Courtney Barnett, Kurt Vile, Lido Pimienta, and More Austin Psych Fest Reviews

Dispatches from three days at the Far Out Lounge

“How psyched are y’all?” “We’re so psyched to be here!” We’d missed out on such onstage banter in the since-2015 gap after Austin Psych Fest rebranded to Levitation.

But with South Austin’s Far Out Lounge & Stage as a willing two-stage host, the OG event relaunched last year, getting everyone psyched up all over again. Round two managed to narrowly avoid any storm cancellations and hold down an organized three-day roster of established indie rock and pop, not quite as experimental as the expansive multi-venue main event on Halloweekend, but with no set time overlaps. Check out the Chronicle music team’s reviews from three days of Austin Psych Fest below. – Rachel Rascoe

Courtney Barnett at Austin Psych Fest (Photo by Isabella Martinez)

Courtney Barnett Unleashes Her Catalog

If you only knew her pensive, languid hits, you might place Courtney Barnett in a sunny afternoon slot. Tapping bassist Zach Dawes and always-impressive Warpaint drummer Stella Mozgawa, however, the Australian singer-songwriter earned her Friday headline as a live-wire, hard-rocking power trio. Barnett and company rendered fan favorites like “Avant Gardener” and “Pedestrian at Best” with increased energy; even the wistful “Depreston” took on an upbeat quality thanks to Mozgawa’s pummeling percussion. Still, it was most fun to watch the left-handed guitarist in her element. With years on the road with these songs, Barnett’s one of those musicians who makes the whole thing look easy, as if finger-picked arpeggios just flow out of her. I understand the “slacker” label she’s incurred, but watching her kick her leg in the air while noodling on her Jaguar, the description doesn’t stick. Take an especially spirited performance of “Small Poppies”: ditching any elements of restraint from the seven-minute track’s 2015 recording, the trio opted instead for full catharsis, building from a groovy bassline to a raucous conclusion. Bathed in white light as she screamed the song’s underdog refrain, “I used to hate myself but now I think I’m alright,” Barnett set her reputation straight: less slacker, more shredder. – Carys Anderson

Large Brush Collection (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Large Brush Collection’s Woodwind Whirlwind

Austin folk fourpiece Large Brush Collection provided a serene start to three days of probable rain and sorta-psych-rock. Friday festival firstcomers bunched at the Janis Stage as the plucky opening notes of “Persephone” rang through the air, followed by a rich wave of woodwinds. The bulk of the band’s seven-song set housed tracks off January debut effort Off Center, apart from mellow outlier “Great Capacity.” Reminiscent of the Cranberries’ Dolores O’Riordan, bassist Nora Predey’s lead vocals swelled with a sense of longing. Gabriela Torres’ hovering flute, however, held the heart of the quartet’s performance. The airy whistles fluttered through windy trees for the upbeat “It’s Only a Matter of Time,” and butterflies swept across the stage, landing on attentive audience members. The Collection closed with “Up in the Air,” where guitarist Dan Magorrian’s flickering electric chords twirled around Predey’s grounding vocals. – Miranda Garza

Lido Pimienta (Photo by Isabella Martinez)

Lido Pimienta Mixes Playfulness and Politics

Performing mostly to a pre-recorded track, save for live drums courtesy of Brandon Valdivia, Lido Pimienta’s minimalist Friday set offered less of a psychedelic vibe than other fest performances – though no less entertaining, since Pimienta is, as it turns out, a huge ham. Likening her set to “musical intercourse,” the Canadian-Colombian artist doled out playfulness, politics, and performance in equal measure. She shimmied, twirled, and twerked to her tropical melodies, while Valdivia switched between a conventional drum kit, bongos, and a maraca. Feigning bashfulness, she’d motion for the crowd to cheer, then hide her face, joking, “I’m too shy.” Proving her chops, the singer turned to a looping pedal to harmonize with herself a cappella at one point, and traded her surprisingly high-pitched chirp for a guttural heavy metal scream at another. “La Victoria,” a song of liberation that also features Chancha Vía Circuito and Manu Ranks, highlighted the set. On record, Pimienta dreams of revolution in Spanish, but on stage, she peppered in one English line – “The police doesn’t take care of me/ But my girlfriends do” – and later shouted, “Free Palestine.” Based on the dancing and shouting mirrored back, Pimienta knew: whimsical-yet-principled is a crowd-winning approach. – Carys Anderson

