Psych Fest begins Friday on a traffic-clogged freeway exit pointing toward East Riverside Drive. Cars are populated with commuters in rush-hour hell and a vast cross-section of Austin eccentrics hoping for a weird weekend. You can tell who's who by the bumper stickers. Last year, the entertainment emanated from the dingy but centralized Seaholm Power Plant. This year, a makeshift strip-mall-fronted corridor of post-hippie culture connects Emo's East and the Beauty Ballroom. Orange County's Cosmonauts deal sizzling, Nuggets-busting garage-punk early on, a gauntlet to the rest of the fest. San Francisco's Moon Duo slather orbiting ramble-prog over the narrow Ballroom floor space, while Night Beats' serrated, Seattle-honed scuzz looks both charming and miniature on the indomitable Emo's East stage. Atlanta murk merchants Lotus Plaza turn the Ballroom into a melted glow prior to L.A. slackjaws Sun Araw, summoning joints from the audience while lording over dimly lit electronic blasts and the circular, vaporous jams of California's Peaking Lights.
Ticket holder obligation isn't enough to get the bulk of the crowd out of bed by early afternoon, so Saturday's small-text acts mostly experience sets bouncing off walls rather than organic matter. A double shot of listless reverb-rock from locals Smoke & Feathers and Philly's Asteroid #4 certainly doesn't leave a lot of room for investment. When stripped of the hats, hair, and projections, such so-called new auteurs look mighty pedestrian. Denton/Austin's Mind Spiders catapult snotty, embattled, and not very psychedelic crush-punk – nurtured with enough adrenaline to wash away any residual mediocrity. Toronto's Quest for Fire similarly overachieve, inflating broiled, pulverizing lava-lamp rock that has all the elder generation's gray-white ponytails in a liberated sway. The endless laps of drone-wave wear thin by evening, so the mini food court's chairs and talk become preferable. Brooklyn's Woods later make good on a purple-spotted, Pabst-fueled inversion of Grateful Dead outré, but are followed by an endless, artless feedback rampage by the Telescopes. The English noise vets lose out to the last minutes of basketball play-offs at the bar. The interconnecting sonics of reactivated pop legends Olivia Tremor Control prove too much for the mixing board, but that doesn't stop its giddy disciples from losing all composure before a relatively well-behaved Black Lips make for a solid marquee capstone. The Atlanta troublemakers aren't easily mistaken as psych, but filthy hooks and molten guitar barrages generally speak for themselves.
By Sunday, attendees are just as happy weirdo-watching and record-shopping as adventuring through sonic mysteries. The vinyl bins are empty by sunset. Chicago's Secret Colours wallow in punchy acid rock both wholesome and insubstantial, while the manly, oil-drenched Georgians of Dead Confederate carpet-bomb Emo's floorspace with flailing, incoherent rawk & roll grandeur. Prolific Bay Area collective Wooden Shjips boasts bipartisan recognition, but by hour 18 of the APF's swirling drone, its set couldn't have ended any sooner. Niger's Bombino articulates gratitude via translator, but the breathless "Merci!" after every song does the trick. The North African quartet drifts in warbled, amniotic guitar grooves, punctuated with Omara Moctar's throaty voice. Unlike the great majority of the weekend, everything here's free of reverb, and Western society looks pretty silly for 30 minutes. Things end with a gradual echo instead of a defining bang, despite superfans posting forward for the inevitable Brian Jonestown Massacre rant. Records, T-shirts, and leftover drugs tucked under their arms, a few fedora-wearers bob toward Church's Chicken.
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