In Review: The Reverberation Appreciation Society & The Black Angels Present Austin Psych Fest 5
Friday, April 27th-29th 2012
Austin Psych Fest 5, presented by the Reverberation Appreciation Society and the Black Angels, took place at the new Emo’s East space, and the Beauty Ballroom. This year’s set up was a departure from the tied in situation of last year’s power plant and provided more room to roam with the two stages being in different buildings, with a courtyard space in between. The tree-lined corridor, decorated with eye-balls watching as you passed, provided quite a workout, shuffling in and out between bands on both stages.
Emo’s East & Beauty Ballroom
Laced With Romance and Dog & Pony had their mini-vintage clothing shops in full swing, along with a stellar-space portrait painting booth and tarot reading corner. The lineup over the span of three days was a dream and trying to decide in which direction to point your ears proved difficult. It wouldn’t be fitting to compare last year’s fest to this one in any way, as a change in scenery resulted in a true change of sensation for everything involved. But as expected, this year’s offerings also provided a slightly surreal weekend experience, spilling over with amazing noise, in an entirely new way.
Friday, April 27th
The Night Beats
The Night Beats proved to be a perfect first Psych Fest 5 sampling. Their music, like the fest, is a blend of a lot of the best of many worlds under the genre’s broad umbrella. Lo-fi, surf, uninhibited guitar jams, and shake-it maraca on drums action. They have an intense and very infectious energy that snakes off the stage and into the air, creating a heavy and electric atmosphere. It makes you want to shimmy and headbang all at once.
Austin natives Ringo Deathstarr killed their listeners twice. Simultaneously drowning you in sugar sweet pop melodies and dual vocals, while also assaulting mercilessly with waves of reverb, static, and grinding effects pedals. Full-on immersion in sound is the result. It was interesting to watch the crowd react to this band; everything from standing still with light head bobbing to jumpy and animated mini moshpits. Christo (guitarist for New York band The Vandelles) joined them on stage for the tail end of their set, adding another layer of reverb heaviness and low-falling guitar.
Disappears find themselves somewhere in a mix of psych garage, krautrock, and elements of what sounds like old-school goth. Fast, atonal drums, and sleazy, skuzzy bass fall under intricate guitar work. With so much to them, one would think, in the live incarnation, that the sound would come through as blown-out and muddled, but it surprisingly stays crisp. The guitar, and atonal elements keep the garage feel in check and everything stays low and dark to compliment Brian Case’s voice.
Watching Dead Meadow was like watching one really, really long, straightforward jam session. Each song just bleds straight into the next. No real frills or surprises to distract from dazing out to the drone. As expected in this type of sound situation, guitar licks galore are the celebrated center. Everything else is lulled background noise as it just goes, and goes….and goes, and goes, and goes. A sea of closed eyes and spaced out looks reflected the lights off stage during Dead Meadow’s set. If you tend to get dizzy easily, this is not the band for you.
The Black Angels
The Brains behind Psych Fest and current reigning model Psych Rock citizens, the Black Angels, closed out Friday night to an immensely populated crowd. They opened their set with “Science Killer” and continued into mostly old favorites including “Better Off Alone” and “You On the Run”. Last year it felt as though a novel could be written about this band’s Psych Fest set (possibly because of current event circumstances surrounding it that made it feel overly surreal), but this year it felt like business as usual. Details that stood out included Alex Maas’ solo rendition of “I’d Rather Be Lonely”, a song off their Record Store Day 7” release, and a malfunctioning mic that amusingly had Alex traveling around the stage to finish a song, along with Christian Bland attempting to step and/or jump over him to get to his guitar pedals. Frankly, it doesn’t seem as if it’s possible to ever watch a set by this band and call it anything but really great as this one was, if just a tab bit more down to earth than last year’s version. Perhaps this makes perfect sense in a way. This set was the true segway into the rest of the fest; an introduction by its presenters and not the ending to it, so possibly the vibe here was just as it should have been. Or maybe it really was just a very low key set from them. Either way, the Black Angels still showed their adoring audience a good time and, per usual, left them asking for more and more.
