Moderate temperatures and dry weather set a positive ambiance for the weekend. The superb conditions did not contain the sand, and bands commented on the large amount of dust. Austin Psych Fest at Carson Creek Ranch was on the first weekend of May, but many in the crowd were still celebrating April 20th. A wide array of artisans set up booths around the field, as well as several food vendors. Strongbow flags were flying, but Deep Eddy seemed to the crowd’s main drink of choice. The audience was of a wide age range and international. There was a strong contingent of concertgoers from Ontario, some fun-loving Irishmen, and fans from Sweden. Talking to audience members, I realized these festivalgoers were very musically literate and shared diverse musical tastes, which was a pleasant surprise. The festival volunteers were plentiful and security did not affect the mood of the scene. The site was near the Austin airport, so large planes regularly passed over the festival site, adding a bit of industrial vibes to the scene.
Shannon & The Clams
Driving rhythms and crisp drumming set the table for Shannon & The Clams to shrill and chant through a set of tunes with a ‘60s Specter flair. This was surf punk at its finest. An early stage time had light turn out, so to see a band of this caliber so early in the day was impressive.
Aqua Nebula Oscillator
Electronic buzz and hums were a prelude to the music of Aqua Nebula Oscillator. The singer came to the stage and held a bunch of hair attached to what appeared to be a shrunken head, which grabbed a moment of attention, and then an edgy music cacophony bitch-slapped the audience. After two loud fast opening numbers, the tone settled down to a chugging groove and the band demonstrated some of that finesse that helped them ride the wave to Western shores.
Sound check for Graveyard began with metal-esque roadies testing mics in Swedish and assembling two towers of Orange amps. The fog machine cranked up and the heavy thumping bass line began, and the music resonated of classic heavy metal. The drummer began using mallets so the sound was clear and deliberate. The singing was deep but not gruff, and the guitars roared with speedy blues riffs. This was some of the best ‘classic’ metal I’ve heard played live, and the sound suggests the last record they purchased was from around 1981.
The Fresh & Onlys
The classic “La Bamba” riff rang out at sound check for The Fresh & Onlys, which seemed very appropriate for a band that wants to redefine California garage-rock. Tim Cohen and Shane Sartin took the stage first, and with the first strum, the audience anticipated something different. Cohen has set the bar in defining the ‘new garage rock movement’ with a jammy blues bridge, some moody new wave dissidence, lead guitar lines with a healthy western twang, and literate lyrics with a point of view. The bassist and drummer added an unexpected crunch that wasn’t on the recorded music, and there’s a punk edge and stage presence that echoes fIREHOSE.
Ego Sensation opened with a pulsating rhythm, and then Dave W. cranked up some fiery guitar and raspy vocals. Feeding off the energy of previous tour mates Aqua Nebula Oscillator and MONO, Sensation and W. seem to base their live music on something a bit darker than the ambient space-jam of CD tracks. Live drumming replaced the recordings’ drum machine – the drummer brought out his crash cymbals, and that helped expand the sinister live sound of White Hills.
There’s a vicarious joy to be a music fan for many years – to see band like Black Lips take their garage rock to a local stage and watch them develop as musicians. Although their looks were a bit eclectic, ranging from rockabilly to long hair, short hair and something akin to Blink-182, these guys have matured as musicians and they have really found their miter and the fun romp of these Atlanta musicians is now shared on an international scale. It was good to hear some of the new tracks from Underneath the Rainbow (QRO review) at a live show.
The festival proudly welcomed the venerable icons of psychedelia to the festival. Earlier in the day I saw a Zombie member watching another band, and it was surprising that only a few in the audience recognized him standing beside them. The crowd swelled in front of the main stage in anticipation of their set. Light flooded the stage, then in center stage was Colin Blunstone – a tall man beaming a gracious fragile smile at the audience, while Rod Argent stood on the left stage and started pounding away on his electric keyboards. From the opening number “I Love You”, the crowd stood mystified by the deliberate soaring harmonies and minor key songs. The set made a historic romp through their catalogue of tunes, then the band created a centerpiece for the show, playing songs from Odessey and Oracle – “A Rose for Emily”, “Care of Cell 44” and “Time of the Season”, then closing with “She’s Not There”.
The Dandy Warhols
Courtney Taylor calmly took the stage and with his piercing stare he resonated Neil Young. Taylor is a musical craftsman, and on this night, that jangly folk crafting was brilliant on stage. With clear resonating vocals, wandering lyrics and gregarious dialogue to the audience, Taylor helped The Dandy Warhols deliver a fine show while the thump of Zia McCabe’s keyboards seemed stronger than expected. After announcing some friends would play with them, Anton Newcombe, Matt Hollywood and Joel Gion of Brian Jonestown Massacre (see below) joined The Dandys on stage for a bit.
