After three days of any music festival, the fatigue that comes from the nonstop movement and exertion becomes inescapable. You can see it everywhere, on nearly every attendee’s face. That sluggish, I can barely move any more look where a person has gone just one step too long without taking a real break. For those present since Thursday’s opening Psycho Swim party, this year’s fest was nothing else if not a total blowout after days on end of incredible performances. It’s with that legitimate exhaustion with the soothing and escalating sounds of Scotland’s Mogwai.
Mogwai opened the day at the Event Center stage with a breathtaking set of their trademark brand of mostly instrumental music. Many might consider Mogwai’s sound in line with the batch of instrumental bands labeled post rock, but Mogwai’s care and precision goes far beyond what that label might imply. They fit in well here at Psycho Vegas, because their skill in crafting a long-form composition is reminiscent of the once heralded band Isis. Delicately plucked melodies explode into cathartic blasts of raucous power. Each instrument holds a neat pocket in the overall mix, showing that no space in the sound is waste or used just as filler. The band even performed some of their songs featuring vocals from guitarist Stuart Braithwaite including “Party in the Dark” and “Cody.” Most impressive was the near-perfection of “Mogwai Fear Satan” near the end of the set.
One of many beloved psych-rock bands playing this weekend, trio Dead Meadow performed at the House of Blues stage. The band played in front of a psychedelic backdrop of endlessly swirling colors. Lead singer/guitarist Jason Simon happily indicated from the stage that this was the band’s fifth time playing the festival since its creation.
Not to be done on the psych-rock front, English band Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats doubled down on the template, doling out early ‘70s era hard rock with heavier vocals. Fans on the metal scene will no doubt be well familiar with this band’s approach, but for the unfamiliar, if you think of a much heavier/much less poppy version of Tame Impala and you’ll be close to what this feels like. Lead singer/guitarist Kevin Starrs takes an approach to his vocals that is less the shrill shout many psych bands employ and instead is more akin to Steve Winwood’s work in Traffic, or all three members of late ‘60s band Cream. Uncle Acid performed here in almost complete darkness, each member’s face pointed down towards their instruments while a giant video wall behind them displayed constant imagery.
And speaking of utter darkness, Beach House performed on the same stage a short time later ensconced in complete shadows. Not a band many metal fans are familiar with, Beach House is a revered group in indie rock circles, enveloping fans in with a shoegaze-y variety of indie-pop that never veers into any form of high b.p.m. tempo. This duo of Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand—here augmented with a live drummer—prefer to mine the sonic chasms of serene instrumentation. Fans old enough to remember the mid-‘90s might recall the dreamy emanations of Mazzy Star when hearing this band. Choice cuts from this set included “10 Mile Stereo,” “Girl of the Year” and “Sparks.”
An interesting thing to note, the last time we covered the Norwegian black metal band 1349, it was at SXSW 2008. The band was buzzy at that moment, and many metal fans talked about them with excitement. SXSW always being a bit of a bastion of popular taste and indie sensibility, this particular show we caught them at had a whopping eight people watching them. How refreshing was it that the band’s triumphant return to the U.S.A. playing the monolithic Beach Stage had far, far more attendees. Lead singer Olav “Ravn” Bergene posed with arms launched into the air frequently as the band cranked out discordant black metal. The stage behind them showed a set banner with the group’s logo and artwork. Fans raised their fists standing ankle-deep in water, as the lights were an all-out assault of strobes and flashes.
Never until this moment has it been clearer that humanity occupies almost entirely different worlds. Culture, style and taste can exist in massive popularity enough to support a small economy and most of the mainstream can still be none the wiser. Case and point: Opeth, the juggernaut prog metal band from Sweden that has literally been releasing albums since 1995. The band is set to release their thirteenth studio album (you read that correctly, 13th) next month. Huge all over the world, the band is big enough even here in the U.S.A. to headline the storied Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado. Their songs are amorphous in structure and intensely technical, shifting from plaintive acoustic guitars to bombastic distortion back again to delicate keyboards. Given the progressive structure of their music, the songs are generally a decent step longer than usual, so each track is a bit of a journey. On this night, even with a ninety-minute set, that means there was time enough only for eight songs. They opened strong with the title track from their last album Sorceress and “Ghost of Perdition.” From there lead singer-guitarist Mikael Akerfeldt made numerous jokes in his in-between song banter. “We’ve got a new album coming out,” he offered a few songs in. “You’ll have to wait to hear them. But there’s a valid reason. We don’t know how to play them.” After performing the sincere and open call for help tune “In My Time of Need” he remarked to the band, “My voice sounded good for that one.” After an awkward pause, he went on, “Giving myself compliments like a fucking tit.” The notes of the elongated Blackwater Park cut “The Drapery Falls” rang out as we continued our journey to the festival’s final few performances. Full setlist for Opeth’s set below.
