Waxahatchee makes us feel — a lot — on final night of Levitation Fest

You can’t call it a disconnect. But it was certainly an odd juxtaposition to watch couples embraced and swaying back and forth in reverie Sunday night at Mohawk while Waxahatchee front woman Katie Crutchfield spent a good chunk of her hour on stage reliving the tales of romance crashed on the rocks that fueled her latest album, “Out In The Storm.”

Waxahatchee. Photo contributed by Michael Rubenstein

It says a lot about the power of Crutchfield as both a singer and live performer that she’s able to connect with her audience and stir their own emotions so deeply. And it helps that she seems to have put some emotional distance – or maybe just time – between herself and the parties on the other end of her “What went wrong?” lyrics. Her songs aren’t open wounds so much as scars that provide character and memories of things best left in the past.

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Sunday’s concert – the band’s last of a tour with Hurray for the Riff Raff – came on the final night of this year’s reconfigured Levitation Fest, which put a few dozen shows in clubs all over downtown over four days.

With the festival’s expanded scope in recent years after its start roughly a decade ago as Austin Psych Fest, hosting distinct shows in different venues made it possible for a night of female-fronted pop-rock bands to seem of a piece with other Levitation attractions like industrial legends Ministry or Austin’s Black Angels.

Starting the night alone on stage with her acoustic guitar, it didn’t take long for Crutchfield’s versatile and arresting vocals to take the spotlight. Whether in a solo and sparse setting or cutting through the swirl of melodies provided by her bandmates for the majority of the show, the singer has one of the most distinct and impressive vocal instruments in music right now and she puts it to maximum use.

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New songs like “Recite Remorse” and “Sparks Fly” seemed to shine the best – Waxahatchee’s latest 2017 is its most sturdily produced, feeling at times like the best possible marriage of Neil Young songwriting heft with Sheryl Crow’s pop ear – but there wasn’t a duff note on the evening.

Over the course of 60 minutes the band showed a strong, fluid control of the material and framed Crutchfield as a performer who should be regarded as among the best of her peers. And it didn’t hurt that she closed the night as she began; solo and acoustic, with a kinda raw run through “Fade” giving the lovebirds in the crowd one more chance to hold tight, to their partners and the moment they were sharing.

Ty Segall, Parquet Courts play it loud and loose as Levitation opens

Over the past 12 months while outdoor clubs along Red River Street have enjoyed a trial period of later weekend noise curfews as a tactic to increase bar business, Austin city staff closely monitored noise levels in surrounding neighborhoods and kept a close eye on any increase in complaints of loud music.

With no statistically significant uptick in noise disturbances to report and economic data showing modest increases in ticket sales and bar tabs – both a plus for Austin musicians – on Thursday the City Council voted to make the later weekend concerts permanent.

In this file photo, Parquet Courts performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in 2013. The band played Thursday as part of Levitation Fest’s opening night. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

In a fun bit of circumstance Thursday also happened to be the day that indie guitar hero Ty Segall wound up on the calendar at Stubb’s and delivered a majestically ear-shredding set so intense and just plain loud it’d be hard to imagine the folks up in Hyde Park didn’t get at least a little rumble and opportunity to head bang, if they were so moved. No word on whether the city’s 311 call center saw a spike on Thursday, but let’s all be grateful the later noise curfews are here to stay.

Wonkiness and wisecracks aside, the Segall/Parquet Courts double bill that was one of the opening volleys of Levitation Fest 2018 was as dynamic and energizing a touring show as you’re likely to have seen in Austin this year.

BACKGROUND: How Levitation organizers — and the fest — came back after 2016’s cancellation

After a raucous opening set from local punks A Giant Dog – themselves afforded a spot in front of a sold-out crowd because of the later noise curfew providing an hour more of show time – New York quartet Parquet Courts spent an hour displaying the many hues of post-punk they’ve become adept in since their formation in 2010.

A key to their success is an absolutely enormous bass and bottom end sound in nearly all of their material, making it danceable and somehow more personal than most of the spiky and jagged sounds favored by bands who trace their influences back to Pavement, Modern Lovers and Gang Of Four.

The more aggressive, almost hardcore leanings of the band’s newer material has clearly bled into some of their back catalog as well, with an early, extended run through “Ducking & Dodging” turned up in volume and vocal intensity as a pit of roughly 50 crowd members churned and jostled in front of singer Andrew Savage as he barked out a small epic poem’s worth of lyrics.