Saturday, April 28th
The Stepkids sound like a questionable 70’s pornography film mixed with 60’s soul with a bit of twang thrown in. Also, this band does not fear synth. They take melody-soaked psych to quite a strange and enjoyable place. It seems as though the Stepkids would be a more appropriate band for afterhours instead of 3pm in the afternoon. They were also minus their usual head-to-toe white, which makes them human projection screens for their visuals, but the side stage was almost pitch black, aiding to that slightly cheesy, oddly sexy vibe and made it more okay to see them this way.
The Band in Heaven
Going on right after the Stepkids, the Band in Heaven (from Florida, of all places) does sexy vibes in a whole other way. A live fast, die pretty, and love like crazy kind of way. A non-stop tambourine, dance- fast beats, and blown out dipping guitar give their songs a fierce pace of movement. In sharp contrast, the stage presence of those involved in the band is very much on the subdued side and just doesn’t quite match up with what the music is doing. Maybe that’s not where the focus should be anyway; their sound speaks for itself and needs no aid. Your ears will fall in lust all on their own here.
The Vacant Lots
Two-piece garage psych act, the Vacant Lots, are what surrealist literature would sound like if it came to life. Playing on elements of minimalism, drone, low reverb, and shadowy echoes, the mood washes over you like a static wave of hypnotic vibrations. They, too, went on the Beauty Bar stage without the aide of their very signature projections, but as they’ve done so before on other Austin festival occasions, they still played an admirable set with mood intact.
Texas rockers Mind Spiders really could find themselves on many a bill with all kinds of bands. Their sound meshes so well with a spectrum of genres: garage, a bit of punk, lo-fi, surf, jangle, and the list goes on. Playing at Psych Fest this day, or opening for Best Coast on another, it all makes sense when Mind Spiders are the ones in question. Live, they just sound very well put together. It should also be mentioned that this is the solo project of Denton, TX punk rocker Mark Ryan of the Marked Men, and that influence is very much heard.
Spindrift is all about the Psychedelic Spaghetti Western. In fact, if that’s what you’re into, this is probably the only band you listen to, ever, because it’s pretty much their very own little corner of the psych world. Their songs are very visual as they paint stories in your mind of Tarantino-style standoffs and old west shootouts. It’s hard not to expect a lone dusty tumbleweed to roll across the stage. In the case of this set, it sort of did. In the middle of a song, drummer James Acton’s bass drum rolled right down the middle of the stage in an almost too perfect tumbleweed reenactment. He just kept going on what was left of his instrument and the vigilante piece was soon returned.
The Entrance Band
It is a great idea to bet good money that not a single soul will ever find another bass player whose style is a match for the ways of Entrance Band’s Paz Lenchantin. You may be familiar with her as the ex-bassist for A Perfect Circle and, even if you knew her then, she would be unrecognizable here, as she goes about things is completely different in nature. There are no full-body fishnets involved anymore. Shuffling her heel clad feet, lifting a large red flower clad bass up, down, then swinging it slyly with a smile from side to side in an adorable dance, it’s quite difficult not to fully focus on her as the Entrance Band plays its rendition of flower-child stoner rock.
Pink Mountaintops can take form in many different fashions, as it’s made up of many of the same musicians who make up the Black Mountain collective. Basically, there are too many names involved to list here as far as who may end up on stage when Pink Mountaintops is on the bill. At Psych Fest, the live band consisted of Stephen McBean and Gregg Foreman mainly, aided by a little help from friends present at the fest, as Gregg pointed out, “You may know them”, like Christian Bland of the Black Angels. The set was full of different textures and moods from blissed-out lush, to synth filled fuzz-scapes. A reminder of what unique elements each person involved in this collective project brings to the table. Thrown together, it all sounded like one giant, noisy, messy, melodic cluster of amazing.
