Austin Psych Fest began on Friday, April 27 with shows at Emo's East and The Beauty Ballroom in Austin, TX.
Austin Psych Fest is its own little world. The fest took over two venues and a courtyard space randomly strewn with zig-zagging prints and colored cut-outs of eyes. It's an alternate reality where no one cuts their hair, lights and videos jump and dazzle, a droning, fuzzy sound is always in the air – a nihilistic neo-hippie beehive – and stoner vans are put to their proper use.
The wall of impenetrable fuzz that pervaded the first day of the fest, and that will continue to enclose its audience for the next two (lingering in eardrums the mornings after), was mirrored in the wall of bodies stuffed into each venue – strict, staring, and slowly nodding like a bunch of kids who don’t need no education. Trapped in watching, the crowds fed off of the milk and honey of each band, but low-energy performances from a number of the groups kept the psyching out in the mind, not the bodies, of their fellow freaks.
Lotus Plaza and Sleep Over both fell into the void for their sets, each met with sound- check troubles that translated into an uncomfortable presence onstage. Sleep Over’s now-solo act came perhaps a bit too late in the night, clocking in around 11:30pm after all was said and done, and while watching Stefanie Franciotti dance on her tiptoes in tight black pants to her David-Lynch-in-the-80s soundtrack is a beautiful thing in itself, Franciotti’s frenetic movements from instrument to instrument kept her looking stressed and us uncomfortable.
Lotus Plaza also seemed a little caught off-guard on stage. Driven and unsmiling, Lockett Pundt curled around the microphone with a sure swagger, but his band lacked confidence, his baby-faced keyboardist coquettishly avoiding our eyes. Though I was expecting a bit more of an upbeat set, Lotus Plaza instead expanded into a number of slow-burning, sad-thought songs and directionless collages that eventually morphed into some of their more poppy numbers, but the burn was so slow, it was almost boring.
Local band Ringo Deathstarr was a welcome jolt of energy after Lotus Plaza, mixing Elliott Frazier’s monotone male vocals with the courted cooing of caught-in-the- headlights redheaded bassist Alex Gehring, giving off a Beat Happening vibe. California dreamers Allah Las also broke through blue projections with western-tinged slow-jams to a largely empty Emos (the extra dancing space greatly appreciated for these sensual, sandy songs). Another California band, Cosmonauts, sang beach songs buried in echoing distortion, humming “papa-oom-mow-mow” as slow as possible, like the Beach Boys on downers, surf kids with no future.
Caught in swirling lights, Moon Duo, the marriage of Wooden Shjips’ Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada, emitted incredibly thick, dark beats pulsing along with the projections, like a clogged sink in a haunted house…if you could dance to the sound of a clogged sink. Almost in a trance, Yamada tossed her hair methodically back and forth, sweeping a back curtain across her face and turning her pretty profile to Johnson again and again (even though he kept his eyes locked down) as she pounded the keys that gave his wailing, spitting, fuzzed-out guitar a base. You could cut the air between them with something sharp, and the connection between the two was captivating to watch.
The night ended with a fantastic double shot of Dead Meadow and The Black Angels: bigger names, bigger crowds, and more energetic than the bands that came before them. Pressed up against the barrier, thoroughly exhausted from a full day of sun and sound, rung out by a never-ending torrent of delicious feedback, it was still impossible to keep still as the Angels tore into their set, the crowd turning into a sea of swinging hair and whipping necks. Turning the voided-out droning of the afternoon on its head, revealing that crunching release that draws us to this kind of music, Dead Meadow and The Black Angels made good on the promise of a stops-pulled show-closer, sending us home with a blissed-out, broke-down, badass reverberation bouncing from inner ear to inner ear.