The Black Angels
Local Austin favorites The Black Angels graced the main stage as the headliner Friday evening. Heavy echoes on the voice, layers of guitar feedback and meandering rhythms dominated the set. Christian Bland and Alex Maas (QRO interview) took command of the stage and the visuals kicked in during the second song, “Bad Vibrations”, with patterns that spun behind the stage that invited the audience into a hypnotic tunnel. The music fostered the vibe and by the fourth song, “Twisted Light”, the band was in full control and they led the audience through a musical voyage.
The tent stage was packed for the Liars, the final act of the night. Aaron Hemphill (synth, guitar) and Julian Gross (drums) played a pulsing rhythm and the whole crowd vibrated with anticipation of the grooves to come. Lead singer Angus Andrew appeared on stage whirling in a dancing frenzy – his head and face covered with a multi-colored knitted hood with loose threads hanging from the bottom, looking something like Cthulhu. He adeptly spun to the mic and rambled through the first song, face still covered. After uncovering his head and face, the music started back up with only a few moments for applause. Hemphill was driving a torrid musical pace, Andrew took command front and center, and the crowd grooved with utter amazement. As the set progressed, the music started into a darker tone, but with the same intense frenzy. The sound is abrupt and abstract, the fast rhythm would be exhausting for dancing, and one would be challenged to keep up with a sing-along. So why am I so happy with this band? That live intensity can’t be described, the music satisfies a hunger for art/punk/dance even goth all at once. How do they do that?
Ripley Johnson is three albums removed from Wooden Shjips. The music of Moon Duo has evolved and mutated into a new and expanding sound. It’s become a very keyboard-heavy groove with sinister overtones. Seeing the show in person was more the feel of a dance party and less feel of the Tangerine Dream jam, but I so enjoy seeing Johnson’s stage groove.
The stage was graced with a tall thin man wearing a bright purple grandora, and his guitar broadcast a chord progression that seemed a bit different from the other festival music. The Tuareg musical roots were not clear from the opening, and then he was joined on stage by other musicians who added a few ear-friendly guitar licks to the tunes. Displaying credible guitar chops and a bold stage presence, the guitar troubadour from Niger captured the curiosity and respect from the audience. It was a great performance that drew a few more people out and brought curiosity to a whole lot more. It’s good that the audience quickly discovered why Eugene Hutz from Gogol Bordello and Robert Plant have shared such enthusiasm about Bombino’s music.
The Octopus Project
Several friends had warned me about this band, so I had lofty expectations of what was to come. Nothing, but nothing could have prepared me for the experience of The Octopus Project. The seemingly peaceful appearance of three guys in dress shirts and ties seemed tame, and then they’re joined by a woman (Yvonne Lambert) with a retro flip hairdo. Once the musical engine started, the trippy lights and imagery behind them, the sound started to spin around the room. From there, on the room became a sonic ride on a carnival scrambler. Between those brief song breaks some instrument exchanges between Josh Lambert, Ryan Figg and Yvonne Lambert happened, my head was still spinning from the previous song. Lambert reached for the theremin with a cat-claw hand and the theremin spoke back with a precise scream. Sudden bursts of percussion, industrial bassline, and pounding guitar were added, and then electronic cries and squeals quickly absorbed me in the musical thrill of it all.
Acid Mothers Temple
Visual images were cast across the river to a screen of trees, and green pointer lights were cast to nearby trees giving the effect of luminescent bugs. This pastoral scene is appropriate setting for many bands to take the stage, but this scene seemed so inappropriate for Acid Mothers Temple! A sudden burst of guitar grinding and drumhead abuse opened the set as the torrid sound on stage began with a playful glee. Kawabata Makato sat mid-stage, playing intensely and directing the musical collective on stage. With that mature hair and beard, he looked more like a shaman that guides the free-jazz ebb and flow. With some of the unearthly sounds, one wondered if he’s summoning a mothership from a far-away galaxy to visit. After a few songs of energy and catharsis, then after three joyous romps through noiseland, the band opened up a can of jam-rock proficiency and taps into a psychedelic feel that echoes Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma. The set completed with two more ‘typical’ AMT songs. Screeching guitars, howling effects, drumheads given an Ike Turner beating, and monk chants seem to be typical fare for this group that is a joy to hear.
There were nice visual graphic background patterns that twisted and spun with the music on the main stage from The Horrors. Faris Badwan’s stage presence has evolved and with stage maturity, he delivered more guttural, intimidating baritone vocals with echoes of Stiv Bators. Bassist Rhys Webb began the show in a dervish spin, while guitarist Joshua Hayward played the part of a lion pacing the stage (even his hair appeared to be a furry mane). Tom Cowan meticulously banged on keyboards and Webb the bass, which gave the main driving force behind their sound. They have become consummate stage professionals, and while the music has become more taunting and less haunting, the band’s costumes and hair have become part of their vivid live music experience.
The Golden Dawn
George Kinney reunited this influential early psychedelic band from the late 1960s. Some wines improve with age and in some cases, that’s also true with musicians. The guitars had deliberate resonation and Kinney’s vocals conveyed an urgency that eclipsed 46 years. Most bands of this maturity will head into the sunset toting old songs and smiles. This time was an exception. T heir music style is in a renaissance. They have the skills and clearly have the burning passion so I look forward to seeing what new music The Golden Dawn will offer.
