Austin Psych Fest, now known as Levitation, took place once again on the grounds of Carson Creek Ranch during the weekend of May 8th – 10th. A few years ago, I remember getting so lost and frustrated trying to find the quick turn that leads you down the dusty road to the fest.On Friday, it felt like second nature, as I drove through darkness, and rain drizzle. Other than the road, and the location, not very much else feels familiar about Austin Psych Fest, and the name change to Levitation is understandable, and in some ways, necessary.
It is no longer a baby fest, or a very well kept secret. I spotted a bro, an actual bro, among the man-bun, and the beetle boots. Oh, how odd it felt. I crossed paths with strangers from all over the planet, and barely saw any familiar faces, even though there were so many present. The sheer size of things now is purely crazy, even though it’s the same space. Maybe it is more about the amount of space now filled by bodies than before. There is a sense of awe, and even, weirdness, in watching something grow from a solemn shindig in an old power plant into adulthood as this full-blown beautiful, and somewhat monstrous festival.
I will always cherish what it once was, because in my heart of hearts, I genuinely believe Austin Psych Fest was special, and there will just never, ever be anything like it again. In it’s new reincarnation, Levitation is also very special, but in a completely different way. To be in a sea of people, literally thousands of you, and see bands like Primal Scream followed by The Jesus and Mary Chain , and have a collective energy and sense of euphoria in that magnitude is purely amazing, and surreal. Bands that set foundations for so much that you love and cherish in rock n’ roll, and bands that took those influences to all of these real cool places years later, and here you are, having a moment with their music, and so is everyone else, and you are just here. Really here, in this moment, and it means so much to all of you. That is what you will find at Levitation Fest, and maybe, depending on what you’re into, not anywhere else.
Spindrift’s signature sounds are best enjoyed with a little dust, and the setting sun. Minus the stray mud puddles from the night before, this was exactly the setting as they began to play at the Elevation Amphitheater. I am not aware of very many bands who could possibly call themselves “psychedelic spaghetti western,” or boast a double bass front and center. so getting a chance to check out Spindrift is always nice.
The Black Ryder
I had the pleasure of seeing The Black Ryder only a couple days before with The Jesus and Mary Chain, so it was a bonus to catch them a second time here. The Levitation tent felt stagnant, and sticky in such a way that it felt like the soft washes of guitar coming off the stage were adhering to my skin. It’s the only covered stage at the fest, which means no breeze, but really amazing sound. Aimee and Scott’s dual vocals crooned through songs off the new album, and familiar favorites. ‘Grass’ sounded so perfect, and the TVs on the stage in the background were so rad. I wish I could wrap myself in the sound of their guitars, and those chill, noir, moody vibes. I also wish Aimee would teach me how to do my hair like hers. It’s so perfect.
Thee Oh Sees
It seems as if Thee Oh Sees have finally hit their stride. There’s just something magical, mixed perfectly, and so on point about their new sounds. If I remember correctly, John had announced a hiatus for the band in 2013, but in the end, it seems it was just a new beginning. Whatever you want to call it, they sound killer. I was slightly worried that by not wanting to part with The Black Ryder, I was going to miss out on getting to catch at least some of Thee Oh Sees on the main reverberation stage. As it turns out, they began their set early, and played for over an hour, a serious stroke of luck. John’s guitar is just everything. It shoots right through to your soul, and causes some kind of jangly, unhinged metaphysical explosion there, as only choice garage rock can.
Am I actually sitting here, writing about the time I saw Primal Scream? Yes. They had teased about playing Levitation before (Austin Psych Fest, whatever), but ended up cancelling along with the rest of their North American tour. I was sure then I would never get to cross this band off the bucket list, but here they were the next year. This set was perfect. Everything about it. Bobby is the quintessential front man, running in every direction, with his killer outfit, tambourine, and maracas in hand. He kept coming right to the edge of the stage, as far as his spindly legs would get him, without actually diving into the adoring crowd. His voice sounded as slinky and sexy as it ever has, or as I had imagined it would live. For a moment, when you closed your eyes, and let the sound soak in, it was difficult to tell if it really was 2015, and not 1990-something. There was so much mood, and soul when they played ‘Kill All Hippies, ‘ and I’m so sure I may have actually melted during ‘Higher Than the Sun.’
Can’t Go Back
Kill All Hippies
Shoot Speed/Kill Light
Higher Than the Sun
Movin’ On Up
The Jesus and Mary Chain
How appropriate to see The Jesus and Mary Chain after Primal Scream. They are both, after all, tied together by roots and history. I had been lucky enough to experience The Mary Chain do this exact set only a couple nights before, so everything was still fresh in my mind. The general idea was they would do a few favorites from here and there, before going fully into Psychocandy, celebrating the album’s 30th anniversary. It was really fun to hear the chatter surrounding me before they took the stage. So many excited people, experiencing JAMC live for the first time, not knowing what to expect, or how they are going to feel. The girl next to me, with tequila on her breath, and pupils the size of saucers, turned to me, and in earnest,she says with a pout, ‘they have grey hair now! I’m just getting to see them, and they have grey hair!’ This genuinely made me a giggle a bit, and I replied to her that of course they do. You don’t have an album turn thirty without some grey hairs to show for it, you know. I told her to close her eyes, and listen. She did, and said ‘God….they sound so good.’ They really did.
