Review: Austin Psych Fest, Day 1
By Andy O’Connor
Editor’s note: This article was originally published May 3, 2014
Yesterday was the first day – if you don’t count Thursday’s pre-fest bash at Empire Automotive Service – of Austin Psych Fest. It was relaxed compared to a lot of music festivals, with elders in Hendrix shirts, young college students skipping class, hipper young professionals skipping work, folks of all ages rocking Natural Born Killers shades and visitors from far-flung locales such as Paris and Grand Rapids descending onto Carson Creek Ranch ready to hear colors and overdose on reverb. Friday featured performances from big names in psych-rock such as The Dandy Warhols, The Zombies, and local stalwarts The Black Angels. With a lot of festivals, however, it’s usually the acts earlier in the day, playing harder for your attention, who are the real standouts.
You can’t have a music fest without a cancellation, but even if it’s a fact of life, it doesn’t sting any less. Modern electronic visionary Oneohtrix Point Never was one of the most anticipated acts at Austin Psych Fest, but after Daniel Lopatin, the man behind the project, injured himself while touring Europe earlier this week, he was forced to cancel his appearance. For those who didn’t get to see him at Chaos in Tejas in 2011 or as Sigur Ros’ opening act last year at Cedar Park Center, this was a huge blow. Brown Sabbath, which is local Latin-rock group Brownout performing Black Sabbath songs, rushed back from New Orleans at the last minute to replace him at the Levitation Tent. They turned bad vibes from Lopatin’s cancellation around and put on one of the most energetic sets of the day. As it turns out, some of Tony Iommi’s riffs carry over immaculately on trumpet and trombone, especially in “The Wizard” and the crescendos of “Black Sabbath”. Brown Sabbath turn reverence on its head – it’s obvious that they pored over arrangements, but their playing suggests that they memorized these songs in the womb. Iommi should keep them on retainer in case Ozzy Osbourne becomes too blind to read his teleprompter one show and Geezer should, for some reason, fall ill. Even for those who had been at the fest all day, the ecstatic response suggested they should have played just a little longer. Some people were headbanging as if this was an actual metal show! Brownout will release an album as Brown Sabbath on June 24, and if their performance was any indication, this will be the block party record of the summer.
Another highlight of the Levitation Tent was New York’s White Hills, playing spacey, jammy heavy rock. Imagine Can getting hijacked by Motorhead on a road trip, and you’ve got White Hills. Their set grew more unfurled as they played, and next to Brown Sabbath, they were the most head-rushing band of Friday. Vocalist and guitarist Dave W is Mick Ronson on a serious Japanese psych bender, looking glam but playing so raw. He’s also got a killer rhythm section to balance his cosmic journeying, not unlike what the Experience did for Hendrix. Electronic husband-and-wife duo Peaking Lights, from Los Angeles, played a darkened Elevation Amphitheater, ebbing and flowing between ambient, house, and dub. While they’d be too chill for Euphoria Fest, they’re not exactly after-hours music either. The middle ground they live in isn’t some sort of purgatory; they’re on the right equilibrium for Psych Fest. Boston’s Quilt played early on Elevation, and not a ripple in the water came from their laid-back soft psych. They would be infuriating to see in a club on a Saturday night, but against the scenic backdrop of Carson Creek, they were appropriately pleasant. If one’s learned anything from SXSW, going hard during the day can sometimes kill the momentum, and Quilt were a mid-afternoon reminder that there was a whole day – a whole weekend too! – ahead of them.
Right after Quilt was Terakaft, a Mali rock band in the vein of – you guessed it – Tinariwen. They’re a little less psychedelic, but no less rocking and inspiring. Even the whole crowd wasn’t dancing, there was a mutual appreciation for the fact that they simply made it over here. Why would you stay in when a band worked their hears out and came all the way from Mali? Terakaft are a testament to getting out. You could say that about the fest as a whole; the world is for those who aren’t content with Netflix on a Friday night. And why would you lounge in the couch in a city like Austin, with a rich festival culture where bands can come from Africa and get an applause?