Friday, April 29th – Sunday, May 1st
Seaholm Power Plant
After throwing out a few false alarms on venue confirmations, Austin Psych Fest 4 found it’s home at Seaholm Power Plant. The Black Angel’s annual hangout with their talent pool of friends gets bigger and more intense every year. Although boasting a full roster for two stages over a course of three days, there was something very un-festival like about Psych Fest. An unexplainable sense of close-knit connection between the bands and the crowd that usually only occurs with small, sweaty club shows. It could have been Seaholm itself. Being shoved together in an old power plant watching those around you stumble over dusty boards covering the holes in the floor definitely created some sort of shared experience. Admittedly, it’s difficult to hold in a fangirl scream, and not end up sending out an excited tweet when a friend points out that you are standing between Pete of The Dandy Warhols and Joel of Brian Jonestown Massacre. Constantly finding a reason to be awestruck, as well as some different surprises thrown into the mix, made for a unique weekend experience.
DAY 1 – 04/29
The one man side project of Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox, the name comes from the brand of tape player he used while recording. It was a bit tasking to really get into Cox’s sound considering the clash of thunderous noise that kept tearing at the mellow vibe from the second stage, but what was most impressive was the plethora of things he used to create different rich song textures. A mess of pedals, his acoustic guitar, and even a wire strapped harmonica. Not a far cry from Deerhunter; spacey, atonal, sweet, dreamy, and melodic. In a different setting, possibly great music to get lost in.
Definitely one of the more mentioned bands in mutual respect by other artists, they mix a throwback to the ’60’s with contemporary fare. Listing other bands as ‘this band sounds like’ is a played out and boring direction to go, but here it just can’t be helped: Listening to them play feels so much like listening to Joy Division. Not by any means a blanket statement, just an observation on how perfectly well they capture the feeling of an era. Lead singer Brad Hargett moved in small circles near his mic, swaying to the chilled soft reverb. The highlight of their set was definitely hearing “Departure” of the Alight at Night LP. Nothing ever felt over or underdone, just smooth and well played. The realization with help from this band is that the key to a girl’s heart may just be shifty, uneven organ noises, hand-in-hand with a hardcore tambourine.
A Place to Bury Strangers
As it turned out, spanning the rail was an entire group of APTBS veterens, and while idle time was filled with small talk about past sets, a confused look crossed many faces when a sitar player placed himself alongside Oliver Ackermann’s gear. He didn’t stay long, just strumming before exiting stage left prior to the band finishing setting up. Making a quick appearance among some other bands, he ended up with The Black Angels, adding sense to his presence. The set was mostly new songs, more than a handful. One in particular stood out as having insanely intense drum work with Jay Space slamming down on his kick pedal, fast and with full force. There was a destructive vibe present, which felt particularly noticeable, possibly due to the prior two bands being so mellow. Or maybe it was the full bottle of Jameson on stage that quickly emptied.
Oliver banged his guitar hard on it’s side with a hollow echo that went over any mild peep in the venue. Dion Lunadon crashed his bass to the floor a mere two songs in, and when the occasion came at the end of the set to blissfully drown in closing track “Ocean,” a feebly attempted moshpit provided mild annoyance that kept pulling occupied minds back to reality. You don’t mosh to “Ocean,” you wrap yourself in it. I guess not everyone received that memo. They sounded clear, and crisp. The acoustics of Seaholm handled Strangers’ wall of noise flawlessly.
Omar A. Rodriguez -Lopez
Friday night’s headliner, the solo project of Mars Volta guitarist Omar, defies any single genre that could be used as a pasted catch-all to sum up the high energy avant-garde sound. Omar’s Mars Volta/At the Drive-In partner-in-crime Cedric Bixler-Zavala really seemed to feel every guitar note in his soul, adding his own mix of animation to the music with swaying, writhing, and shimmying moves all over the stage. He never was more more than a few feet from his adoring audience, constantly reaching out and over the stage. The performance didn’t quite climax to the same fever pitch of Mars Volta, but maybe that’s because it simply isn’t. A more water color painted, fluid flowing, and obviously psychedelic side to some very multi-dimensional artists.
DAY 2 – 04/30
Someone in the crowd was overhead saying ‘White Hills are like The Cramps, but a little darker, creepier, and with more drugs and glitter.’ What a perfect description for the New York band. Despite the side stage feeling like a death sauna that day, White Hills still rocked lots of makeup, and no shortage of sequins. There wasn’t a moment of silence, with each song launching straight into another, creating a killer, forty-minute wall of hypnotic space-psychedelica. Primal pounding drums, and shaky screeching reverb coupled with the heat made it feel like the walls were moving for a moment. Trippy.
