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?
-words: Drew Fountain
-photos: Gail Fountain