Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Review: Austin Psych Fest 2014

Now that Austin Psych Fest is firmly in our rearview mirrors we can look back reflectively. Let's take a journey of the mind to a few days ago. This was the second year APF took place out at Carson Creek Ranch. You may remember last year I was a bit hesitant because I had never been out there and I thought it might be a logistical nightmare. I'm sure for some it can still be troublesome to travel to and from Carson Creek Ranch but since I'm not much of a drinker, I live in South Austin and I have a car and it was no big deal. The story I heard the most this weekend had to do with the dust. However, most of the people I heard complaining about the dust were the people wearing the "guest" wristbands. That just says to me, thanks for the free show but can you do something about the weather?

Yes, it was dusty and if I had expensive camera equipment I would probably have been much more annoyed by it. Obviously I don't like breathing in a bunch of dust either, which is why I wore a bandana over my face. I also had one on my neck to combat the sun but that's enough about me and how ridiculously prepared I was. The music at Austin Psych Fest redefines the idea of psychedelic music. I saw a dude wearing a T-Shirt from a typical psych music fest and it listed artists like moe, Phil Lesh and String Cheese Incident. I don't want to disparage those bands or festivals that would book artists like that but fuck that shit in the ear. Austin Psych Fest books a range of great psychedelic artists from around the world without resorting to that noodly guitar bullshit. APF bands are all about that dark, sludgy groove and lots of the bands I saw this weekend made me believers in that dark groove.

Cosmonauts - Sweet Talk video via YouTube

Let's get down to it shall we? I'm going to wrap things up similarly to how I previewed things with three highlights from each day. Firstly I should mention that I didn't attend every moment of the festival so surely there are acts that won't make my highlights list simply because I was not there. For instance, I know that Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks was a highlight for those in attendance but I didn't catch that set, so it's not going to be on my list.

Friday Highlights

  • The Fresh& Onlys are the sort of band that didn't fit squarely on this festival's bill but they certainly have psychedelic elements to their sound. They played the Amphitheatre stage, which I truly enjoyed but I think it made the band feel uncomfortable. That particular stage was set-up to be a sit and listen stage and for a band that is used to playing tight clubs filled with rowdy patrons I think it was a bit disconcerting. Not only were people not rowdy, they weren't even standing up, which would have been less noticeable if the performance didn't take place in broad daylight. Regardless of the circumstances the band sounded fantastic. The powered through songs both old and new and inspired me to go home and listen to their records more.
  • Peaking Lights, literally, put Mr. S. to sleep which says as much about Mr. S. as it does Peaking Lights. They weren't the most dynamic performers and I didn't love every moment of their set BUT the moments that I connected with were truly powerful. I can't explain what the heck they were doing to produce the sounds and the vocal was outrageously inconsequential but the sounds they were using and the way the song forms emerged out of them was pretty great.
  • Psychedelic godfathers, The Zombies had no business sounding as good as they did. The vocals were clear and powerful, the instrumentation was tight and they played everything you would want to hear at a Zombies show. They also did something, which makes a lot of artists uncomfortable, which is to talk about themselves. Lots of young, new artists won't even say the name of their band while their performing. The Zombies seemed like they were on an educational tour about themselves and I thought that was really smart. They told us who covered their songs and gave the crowd context for what they were about to hear. It was both fun and educational.

Saturday Highlights

  • Mark McGuire blew me away. I was not familiar with his previous band Emeralds and I have only listened to his records a couple of times. I enjoyed the recordings but I didn't expect him to be a one-man-band when he performed. Using a series of pedals and loop effects McGuire constructed beautifully lyrical instrumental arrangements before our very eyes. Between songs he was humble and appreciative of the experience. He said some New-Age-y things that would normally be a turn-off for me but given the context and the sincerity I actually appreciated it.
  • I'm still not convinced I'm pronouncing Boogarins correctly, which is especially problematic because I want to talk to everyone about how great their set was. This Brazilian band brought the stoner rock but it was so much better than that label is.

    Boogarins - Lucifernandis video via YouTube
  • Pure X is one of those Austin bands that seems to get way more respect in Europe than they get in their own hometown. I've been a fan of their records for years but their latest is definitely their greatest according to me. They have taken those dark, brooding, shoegazy elements that have always been present and put them in a more accessible pop radio context. Don't get it twisted though, Pure X aren't a pop band by a long shot. I'm just trying to say that their songwriting has reached new heights and if you weren't paying attention before you should certainly be paying attention now. Their set at APF was so fantastic that whenever I saw the band members for the rest of the weekend I felt nervous because they were so good it made me uncomfortable.

Sunday Highlights

  • UK band Toy was another band whose set was so incredibly powerful that I was aghast. I loved Toy's first record and their last record just took things to the next level. This is a band that performs like they are on a mission to destroy. Obviously by the time I saw Toy I had seen similar bands all weekend but they were definitely the most driving of all of them. This is psychedelia meets trucker speed and it was fantastic.
  • Cosmonauts were nothing like I expected them to be. For some reason I had in my head that they were much more chunky garage rock types but boy was I wrong. Cosmonauts had that shoegaze guitar sound mixed with a heavier rock sound. I haven't listened to their records much but I would definitely recommend seeing them in concert to anyone who has the opportunity. I hope the next time they come through Austin they play Red 7 inside because I would love to see a full set in a club from Cosmonauts.
  • If you glanced through by APF preview post then you already know that War on Drugs is a band I was truly looking forward to this weekend and they delivered for me in a big way. If Kurt Vile and War on Drugs are involved in some sort of creative rivalry we are all benefiting. The latest LP from War on Drugs is the most immediately classic LP of 2014. It is powerful, emotional music that evokes some of the most iconic rock 'n roll acts of the past and present. There are elements of Springsteen, U2, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty but it's all re-imagined in this truly contemporary way. This is music for driving down the highway toward a brand-new life and much like Cosmonauts I want to see this band again in a club and I want to shout along to every word of every song with my eyes closed and my face toward the sky.

So, there you have it. Nine sets that I enjoyed immensely. Obviously there was a lot more to the festival than these nine sets but that's the parameters I set up for myself and that's what I'm sticking to. Thanks for reading.

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