Orions Belte Greenlight Grooves

On the fourth stop on their Spain-to-stateside spring tour, Norwegian indie instrumentalists Orions Belte encompassed elements of pop, funk, psych, and everything in between. On Friday, the trio opened with the light, lo-fi melodies of “Bean,” from their 2021 record Villa Amorini. Around the stage, a pool of tie-dye and tattoos took the band’s mainly lyricless setlist as the green light to divulge in their own conversations, which thankfully ceased when bandleader Øyvind Blomstrøm took a brief pause in his thick accent: “We had a really American experience today at the social security office. It was really nice. It was only four hours.” The sardonic candor set off an eruption of laughter before the band jumped into “New Years Eve #2,” where Blomstrøm and bassist Chris Holm swayed side by side, entranced by their respective instruments. Six-million-stream Spotify favorite “Joe Frazier” closed out. Stark, electrified strums ricocheted against resonant basslines as a steady drumbeat carried the song to fruition. – Miranda Garza

Witch (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Witch’s Back-to-Basics Stoner Metal

With Frankie & the Witch Fingers, Witch, L.A. Witch, and All Them Witches – Saturday at Psych Fest went heavy on ghoulish doom, but at least one group of warlocks failed to frighten. Backed by Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis (not ripping solos, but pounding a steady drum beat) and led by singer-guitarist Kyle Thomas (aka King Tuff), mid-2000s quartet Witch leaned into back-to-basics stoner metal: more midtempo Black Sabbath; less slow, sludgy bass. Though they’ve toured sporadically over the years, the band – rounded out by guitarist Graham Clise and bassist Dave Sweetapple – hasn’t issued an album since 2008’s Paralyzed. Surprisingly, they hinted at new material with the unreleased “Devil’s Light,” a more-melodic-than-usual song centered on Thomas’ nasally wail. Stoic audience members nodded along throughout the set – until the chugging guitar riff, bass breakdown, and intermittent scream in closing track/Witch calling card “Seer” inspired an energetic bounce. Save for that lively finale, however, the stoners’ set felt like the musical equivalent of accidentally smoking a CBD joint: Nothing happened, but all of a sudden, I was sleepy. – Carys Anderson

Must Be the Season of L.A. Witch

Cutthroat classic rock soundtracked Saturday’s overcast sunset, via L.A. Witch. The side stage’s wooden rafters proved an unfair confinement of the trio’s relentless electric shreds, as the crowd crammed together to glimpse the California natives. In head-to-toe black leather, lead vocalist and guitarist Sade Sanchez cradled her Gretsch as thumping basslines cued her into opener “Get Lost.” Tucked towards the back, drummer Ellie English’s piercing cymbal crashes could be heard for miles. “I Wanna Lose” headbanged breakneck rhythms before the slowed-down dreamy melodies of “Brian.” The threepiece’s penchant for fuzzy reverberation, paired with Sanchez’s breathy vocals, all around approximated Mazzy Star. More often than not, bassist Irita Pai intently plucked away with shut eyes – undisturbed despite winds almost launching decorative potted plants onstage. “Starred” closed with a droning crescendo of static distortion that brought Sanchez to her knees, still with unbroken concentration. – Miranda Garza

Blondshell (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Blondshell Fans the Flames

