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Psycho Las Vegas’ sprawling lineup charts the lineage of hard rock

The idea originated in the back of a van during a trip from Philadelphia to Ohio, where a heavy metal hippie and a group of young Swedes bonded over sounds synonymous with white noise and gold hearts.

A few years back, Scandinavian rockers In Solitude were traveling to their first show on their first American tour, joined by the dude who got them there, booking agent/band manager/self-professed easygoing longhair Sean “Pellet” Pelletier.

The latter was particularly impressed by the selection of tunes the band jammed on the car stereo en route to the gig.

“They were playing all my favorite stuff,” Pelletier recalls, practically purring his words, like a kitten getting its belly rubbed. “They played the Swans, then they went to Neil Young to some metal I really dug. I was like, ‘You guys are in your late teens/early 20s and you’re in tune with all this stuff?’ And Pelle (Ahman, the band’s singer) said, ‘I think the new trend is just going to be people liking all the best stuff from all these different genres.’ ”

Now, this seems like a simple enough concept, especially in the post-iPod age, where genre boundaries can be negated by tapping ‘shuffle.’

But things get trickier when attempting to apply this outlook to a music festival — and a hard rock-/metal-based one at that. Abroad, metal festivals are known both for their plenitude, magnitude and diversity of bands, with the melodic and the guttural swapping sweat in the same mosh pits. Stateside, though, it’s the opposite: there are far fewer fests, they’re much smaller, and those that have established a measure of longevity, like the Maryland Death Fest, perhaps the country’s most celebrated event of this ilk, tend to favor specific subgenres.

Into this void marches the inaugural Psycho Las Vegas, a three-day, decades-spanning hard rock genome map co-curated by Pelletier, who booked the event from the viewpoint gleaned from the aforementioned van ride.

With close to 100 bands performing at three venues at the Hard Rock Hotel (The Joint, Vinyl and the pool stage), Psycho pairs influential acts like Blue Oyster Cult, Candlemass and Alice Cooper with a multitude of their musical descendants — and the descendants of those descendants, and so on — spanning dozens of strains of hard rock, from doom to psychedelia, stoner metal to space rock, improvised jams to carefully-mapped prog, chronicling the evolution of heavy music along the way.

“It kind of traces its lineage,” notes Jeff Matz, bassist for metal hellions High on Fire, speaking about the manner in which the fest wades into the hard rock gene pool. “It’s a crazy lineup.”

The lineage in question begins with some rare performances from oft-overlooked garage and proto-punk trailblazers from the ’60s and early ’70s, like Detroit’s Death, Iowa’s Truth and Janey, who haven’t played out since the ’80s, and British psych rock square pegs The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, who last toured in 1969.

As for fellow elder statesman Cooper, he seems to be amped about topping a bill loaded with both old friends like Brown and some harder-edged younger bands.

“I think metal is the only form of rock and roll right now that has attitude,” Cooper says from a tour stop in New Orleans. “Most rock bands now are so lame. They’re afraid to be rock stars. We go out there with more attitude than you can imagine.”

This being said, in the context of Psycho Las Vegas, “heavy” is a relative term, ranging from the instrumental Afro-soul of The Budos Band, the dusky alt-country of Wovenhand and the way-ahead-of-its-time post-hardcore of Drive Like Jehu, who’ve recently reunited after disbanding in the mid-’90s.

In other words, Psycho Las Vegas isn’t all about roof-rattling power chords and over-driven amplifiers.

So, what is it about?

Well, there’s no real unifying aesthetic for the fest, though Jus Oborn, frontman for British riff behemoths Electric Wizard, who headline the main stage Saturday night, identifies one thing the diverse roster might have in common.

“They’re all the kinds of bands that people might want to smoke pot to,” he explains. “There’s definitely that kind of feel to it.”

This feel is an open-ended one, though, which lends the Psycho lineup a uniquely freewheeling kind of vibe.

“I think it makes the most sense out of any other festival,” says Nate Newton, bassist for metalcore game changers Converge. “I feel like fans of heavy music, generally speaking, are not afraid of getting out of their little subgenres. I think we’re all tapping into the same kind of underlying sensibility.”

While Psycho Las Vegas is making its debut this year, the fest’s roots extend back to 2013, when California-based artist management and concert promotion company Psycho Entertainment held the Psycho De Mayo psych rock fest in Santa Ana, California. Psycho De Mayo became Psycho California in 2015, before venturing out of its home state for the first time this year.

While there’s no word yet on whether this will become an annual event, Pelletier says that ticket sales have been strong, with fans traveling from as far as South America and Eastern Europe.

He expects the fest to sell out.

In addition to all the bands on hand, there will also be documentary film screenings and celebrity DJs, like Anthrax’s Scott Ian, spinning tunes at the casino’s Center Bar. The nightclub Vanity will be turned into a black light lounge featuring the works of notable rock artists like Arik Roper and Dirty Donny Gillies.

“I really want to create this outsider oasis,” Pelletier says. “I’m hoping that we can create that vibe of a huge getaway for the weekend.”

Jeremy Brenton, drummer for Vegas doom favorites Demon Lung, the lone band from these parts playing the fest, equates said vibe to the communal feel of a horror convention — basically a bunch of die-hards bonding over a shared passion, you know, sans the zombie get-ups and fake blood.

“I think this is going to be the same kind of thing,” Brenton says, before referencing a certain underground Brit stoner rock troupe. “For the first time in my life, I’m going to be a room with thousands of people who know who Orange Goblin is.”

Read more from Jason Bracelin at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com and follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

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