(More from Saturday at Levitation, this time from writer Matt Shiverdecker.)
My favorite thing about Austin Psych Fest (excuse me, Levitation) is the ability to wander around the overlapping sets and take in a little bit of everything. The lineup is always a mixture of artists known and unknown to me, so it’s fun to check out the bands who have come in from far-flung places to play. In years past, they have provided some of my favorite discoveries of the fest (like last year when I fell in love with Boogarins, a band from Brazil).
Heading out to Carson Creek Ranch for Day 2 of Levitation, social media was filled with photos of the muddy festival grounds. Having been out to the ranch several times before, there was a concern that it was going to be difficult to bounce from stage to stage. Walking around turned out to not be quite as bad as anticipated because the muddiest parts of the site had been covered in mulch. This made the entire festival smell like a petting zoo, but did make it easier to avoid large pits of mud.
As reported Friday, festival organizers had to change the way they usually set up the stage plots because of the weather. There’s no question that the safety of all the attendees, musicians and crew is paramount, but the new placement of the Elevation stage (which used to sit at the bottom of a large hill, directly off the water’s edge of Carson Creek) created a fair amount of sound bleed between the stages, which has not been an issue in the past.
On Saturday, I headed straight for Las Robertas, a female-fronted trio from Costa Rica, playing on the Reverberation Stage. The heavy winds during their set caused havoc with the sound, pushing the audio levels to the limit. With ferocious guitar riffs, they tore through tracks from their 2014 album “Days Unmade” and blew me away. Walking over into the Levitation Tent, I wanted to see what Fever The Ghost were all about. Hailing from L.A.’s Silverlake/Echo Park neighborhood, they had three dancers on stage to accompany their set. One of whom was a man in what can only be described as a giant silver vagina suit covered in tinsel like he was a Christmas ornament. It was a bizarre pairing to say the least.
At the Elevation stage, experimental Chinese rockers Chui Wan took the stage. The band had already been forced to cancel the first week of their scheduled North American tour because of visa issues, but they made it onto a plane Friday and made it from Beijing to Austin in the nick of time. No translation was needed for Yan Yulong’s infrequent droney vocals. Their set was complex and diverse, with lots of sonic layers that were often heavy and sometimes even close to funky. Bassist Wi Qion got locked in to bass riffs that occasionally were funky enough to sound as though they were ready to release on a 12” on DFA Records. Just when I thought I knew exactly what to expect from them, a track came up that veered more into the jangle-pop territory of Real Estate. It was an intriguing set.
After some ominous clouds moved through and the threat of more rain seemed unlikely, the evening really kicked into gear. Spindrift, a Los Angeles band with cinematic inspirations, took to the Elevation stage at the magic hour. They started their set in the light and closed it out in the dark. Sonically, their set was a perfect soundtrack to the transition into the evening. With song titles like “Kama Sutra Tiger Attack,” their mostly instrumental tracks ran a broad spectrum from surf rock to the Spaghetti Western scores of Ennio Morricone to gypsy punk and even a hint of occasional operatic vocals for good measure. Everything came into focus once the sun went down and vividly colorful images began to dance across the trees surrounding stage as the band played.
There were lots of comments about drugs (on-stage and off) during the festival, with Spindrift’s leader Kirkpatrick Thomas shouting, “It’s great to be here at Austin Smack Fest.” While that struck me as a little harsh, it’s not hard to see how their music could be enhanced for audience members on mind-altering substances, especially when the flight plan for so many planes landing at ABIA finds them ripping across the sky above as the bands play the fest.
Aggressive instrumental rockers This Will Destroy You (hailing from San Marcos) were up next in the Levitation tent. They were supporting their third full-length album “Another Language” that came out last fall on Suicide Squeeze Records, which the band members dubbed “doomgaze” — a combination of shoegaze and doom metal. They started off their set so softly that I thought I was in the wrong place. The loud-quiet dynamic of their music was, at times, not well-suited for the tent (mostly because the music drifting from the Elevation stage across the way really affected enjoyment of more delicate passages). When the band gets loud however, they really get loud. It’s a punishing wall of sound. Even more so than what Spindrift was up to across the site, This Will Destroy You make music that could perfectly accompany a film, especially a dark thriller.
My most anticipated moment of the day two lineup was still to come. Scottish rockers Primal Scream don’t make it over to the United States very often. In fact, the band’s last Austin appearance was a La Zona Rosa show in 2009. They did play a handful of California dates in 2013 when they released their last album “More Light,” but a scheduled 2014 booking at Levitation was pulled as was the rest of a planned North American tour.
They more than made up for it Saturday night (and have rescheduled most of the shows canceled last year to play over the next two weeks) with their first live performance anywhere in almost a year and a half. Unlike The Jesus and Mary Chain, who were headlining with their classic album “Psychocandy” played in full, Primal Scream tore through their large catalog with a tight set of hits from across their career. Notably skipping over “More Light” entirely, they took to the stage with “Rocks,” from their 1994 album “Give Up But Don’t Give Out.” MTV playlisted the video for this song here in the states and it even cracked the Top 20 at alternative radio, both feats that could never be replicated now.
Levitation treated us to a rare performance from a vital band who gave the crowd a 14-track set that never faltered and relied most heavily on 1999’s “XTRMNTR” and 1991’s acid house classic, “Screamadelica.” Lead singer Bobby Gillespie (who himself was once the drummer for The Jesus and Mary Chain) bounced around stage with loads of energy and sounded in fine form as he traversed the different eras of the band’s history. Guitarist Andrew Innes seemed to be having the most fun with the audience and it was clear that they’re all used to playing massive arena shows overseas leading to the tightest set of the day.
There wasn’t much banter in between songs from Gillespie, but he did dedicate “Country Girl” from the “Riot City Blues” album to Doug Sahm, the Sir Douglas Quintet, and Townes Van Zandt. The only limitation of the night, if there was one, was that the band couldn’t bring all the bells and whistles over here just to do a handful of dates. We had to make due with pre-recorded backing vocals and horn sections for some of the most classic drug-fueled tracks (whereas overseas a gospel choir would have likely swooped in to accompany the band on “Movin’ On Up”). It’s hard to complain about the effort for what we did get, which was magnificent.
Primal Scream, Levitation setlist
“Can’t Go Back”
“Kill All Hippies”
“Shoot Speed/Kill Light”
“Higher Than The Sun”
“Movin’ On Up”