The alt-rock artist Sabrina Teitelbaum, aka Blondshell, has had quite the trajectory in Austin. After the L.A. singer pivoted from past music as BAUM, ACL Fest 2022 marked one of her first big festival shows, South by Southwest 2023 delivered her the Grulke Prize, and last December, she opened up ACL Live for Liz Phair – who she’s been approximated as a next-gen grunge-pop-surfing embodiment of. Perhaps due to the fervent interest of other Chron writers, I had missed all of the above, but thoroughly enjoyed the edgy storytelling of her self-titled 2023 album. The lyrics, delivered dutifully and pretty seriously, held up live, working best on emotional opening-ups like “HB-ohhh” in the line “think you watched way too much HBO growing up” (“Joiner”). Fruits of TikTok and past Austin visits, fans knew more words than for any other Sunday acts on the Janis Stage. As for the vocalist’s threepiece band, I wanted way more despondence, dynamics, or something. The squeaky-clean, lightly-Nineties instrumental approximation didn’t pack any heat until small flames for final songs “Kiss City” and “Salad.” Someone should really tell them about the Phair comparisons. – Rachel Rascoe

Dehd’s Bukowski-Fueled Fugue State

On Sunday evening, two trios argued that the limitations of bass, guitar, and drums make for some of the best, most elementally lively rock: Boston-launched Sweeping Promises and Chicago-made Dehd. The latter walked out to a recorded reading of “The Laughing Heart” by Charles Bukowski, a noted inspiration for their upcoming May album called Poetry (which I’m sure they settled on prior to Taylor Swift’s The Tortured Poets Department, but maybe something’s in the air). After a closing couplet, the band’s spiky garage rock felt pleasantly thickened and woozy. Maybe it was the high humidity, or drummer Eric McGrady’s sometimes-super-minimalist standup-kit beats?

Singer/bassist Emily Kempf, between Roy Orbison-ish yelps and almost-yodels, addressed the pleasant haze. “I’m just gonna explain our fugue state,” she said before something about a wedding, rave, and recent flights. Vocalist/guitarist Jason Balla, between hyper swerving around the stage and eyes-rolled-back singing, added, “I’ve been awake for 40 hours.” Their in-the-round-but-punky call-and-responses still made for a super engaging set – and revealed an existential heartbeat under the fun scruff of past releases. Ahead of finale fave “Bad Love,” Dehd paired the closing tracks of their past two records into their own lyric-aligning couplet of sorts. 2022 shout “No Difference” ended with the line: “This is all we get/ Best to take the risk.” Next, the start of 2020 track “Flying” softened: “If this is all that we get/ So be it, so be it/ It was worth it to know you exist.” – Rachel Rascoe

Kurt Vile (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Kurt Vile Lovingly Recycles Riffs

Since tickets aren’t moving all that fast, I’d considered buying into Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s Wednesday show at Circuit of the Americas. Thank God I didn’t, as I’d get my fill seeing another plaid-wearing, wild-haired man swap electric and acoustic guitars for over an hour, just a few days prior. As Psych Fest’s sophomore relaunch grasped at a not-the-same-as-Levitation brand identity, one of Kurt Vile & the Violators’ newest songs, about making guitar songs, hit the nail on the head in a sun-still-out set ahead of Alvvays’ Sunday headline. On the title track off latest 52-minute-long release Back to Moon Beach, which Vile calls an EP, he dreams up a place “where these recycled riffs ain't going anywhere anytime soon.” He sounded most emotional in repeated lines about the song’s escapist landscape of rock creation. He played keyboard on another newbie, “Another Good Year for the Roses,” before a second-half run of familiar selects. I swear he also reworked some of the words of 2018’s “Check Baby” to mumble about checking pedals in a chain, but maybe I was just drinking the Kool-Aid. While generally regarding the audience with a yeah man or yup during the synth chillouts between songs, Vile certainly was too. Of the fest, he said, “I was here for the last one. I was walking around.” – Rachel Rascoe

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Austin Psych Fest, Far Out Lounge, Courtney Barnett, Large Brush Collection, Lido Pimienta, Orions Belte, Witch, L.A. Witch, Dehd, Blondshell, Kurt Vile

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