Report/Photos: Austin Psych Fest

 

Held April 27-29 at Emo’s
East (pictured, above) and Beauty Ballroom in Austin, it was a cranium-uncorking blast –
and BLURT lived to tell ya about it!

 

Story & Photos by
Michael Passman

 

Psychedelic rock is one thing, psychedelic music or “psych” is
another thing.  Black Angels lead singer
Alex Maas famously noted “four
80-year-old women in yellow bikinis playing the banjo” is psychedelic.  I don’t see the point, but given the success
of The Black Angels, all the bands that play with them during their annual
Psych Fest, no matter what they sound like, are suddenly psych. 

 

Psych
is the new garage.  Anyone can claim the
title and suddenly, it’s cool, especially at Psych Fest.  The mainstay for most fans of the “new” genre
is almost entirely centered on shoegaze, and anything with drone and reverb,
but Austin Reverb Appreciation society, the organizers of Psych Fest in
conjunction with The Black Angels, have gotten more ambitious over the past two
years.  What started as a gathering of
The Black Angels and their friends in different bands has branched out into a
full offering not just the expected drone and reverb, stoner jam rock, but
fuzz, jangly, more traditional “psychedelic rock” bands, some heavier,
raunchier garage psych bands, and quite a few surprises.

 

The
above mentioned diversity was the center of this year’s Psych Fest, a three day
festival starting in the afternoon and ending around two am or later with two
different stages going simultaneously. 
Last year’s event venue was The Seaholm Power Plant, an abandoned
Bauhaus style electrical plant in downtown Austin. 
The combination of the music and the architecture was something to
behold, so the bar was set pretty high for this year.  Seaholm is being converted to high end shops,
so it wasn’t available, and Psych Fest has attendance in the thousands, so it’s
not easy finding a venue with two large stages. 
As the trend is going in Austin, things are moving East, so Psych Fest
was held this year at the newly opened Emo’s East, which was previously a
legendary venue off of Austin’s Sixth Street District, with a second stage
through an outdoor corridor in the same strip mall at the also newly opened
Beauty Bar Ballroom.

 

With
20+ bands daily for three days, highlights will be mentioned here.  For a full lineup of this year, see http://www.austinPsych
Fest.com/#/2012-festival/schedule

 

***

 

DAY ONE

 

With
The Black Angels as hosts, they started the first day this year, leaving the
festival open for other acts to take the spotlight and build to a climax.  Among the highlights the first day were The
Allah Las, a So-Cal retro psych band that sound entirely analog with touches of
surf and LA folk rock. They were followed by Acid Baby Jesus, the swampy four
piece from Athens, Greece that sound like The Stones
meet King Khan on ouzo.  They performed
multiple times all over town that weekend in various states of inebriation and
disorder, which only seem to add to their performances, but their Psych Fest
appearance was a little bit reserved, although great nonetheless.

 

pic 2:
Acid Baby Jesus

 

 

The
evening’s surprise came with Disappears, whose lineup includes Brian Case of
The Ponys and Steve Shelley, formerly of Sonic Youth.  Their sound is best described as shoegaze
with heavy helpings of noise pop innovation and krautrock.

 

Pic 3:
Disappears

 

 

Also
playing the first day were The Night Beats, a psychotic, acid tinged rock band
from Seattle that conjure up Pebbles Volume III and more 13th Floor Elevators
than one can imagine, but with a captivating,
peyotic performance.

 

pic 4:
The Night Beats

 

 

The
Black Angels closed the first day with their always intense performance.  They’ve always been something to behold and
the performance always leaves one stunned for about a half hour later trying to
take in what they just heard and saw, but the added treat this year was their
new bass/alternating guitar player Rishi Dhir from Elephant Stone and
previously from The High Dials.  His
sound a stronger sense of harmony that made The Black Angels fuller and more
rounded, if that’s possible, not to mention his sitar playing on The Black
Angels’ staple performance song “Manipulation”.

 

pic 5:
The Black Angels

 

 

pic 6:
The Black Angels with Rishi Dhir

 

***

 

DAY TWO

 

 

Day Two had 24 bands playing in 12 hours over two stages.  This was best described as Psych Fest
Veterans Day with returning acts from the past few years taking the stage, then
followed by some newer, more diverse additions. 
Among the early performing vets were Vacant Lots and local acid rockers Smoke
and Feathers.  Things weren’t remarkable
until jangly noise veterans (and Psych Fest II performers) The Asteroid #4 took
the stage later in the afternoon and asked the crowd during soundcheck on one
of the guitars if the reverb was wet enough, when an attendee yelled “soak us
in it!”.  The Asteroid #4 always seemed
like an incredible contradiction.  Their
songs are melodic, noisy, heavy, yet possess truly psychedelic rock ambiance
and Byrds-like harmony.  The combination
is always striking. For all the Piper at The Gates of Dawn namedropping so
overstated in the “psych” crowd, this band is the closest thing to it while
retaining pop simplicity. Their 2011 release “Hail to The Clear Figurines” was
one of the best albums released that year, and their earlier work is also comparable
in paisley underground era pop filtered through drone and reverb with nods to
The Church and Rain Parade. Their performance was a highlight of the weekend.

