For round number six, The Reverberation Appreciation Society’s Austin Psych Fest took place in the gorgeous outdoor setting of Carson Creek Ranch. Skirted by a body of glass-like green framed water on one end, and cows on the another, three stages were set with pristine sound, and amazing light projections. The weekend boasted bands and festival goers from around the world, and represented some of the very best sounds in psychedelic rock from days past and present.
Friday ended loud, chaotic and euphoric with a wishlist band for the people behind the fest, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Saturday had a ’90’s Woodstock moment when a thunderstorm turned the green acreages of field into a sloshy, glistening sea of black mud. On Sunday, the rainy night faded into oblivion and it was a day of psych legends, with Roky Erickson and The Moving Sidewalks gracing the main stage and providing a full history lesson on psychedelic sound. What started out in its first incarnation as a tiny 10-band bill of bands playing in a dark venue has grown substantially into a mammoth of an experience, as seen here in its most recent chapter. Fuzz and reverb euphoria, organ freakouts galore and hearts of people ruled by Psychedelia: Austin Psych Fest offers an exceptionally precious gem of an experience.
Danish indie-rock duo The Raveonettes made the Reverberation stage crowd swoon hard over their sugar sweet melodies, dual vocals, and of course, fuzz upon reverb, upon reverb upon more fuzz on Friday night. Playing against a dark sky, visuals exploded into light as Sharin and Sune’s silhouettes struck poses against electric heat. It would not be misleading in the least to say the sound was damn near perfect. Those in attendance for this set were sucked into a lovely vortex of complete and total ear ecstasy. They closed with the ever hypnotic and bass heavy “Aly, Walk With Me”–just enough grinding guitar sound to rock your socks off and just beautiful enough to leave you breathless. The Raveonettes have down to a science that delicate balance of pop and rock and roll.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
The sea of folks in front of the Reverberation stage swelled in anticipation for its Friday night headliner, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. The energy was rather amazing. When the trio took the stage, those first chords off Peter Hayes’ guitar cracked the air. He slunk his way up to the microphone with a lit cigarette hanging perfectly poised from the corner of his mouth, and everyone let out a collective sigh, like they’d all been holding their breath in sheer anticipation. On the left side of the stage, Robert Levon Been came out with the hood of his jacket pulled up, casting a menacing shadow over his face. He looked like a monk, albeit a very rocking one. His vocals on opening track “Let the Day Begin” sounded incredibly raw and slightly punk. The photo-pit in front of the stage had been abandoned, and in no time it became a small crowd-surfing pool of bodies rocking out as BRMC tore into their second song, the riff heavy “Rival” off their new album Spector at the Feast. Leah Shapiro provided a strong backbone to songs “Beat The Devil’s Tattoo,” and “Ain’t no Easy Way” with her powerful drumming, and guitarist Peter Hayes rested his ever-present cigarette in the frets of his guitar to work a harmonica. At some points rising to a fever pitch, and at others making room for melodic gospel-esque ballads, BRMC covered all the bases that their song catalogue has to offer. Been mentioned they had been trying to play the fest since its inception six years ago, and that if felt good to finally be able to. There was an air of chaos during this set that never seemed to return on any other occasion over the weekend, which made it a really great moment. It felt like all parties (on stage and in the crowd) were genuinely on cloud nine for the night. It’s a shame BRMC ever had to cease playing, but all good things must end, and for this set it was the deep, heavy darkness of track “Sell It” into the sweetness of “Lose Yourself.”
When darkness hit at Carson Creek Ranch, it really hit. Being away from the lights of downtown Austin, you couldn’t even see the transfixed beady eyes of the neighboring bovines munching away once the sun said its farewells. When Black Mountain took the stage, the sky seemed to possess a powdery orange hue, swirled softly into all that black, which looked incredible as the backdrop against their blue light visuals and ample fog machines. As the band snaked their hypnotic organ, stoner rock riffs and wayward undercurrent of hissing pedal work into strange corners, the sky finally responded to head-bobbing rain dance occurring below. A slight sprinkling and soft thunder began to roll through. Lead man Stephen McBean joked about the threat of electrocution, and the band continued to play a solid set while the crew moved quickly to cover exposed amps and wires with plastic bags. The slightly primal sound of Black Mountain against the outdoor elements and added surprise of a lively, churning sky made all things surrounding their set seem intricately connected, like a call and response between the sound on the stage and the sky above.
Man or Astro-man?
There were no other acts present at the fest, or anywhere really, that matched Man, or Astroman? in sound or in stage presence. Or in outfits; you can’t really beat a spacesuit. Primarily an instrumental group, their sound was surfy and spacey, making it feel like you were experiencing the barrier between this world and the Twilight Zone, all with a rock n’ roll edge. Taking moments between songs to make space puns or comment on the people of Earth, this set was nothing short of a great time. The band sounded incredible, the Levitation Tent was full to the absolute brim with people being absorbing was going on onstage. A weird, happy, rocking little trip into the outer-bounds.
