The last hurrah. A final day of fantastic psychedelic rock and roll lay ahead the Sunday of 2014’s Austin Psych Fest, providing concert-goers with another day of wildly diverse acts that felt like a distinct experience from the previous two days. What it did have in common was being another day of beautiful weather and great music that was less familiar to these ears, but ultimately just as rewarding.
Christian Bland and the Revelators is the side band of the guitarist from The Black Angels. Both albums released from this group, ‘Pig Boat Blues’ and ‘The Lost Album’ are worthwhile additions to any psych rock fans collection. Some of the guitar work may sound similar to his main act, but Christian’s vocals and the overall mood of this band is far less ominous and haunting than the Black Angels; more of a sunny day, good vibes experience.
Unfortunately the first thing Christian did when taking the stage was apologize for the state of his voice and said they would carry on anyway. Poor fellow, he was definitely suffering from some form of laryngitis because most of his vocals were barely above a whisper or a hoarse utterance. But that didn’t stop the band from cranking out a fantastic set of music that included a section of incredible Pink Floyd covers, including two Syd Barrett-era songs, “Astronomy Domine” and “Lucifer Sam,” as well as ending their set with five minutes of “Echoes,” something that this long time Floyd fan was amazed and thrilled to hear live.
The Elevation Stage near the river proved to be the international stage throughout the weekend and Sunday was no exception. Kikagaku Moyo, a psychedelic rock band from Japan, played a dreamy and incredible set to a very warm and receptive audience. With long hair, clothes that seemed to come from the 60s/70s, as well as having a damn sitar player, this band had the formula down pat. But there was something about them that was unique as well. Perhaps it was their genuine enthusiasm for the audience and for these songs. Between every song most of the members had huge smiles on their faces, and were utterly delighted when they were told they had time for another song. The feeling was mutual; we could have heard several more from this promising group.
On the main stage Cosmonauts took the stage, looking like a couple of unassuming Middle America guys that could have been waiting in line at the grocery store in front of you. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, after all, even the Black Angels were somewhat unassuming in appearance, but combine it with their middle-of-the-road performance, and it was an overall underwhelming package. There music wasn’t bad, don’t get me wrong—listening to them after the fact their music is pretty good in fact. But in a weekend full of bands that felt like an experience, their live performance left something to be desired.
Despite the previous criticism, you don’t need a sharp appearance or some special hook—sometimes simply having catchy songs that stick in listeners’ heads is enough. This is how Mikal Cronin, friend and collaborator of indie favorite Ty Segall, succeeded in my book. There was nothing extraordinary about the performance itself, but the songs presented were so undeniable that you couldn’t help tapping your foot and nodding your head to it.
The name Higgins Waterproof Black Magic Band sounds so typically weird and forced, people can be forgiven for glazing over when seeing it, instead looking for band names with better recognition. However, this would be the most foolhardy thing one could do. This is the band of Tunde Adebimpe, lead singer of TV on the Radio, and it was one of the most captivating performances of the weekend. Many people did miss out in fact—the Levitation Tent was probably only a third full when the band started, with Tunde looking around and shrugging, asking, “you guys don’t mind if we just start, right?” The small but enthusiastic cheered.
This 45-minute set felt like a journey. It may not have had all the catchy hooks of TV on the Radio’s material, but this was dense, emotionally impactful music. Tunde armed himself with a board of switches and effects, as well as a small amp to create feedback loops with. Combine this with the more traditional instrumentation of his band mates and the result was a heady set of music that sent the mind spiraling.
Tunde’s voice is distinct and works as both an anchoring point for the journey as well as a gateway to the more abstract spaces where this music resides. “Hugh Beaumont Is Dead” in particular was a stellar track. Their debut EP is linked in this article and my recommendation for listening to it can’t come highly enough. And yes, by the end of the set the tent was packed with people that came to see what was going on, sucked in just as much as I was by that first note.
One of the main acts of the evening, The War on Drugs, hit the Reverberation Stage later and also provided one of the best sets of the day. Familiar with the band only in name and reputation, this band wowed me with its energy and musicianship. Guitars wailed, synths blared and the leader singer commanded the stage, sneering like a 60s Dylan, full of piss and vinegar. Even when songs like “Under The Pressure” slipped into softer moments, none of their enthusiasm waned, instead focusing it with laser-point accuracy. If they keep up the energy and great songwriting, this should be a band that continues to produce great music for years to come.
Closing out the Elevation Stage down by the river was Pink Mountaintops, another band known only to myself in name alone, but cranked out one of the hardest rocking sets of the entire weekend. It was quite an experience to take in when approaching. The band was dimly lit on stage as they hammered out their loud and furious tunes, while projections of kaleidoscopic colors and shapes danced over the trees across the river. This is exactly the sort of experience you hope for when a festival has the name Psych Fest. No particular tracks stood out, but their performance was exuberant and fun, making for a kick-ass closing set for this stage for 2014.
There were many different types of band configurations this weekend, but Panda Bear was the first one-man-band to grace the main stage. The presentation was Spartan, with only a podium covered in effects gadgets and sequencers and a microphone in the middle of an empty stage as Noah Lennox gave the audience a heartfelt performance consisting only of samples and vocals, which layered and fell back upon themselves so many times it was enough to make one feel dizzy or intoxicated. Certainly different than most of what they other bands this weekend were doing, but it definitely still qualified as heady enough to be in line with the festival’s mission.
This strange yet compelling performance felt like the perfect soundtrack to carry my weary feet away from the festival and back to my car and eventually home. There were two more bands that had yet to play, but after three full days of consciousness-expanding musical greatness, it was just more than my battered body could handle. As I drove away from my music temple for the past three days, it was hard to wipe the smile off my face. Could one have asked for a better weekend of music? Probably not. Austin Psych Fest is a rare, one-of-a-kind event that every rock music fan should experience to see the way a festival experience should be.
Written By Jarad Matula
Photos by Jarad Matula
OurVinyl | Associate Editor