Olivia Tremor Control
It’s difficult to know what to do with the Olivia Tremor Control. In the recorded version, their sound is that of lo-fi dreamscapes. Every inch of space is filled with unexpected synths, instrumentation, and a general beautiful uneasiness. Things change often and you never know, upon first listen, where exactly they’re trying to take you. If that is what you’re used to when thinking of this band and having never experienced what they present in a live setting, the feeling that stays with you is one of nervousness. Sensations of butterflies in your stomach as you wait to see how any of what you’ve listened to in your headphones for years could possibly sound like in the realm of reality. Also, it’s Jeff Mangnum: How could someone not find him or herself a bit jittery on the eve of seeing him play for the first time, as well? When they began, the general response was blank stares. It was difficult to tell if the crowd was really soaking in what they were hearing. As the set went on and people began hearing songs they were familiar with, the swell of recognizable sing-along got a tad louder. But as a whole, the vibe here was a more timid one. The Olivia Tremor Control is one of those acts that in a live setting are a completely different animal than the recorded version of themselves. There’s no real way to compare the two and each simply has to be enjoyed for what it is. The recorded version, a soundtrack to surreal subconscious surfing, and live, an experimental noise jam sing-along with Jeff and friends.
The Black Lips
Going from the mellow setting of the Olivia Tremor Control to the chaos that comes with “drunk psychedelic flower punks,” the Black Lips was quite an interesting transition of mood. With giant fans blowing out glitter streamers bellowing behind them and a tiny section of fans on stage to help with toilet paper throwing duty, the Black Lips played a blown-out, scuzzy, garage vibed set full of old and new to a fiercely enthusiastic sea of people. It was as if this was exactly what the masses at Psych Fest had been waiting for; a chance to get a little uncivilized, let go, and really rock out. Crowd surfers galore, flying beer, and non-stop movement- the usual treatment from this band. The guys looked like true fashionistas, too. Ian rocked a lovely cardboard box on his head and Cole, a crisp white jacket; a new look for them both. Their drummer, Joe, is one of the most interesting around to watch- he just seems to lose it and it’s perpetually fascinating that he also sometimes throws out vocals while being a total madman back there. It was a bit of a shock hearing these guys play “Jack The Ripper” again; they hadn’t in quite a while, at least not when Austin-side. Out of all the garage bands that cover this song, it just never sounds as spot on as it does coming from the Black Lips, as if it was written to one day be performed by them with rolls of toilet paper flying overhead. As they exited the stage and the houselights came up, the extent of destruction became evident. A stage littered with toilet paper, streamers, and beer, and a floor full of broken glass and blood. Yes, blood, because if nothing hurts after seeing the Black Lips, you are doing it wrong. It doesn’t always have to be as extreme as bloodshed, but at least a few stinging bruises that appear in the coming hours. All little reminders of falling head over heels, literally on broken glass maybe, for the Black Lips.
Sunday, April 29th
UFO Club is a collaboration between members of the Night Beats and Christian Bland of Black Angels, whose sound involvement in this incarnation is more along the lines of his solo project, Christian Bland & The Revelators. Low bass, waves of reverb, and fast surf. Both Danny Lee of Night Beats and Christian are incredible guitar players, and UFO Club brings their powers together, but as a new version not usually seen in their respective main bands. It didn’t seem like there was a planned setlist for this quick set; as there were many pauses between songs and whispers of what to play next, it felt organic.
Chicago band Secrect Colours put on a lively show right as the sun was waving goodbye for the day. They’re sound is animated and fresh, more influenced by recent indie Psych greats like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, rather than acts more on the dustier side of things. This set was like coming up for air out of the endless ocean of blown out drone that dominated most offerings at Psych Fest this year. Margaret- sometimes on back up vocals, sometimes on keys, and even sometimes on drums- constantly danced all over the stage. Guitarist Dave ended up having some issues, asking if someone had a guitar he could borrow, but was back to playing fairly quickly, and they still ended up playing a strong set despite the trouble. Song “In the Absence” stood out with its slowed down drums and sitar stylings.