With stylistic turns aplenty – a two-song suite featuring an Omnichord synthesizer turned things slow and trancelike near the end – the set was an example of the variety crowds can enjoy with Levitation Fest expanding its scope from its beginnings as Austin Psych Fest.

At various points throughout his 90-minute set, Segall hued a bit closer to straight psychedelic rock, but any languid and trippy moments were soon to be swallowed up by a tornado of violent and noisy guitar. Acclaimed as one of the most talented and adventurous songwriters of recent indie rock vintage, it was at times hard to fathom how Segall makes a coherent, unified sound in songs where layered melodies and Brian Wilson-esque pop hooks lead into a vortex of guitar distortion and feedback.

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That contrast was on constant display Thursday but hearing the pristine beauty of “My Lady’s On Fire” braced against the noise-rock alto sax squawks and guitar shredding of “Can’t Talk To You” a few minutes later was a lesson in how performers can enrapture an audience by being willing to try anything creatively.

By the time Segall and his bandmates edged up to their close at 11 p.m. there wasn’t much sonic territory from the rock music canon that hadn’t been explored. As an indicator of what might be in store for the rest of the festival weekend, the show set an extremely high bar for the rest of the Levitation roster to try to reach.

Levitation adds the Make-Up, Ariel Pink, Russian Circles, Nick Hakim, more

After taking the year off in 2017, Levitation, the Black Angels-affiliated event formerly known as Austin Psych Fest, is set to return to Austin this spring as a series of showcases and curated events in the Red River cultural district.

RELATED: Levitation 2018 to feature Slowdive, Black Angels, Ministry, Parquet Courts 

On Wednesday, fest organizers announced a new round of artists including 90s post punk band the Make-Up, avant-garde pop artist Ariel Pink and soulful singer Nick Hakim. Also added to the bill are Canadian shoe-gaze outfit No Joy, Brooklyn rockers Diiv, Brazilian psych rockers Boogarins and local art-pop ensemble, the Octopus Project.

The festival also added second shows from previously-announced artists Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees.

Levitation 2018 takes place from April 26-29 and tickets to roughly 20 individual shows at six venues are on sale now. 

Levitation 2018 to feature Slowdive, Black Angels, Ministry in Red River clubs

After taking a year off following a devastating cancellation in 2016, psychedelic music festival, Levitation (f.k.a. Austin Psych Fest) will return to Austin next year for its tenth anniversary over a four-day period from April 26-29. This time organizers are not gambling on the weather. They have taken the event “back to its roots” in Red River clubs. Venues include Stubb’s, The Mohawk, Barracuda, Empire Control Room, Cheer Up Charlies, Emo’s and more.

The Black Angels tape an episode of “Austin City Limits” on Tuesday, May 23, at ACL Live. Photo by Scott Newton Courtesy of KLRU-TV and Austin City Limits

On Thursday, festival organizers released the first round of artists and it’s a very solid roster. Dreamy English rockers Slowdive, doom metal band Electric Wizard and early industrial act Ministry will join local hosts, the Black Angels at the top of the bill. Tier two is also very strong with Brian Jonestown Massacre, Ty Segall, Panda Bear, Thee Oh Sees, Parquet Courts and Dan Deacon.

Survive, Golden Dawn Arkestra, A Giant Dog and Annabelle Chairlegs.

Phase two of the lineup will be released in early 2018.

Organizers say moving the fest to the clubs will provide a more intimate experience, with longer sets from headliners   They also promise pop-up events in nearby cafes, galleries and record stores and showcases and curated events with “like minded-folks” such as Margin Walker, Sacred Bones Records, Burger Records, Castle Face Records, BYM Records, Gorilla VS Bear, NRMAL, Desert Daze and Exploded Drawing.

Tickets for 15 different shows across six different venues have been released, along with a limited number of $400 deluxe weekend passes. Tickets and more info.



Levitation 2018 will take over Austin clubs; Ty Segall, Parquet Courts show announced

Earlier this month, festival organizers teased a return of Levitation to Austin on April 26-28, 2018.

Today, with the announcement of a triple power-bill club show featuring Ty Segall, Parquet Courts and a Giant Dog at Stubb’s BBQ on April 26, they revealed the the cult favorite event, formerly known as Austin Psych Fest, is moving to Downtown Austin.

Jay Janner/American-Statesman – Austin Brown of the Brooklyn band Parquet Courts performs at the Pitchfork Party during SXSW 2013

The psychedelic music festival founded by members of the Black Angels and their friends, was quietly growing into one of the best boutique festivals in the country, when a 2016 spring storm washed out the Austin edition of the festival at Carson Creek Ranch before the gates even opened.