San Fran rockers Sleepy Sun held up the reputation they’ve gained from the current tour of putting on a great show. They take everything good about vintage psych rock, and make putting it all together seem effortless. The guitar work was amazing, ranging from jangly blues style, to fierce free-flowing classic riffs. Lead singer Bret Constantino has a real presence reminiscent of some of rocks latest and greatest, sporting a jaded sneer for much of the set. It was dizzying trying to decide which part of the stage to keep your gaze on, considering all that was going on, and there’s nothing more awesome than hearing a harmonica played into a voice box.
Although part of the Lumerians’ set was spent staring at them through an open window enjoying the breeze, their sound was just too amazing not to hear with an ear stuck to a monitor. Pounding bongo drums, a slight jazz beat, spaced out 60’s garage style organ noises, sinister jangling bass, and wave after wave of non-stop glitchy rolling synth feedback. “Burning Mirrors” was definitely a favorite. Despite a slew of technical difficulties, they still managed a very full set, and it was worth exercising patience to hang around for this band.
What started as out as watching Brandon Welchez and Charles Rowell jam out to a synthesizer in the beginnings of the Crocodiles evolved into seeing them open for The Horrors with a a small backing band, and now to an uber-expanded one. Everything about them gets more polished with each show. Psych Fest was the first opportunity to hear material off their sophomore release live in Austin, and it sounded great. A perfect melt of swirling synth and harmonies, you could hear all the different sound shifts within the songs. Tim Cohen of The Fresh and Onlys ended up on backing vocals for their final number.
The Soft Moon
It’s a very hit or miss situation with this three piece from San Francisco. Their dark overpowering sound with its deep bass, fast drum machine, and eerie vocal effects cutting in and out painted mental pictures of too much eyeliner, dim corners of the city, and fast shadowy movement. You might have found yourself head over heels crazy as you got sucked into their vortex of noir sound, or about to go crazy from the repetitive synth drone. They had their signature projections going in full effect, and not even the sliver of peeking sun left could bring in any brightness.
Black Moth Super Rainbow
If you also managed to catch lead singer Tobacco’s set on Friday night, you pretty much got to see two sets by Black Moth. Both sets managed to have the entire 180 degree radius of each stage dancing profusely. In sharp contrast to many of the other bands playing Saturday, Black Moth added diversity to the mostly vintage sounding acts, offering a different view on what can find itself right at home under the psychedelic umbrella. The best thing about both Friday, and Saturday night’s sets was drummer Iffernaut’s full on ninja outfit. So rock n’ roll.
Saturday night’s headliner was a rare appearance by Peter Kember, best known as Sonic Boom, and his group Spectrum. Awash in liquid light projections, they filled the air with wispy, unearthly electronic music aided by low lying guitar, and fragile drums. When taking a look back through the pit, the realization came of standing in a sea of faces wearing hard masks of numb awe. Many of those faces belonged to members of bands playing that weekend, and it was an unspoken understanding that being witnessed on stage was a key influence for most of the names on the bill for the weekend. Finding Christian Bland of The Black Angels standing nearby, the opportunity came up to ask him how he was enjoying Spectrum, since his was one of those faces recognized as wearing an appreciative expression. The response received was simply a few seconds of silence followed by “this is a dream.”
Hanging around Seaholm into the late hours resulted in being lucky enough to catch The Meek at 2 am in the packed second stage area. There is just something about catching bands at weird hours in Austin that makes them feel like a very special find, and this one was no exception to the rule. Very guitar heavy, two part girl/guy vocal harmonies, and a non-stop drum machine. They sounded slithery, dark, and very rock. The special guest was Christian Bland, who hopped on stage from the spot he was watching the band from, threw in some guitar work, and then hopped back down to continue watching. It was amusing, and kind of surprising, to find how many bands that day had also stuck around until the end to hang out, and watch other artists.