 

Pic 1: Asteroid #4

 

 

A curious addition to the lineup was Denton’s Mindspiders, a garage punk leaning
act with members of The Marked Men, Bad Sport, High Tension Wires, and a few
more.  Given the ‘60s projection vibe of
the festival, their inclusion was odd, but they’re exciting, high energy set
was lauded by the crowd, not to mention that most couldn’t turn away from their
performance.

 

Pic 2: Mindspiders

 

 

In some otherworldly psych syncopation, they were followed by
Psych Fest III vets Spindrift, who can only be described as The Ventures on
acid playing spaghetti western with Ennio Morricone.  While slow and atmospheric of frontier towns
and crawling scorpions at times, their up tempo songs are horse galloping
Indian war cries. Even more impressive is their distinctiveness, with
Kirkpatrick Thomas as an electric guitar slinging narrator, Henry Evans with
his Double Dano howling and moving with the rhythm, and Sasha Vallely on organ,
keyboard, and flute providing softer reprieves. 
Although a concept, Spindrift
symbolizes the evolution and completion of psychedelic rock with songs that are
hard, loud, combining surf music with Gram Parsons style Americana, British
shoegaze, dust in your mouth, big skies, saloons, warpaint, and even a little
Hawaiian thrown in.  They are definitely
a soundtrack.

 

Pic 3: Kirkpatrick Thomas of Spindrift

 

Pic 4: Henry Evans of Spindrift

 

 

With so many acts playing non-stop, there will always be hit and
misses.  A side effect of the festival is
that many different acts are indistinguishable from one another with drone and
stoner rock jamming.  An example of this
drone out was Entrance Band, who did a horrendous Deep Purple drenched version
of Love’s “A House Is Not a Motel”.  Love
and more importantly, Forever Changes is sacred, hallowed ground.  The music is beautiful, soft, harsh,
haunting, and filled with multiple subtleties. 
Their songs have been covered before with positive results from bands
like The Marshmallow Overcoat and Love tribute band Forever Changes, but it
succeeds in how it felt to the ears.  It
was rhythmic and possessed a similar atmosphere of those contradictions. That
harmonic conflict is essential to Love, and was missing in Entrance Band’s
performance to the effect of more than disappointment. 

 

Among the fans’ pics of the day was The Jesus and Mary Chain
style fuzz of Iceland’s
Singapore Sling.  The current lineup has
some original members and a few from The Meek, another one of the weekend’s
fuzz overdosed but always enjoyable performers. 
One should take note that just about anything from Scandinavia
is far above average.  Turbonegro, The
Sugarcubes, The Hives, The Hellacopters,
Norwegian death metal, it’s all pretty memorable.  Singapore Sling is no exception and ended their too brief 45 minute set with
“Life is Killing My Rock ‘N’ Roll”, a great anthem, if there ever was one.

 

Pic 5: Singapore
Sling

 

 

In a climactic close to the evening, the always surprising to say
the least Black Lips took the main stage. 
Their appearance was looked forward to with some apprehension.  They’re raw, raunchy, loud, their antics and
sense of wild freedom on stage that encourages pure mayhem and moshing, plus
they’re really a garage rock act with heavy psychedelic overtones that almost
defines pure teenage kicks is always

the most fun one could have at a show, but many wondered how it
would go over with the mellow drone “psych” fans.  Although they promised to behave, they also
had a few tricks up their sleeve.  They
played their set in a constant barrage onstage of toilet paper, heavy fans with
streamers, and a hefty supply of beer happily shared with the crowd.  What started as a small moshpit became an
endless sea, minus those who stepped far back in uncertainty about whether or
not this was really “psych.” 
Nevertheless, the performance was electric and wowed everyone, with many
people from other bands and a few friends joining them on stage, dancing, and
possibly copying their antics, which one almost can’t help but doing when they
see The Black Lips.  Their inclusion this
year was definitely groundbreaking, not to mention they picked up a whole new
group of devotees.

 

Pic 6: The Black Lips

 

Pic 7. The Black Lips

 

 

***

 

 

DAY THREE

 

 

As most Sundays go, things start later.  Day Three was no exception,
and it was a good thing, mostly to sleep off the party launched by The Black
Lips the night before.  Kicking off the
day was a late addition to the festival, Get Hip Recordings band The Ripe.  They’re a sugary sweet power pop band with a
surprising punch.  Most of their material
was brand new, stemming from their recent trip to Gijon, Spain
to record with Jorgé Explosion at Circo Perotti.  Best known for his production for bands such
as The Masonics, Hollywood Sinners, The Urges, Wau Y Los Arrrghs, The Staggers,
and countless great garage revival acts, but also the fourth member of The
Ripe, whose absence was felt despite The Ripe’s vibrance as a three-piece.

