Updated August 20, 2021 - 7:21 am
It’s getting harder and harder to describe, even for us Review-Journal laptop wizards who earn vast riches painting pictures with words.
Psycho Las Vegas.
What is it exactly — other than one of the best music festivals in a city increasingly known for them?
How do you succinctly characterize a musical lineup this wide-ranging?
OK. Deep breath. Here we go.
Psycho Las Vegas is a three-day marathon of hard rock, death metal, hip-hop, alt-country, New Wave, funk, reggae, garage rock, psych rock, thrash, stand-up comedy, punk, electronica, grindcore, metal core, noise rock, stoner rock and more spread across four different venues at Mandalay Bay.
The fest dubs itself “America’s rock n’ roll bacchanal.” Maybe we should just go with that.
However you want to encapsulate it, Psycho Las Vegas is upon us once again after taking 2020 off due to COVID-19. It’s the first big fest to get back in action since the pandemic, kicking off a loaded local festival season from September to November.
It hasn’t been without its hiccups.
A chunk of bands have had to drop off the lineup due to lingering coronavirus issues, predominately European bands, including two of Psycho’s original three headliners, black metallers Emperor and classic metal greats Mercyful Fate.
But replacements have been enlisted, and well over 100 acts will perform from Friday-Sunday (there’s also the “Psycho Swim” pool party at Daylight Beachclub on Thursday).
Here are but 10 of many performances you don’t want to miss:
Yes, the collection of solo albums by Wu-Tang Clan members is nearly as expansive as this heady, chess-lovin’ MC’s vocabulary, but his murky masterpiece “Liquid Swords” ranks among the very best. He’ll commemorate the 25th anniversary of the kung-fu-informed classic by performing it in its entirety with a live band. Don’t shame your family any more than you already have in life by skipping this one.
As grandma used to say, “There’s always time for a good, ol’ fashioned ‘Severed Head Stoning,’ right kids?” “Violence Unimagined,” the new album from this entrails-enjoyin’ death metal institution, is yet another benchmark in technical and lyrical brutality. Get ready to charge “Headlong into Carnage,” boys and girls.
Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears
So, you want to bust some moves, but not necessarily in the pit, where drinks are easily imperiled — to quote Jeffrey Lebowski, “Careful, man, there’s a beverage here!” No worries, these James Brown-inspired, soul-blues badasses will get hips swiveling like a wind sock in a hurricane while keeping those Bud Lights at a safe distance from the moshers.
Curl Up and Die
Time for some local love: This late-’90s Vegas metalcore troupe established itself as an underground favorite with its equally intricate and assaultive repertoire before disbanding in 2004. They got back at it 2019, and it’s a welcome return: Their 2002 debut, “Unfortunately, We’re Not Robots,” still smokes like “No Cure for Cancer”-era Denis Leary.
Yeah, it’s hot enough outside to have even Beelzebub reaching for his Speedo, but this veteran electronic music duo will chill things out a bit with their jazz-influenced downtempo discography. They’ll be like be a Calgon bath for your ear holes after the savaging they’ll take for much of the weekend.
Sure, there will be plenty of tears salting the beers of black metal diehards at Psycho Las Vegas this year, with Scandinavian forebears Emperor, Mayhem, Satyricon, Ulver and others all having canceled their performances due to visa issues. But this long-running New York black metal battering ram can still satiate the musical blood-thirst of scene partisans. Hug a goat.
His nickname is “Big Velvet” for a baritone that’ll inevitably have you seeing ghosts of Johnny Cash. This outlaw country throwback is everything a contemporary star like Luke Bryan isn’t: namely, listenable. And if Cauthen’s “Cocaine Country Dancing” doesn’t gets your boots scootin’, well, maybe you’re more suited for flip-flops, chief.
These grindcore prime movers have evolved from shrieking out feverish, 30-second blasts of larynx-agitating scream therapy into one of the genre’s most progressive, forward-thinking acts, with frontman J.R. Hayes’ black-hole-dark death prose scarier than your bar tab when Psycho’s over.
Blame it on the bossa nova: This self-described “American girl with a French name” adroitly intermingles vintage reggae and Brazilian tropicalia into a sound that swings and seduces at once. If her songbook was a cocktail, it would definitely come served with a little paper umbrella.
“It’s a long way back from hell,” Danzig namesake Glenn Danzig croons on the opening track of his band’s 1990 sophomore effort, “Danzig II,” and the “Evil Elvis” has made the trip in style, his bluesy repertoire equally indebted to Roy Orbison, The Doors, sex and Satan. Danzig will celebrate the 30th anniversary of their second record by playing it front-to-back. The “Killer Wolf” howls again.