By Andy O’Connor
Legacy’s a gift and a burden. It’ll bring people to your shows, but also lends to expectations that can’t always be met. Levitation usually has some classic psych acts, influential shoegaze bands, or some sort of ex-acid junkies to headline parts of their fest. Sometimes, they don’t always pan out, which was true last year; we won’t fault you if you fell asleep to The Zombies, and while Loop gave a wonderful tour of their pre-shoegaze volume worship, so many people left that you could get a prime spot seconds before they started. Two acts last night had the weight of legacy on them, to varying degrees of success.
Saturday’s headliner, The Jesus and Mary Chain, built their reputation on the gloomy noise-pop of their seminal 1985 record Psychocandy, which they played in full last night. Considering how many bands in Levitations past (or Psych Fests past, really) have bit off of their style, it’s only natural the real thing would come through eventually. Except that JAMC hasn’t really been all that noisy in a while. It was weird to hear the chords of “Just Like Honey,” their “greatest hit,” minus an ear-shattering wall of fuzz. They were clear, almost too clear. Some left right after “Honey,” and while it’s tempting to call them posers, they probably didn’t endure the parking lot gridlock. The park still felt more packed than it did last year. More fuzz kicked in during the rest of the Psychocandy set, but the sheen that’s been present in their albums since was still dominant. JAMC have never lost their pop ear, influenced by 60s girl groups, and their choruses, at least, remained intact. They gave a crowd-pleasing, competent performance, but like headliners past, they carried more on their legacy than their actual show. Even just on that, they were more compelling than the legions of imitators. Wouldn’t it have been funny if they played “Happy When It Rains,” and there was a huge downpour, and everyone got stuck at Carson Creek Ranch? You know what, not really. Even though yesterday didn’t see a lick of rain, we’re over this mud.
Seattle’s Earth, who closed out the Elevation Amphitheater, didn’t seem so burdened by history and the expectations that come from it. Not that they’re new jacks by any means: their leader and sole original member, Dylan Carlson, was on the fringes of the Seattle scene in the late 80s and early-to-mid 90s, taking Black Sabbath’s downtuned rumble and stretched it out to its slowest limits. (Earth 2 is 3 songs in an hour and 13 minutes, and is probably the heaviest thing Sub Pop’s ever released.) Earth’s mid-00s saw them droning out country twang, and their set last night split the difference between that and their more metal beginnings. On paper, it doesn’t sound like the jolt to catch a second wind after spending all day at an outdoor music festival, but Carlson knows how to extend a chord without demanding a planet’s worth of patience. Even when his guitar cut out midway through their set, his gift for repetition and hypnotism never wavered. Unlike JAMC, there was no lingering desire for them to return to a hour-long, distorted-to-high-heaven dronefest. Earth closed out with a vocal-less version of “High Command” from 1996’s Pentastar: In The Style of Demons, and Carlson said they hadn’t played that song since that very year. It was the most “rocking” song they played, but it still contained their signature drift. A few folks missed that moment to get a good spot for JAMC – pity them.
It’s supposed to get rainy for The Flaming Lips and 13th Floor Elevators tonight. Stay safe, and don’t forget rain boots! They make a world of difference trudging through that mud, which was more manageable yesterday but still troublesome.