After being pummeled by rain earlier in the week with a final blow hitting just as the gates opened on Friday afternoon, the organizers behind Levitation aka Austin Psych Fest were forced to make sacrifices. This meant frantically reconfiguring the site layout of Carson Creek Ranch by moving the main stage as well as the beloved Levitation Amphitheater, a picturesque smaller stage that sits on the Colorado River with a scenic backdrop. Festival-goers tried to keep a good attitude as they trod through the mud that inundated the ground, and if you did your best to levitate above the craziness of the first night, the weather worked out and there were plenty of bands worth seeing.
The balmy air on Friday night added to the trippy tunes coming from each stage, and a sweaty dankness actually complimented some acts. There was DIIV’s (pronounced dive) jangly, droning jams that would have served as a nice soundtrack for mainlining a big shot of dope, and that’s a compliment. Later on Spiritualized furthered this vibe with a set mellow enough to give just about everyone the nods. Rhode Island noise rock duo Lightning Bolt was one act that transcended the weather to steal the thunder from every other act on the bill that night. Their set in the tent carried the manic energy of a swarm of bees as drummer Brian Chippendale and bassist Brian Gibson buzzed off of one another with blast beats and grinding riffs. It may have been too muddy for the duo to set up in the middle of the crowd as they have been known to do, but one overzealous and underdressed fellow decided to come to them. The remarkable part about that naked man who jumped onstage was that Lightning Bolt seemed to embrace it, allowing him to yell into the mike before he was nicely escorted offstage. If there was one band capable of following Lightning Bolt it was Austin’s own The Sword, who dosed the festival with a hit of ominous stoner metal. Seizing the moment, the group debuted new tunes and locked into sludgy grooves as thick as the muggy air of the tent.
Lightning Bolt and naked dude
Lucky for festival-goers and especially campers, the weather held out on Saturday, but the heaviest-hitting lineup came on Sunday. A tornado watch loomed, yet warm weather and sunshine prevailed. As the crowd loosened up with the passing of joints and brown liquor stashed in water bottles, loveable oddball Mac DeMarco and his band of hooligans kicked out the jams. The group’s appeal came not so much in their original debauched pop tunes like “Ode To Viceroy”, “Rock and Roll Nightclub”, and “Blue Boy”, but in their humorous banter with the crowd. While Mac changed a guitar string bassist Pierce McGarry induced a look of mixed confusion and laughter when he covered Coldplay’s “Yellow”, and later the group exercised their instrumental chops, covering only the guitar solo portion of Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ In The Years” for several minutes. English band Fat White Family would keep things nasty later on when they unloaded a wad of scuzzy, inebriated rock and roll on an appreciative crowd that included the Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne, who watched from on the stage.
Fat White Family
As darkness fell Psych Fest royalty The Black Angels delivered one of the tightest sets of the weekend, one perpetrated by the haunting, nasally voice of Alex Maas, the kaleidoscopic 12-string playing of Christian Bland, and the thunderous beats of Stephanie Bailey. The Angels set was only further proof that the Austin group are the quintessential torch-bearers of dark, reverb-laced psychedelic rock. And no other band could have set the tone for what was easily the most anticipated set of the weekend: the reunion of psychedelic pioneers the 13th Floor Elevators. Playing together for the first time in 47 years, there were expected bumps from the group. Sound issues plagued the first few songs and the members of the group seemed to still be getting comfortable playing together, but who could blame them? Ultimately things picked up as singer Roky Erickson gave his piercing wail to songs like “Tried To Hide”, “Levitation” and “Splash One”, and Tommy Hall kept the electrified jug – a cornerstone of the group’s sound – going at full tilt. Through the fifty minute set the Elevators seemed to be genuinely enjoying the moment, giving their tripped out garage rock to an audience of mostly young people. It felt unfair to make the old timers hobble offstage instead of just staying on to play their final song, an all too appropriate “You’re Gonna Miss Me”, but the applause when they came to take a bow was one of true gratitude. Without the influence and legacy of the Elevators, it’s arguable that basically every single band on the Psych Fest lineup would not even exist. It was a special moment indeed.
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Levitation concluded with the biggest spectacle of the weekend when the Flaming Lips hit the stage for a set of their own candy-coated psych out music. The Lips succeeded in doing exactly what they aim to do with every show, which is to create euphoria that comes not so much from the music but from a dazzling sensory overload of lights, confetti and giant balloons. Between the relief that the weather held off and the Technicolor happiness of Wayne Coyne and co., it was hard not to feel the exuberance of the moment.
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In its 8-year history only the last 3 Psych Fests have been at Carson Creek Ranch. Overall, the weather was only a slight thorn in the side of those willing to brave it, however, it also highlighted a number of issues that come with growing the event, like the at times frustrating parking situation, insufficient port-a-potties and unreliable shuttle service. If you can get over that stuff, you are still left with one of the more interesting festivals when it comes to bands and attendees. Let’s hope it stays that way.
Photos by Arthur VanRooy.