The Black Ryder
The sky again teased with a soft sprinkle as The Black Ryder skimmed through a quick soundcheck on the Elevation Amphitheater stage, which was tiny, with a canopy above and a small sound booth smushed to its side. After a few songs, lightning and thunder rolled across the sky, over the water and behind the stage, marrying itself to the sound like added lighting and sound effects. Sheets of rain began coming down. Everyone was quickly soaked, and water dripped off lively pedals, amps, and mics. Between songs, Aimee Nash added that it sucked for the audience to get soaked, but the band could very well be electrocuted, a very valid point. Despite the addition of a storm, the only performance hitch occurred during last song “Let It Go,” which didn’t stop it from sounding very pretty. The setlist consisted of songs from 2010’s Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride, as well as new songs not yet released off an upcoming album. This was one of the more magical, almost surreal moments at Psych Fest. The band played heavenly, gorgeous music on stage and the audience was enraptured, despite the elements. Many did so with closed eyes and tilted heads, letting the rain run down their face and the music soak into their bones.
Realizing that you are at the bottom of a muddy, slippery hill and that The Warlocks are at the top is not an ideal situation. Regardless, the adventure of getting intoto the Levitation Tent was well worth the effort to catch this band. Multiple guitars, a fierce tambourine, and a swirling, churning neo-psych garage sound was the perfect wakeup call after the Black Ryder’s more cerebral set. That’s the beauty of Austin Psych Fest. Yes, all bands involved fall under the same umbrella, but all are so incredibly different in feel. The Warlocks have a really killer live energy, and in the middle of a muddy field, they commanded a full audience.
Spectrum closed things down at the Levitation Tent. You constantly needed to catch yourself, as the mud tried to turn into a sinkhole around your feet, but it was hard not to be in great spirits when you’ve been surrounded by amazing music all day. Even at the end of the day, the buzz of chatty, happy people was still strong. Pete Kember is probably best known as the founding member of Psych legends Spaceman 3. He has worn a few names over his career: here with his band Spectrum and in another project as Sonic Boom, present at a previous APF. He featured heavy guitar pedal work and a slightly minimalistic sound, riddled with spacey reverb. All very signature to Pete and his impressive body of work.
Lo-fi garage heaven is probably the most appropriate way to describe Tim Presley’s project, White Fence. The Darker My Love frontman takes folky psych and turns it into a very strange animal with warped tape and jangly guitars. New album Cyclops Reap finds itself somewhere between previous album Family Perfume and a collaborative effort with Ty Segall called Hair. It was a real treat to finally hear the new songs live, and it seems like the old ones just keep getting better and better each time, as the sound was nailed down a little tighter. The set was closed with the ever-amazing track “Sticky Fruitman Has Faith.”
The Cult of Dom Keller
The Cult of Dom Keller made the air feel heavy with their sound. Sludgy fuzz-soaked guitar and bass had the Levitation Tent vibrating. They were loud and grainy. The undercurrent of buried organ sounds and bare drumming made for an intense experience, as all of the sounds hit at once. Primal whirrs and pedal-aided screeches added a sinister air that never let you become too comfortable or settle into the sound. It was noise-psych with lead weights attached at the ankles.
Texas psych ock legend Roky Erickson is not a new name to the APF lineup, and it was great to see him at the fest again. Playing a choice selection of songs from his extensive catalog, he yielded a guitar and belted out intense, scratchy vocals. The sun was setting on the Reverberation stage, and as the band started into the beginnings of the 13th Floor Elevators’ song by the same name, the atmosphere felt perfect. It was rather entertaining to hear people in the crowd fill in their own renditions of electric jug sounds when they were absent. The audience for Roky was full of old and young, and they all raised their hands and gave praise during a Sunday mass of sorts to a founding pillar of psych.
Iceland’s underground cult heroes Dead Skeletons started by attaching two fistfuls of brightly burning incense to a lit screen-fronted synth board. Part rock n’ roll, part art experiment, the band snaked their voodoo ritual-esque dark, droning sounds into the air with calculated precision. It felt like at least a few spirits had been conjured during the course of this set.
The Black Angels
Austin’s model psych rock citizens The Black Angels have yet to disappoint. With each new album, they take their sound to a new level of mind bending, soul shaking, movement inducing amazingness. They are no strangers to performing at APF, but of course, this is expected, considering they are part of the small handful of people that put the event together. Alex Maas came out and said, “this is incredible, this is your fest.” Appropriately, the Reverberation stage was intensely full as they played a set composed mostly of newest album Indigo Meadow. Bathed in a Technicolor light explosion, The Angels were visually and aurally stunning. The set was closed with killer renditions of Phosphene Dream track “True Believers” and Indigo Meadow’s closing track “Black Isn’t Black.” Rishi Dhir, Elephant Stone frontman and constant Black Angels presence, played sitar during both, adding dimension and richness to already multi-sound soaked songs. There’s always a recovery period needed after seeing this band play, a moment to let their sound release its grip and return you to the present moment.
California beach-goths The Growlers had what probably no other band at APF could boast about: a dance pit in front of their stage. They turned the Levitation Tent into a strange little happening, complete with painted standing props and shuffled moves. Frontman Brooks Nielsen is equally matched in uniqueness between the sound of his voice and stage presence.
The Moving Sidewalks
Yet another legendary band present at APF this year were Texas’ own The Moving Sidewalks, most well known as Billy Gibbon’s band prior to his work with ZZ Top. Billy and his band closed things down on the Reverberation stage like it was a pristine night in the summer of ’69. Along with their own tunes, they also performed a few covers, including “Reverberation” by 13th Floor Elevators. Until this set, it felt like something had been missing at APF. I hadn’t heard a single shred of electric jug beyond the audience-created renditions during Roky’s set. Alex Maas of The Black Angels fixed this issue by finally rocking the jug during The Moving Sidewalks cover of the Roky classic. A more than perfect ending to a surreal, crazy, wonderful weekend of Psychedelic Rock.