The festival’s problems were compounded when refunds to ticket-holders took much longer to process than expected and two companies who worked on the 2016 event, a Fort Worth-based food service company and local production partner Transmission Entertainment, filed suit against festival organizers.

Looks like fest organizers are mitigating the possibility of future flooding by taking the fest into the Red River Music District’s convenient cluster of established venues.

Presumably more club shows will be added, possibly with a wristband option, but for now early bird tickets to the April 26 show are available for $32.50.

Levitation Fest organizers send Austin a save-the-date message

Levitation Fest organizers are preparing to return to Austin in 2018.  A .GIF released on the festival’s social media accounts announced the dates and a note on the fest’s website now says: “Levitation returns to Austin, Texas April 26-29, 2018.”

The psychedelic music festival founded by members of the Black Angels and their friends, was quietly growing into one of the best boutique festivals in the country, when a 2016 spring storm washed out the Austin edition of the festival at Carson Creek Ranch before the gates even opened.

The festival’s problems were compounded when refunds to ticket-holders took much longer to process than expected and two companies who worked on the 2016 event, a Fort Worth-based food service company and local production partner Transmission Entertainment, filed suit against festival organizers.

The Jesus and Mary Chain play Levitation Fest 2015. Erika Rich For American-Statesman

Festival organizers decided to skip 2017 in Austin, saying they were taking a year off, with plans to relaunch in 2018. “With more time we can present the best festival without compromises,” they said at the time, in a post on the event’s Facebook page.

While Levitation Austin didn’t happen this year, the brand has continued to expand its reach with splinter events across the country and around the world. Levitation France, featuring the Black Angels and Slowdive, is scheduled to kick off on Sept. 16 in Angers, France. 


The Black Angels let a little light in during heavy ‘Austin City Limits’ taping

Things that jump out at you after roughly 80 minutes of tuneful squall and fuzz, courtesy of Austin psych rockers The Black Angels: They like to write about death, suffering and dying. A lot.

The Black Angels tape an episode of “Austin City Limits” on Tuesday, May 23, at ACL Live. Photo by Scott Newton Courtesy of KLRU-TV and Austin City Limits

It’s no great revelation that the darker side of life and the afterlife make up a large piece of the quintet’s subject matter, especially since we’re more than a decade and six albums into their career. But piecing back through lyrics scribbles in a notebook during the band’s “Austin City Limits” taping on Tuesday, it’s startling to see the many and varied ways singer Alex Maas explores the macabre.

Sentiments such as “killing my children,” or being “too afraid to die” marry up to Maas telling a lover they “always let me down,” but he’d “kill for her,” or a protagonist who “goes looking for a fight” nestled in the band’s fields of reverb and distortion and rather amazingly have helped them build a frothy international fan base. So much so that they’ve become something of a flagpole band for the 21st century pysch revival that saw them launch the Austin Psych/Levitation Fest and spawn sibling events overseas.

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So how do they do it? At Tuesday’s taping one got the effect of soundscapes that were at times powerful enough to potentially induce vertigo, with guitarists Christian Bland and Jake Garcia creating sonic phase shifts by layering patterns that never managed to quite mimic each other, with the new “Comanche Moon” standing out as a great example. Over the course of the show the band created the aural equivalent of floating above a chasm and then plummeting downward, or having large objects racing forward and stopping a second before impact.

A note needs to be made about the importance of the band’s background visuals on a pair of video screens – lots of color shifting, bubbling, warped test patterns and such — to contribute to this effect, with sight and sound melding without overshadowing the players on the stage.

And credit also to Maas for finding the spots where his vocals work best as withdrawn incantations over waves of drone, and then adding punch to get the point across when the lyrics need to take center stage. This was clear with set opener and recent single “Currency,” where Maas pilloried our capitalism-above-all-else society with lines like “Print and print the money that you spend; spend and spend the money that you print then.”

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Smart changes of pace came on songs like “Half Believing,” which saw Garcia alone on guitar and Bland on a vintage keyboard for a comparatively stripped-down sound, or the encore-opening march that gave drummer Stephanie Bailey one of her biggest spotlights of the night.

It was in those moments when the band let flashes of color and a little light and love escape from the darkness that they’ve become so adept at crafting.