That is the thing with bands from decades past. Especially, if you find them late. You have them forever framed in your head just as legend, and the first time you see them, it is a bit of shock. You never thought you would get the chance, and aren’t sure what to do with the people playing in front of you versus those you’ve held on an untouchable pedestal in your head. All you have to do to fix this, at least with the Mary Chain, is just stand there, and listen. Jim’s vocals, and Williams guitar are as familiar and perfect to you as they’ve always been. One of the non-Psychocandy songs on the set list was ‘Reverence,’ and out of the entire setlist, if I could only hear one song for the night, I would want it to be that one. It’s hard to say why exactly, other than, I really love it, and they make it sound so sinister, and jarring live. Primal Scream’s Simone joined JAMC for a moment during the set to add her lovely vocals. The set was closed, as Psychocandy is, with ‘It’s So Hard.’ You know what’s actually so hard? Wondering when I’ll get to see JAMC again. They can’t leave me again, please just hang around forever.
Some Candy Talking
Up Too High
Just Like Honey
The Living End
Taste the Floor
The Hardest Walk
In a Hole
Taste of Cindy
My Little Underground
You Trip Me Up
It’s So Hard
The Black Angels
It felt so ridiculously nice to see The Black Angels at home again. I had been doing some wandering around, and in turn, had manged to catch them twice in Los Angeles. It’s just not the same. Austin and The Angels are simply made for each other. You can’t come to Psych Fest (oh fine, Levitation), and not see them. Well, you can, but it’s simply not correct, or polite. It is, after all, their fest (no really, it is). Seeing them here once a year has become tradition, and ritual. ATX’s model Psych Rock Citizens flowed effortlessly through a perfectly mind bending set, with bits and pieces of their impressive catalog melding solidly into one another. Their music just does that. Have you ever bing-listened to The Angels? You can literally start anywhere, and it all just goes together. I was surprised, and really happy, to hear their single off a recent split 7″ with Sonic Jesus called ‘Molly Moves My Generation’ included in the encore. The set was closed with a quick thank you, and the old classic ‘Black Grease.’ Forever enamored with this band.
13th Floor Elevators
This was kind of a big deal. The 13th Floor Elevators are a huge part of Psych Rock history, if not a nice chunk of the foundation. Their sound is pretty much embedded in Austin’s soil, and up until this point, they had not played together in 48 years. That being said, Roky has been playing shows solo with his own band for a few years now with a fair share of Elevator hits thrown into the mix. The end result of putting the old band back together was lackluster at best.Realistically speaking, it’s been a while, and not everything can survive the test of time. It was, in it’s own way, a really wonderful moment in history to witness. Some highlights included that amazing electric jug, ‘Reverberation, and of course. ‘Levitation’ for the fest’s namesake. The set ended with the ever-iconic ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me.’
She Lives (In a Time of Her Own)
Tried to Hide
Slip Inside This House
(I’ve Got) Levitation
Kingdom of Heaven (Is Within You)
Nobody to Love
You’re Gonna Miss Me
Chelsea Wolfe has got some seriously amazing pipes. One of the more abstractly psych bands to play the fest, she and her band brought some serious gothy-metal vibes to the elevation amphitheater. The thunderous baseline felt like it cut the air, and shook the trees next to stage with every note. Although the crowd around the stage was not the largest, you could tell how much those in attendance were truly feeling it.
A Place to Bury Strangers
With enough action out of the smoke machines to make you unable to see the person standing next to you, A Place to Bury Strangers wasted no time in tearing through their set. Oliver and Dion moved like menacing shadows through the smoke against a backdrop of strobes. You couldn’t really see Robi, but you could definitely hear him. Like, really really hear him. The constant, and rhythmic crash of the drums as they tore through the ever-growing wall of sound created by those beat up guitar and bass. It wasn’t long before the guitars ended up being tossed in the air, and the band ended up with laser lights, and instruments in the middle of the crowd to finish things out. The set was mostly heavy with songs off newest album Transfixiation . If ever you find yourself needing to be completely drowned in heavy waves of crashing sound, and forever reverbing guitar, find APTBS.
The Flaming Lips
The Flaming Lips are legend for putting on an incredible live show. The lasers, the lights, the Wayne Coyne inside of a giant inflatable bubble rolling right over your head. It’s all there. Such a perfect closer for the reverberation stage on the day 3, and the final band of the weekend for me. Another muddy, hot, wonderful year.