The Austin Psych Fest is not a drug mecca. While the event’s name conjures images of hippies in snuggles taking drugs to music to take drugs to, it’s genuinely about the audio, from what I’ve gathered these last two years. And with three days of marquee acts, there’s plenty to imbibe spiritually; drugs would only get in the way. The following is a collection of highlights from Austin’s trippiest festival (aided, abetted, and possibly bested by art created care of Carolina Purdum), which, other than a steady dose of non-Columbian dust (Fun Fun Fun-ers already know how this story goes), went off without a hitch, glitch, or bitch, other than those African brisket tacos — still not sure those worked. Onward and upward…
Quilt: There’s nothing like that moment when you first walk onto the grounds of a three-day fest, on a Friday, and realize, “This is my home for the next three days.” So liberating, so exciting! Digression quelled: Saw Quilt for a minute at Psych Fest (though we thought they were La Luz; long story) and was glad to reconnect with these whimsical waifs for another go-round. Love the group vocals, the guitarist’s purple get-up, and the oozy, woozy, deceptively simple nature of the music, like one long cover of VU’s “Ocean.” Nothing too next-level about this performance, but as a way to break in the fest it served its purpose. Pretty colors.
Aqua Nebula Oscillator: I have trouble watching bands I know aren’t on the same page (see Ruby Suns’ performance at the Sub Pop 25 reunion show). The rest of the crowd always nods along like nothing’s happening while I suffer, which makes it worse. Aqua Nebs thresh out a wholly acceptable, murky, Hawkwinded form of psych-thrash, which is what rendered their Psych Fest performance so maddening. Did someone slip something in my drink or is the singer looking at the drummer confusedly? Why don’t they know how their own songs are supposed to go? Why am I here? Who am I? And so on.
Liars: Best show of Psych Fest 2014, bar none. Not that it was a huge surprise, but Liars really blew the lid off this occasionally too-polite event. Angus Andrew came out in a ski mask that covered his face in the now-omnipresent multicolored yarn from the new record, and from there, he was a blur, a stately, lanky blur. Mostly scrubbing the crowd’s brain through newer electronic-based work, the trio drew a tubby flock despite their late-night slot and held them right through the end. As always, rhythms formed the fulcrum of Liars’ sound, each new cut delivering a fresh, off-kilter beat. They almost decided to incite a potential riot at the end; when told he would have to stop playing or the cops would show up, Andrew said defiantly, “I wanna see the cops!” But he could tell the peace-loving semi-hippies weren’t down with that, and gave up his microphone. Maybe next time?
Black Lips: You don’t need ME to tell you Black Lips put on an energetic live show. They’ve been around long enough that just about all of us in the underground have at least had a sniff. The reason I keep coming back is the encouraging feeling I get in my belly when they start ripping into their joyous group vocals (and when I say ‘group vox,’ I mean everyone, including the drummer, who even leads a few songs) and prurient punk pleasures. They’re truly one of the best.
The Zombies: How could The Zombies skip “Beachwood Park,” one of the hidden gems from Oddessey and Oracle, when I’d been psychically begging them to include it all week? GRRRR! But it’s tough to fault a 60s band that sounds as crisp as they did, even after all these years. The little biographical touches were nice too. Who knew Zombies had been covered by other artists so extensively (even the Fool Fighters took a crack at ‘em)? “She’s Not There” and “Time of the Season” both snapped, fizzed, and piggety-popped, and all was well with the universe. By jove, they’ve still got it!
The Dandy Warhols: Now that heroin’s not so passé anymore (check the stats yo; heroin’s back in a big fuckin’ way, unfortunately), it was time for the Dandies to show us why they’re not just a gang of forty-somethings clinging to cellphone-commercial royalties. And they succeeded mightily, proffering a shoegaze side of their sound I barely knew existed. So that’s why people think Courney Taylor-Taylor’s a genius! His whispered vocals and uneasy presence represent almost the entirety of The Dandy Warhols’ appeal, though the drummer’s harmonies also were a pleasant surprise.
Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks: What an amazing surprise it was to see Avey Tare of Animal Collective come out swingin’, as if that lousy single everyone seems to like was but a minor flop. This trio absolutely roiled with energy, hooking poly-rhythmic drumming (no surprise coming from an ex-Dirty Projector) up to spacious synths and Tare’s almost perverted sense of vocal horseplay. I remember so little because the set was so superior; it’s almost like I went psycho on some dude, wailing away, and didn’t wake up until my fists were covered in brains. “Have you blown your mind to outer space?” Tare asked the crowd, and though he asked the question, I’m assuming, sarcastically, that’s sorta, you know, what was happening, or something.
Avey Tare [scupley, wire, acrylic paint]
Mono: The first time I saw Mono they made 4 PM on a Tuesday seem like midnight on a Saturday. That sort of trick wasn’t necessary this time, as they’re long past playing daytime shows, but they create such a unique mood I felt it should be pointed out. If you’ve ever seen or heard this quartet, you know what’s on the menu: crescendo, at least one guitarist sitting down and waving his hand around to the music, crescendo, timpani mallets on cymbals, crescendo. Yet they make it look easy. And are y’all going to force me to state the obvious: That Explosions In The Sky stole just about every move they have from Mono? Don’t make me do it!!!
Acid Mothers Temple: I was so disappointed by AMT’s set I couldn’t taste anything for an hour afterward. Jesus, they were so much better last year! The synth player pretty much ruined it for me. Before the set started, he was complaining about the volume on his rig, which was reasonable enough. But then he kept at it the entire show, walking around and nodding like a disappointed father-in-law. And that’s when I realized he uses the same effect through the entire show. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. I felt like I was going crazy; did anyone else notice this? I never would have expected a band with so varied a discography to rely so heavily on a single phaser synth effect, so I’m just going to assume it was some kind of mistake and move on.
Golden Dawn Arkestra: I don’t know what the fuck is up with this band, so I’m hoping Caro’s illustrations (below) will lend more heft to this blurb that my words can. Basically what I saw was two dancers on either side of the stage, a quasi-Wayne Coyne frontman with red face paint directing the action, a hand-drummer goin’ off, a shitload of random costumed folk milling about, and horns, guitars, bass, and drums. I think the spectacle of it all ended up subsuming the music, but with a band like this, it’s best to see them a few times before forming an opinion.
Guardian Alien: GA have changed a bunch since their set at the TMT showcase at SXSW 2013. Now they’re a duo hellbent on filling the void Hella left when Zach Hill went all Death Grips on dat azz. Very minimalist; Greg Fox sounds like a roller coaster when he gets those tom rolls going, and he can sustain them for so long I couldn’t help but think about how hard it is for me to hold a taxing sex position. I mean, how long can a guy hunker? We’re doin’ all the work here! Love Alexandra Drewchin’s penchant for no-wave spazz vocals, keyboard noodles, and spandex outfits.
Brian Jonestown Massacre: Here it was, finally, after all these years: Brian Jonestown Massacre, classic lineup, replete with four, count ‘em, four guitarists and almost as many pairs of unnecessary sunglasses. To see Matt Hollywood and Joel Gion joining Anton Newcomb onstage for the first time in a long while was a pleasure in itself; to hear them drop such a bulbous bomb on the crowd upped the ante considerably. While one of the guitarists was feeding back through the first five or six songs, once the sound guy finally settled things down the six-string onslaught started to soak in. That didn’t stop Newcomb from ripping into his supporting cast a bit (“Let me get the beat goin’. I don’t want everybody walkin’ all over it.” “Who fucked THAT one up with the wrong chord? Was that Frankie?”), and that’s just another part of the experience. I’m not gonna hold anyone over the coals for minor imperfections because that’s what BJM are about. This is ROCK man, deeper and harder than you’re used to. I wish you could have been there.