AUSTIN PSYCH FEST 5
Emo's East, Austin, Texas, USA
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 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.
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.
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”.
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. Turbo Negro, 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.
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.
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. For a festival to truly be a “psychfest”, 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 forebearers such as ? and The Mysterians and The Left Banke should be included. Nevertheless, Psychfest 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.