. They had two drummers and a singer-guitarist who also banged on the drums for some songs. I liked them so much I went looking for CDs, found they had sold out, and bought a handmade cassette EP of Net Wt. instead. Would’ve bought the vinyl version of their latest album, Ghost with Chains, but I don’t have a player. Their music can be found as mp3 downloads on Amazon, iTunes and at their labels Modern Radio.com and NotNotFun Records.

Dirty Beaches

Dirty Beaches

In a word: Intriguing. Dirty Beaches, aka Alex Zhang Hungtai is a one-man band, singing, playing guitar and using loops, programmed beats and other electronic sounds. He had a ’50s greaser look, with a white T-shirt, slicked back hair and tatooed arms. Some of his songs had a retro sound also, especially the one he dedicated “to the lovers.” After combing his hair back, Fonzie-style.
One song was a shouted, spoken word piece with a freakout guitar solo. Very cool.

Pete International Airport

Pete International Airport

It took me a while to warm up to this band, but once I got them I was impressed. The singer had a low, almost monotone delivery. I thought of Sisters of Mercy. Chris was reminded of Fields of the Nephilim and Mission UK. He wore sunglasses and had a hint of menace about him that made me think of Blue Oyster Cult’s Don Roesser. Great frontman, really. I also loved the melodic plucked bass and the fact that the band had two drummers.

The Growlers

The Growlers

Very good band with a great sense of melody. They had a bit of ‘60s garage, a bit of surf, a bit of country & western and just basic great all around pop. Strange as that sounds, it really works. They had a great stage presence and really hit it off with the crowd.

Roky Erickson

Roky Erickson


Roky is the main reason I decided to fork over the money for the weekend pass. I’ve wanted to see him ever since I learned he was performing again. I’ve been following his story for years. His 1960s band the 13th Floor Elevators were arguably the first psychedelic band. Roky has struggled with mental health issues for years and slowly reemerged as a performing, recording musician again, thanks in large part to love from his fans in Austin. We love the man and we’re not ready to let him go.
I saw him on Sunday night. After his show I felt like I could go home. I thought he put on a hell of a show. I felt like his guitar work was a bit sharper on his solo works like “Two Headed Dog” and “Night of the Vampire” than with his Elevators songs, though he kicked ass on “You’re Gonna Miss Me” during the encore. I loved all of it though. He rocked. Hell of a backing band too. He’s a legend and I feel very lucky that I got to see him.

Black Angels (stay tuned on this one)
If there seems to be a glaring omission, that’s because I missed the Black Angels show. I didn’t like it, but they weren’t going on till around 11 p.m. and I knew Monday was going to be a brutal work day (it was). Since I saw them not too long ago, I went ahead and lit out. Fortunately, Chris was able to stick around and I’ll pass along his impression of that show soon.

Edit: I previously said I thought Pontiak would’ve been better with a vocalist. Turns out they have one. I just got dragged over to the first stage before I could hear him sing. Also… Christopher Kinney is still chipping away at his review of the Black Angels show. He hasn’t forgotten.

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