Athens Georgia band Dead Confederate were another jam band featured at Psych Fest. What really sets them apart from their counterparts is singer Hardy Morris’ voice. It’s almost borderline grunge and has a lot of southern soul to it. Their songs are emotional rollercoasters, from rock bottom to dramatic moments. Live, the turmoil and feelings are not lost and are very much present. Dead Confederate are a great mix of light touches of different genres coming together to form a great sound.
Wooden Shjips: Fun with foil. In space. On acid. Three little sentences that sum up a very pert live set from this band. Guitar jamminess, heavy, reverbed out bass, and a very true to classic psych rock sound. Wood Shjips had many heads bobbing to their spaced out vibes. The foil, or possibley space blanket, wrapped keys really were a nice touch acting as a prop with their outerspace projections.
Blue Angel Lounge
It was easy to lose count of how many times the words “Blue Angel Lounge” were mentioned in overheard conversations at Psych Fest. The current touring openers for the Brian Jonestown Massacre were much anticipated and the darker than usual second stage was full to the gills. After all, it’s not every band that gets signed thanks to Will Carruthers of Spacemen 3, or has Anton of BJM reach out to them to help record an album. They really did sound pretty amazing. Playing as menacing shadows against a bleak, washed out backdrop, their sound was a mix of psych, new wave, and post-punk. It painted a very noir picture and sucked you in like a sinkhole into the depths of black emptiness. So the hype in this instance was correct: The Blue Angel Lounge really does create something memorable.
Thee Oh Sees
Thee Oh Sees are another one of those bands that can fit themselves into a lot of places. More true Garage than the usual M.O. of psychedelic. It’s comical the array of faces that singer John makes during the duration of a set. Never serious and always energetic, Thee Oh Sees are a great live band and a pleasure to watch and rock out to.
The Meat Puppets have been doing their thing for a very, very long time. Present day, there’s no frills involved, they simply get up there and play. They’re understated legends, tied as a heavy influence to Nirvana, Pavement, and Dinosaur Jr, just to name a few. Their set at Psych Fest was a straightforward one. People either were either familiar with their music and enjoyed being there to hear it, or just hung around with mild interest while others, again, wore those blank stares.
Brian Jonestown Massacre
Brian Jonestown Massacre closed out the Fest Sunday with a set that exceeded two hours. They played as the original lineup, including Matt Hollywood. Joel had been hanging around Psych Fest last year too, ending up on stage with Pete International Airport, Peter Holmström of the Dandy Warhols’ side project. For the first half of the set, frontman Anton remained very composed and focused. Sitting on a wooden stool with knees propping his guitar up, he sang straight into the mic, eyes closed. It wasn’t until much later in the evening that the audience got to listen to some of his signature snark. It wouldn’t have been a true BJM set without a few wayward comments from him. Topics included a message to the Black Angels and the Black Lips about how their songs will never be quite up to par with his, but that shouldn’t deter them from following their dreams or anything, and some quick jabs at the Grammys and Kim Kardashian, of all people. As magical and awesome as Anton’s rants are, the most substantial point to make about the BJM is that it’s nearly criminal how impeccable they sound live. Every note, every whisper, every single chord, and tambourine shake is near perfection. Being there, wrapped in their sound was like taking your favorite BJM record, and playing it loud enough to feel it vibrate in your heart, and then somewhere a little deeper. There were many bands of legend that found themselves at Psych Fest this year, but there is something about BJM that is slightly untouchable and stands the test of time. As relevant now as when you found their music then. They were a great fit to close down the fest, as they mirror the story of psych music itself; a timeless sound that remains ever-present to those who experience it somewhere on a deeper level.
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