Austin Psych Fest gets really cool after sunset. As the shimmering Texas heat fades into twilight, the mind-expanding music and light shows begin to make a certain, surreal kind of sense. In its return to Carson Creek Ranch, festival organizers (including Black Angels’ Alex Maas and Christian Bland,) have found a home that is an especially fitting location for a psychedelic music festival. Set on a picturesque stretch of the Colorado River, and directly under the landing path of the nearby airport, the contrast of natural beauty with the sometimes impressive roar and vibration of low flying jet liners is excellently and appropriately weird.
The inviting festival is full of fun and thoughtful accouterment: installation art, lounge tents and teepees to escape the heat, delicious food trucks (Austin supports a major food truck culture), and a massive oak tree full of rope swings. The Psych Fest crowd is a mellow mix of varied ages, united by a certain bandana-masked outlaw cool in a common quest to avoid breathing too much of the ranch’s dust. And now in its seventh year, Austin Psych Fest has really come into its own.
With more than 80 bands on the three-day lineup, it’s impossible to see everything, and we avoided some of mid-afternoon heat in favor of staying up for the late, late bands. The festival supports three stages: The largest acts on the main Reverberation Stage, the heaviest, weirdest stuff in the Levitation tent, and a super diverse lineup of bands at the lovely Elevation Ampitheatre, perched bankside of the Colorado River.
Some snapshots of the bands at Austin Psych Fest 2014:
– The Black Lips, who had one of the most energetic sets at APF two years ago, brought a fun but relatively laid back set to Friday night’s main stage. The band covered new music from this year’s release, “Underneath the Rainbow,” and some old favorites like “O, Katrina!,” but failed to summon the ferocious party punk energy that their shows are known for.
– The Zombies, known for their cool ’60s psych-pop radio hits “Time of the Season” and “She’s Not There” came across mostly as a nostalgia act. Though it is impressive that APF producers are insistent on honoring psych rock across the generations.
– The Dandy Warhols played a strong set of jangly psych folk rock, and were joined onstage by members of Brian Jonestown Massacre. BJM, led by famously mercurial Anton Newcombe put in a strong, interesting set of their own to close out the main stage on Saturday.
– The Black Angels owned the festival they created during Friday night’s strongest main stage set. The band manages to be both intense and cheerfully dark.
– Cooling off by the river on Saturday afternoon was especially pleasant to the sounds of Boogarins, a young Brazilian band featuring lilting melodies paired with fuzzy guitars.
– One of the strongest sets of the fest was Moon Duo rocking the Levitation Tent. For this show, guitarist Ripley Johnson (of Wooden Shjips) and partner Sanae Yamada on keyboards, were actually a trio. The act’s drum machine had been replaced by a live drummer who really fired up the set, which zigzagged between danceable electro pop and deeply psychedelic guitar jams.
– Arizona based Destruction Unit played an intense set of fierce noise rock, in which the audience got to hear exactly what it sounds like to be inside the mouth of singer Ryan Rousseau. Unfortunately for the band and many of its fans, the schedule of the Levitation Tent was running well ahead, so lots of people showed up to see the band just as it was finishing its set.
– APF featured several bands that have recently played Denver, including Bombino, Cosmonauts, Temples and War on Drugs. There’s a huge difference between playing on stages like the Larimer Lounge and large festival stages like APF, but these bands really commanded the large stage. Cosmonauts played an audacious set of bright surf punk pop to the sundrenched crowd. War on Drugs frontman Adam Granduciel seemed far more relaxed and in his element than he had at the Bluebird Theater in April, and the band’s Sunday night set sounded large, lush and lovely.
– Animal Collective’s art noise was well represented at the festival with sets from both Avery Tare’s Slasher Flicks and Panda Bear.
– Heavy Japanese acid metal seems to be the real deal as evidenced by weighty sets from newcomers Bo Ningen, and festival favorites Acid Mother’s Temple, who play Denver’s hi-dive on May 14th. Less heavy was trance-inducing set from Kikagaku Moyo.
– British psychedelia was also well represented at the festival by a variety of bands. Newcomers Temples had a shimmery, lovely collection of polished songs reminiscent of early Pink Floyd that worked as the perfect accompaniment to Saturday’s sunset. The Horrors‘ British goth sound came off as somewhat plastic and hollow in comparison. Sunday’s closers LOOP, recently reformed after a 20+ year hiatus, brought a heavy, heady drone that was the perfect send-off for psych festers headed homeward into the clear Austin night.
Amy McGrath is a Denver-based writer and regular contributor to Reverb.