DAY 3 – 05/01
Pete International Airport
Yet another new side project shown off at Psych Fest was Dandy Warhol Peter Holmstrom’s band. They had a 90’s alt vibe going, rocking the fashion choices and strung out attitude. The dual drums mixed with occasional electronic beats made for a contrasted sound dynamic, and of course, the guitar effects were key. Lead singer Jsun Adams, who never let the sunglasses leave his face, was a very interesting person to watch for a 45 minute time span with his rolling around on the floor, singing to the wall, and lit cigarette for added effect between paranoid whispers, mumbled huffs, and a few shrieks too. Joel of The Brian Jonestown Massacre had been spotted hanging around all weekend without any stage time, until he finally joined PIA for their set as a special guest.
One of the first things of notice for this set was how amazing the backing band was, and that was only second to how great Roky’s raspy, guttery vocals sounded against the near perfect melodic synch of their instruments. A spinning, reverb-drenched wall of sound that you could really feel. Christian Bland added some electric jug action to the mix throughout the set, one of the weirdest, and coolest sounds. It’s strange to start out thinking you’re not the least bit familiar with an artist’s music, and then realizing they’ve been such a large influence on so many well loved psych bands that a lot of them have covered songs, or borrowed lyrics here or there, and maybe you really do know them all. A creeping suspicion of familiarity that doesn’t hit right away, but seeps slowly into the consciousness. Like hearing “something black answers back from the darkness,” and recognizing it from a Black Angels song, or unknowingly singing along to “Reverberation” for a moment, then realizing it’s so familiar because the Jesus and Mary chain covered it.
During about mid-set, cell phones all around came alive with social wires spewing the breaking news of Osama Bin Laden’s death. When the whirl of music is holding tight to your consciousness, it’s hard to know how to immediately respond when something else is thrown into the mix other than maybe an ‘oh.’ As Roky and his band continued to snake the sound into strange corners, the realization of the magnitude of things going on outside the shaking walls of Seaholm became more of a presence, creating a growing buzz of whispers causing an undercurrent to the music. When Dion of A Place to Bury Strangers remarked “Did you hear about Osama?” during a quick side conversation about how The Black Angels had to teach Roky many of his songs again because he had forgotten them, it made things seem even more strange to be put together the way they were right then. If needed, staring at the soundboard provided great momentary distraction from the mess of circumstances. Witnessing this bit of insight into the intricate workings of the stage is incredibly neat to watch. The sound guy was so lost in what he was doing; head bobbing, eyes closed, and fingers moving quickly across switches to the whim of noise. There was so much amazing musicianship present during Roky Erikson’s set that night, and it felt so gripping from beginning to end. Outside distractions or not, it was great to witness a legend right along side so many artists inspired so directly by his music.
The Black Angels
Just in case anyone was not yet aware of current events, the sound guy threw out the news with mic check for good measure as the Black Angels set up their gear. The pit area was jam packed, more than it had been at any other time over the weekend for a much anticipated performance from the brains behind Psych Fest. When lead singer Alex Maas reached his place on stage behind the keys, he looked out over the crowd with a proud expression, then smiled and said “This is a dream come true. We did this for the city of Austin, and we love you all for being here.” After receiving a very warm response from his audience, the Angels started into “Bad Vibrations.” The switch in song structure about 3 minutes and 21 seconds in sounded as amazing live as it does when listening to it on Phosphene Dream. They played an assortment of material. The sitar made perfect sense with their sound, adding a dense texture and ethereal quality to songs like “Manipulation,” and there isn’t any band out there that can make the maracas look quite as cool as this one does. There was a random guy behind Christian that was rocking one of the masks off the “Telephone” video for a few songs, and he ran across the stage, Lone Star beer in hand, during the actual song itself.
Alex had paused to say, ‘So I heard Osama is dead, I don’t know if that’s a good thing. I just don’t know.’ before Stephanie Bailey ripped a primal beat on her drums, pulling the focus back into the sound. There was nothing weird about mixing this all in while watching The Black Angels. Military lyrics telling tales of war trenches, and bad trips bathed in whispers of paranoia about vengeful fate. Being there, hidden away in an abandoned power plant at Psych Fest felt more real, and made so much more sense than anything being leaked into the closed off sound haven that Seaholm provided for the weekend by newswire. It’s a peculiar thing to suffer having the outside world infiltrate the momentary hazy dream the experience of live music creates, but sometimes, as it was here, the fit of surreal to the real is almost too perfect leaving a feeling after of being haunted by both.
Something that really needs to be mentioned: The projectionist for the Fest was amazing. He was flown in from New York, and freestyle switched out the vintage 18mm film by hand. It was mindblowing to watch him do this, miles of film loops hanging wrist to elbow on each arm.