After gorging on over 21 hours of Swedish black metal, synth-driven sci-fi prog, Detroit soul hellfire and plenty more, here’s what you need to know about the first two days of the Psycho Las Vegas fest, which continues to rage at the Hard Rock through Monday.
And the inaugural Bronze Cochlea Award goes to …
At Psycho Las Vegas thus far, there has been no shortage of two things: 1). Black band T-shirts — Want to play the world’s most boring drinking game? Come here and slam a shot every time you see a fest-goer in pastels — and 2). Deafening volume. How extreme have things gotten? On Saturday, it sounded like a jetliner was making an emergency landing in your ear canal when A Place To Bury Strangers went off at the The Joint. But for sheer, unrivaled, bordering-on-painful loudness, we’ve got to go with amps-to-twelve hellions High on Fire, who also held court on Saturday at The Joint. The trio’s assaultive rumble was so concussive — think Motorhead to the next power — that you could feel the reverberations rattling in your sternum, like your chest cavity was filled with mini-Clydesdales, stampeding your ribs with steel hooves. To use official music industry parlance, it was “Pretty sweet, dude.”
No competition for boldest fashion statement
It looked like something swiped from the closet of the late Liberace — you know, if Liberace was a heavy metal buccaneer on a rainbow-colored pirate ship. Pentagram frontman Bobby Liebling—a man with eyes wilder than a sack of feral cats—sported a flowing purple shirt sizable enough to cover a baseball infield should thunderstorms approach. Some gnarly turquoise pants completed the ensemble. The get-up was much like Leibling himself: He’s a one-of-a-kind square peg who’s always been out of step with the times—in a good way. Libeling’s a doom forebear, a cult figure whose influence is much more palpable in these surroundings, where Pentagram’s sharing the stage with a number of acts that bear their direct influence (The band that followed Pentagram at The Joint on Friday, New Orleans supergroup Down, being chief among them). Clearly, Liebling is flush with emotions after finally beginning to get his due following decades of drug abuse that once derailed his career: Following an impassioned performance of the brittle-hearted “Last Days Here,” an epic of longing, he wiped a tear from his eye. His did so with the back of his hand, of course — surely he didn’t want to get any unwanted moisture on those shirt sleeves.
Yes, there have been some tough scheduling conflicts. Here’s the worst:
To accurately quote a famous Charles Dickens passage word-for-word, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of tasty doom riffage, it was the age of derriere quaking Afro-funk, it was the epoch of bad ass, bad-witch frontwomen, it was the epoch of trumpet players in death metal T-shirts…” As that English literary great knew full well, it’s damn hard to choose between some supremely haunting heavy metal and powerhouse instrumental funk, in any era. And yet, on Saturday at 3 p.m., that’s the painful decision that the Pyscho masses had to make. At Vinyl, Vegas’ Demon Lung turned the room into a communal seance, frontwoman Shanda Fredrick’s doleful, chilling incantantions suggestive of a woman who’s just seen a ghost — in the mirror, perhaps? But, where there is darkness, there is light: Countering Demon Lung’s bad omens with good vibes, New York City’s The Budos Band enlivened The Joint with perhaps the most festive, purely fun set of the weekend thus far, powered by pulse-goosing horns and impossibly manic percussion supplied by a dude in a Napalm Death T-shirt. Hard as it was to pull yourself away from one or the other, it would have even more of a challenge to skip either.
Everybody makes mistakes. Even Psycho Las Vegans.
OK, for this entry, we need you to imagine that the Psycho Las Vegas crowd on Friday around 10 p.m. was the sad-sack, half-deaf police officer that Sylvester Stallone portrayed in “Copland.” Now, we’ll be Robert DeNiro, who played the role of the crusty internal affairs investigator chewing on a sandwich and chewing out Stallone at the same time towards the end of the flick. “You blew it!” we bellow through a spray of hoagie bits, our indignation as thick as DeNiro’s ‘stache. The offense? The general indifference that the crowd showed toward the rhythmic convulsions of San Diego’s Drive Like Jehu. Though only a couple hundred onlookers took in the band’s set in a nearly-empty Joint, Jehu never let their modest audience catch their breath, turning the cultivation of guitar dissonance into one exhilarating, albeit intense, art form. At one point, guitarist John Reis wielded his instrument like a shovel and mimicked digging into the stage, ostensibly unearthing a grave for your sense of well-being.
Best of the fest thus far:
5. A Place to Bury Strangers. This New York City noise-gaze trio characterize their sound as “total sonic annihilation.” Their showing at The Joint proved that they’re not being hyperbolic.
4. Converge. Singer Jacob Bannon exorcised his demons while sounding like one as Converge demonstrated that metallic hardcore can serve as both battering ram and beacon of hope Friday afternoon at The Joint.
3. Drive Like Jehu. See above. Don’t blow it!
2. Boris. Stone-faced guitar goddess Wata betrayed absolutely no emotion when Boris played their near-perfect “Pink” album in its entirety on Saturday at The Joint. Nor did she have to: the elated crowd before her supplied plenty of grins.
1. Electric Wizard. Arguably the most anticipated band of the weekend thanks to riffs that register as a deeper shade of Black Sabbath, these Beelzebub lovin’ Brits took Psycho Las Vegas to hell on Saturday at The Joint. It was heavenly.