The Black Angels tape an episode of “Austin City Limits” on Tuesday, May 23, at ACL Live. Photo by Scott Newton Courtesy of KLRU-TV and Austin City Limits

Levitation is back! (sort of)

Organizers of Levitation, the psychedelic music festival originally devised by members of the band, Black Angels and their friends, took a big hit last year when severe weather conditions forced them to cancel the 2016 event before gates even opened.  The event had gained a strong reputation as an international destination festival and many travelers from abroad who planned to camp were left stranded in Austin, ticket refunds took much longer to process than anticipated and ultimately, organizers decided it was not feasible to hold the event in Austin in 2017.

Golden Dawn Arkestra plays Cologne. Courtesy of Topaz McGarrigle.

But now Levitation is back, albeit in a very scaled back format.

“While our traditional outdoor Spring festival is not happening in 2017, LEVITATION will continue to present our favorite artists in Austin and beyond. Look out for more events to be announced through 2017,” festival organizers wrote in a post on the official Levitation website announcing a series of “Levitation presents” shows featuring an excellent bill of Austin artists set for the weekend of May 4-6 at Barracuda.

The weekend will feature live projections and visuals by Etherwave & Vision System. Performing artists include Golden Dawn Arkestra, Superfonicos and Annabelle Chairlegs on Friday; Night Beats, Holy Wave and A Giant Dog on Saturday; and Mr. Elevator, L.A. Witch and more on Sunday.

Tickets and more information.

Poster by Trevor Tipton.

Levitation Fest will not return to Austin in 2017

Jesus and Mary Chain play Levitation Fest 2015. Erika Rich For American-Statesman
Jesus and Mary Chain play Levitation Fest 2015. Erika Rich For American-Statesman

Levitation, the festival formerly known as Austin Psych Fest and co-founded by members of the Black Angels, will not return to Austin in 2017, organizers announced via the festival’s social media channels this morning.

“After much deliberation and consultation, we have decided not to hold Levitation in 2017. We are taking a year off to relaunch in 2018,” organizers said in a post on the festival’s Facebook page. “While this wasn’t an easy decision to make, with more time we can present the best festival without compromises.”

The ninth annual Levitation Festival, scheduled to kick off at Carson Creek Ranch on April 29, was canceled due to heavy rains and flooding in the area.

The event had a strong reputation as an international destination festival and many music fans who traveled from overseas to camp at the fest were caught stranded when the fest was canceled. Following the cancellation, refunds for festival ticket-holders took longer than expected to process.

Organizers are also facing two lawsuits related to this year’s canceled fest.

But the tone in the Facebook post was optimistic, underlining organizers’ intent to relaunch in 2018.

“We’ve had the privilege and honor for the last decade to host the Psych community and our favorite artists, coming together from all over the world. We look forward to seeing you at Levitation 2018!” it read.

Levitation organizers update 2016 refund info, promise to return in 2017

Carson Creek Ranch suffered significant storm damage following Levitation cancellation. Courtesy of Carson Creek Ranch
Carson Creek Ranch suffered significant storm damage following Levitation cancellation. Courtesy of Carson Creek Ranch

At the end of April, Levitation Festival 2016 was washed out in the severe storms that swept through Central Texas this spring. Threatening weather led Travis County officials to cancel the festival less than 24 hours before the gates were set to open.  The storms arrived later than predicted, but Carson Creek Ranch, where the festival was set to take place, sustained significant damage.

The festival was able to reschedule some shows in clubs, but fest-goers who traveled to Austin for the event were frustrated when many tickets were snapped up in open online sales by folks who never planned to attend Levitation.

At the time of the cancellation, Levitation organizers estimated the refunds would take 30 days, but in late May they reported delays. “Many events have financial backing, from investors or parent companies, which can be tapped into to immediately refund money. Levitation is an independently owned event, and the cancellation has been an unprecedented blow for the tiny company and record label that organizes it, The Reverberation Appreciation Society,” organizers said in a statement.

Yesterday, organizers posted an update to the Levitation site promising refunds would begin processing on July 5.

“We realize this has taken much longer than our initial estimates, and far longer than anyone had hoped,” organizers wrote in the post. “We’re sorry for the situation, it’s not one that we ever expected to be in, or wanted to see our customers go through. The cancellation and subsequent insurance process has been an extremely difficult time and we’re very grateful to those all those who have shown us patience and understanding through the situation.”

Organizers also promised that Levitation, which now hosts a series of festivals around the world will return to Austin next year. “In 2017 the festival will be back, and better than ever,” they wrote in the post. “We look forward to the festival in Austin next year, and a great year of events. Stay tuned for the good news.”

Whether our young friends from around the world will return remains to be seen.