 

Pic 1: The Ripe

 

 

 

Other acts performing included Brooklyn Raga Association, a full
sitar and tabla band with the compulsory belly dancer, the very young but well
seasoned over the past year of touring Secret Colors, who present a perfect
synthesis of VU and Rickenbacker jangle, the gothic leaned Wall of Death, and
Psych Fest favorites Wooden Ships.  The
evening performances became a festival to behold, starting with the great
western blues  via African desert music
from Niger’s
Bombino.  With him and his band fully
dressed in Nigerien (not Nigerian) desert garb and phenomenal telecaster work,
the crowd felt honored and lucky to see him.

 

Pic 2: Bombino

 

 

 

With further surprises, San
Francisco’s Thee Oh Sees came on stage and rocked out
the crowd to double drummed, loud and raw psych tunes.  This was another band outside of the standard
fare for most “psych” fans, but in true compliment to Austin Reverb
Appreciation Society, this was another slice of the psychedelic pie that had to
be heard in keeping with a theme that it’s not just drone and reverb.  The low-fi, DIY energy of Thee Oh Sees and
their willingness to play almost anywhere for any size crowd fit them in with
Psych Fest V well, not to mention that their performances always show how much
they love playing for people.  The crowd
responded enthusiastically.

 

Pic 3: Thee Oh Sees

 

 

 

The following act was an all out wild performance flying into
tangents by legends (and locals) The Meat Puppets, who played new material as
well as crowd-pleasers “Plateau” and “Lake of Fire”,
as well as their grunge era hit “Backwater”. 
They’re well known for psychedelic overtones, but given their history as
country tinged punk (not cowpunk), it was further proof that this year was
about diverse psychedelic music and not the familiar narrow interpretation
often associated with modern psych.

 

Pic 4: The Meat Puppets

 

 

 

If there’s a father of modern psych, it’s Anton Newcombe and his
now stable lineup in The Brian Jonestown Massacre.  His following is more than loyal, with many
modern acts citing him as an influence, even at the point of overshadowing his
own influences.  Despite critical acclaim
and being strongly prolific, Anton’s rants and reputation are often better
known than his music.  No matter how
infamous his words and press, Anton is not only dedicated to his art, but
genuinely approachable and dedicated to his fans, both old and new.  BJM’s arrival to the stage at Psych Fest V as
the closing act was therefore, only fitting in a Punk Meets The Godfather
way.  With no hurries, three Fender Twin
Reverb amps, multiple eye-popping Vox and Hagstrom 12-strings, a mellotron, and
the band’s proprietary drum kit was assembled, followed by multiple towels and
beverages, for the late start of BJM.  Anton, cigarette in mouth, took to his stool,
picked up his Vox 12-string, gave Emo’s the historic nostalgic nod, and reached
out to the crowd, letting them know this was a real event and a culture filled
with substance outside of the mainstream. 
The rest of the evening drifted out in a muddy drone of reverb filled
haze of light and sound.

 

Pic 5: Anton Newcombe of Brian Jonestown Massacre

 

 

Pic 6: Joel Gion of Brian Jonestown Massacre

 

***

 

Austin Psych Fest V and its organizers made a tremendous effort
to outdo themselves this year by showing it as multi genre and
encompassing.  Nevertheless, modern
psychedelic and unfortunately, many of the followers who say they’re into
psychedelic rock have a narrow interpretation: Drone and reverb.  In recent revival history, there was a garage
rock revival, then a psych revival followed, much like the timeline shared by
their ‘60s predecessors.  Unfortunately,
a narrow, genre specific outlook is prevalent. 
It’s always been a disappointment when talking to “psych” fans over the
past few years that their perceived upbringing is a stop/start progression with
Barrett era Pink Floyd, The 13th Floor Elevators The Seeds, a complete stop,
then a sudden start up with The Jesus & Mary Chain and Shoegaze, stop,
Brian Jonestown Massacre and Dandy Warhols, stop, ending with The Black Angels,
Dead Meadow, Pink Mountaintops, and the other modern revival acts who often
share the stage with The Black Angels. 
No Nuggets, No Pet Sounds, no paisley underground except a few nods to Mazzy Star since Hope Sandoval sang
on a Jesus and Mary Chain song. Definitely no Revolver or Byrds. 

 

Psychedelic rock was an offshoot of garage rock.  Both shared the same instruments and gear and
were mostly indistinguishable from another. 
Garage and Psychedelic rock are a continuum.  Many bands both new and old know this and
define themselves and their music as both. 
For a festival to truly be a “Psych Fest”, acts such as The Cynics, Los
Peyotes, Wyld Olde Souls, Magic Christian, The Higher State, The Urges, and
countless others who play a more vintage psychedelic rock or who even were the forbearers
such as ? and The Mysterians and The Left Banke should be included.  Nevertheless, Psych Fest V and its organizers
were very, very ambitious this year in making it more diverse.  It is more than likely that they’ll outdo
themselves again next year and surprise both their greatest fans and harshest
critics, me included.

 

 

 

 

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