As the clock ticked down to 0 on the 2019 edition of Psycho Las Vegas buzzy new group Twin Temple was already midway into a set at the House of Blues stage getting the metal-loving crowd to eat out of the palm of their hands. Using a doo-wop style, the duo of Alexandra and Zachary James take the now ancient genre and give a satanic spin. Dressed to the nines in garb worthy of a Satanic Sunday service, the duo are playing music for the alternative religion with all the funk and reverie of Fitz and the Tantrums. Alexandra led the crowd to a unified chant of “Satan. Satan. Satan.” across an ultra pleasing rhythm before jumping back in with her commanding vocals. The group was augmented here with a crack pianist and saxophone player. As their set came to a close Alexandra took a large sip from a goblet on an alter center stage and allowed the blood-like liquid to drip down her chin before throwing handfuls of it at the crowd present. The duo then did an homage to some form of ritual standing side by side, Alexandra with the cup in both hands, Zachary holding an inverted cross. In one sweeping, epic pose Zachary dipped his cross into the cup while the band played on. The duo then kiss furiously before exiting the stage.
Ending off the whole metal bacchanal was comedy/talk show Two Minutes to Late Night. Two Minutes to Late Night is a YouTube show often recorded live at a venue. Hosted by a black metal face paint wearing host affectionately named Gwarsenio Hall. Literally, Stephen Brodsky’s thrilling Mutoid Man is the house band for this show. Tonight at Psycho Las Vegas Brodsky could not make it, so Royal Thunder’s MLny Parsonz filled in on bass while Gwarsenio switched to lead guitar. The show is madcap hilarity and the Gwarsenio character is somehow perfectly comfortable in his own skin enough to lead a show like this in front of a large crowd of drunken metalheads. After a couple of brief covers, Gwarsenio does a comedy routine racing through the crowd. Then they introduce supporting characters George Moshington and Weird Al Vira. Moshington rants like a drunken, senile old lady and serves to procure fans from the audience. Weird Al Vira (rocking a mustache on top of the full Elvira costume) runs the games they execute. Both provide extra comedic color Gwarsenio. They proceed to play a number of hilarious/ridiculous games including “Yobbing for Apples” which involves fans bopping for apples while the band holds a Yob-esque chord for as long as they can. They even do a simple version of the dating game where two fans wishing to be married on stage have to see if the woman indeed picks her fiancé even amidst the dating game hopefuls (including character Kevin the sound guy). And to finish, the band brings out Sacha Dunable from Intronaut and all together they do a metal cover of Cher’s “Do You Believe in Life After Love.” After Dunable departs, Parsonz leads an impressive cover of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” as fans rage in delighted smiles.
As those left not fully partied out crowd the Rhythm and Riffs Lounge, Andrew WK himself takes the wheels of steel and closes out the whole event spinning classic metal cuts as little circle pits open up in the modest area.
You leave all that madness behind, and you have to ask yourself, “Does this mean I have to return to normal life? To bills? To laundry? To being stuck in traffic? To not being around people absolutely elated just to see authentically curated talent?” Sadly, yes. The world spins on and we must leave the indulgence and Sin City behind us. As we have said in previous reports on the festival, while not perfect, there is something to be learned in how this is handled that all festivals in the USA could learn from right now. Nobody is putting together bills like this and simultaneously challenging and reward fans for coming along for the ride. The look of enthusiasm on everyone’s face alone is worth the price of admission. Every festival is a business at heart and needs to profit, but the American music scene—not just the American metal scene—has long abandoned anything that feels like it contains a soul or conscience. It’s a mindless money-sucking automaton, watering down fans (and band’s) best impulses in an upwards redistribution of wealth and power, ever siphoning the purest of our instincts in favor of a handful of artists that ever represent the worst about the human condition. Whatever the American music scene has devolved into, it does not represent who we are as a public, in whatever form or genre that could be represented. Psycho Las Vegas does.
Setlist for Opeth’s set
Ghost of Perdition
Demon of the Fall
Cusp of Eternity
In My Time of Need
The Drapery Falls
All photos by Raymond Flotat