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7 standout performances from Psycho Las Vegas’ biggest, best fest yet

Updated August 19, 2019 - 1:26 pm

Even the beach balls were black.

It was a bit past 6:30 p.m. Friday and Portland, Oregon’s loud and shaggy Yob was providing an unlikely soundtrack for a day at the beach with screaming-at-the-edge-of-the-abyss doom metal.

Hey, let’s all kick sand in the face of hope together!

It was probably the first time that dudes in jean jackets had waded into the Mandalay Bay Beach pool — hot enough to dip their toes in the water, yet cool enough to keep their denim threads intact.

Yes, Psycho Las Vegas 2019 had officially arrived.

Relocating to Mandalay Bay after three years at the Hard Rock Hotel, the wide-ranging heavy music fest benefited from an expanded footprint with larger venues for its biggest and best incarnation yet.

There were as many highlights as there were black T-shirts and beards: indie metal super-group Old Man Gloom’s impossibly heavy performance on Saturday at the Events Center; The Black Angels’ tranportive psychedelia Saturday at the beach; Uncle Acid & The Dead Beats’ hallucinatory hard rock Sunday at the Events Center; Opeth’s kaleidoscopic prog at the same venue later that night; horn-powered funk troupe the Polyphonics getting the dance floor moving at the Rhythms and Riffs Lounge on Sunday. It was an exhilarating three days of sensory overload and sunburns. Here are a few noteworthy performances:

Triumph of Death

Dressed like a funeral procession, head to toe in black, Tom G. Warrior posed a question.

“Are we suitably morbid?” the Triumph of Death majordomo wondered aloud Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

Big, clawed, demon thumbs up, Tom.

This was the U.S. debut of Warrior’s new, old band: Triumph of Death, named after the second demo from Swiss extremists Hellhammer, the group that Warrior founded in 1981 under the pseudonym Satanic Slaughter.

Triumph of Death revisits that band’s highly primitive — and highly influential — catalog, none of which was officially released at the time.

Nevertheless, with Warrior’s guttural gargle giving hoarse voice to over-the-top Luciferean themes at perilous speeds, the band became an important touchstone in the then-burgeoning black- and death-metal scenes. (Think Motorhead, if frontman Lemmy Kilmister was more into Satan and death than whiskey and women.)

At Psycho, Warrior and company convincingly ripped through nearly a dozen of the band’s tunes in a long overdue, “Reaper”-populated victory lap.

En Minor

Chomping his gum with enough vehemence to suggest that his jaw might be spring-loaded, Phil Anselmo looked a little nervous.

You could forgive the former Pantera and current Down/Superjoint frontman for being jittery Friday night at the House of Blues. This was something new.

For starters, Anselmo took the stage in something we’d never seen before: an article of clothing with sleeves. Nattily attired in a black suit and flanked by a seven-piece band that included a cellist, Anselmo debuted En Minor.

He had said before the band’s unveiling that its music was rooted in his love for ’80s goth and darker New Wave. But the songs Anselmo performed Friday felt much more indebted to Leonard Cohen, as he adopted a husky, lower-register rumble evocative of that songwriting great in the latter half of his career.

Singing of hard truths in soft, aching tones, Anselmo led the band in dark, dramatic tunes with an emphasis on texture rather than his usual torque.

“We’re throwing a left hook here,” Anselmo acknowledged. It wasn’t a knockout blow, but it landed solidly.

The Original Misfits

Death came ripping at 9:30 p.m. Saturday. Flanked by giant pumpkins and skull-adorned amplifiers, the band that doubles as Halloween incarnate took the stage.

The Original Misfits, playing their second Vegas gig since reuniting in 2016, got fists and voices elevated in unison at the Events Center, where the horror-punk pioneers were greeted like returning war heroes.

And in a way they were, having spent many years manning the front lines of an internecine battle between singer Glenn Danzig and bassist Jerry Only, whose long-running feud kept them from performing together for decades.

Now they take their ire out on the songs instead of one another, and to good effect, putting the hammer down on one punk-rock karaoke party staple after the next, from “Where Eagles Dare” to “Astro Zombies” to a wildly full-throated “Skulls,” which garnered maybe the loudest singalong in the four-year-history of Psycho Las Vegas.

The Misfits’ catalog — posited on two-minute blasts of hooks and hellfire populated by libidinous teenage martians and brain-eaters of various stripes — is so tight, simple and sturdily constructed, it remains ageless. You know, kind of like a good scare.

Mark Lanegan

In a biblical voice he sings of biblical things.

Lust, temptation, sacrifice, loss and, yes, love, double as the ink on the pages of Mark Lanegan’s songbook, where redemption is frequently sought in solemn tones.

Lanegan sings as if his soul is on the line, and judging by his words, maybe it is. His voice is so grave, he could recite the ingredients to a bottle of Head & Shoulders and make you feel sad.

On Saturday, he brought heart-in-a-vise blues dirges and subtly electronically enhanced torch songs to Mandalay Bay Beach, dueting with Cold Cave/American Nightmare frontman Wes Eisold on a set-ending “Finding Nero.”

It was fitting that dusk fell as Lanegan performed, his voice casting shadows in unison with the setting sun.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor

They spoke among the loudest of all the bands — and without saying a word.

Montreal instrumental collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor mesmerized the Events Center on Friday with slow-building songs positioned somewhere between elegance and urgency.

Guitars were like bubbles ascending in a vat of boiling water, building to a steamy froth. Violin shot through the haze, as a pair of drummers supplied the rhythmic scaffolding the songs were built upon.

The 10-piece band actually includes a pair of film projectionists in its ranks, and while it can be cliche to label music of this ilk “cinematic,” Godspeed’s repertoire has a specific visual component.

Scenes of urban decay and industrial blight were among the many images projected behind them, lending their songs a tense, almost paranoid feel.

This was a call to action, intentionally presented without a voice — the whole point is for you to supply one.

Clutch

He sang of weaponized funk, and that’s exactly how one might describe a good portion of frontman Neil Fallon and Clutch’s songbook.

A bearded lighting bolt who flashes across the stage with eyes wide and whiskers thick, Fallon is a blues busker writ large, an exclamation point trapped inside a man’s body, fronting a band adept at striking the balance between playing incredibly tight and hip-swishingly loose.

As a live act, Clutch remains hard to beat, demonstrated again Saturday at the Events Center, where the rhythm section of drummer Jean-Paul Gaster and bassist Dan Maines locked in on grooves that you could feel in your chest.

Then there was Fallon out front, proselytizing about tractor beams, hot rods and how, if he were president, he’d put Jimi Hendrix on the $20 bill.

“I know how to work a room,” he sang on “How to Shake Hands.” Yeah.

Beach House

Backlit, nothing but a silhouette onstage, you couldn’t see her face. Yet you could read her emotions as if they came illuminated beneath a spotlight.

This is the power of Victoria Legrand’s voice. Beatific and haunting at once, it expresses those things that mere words sometimes cannot.

The Beach House singer-keyboardist entranced Sunday at the Events Center as guitarist Alex Scally, seated next to her, made his instrument wail, leaning hard into the thing at times, turning dissonance into something dreamlike.

This was indie rock at its most immersive and anesthetizing. The band’s performance had a hypnotic effect at times, with songs that swelled and enveloped on waves of synth and arcing guitar lines.

“Sorry, sometimes I get carried away,” Legrand sang on “Alien,” taking the crowd right along with her.

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

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