There was plenty of weirdness to go around last weekend at the 5th annual Austin Psych Fest — a celebration of psychedelic music and culture hosted by Austin, Texas heroes the Black Angels. This year’s lineup featured many of the biggest names in contemporary psychedelic/alternative/weird rock: The Black Angels, the Black Lips, Thee Oh Sees, the Meat Puppets, Olivia Tremor Control, Dead Meadow, Telescopes, Wooden Shjips, and the Brian Jonestown Massacre.
The peaks and valleys of Psych Fest:
* Psych Fest featured two venues, Emo’s East and the Beauty Ballroom, well outside of Austin’s downtown/6th St. music mecca, but well suited to the festival. The sparkly Beauty Ballroom featured smaller and local acts in a more intimate setting, including a Friday set from Moon Duo, featuring Wooden Shjips’ guitarist Ripley Johnson and partner Sanae Yamada, recent Colorado transplants.
* The Black Angels put on a great party, and played a darkly groovy set on Friday night, featuring a diverse collection of songs from all three of their albums. Angels guitarist Christian Bland, who books the bands for the festival, also played in several other sets over the three days, with his own side projects and as a guest to visiting bands.
* Dead Meadow’s Friday night set made the heads happy, and featured the weekend’s best light show by far: a swirling kaleidoscope of oil and water, colors and patterns — beautiful for even the soberest Psych Fest fan.
* The Black Lips closed Saturday night with a raucous but tight set of rock ‘n’ roll ridiculousness, firing up Saturday’s young, un-sober crowd.
* The best three hours of music from the festival came Sunday night, and started with an upbeat, focused set from San Fransisco’s psych-drone outfit Wooden Shjips (a rare treat to see live in the U.S.). Following the Shjips was a super joyful set of guitar wizardry from Bombino, a tuareg guitarist from the Saharan desert. Bombino, decked in Saharan finery and an outrageously contagious smile, simultaneously channeled Ali Farka Tour and Jimi Hendrix, and kept his grooves far out enough to please the psyched-out audience. Bombino’s set was followed by a happy, high-energy hour of surf/garage/punk-pop from San Fransisco’s Thee Oh-Sees.
* The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s set at Psych Fest was a beautiful mess — some really nice moments punctuated by Anton Newcombe’s signature surliness. BJM is at its best when the members stay focused on the music and resist bantering with the crowd, their roadies, and each other — but Sunday’s set wandered between plenty of barbs, some meandering jams, and some truly beautiful music.
* Pouring out of Psych Fest well after 2 a.m. for three days in a row, we were happy and grateful for Austin’s easy-going, affordable late night restaurants — but most especially for the delicious authentic Mexican eats and bottomless horchatas at Taquerias Arandinas, directly across the street from Emo’s East. It’s hard to beat perfect $2 tacos after a long night of psyching out.
* Everywhere you go in Austin, you’re reminded by T-shirts, bumper stickers and graffiti to “Keep Austin Weird.” Austin Psych Fest certainly provided a safe haven for some amazing bands, some inspired musical exploration, and plenty of weirdness. I’d go back in a minute.
Amy McGrath is a Denver-based writer and regular contributor to Reverb.