After the brief and fun preview day yesterday, the growing festival Psycho Vegas began its first day with a bevy of diverse talent from all around the world. Waiting in the wings for the scores of excited fans was a huge piece of bad news. Swedish doom metal legends Witchcraft—scheduled to headline the main stage The Joint—apparently either didn’t make or ever secure their flights. Details are scarce as of press time, but unless the fans had lucked upon the festival’s official Facebook page early afternoon, they had no idea. As late as midnight when most fans expected Witchcraft’s set to start, numerous fans we talked to had no idea of the massive cancellation.
Nevertheless, the bands that did play were all excellent in their own way. Keeping with Psycho Vegas’ tried and true format, the best and brightest from metal and hardcore were juxtaposed with unique bookings far afield of what an outsider might think a metal fan would enjoy. Defying expectation is exactly what makes Psycho Vegas great though, and anything less would defeat the purpose wholly.
UK newcomers DVNE started the day at The Joint main stage. The four-piece band from the UK used an impressive but palatable blend of hard rock, prog and metal that appeared to resonate with an experienced crowd that could be classified as far from casual fans. The band featured a combined clean vocals/dry lung vocal attack from co-lead singers Victor Vicart and Dan Barter. Also notable for this group was the intricate percussion from drummer Dudley Tait.
Ohio band Homewrecker also featured twin vocalists, albeit with a far heavier sound pound for pound and with one of the vocalists being drummer Matt Barnum. Playing to the early afternoon crowd at the Vinyl stage they played fiercely and without adornments of sound or stage setup.
A paltry few reading this review may not have seen the Netflix show Stranger Things. Those few should stop reading this review, watch both seasons of the show and then come back. We’ll wait. Okay, for those returning and those who already are familiar with Stranger Things, you already know the band SURVIVE’s music as the group’s Michael Stein and Kyle Dixon composed the excellent score to both seasons of the show. Definitely the boldest booking of this year’s festival, Dixon and Stein performed along with bandmates Mark Donica and Adam Jones (not that Adam Jones you’re thinking of) using a Musical Instrument store’s amount of sequencers, synths and samplers. That concoction did make for a rich, lush sound all in all, but the myriad machines caused an even greater problem. Many of Dixon’s synths just couldn’t seem to play through the speakers at the right volume (and one wouldn’t play at all). A good thirty minutes went by before SURVIVE (sometimes stylized S U R V I V E) were able to begin performing. Once it finally got going, it was dreamy, focused and yet somehow impossibly ambient. It would be nice though if the group were able to license some usage of the footage from Stranger Things to be played on a video wall behind them. Even just a few passing moments of Eleven doing battle with the Demogorgon would be an immense help in terms of giving context for these elaborate electronics.
Back at the Vinyl Stage, Chicago veterans Yakuza concocted a supremely impressive racket. Led by singer/saxophonist Bruce Lamont, the band would mutate between numerous tonal styles: freakout avant-garde jazzy explosions, sinister and soothing horn passages and a blistering total onslaught of hardcore. It’s no wonder that Lamont nestles so comfortably in supergroup Corrections House as Yakuza intentionally incinerates the lines between boundaries of music few have the nerve to even creep up.
It’s with a ton of pride and joy that we report again on the legendary Mali band Tinariwen. mxdwn first wrote on Tinariwen all the way back in 2003 and we have delighted in every album or show we have been lucky enough to see. The band’s story is the stuff of almost too-good-to-be-true-mythic-fable-proportions. First formed by a group of Tuareg rebels in the late ‘70s engaged in a no-fooling, straight-up rebellion, they melded the folk music of their world with the popular garage and psych rock from the UK and USA. It gestated for decades before suddenly achieving worldwide fame in the early 2000s. The story is literally that some of the members would go to war with their guitars strapped to their backs. Here at Psycho Vegas, the venerable band featured three different main singers and one simple percussionist. The rhythm was far from 4/4 and played on a sturdy hand-beaten drum. The group’s three main singers Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, Alhassane Ag Touhami and Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni warmly took turns at center stage, sometimes playing acoustic guitar, sometimes electric and sometimes just gleefully dancing in their native style. The crowd swelled as the set progressed and nearly everyone swayed and danced to the nimble, deceptively aggressive but ultimately peaceful songs. To an average fan, this may have seemed plaintive and quiet, but there’s no doubting that Tinariwen are the real bangers in their part of the world.
Weedeater was a late addition to the festival after Venom Inc. couldn’t get their visa issues sorted in time to fly over to the USA. Another trio, but one that runs headfirst into the grimiest of sludgy sounds, Weedeater is nothing but madcap fun. Dave “Dixie” Collins has evolved into a crazed and vibrant showman, literally tossing his bass in unexpected directions at every turn while making endlessly hilarious faces. If you like your heavy music without so much of a heavy-handed delivery, Weedeater is where the fun is.
The incomparable trio Boris came later at The Joint. Hailing from Tokyo, Japan Boris are best described as truly boundless. Yes, many of their releases have dabbled in the rich tradition of sludgy, doom-y metal in the fashion of The Melvins, but this band has eschewed conventional labeling and genre at nearly every turn. This band can do anything. Be it anarchic noise, perfectly patient doom, jazzy pop or mutated electronics, there’s nowhere Boris won’t go. Truly, for a trio (drummer Atsuo Mizuno, guitarist/bassist Takeshi Ohtani and guitarist/keyboardist Wata) this band makes an eye-opening wall of sound. Drummer Mizuno slams his kit like a modern-day Yoshiki (and looking a bit like he uses the fashion of kei rock). Ohtani performs using what can only be described as a bassitar, a double neck with a full guitar and bass he nimbly switches between. Wata plays only guitar, but riffs with a precision no one outside of King Buzzo could even hope to match. Opening with a segment of “Feedbacker,” the band started the set with slow burn numbers but then moved on to more aggressive, full-on fare in the latter part of their set.
Another group of legends in their own right, Rocket From the Crypt were a glorious inclusion over at the outside stage at the Paradise Pool. Featuring a six-piece band that included a trumpet and saxophone player, this was heavy party rock most folks are either too scared or too cool to wade up to. Frontman John Reis (also famously of Drive Like Jehu) commanded the stage with a slick smile, quipping with the crowd with how talented the band is. He pleasantly sermonized to the crowd, “We’re all brothers and sisters in rock and roll music. We play rock music, and we’re really good at it.” There was what could be called a modest crowd compared to what some of the day’s bands would boast, but everyone here for this was in cacophonous heaven. Also noteworthy, still drumming for Rocket From the Crypt is the immensely talented Mario Rubalcaba who is also a member of instru-metal band Earthless.
After playing last year with stoner metal titans Sleep, the ever-shirtless Matt Pike returned this year to Psycho Vegas with his more aggressive band (relatively speaking), High on Fire. Like Sleep, High on Fire is a trio, Pike joined by bassist Jeff Matz and drummer Des Kensel. While Sleep is marked by foreboding restraint, High on Fire is kind of like total-assault, mounting intensity. Pike shreds out frenetic fretwork while Kensel rolls through one fill after another. It’s a deep, bounding sound, but it’s one that never really slows down once it gets going. With Witchcraft’s aforementioned failure to show, High on Fire ostensibly became day one’s headliner, and while perhaps not famous on a level one might expect from a top billing, it delivered on the power and verve the slot would require.
The day ended off back at the Paradise Pool with the brutal hardcore of Integrity. Lead singer Dwid Hellion led the intense music with an almost malevolent look of joy, raising his hands upward and roaring with a guttural roar while the band members stabbed out a chaotic backing.
All photos by Raymond Flotat