Nice walking basslines (1/8 then 1/4 notes), lots of pedal vibrato and the tenor vocals were clean from Temples. The band did a nice live performance recreating the intricate sounds off the recordings without a snag. That being the case, the band was focused on the performance and was less interactive with the crowd during their time on stage.
Still regaining my wits after The Octopus Project (see above), the stage began dark and silent, suggesting that something surprising was about to happen. The initial sound was a building tone, and then the music began before I even saw the musicians. The intensity broke before the lights made it on and the music poured off the stage and flowed over the audience like a wave. Powerful and dramatic songs flowed from the pastoral to the slaughterhouse and sounds moved from graceful to grit-filled. My ears were challenged, my heart was racing, and I certainly liked what I heard, although describing such a musical mural of sound is not easy. The easiest way to describe the music of MONO is to say it’s in the vein of Sigur Rós with its classical overtones and dynamics.
The musical aggregation from Athens, Georgia, of Montreal, opened with “Triumph of Disintegration” with dancers and an array of props, projectors and costumes. This night’s theme could have been called, “Fun with Shapes”. Large triangles showed eyes during “ID Engager”, then a large geometrically shaped princess appeared on stage and the backing visuals cycled a gambit of circles, ovals, squares, rectangles and hexagons. By the time “Prometheus” was played there were at least three cast members crowdsurfing through the audience. The visual backings painted the vivid murals that were loosely related to each song, and the visual animations romped through various shape and legacy band art for the last track. Their music was perky, upbeat and the lyrics feel like an Alice in Wonderland romp through a new age bookstore. The songs were played a bit faster than the recorded versions, but that may be the result of set times and not set lists, as they were closing out the tent stage Saturday evening. The keyboards were especially bouncy, while the guitar parts were crisper than ever. Several audience members indicated they came for the band’s visual festivities, but afterwards they said it was the musical intrigue of Kevin Barnes’ group that they’ll remember. When seeing them live, every single time they’ve shifted gears and offer both musical and visual surprises, so it’s that element of the unexpected that makes each show a great sonic party with some freaky eye-candy.
The Dutch singer and musical wunderkind with hair that looked like pure Brian Jones played folky alt-‘80s style music with a nice variety of instruments in his band. While listening to the band’s mellow, nice music, the lyrics stood out and quickly drew people into the lush and wordy storylines of Jacco Gardner.
Joel Gion & The Primary Colors
This is Joel Gion’s side project from Brian Jonestown Massacre, and he has assembled a strong group of musicians and steps out from the percussion and takes a guitar and microphone for this effort. The music had a tinge of folk, some hints of post-punk, a taste of art-rock and an overall delicate sound. Galine Tumasova was wielding an old ’69 Ventura bass and became the focal point on stage while Yvonne Hernandez filled the percussion sounds for Gion.
At first it seemed that the band had a male and female singer, but when Sleepy Sun took the stage, there was only the male singer Bret Constantino. The live show took several steps away from the record, and the show had a real ‘classic rock’ feel. The band brought driving rhythms and Constantino portrayed stage gestures of the rock masters, especially Robert Plant and Roger Daltrey.
Canada’s Pink Mountaintops blended folky vocals into rock music, although it seems quite a sound contrast compared to Stephen McBean’s previous bands (Godspeed You Black Emperor and Black Mountain). There was a familiarity but that took a few minutes to remember: there was Greg Foreman on guitar pacing the stage and playing improvisations between songs. The music was delivered with consummate clarity and professionalism, the lyrics were succinct, and while the stage of musicians took a left turn from their history, the sound is clearly a right turn.
Two women hit the stage, one in red and one in black. The dark dressed woman howled at the audience with a sinister vocal hiss, then guitars seemed to be flying off in random directions. While the two women and one man fought to keep these wild animal guitars on stage, they struck some unearthly reverb and distortion sounds that went impeccably timed to the drummer’s rhythm. The crescendos and decrescendos of sound flowed from peaceful to painful, and the backdrop animation visuals showed a very dark feel to the scene with its mushroom cloud that turned into a skeleton. Bo Ningen seemed to tame their instruments by mid-set and the electro-groove flowed from sounds of melancholy to optimistic. By the last song, the instruments broke from their tamed behavior and the members left the stage leaving an audience gasping for breath. I’m still shaking my head in disbelief at such a performing intensity while delivering such delicate and emotional music.
Robert Hampson’s face could clearly be seen in the light, and he resembled Paul Weller. He greeted the audience with a stinging guitar, and his microphone had delay effects. Loop’s massive sound resonated from the main stage to a receptive audience. This last show of the festival was more of a rock music set with songs that were more stinging and less ethereal than the music from Hampson’s project Main. Mid-set he sent out a tribute to the Damned with the slow gloomy sounds that opened a time capsule of sound from 35 years ago, done precisely. What a treat this was to hear.
-words: Drew Fountain
-photos: Gail Fountain