In the weeks leading up to Psycho Fest Las Vegas I found myself having to navigate increasingly awkward conversations.
After all, saying to people, “Yeah, I’m not around next week because I’m going to Psycho Fest” yields all sorts of difficult followups.
Namely, what the fuck is Psycho Fest Las Vegas?
If you believe Psycho Fest’s top-line, it was a multi-day heavy music festival featuring classic rockers like Alice Cooper and Blue Oyster Cult, metalcore and post-hardcore acts like Converge and Drive Like Jehu, and stoner-doom acts like Electric Wizard and Sleep.
Shows were split between three venues in the Hard Rock Casino — the 4,000 seat main showroom The Joint, the 650 capacity club Vinyl, and the Paradise Pool, an outdoor stage overlooking, yep, a giant swimming pool.
A slightly deeper look, however, yielded an impressively curated list of names you wouldn’t find at your average energy drink-sponsored mega-fest. Arthur Brown, the Brit eccentric behind the song “Fire” joked it took “the signatures of four Senators” to play his first U.S. show in ages. Other names like Truth And Janey and Wovenhand were playing rare or one-off shows. Doom pioneers like Pentagram and Candlemass were here. So were Fu Manchu and Uncle Acid.
Basically, the whole event was like the Kyuss Desert Sessions miraculously manifested into a strange 100 band-strong takeover of an off-strip Vegas casino. Either that or this whole thing was the masturbatory fever dream of Josh Homme as a sort of concert booking Freddy Krueger.
The thing is, when you take a spirit walk into the desert for something like this you come out changed. More experienced, more knowing. Here are a number of the things I took away from the festival:
1. Grimalice Is A Hero
There’s a McDonald’s-themed Black Sabbath parody band called Mac Sabbath. Their gimmick is amazing. They basically turn Sabbath songs (“Iron Man” becomes “Frying Pan,” “Sweet Leaf” is “Sweet Beef”) into anti-food industry anthems, all while wearing costumes perverting traditional McD’s characters like Ronald McDonald. What was most amazing about their set, though, was that the bassist “Grimalice” played an entire show in 90 degree F heat in their gigantic purple outfit. Respect.
2. Questions About Saws
During Black Heart Procession’s set frontman Pall Jenkins played a saw during a song while their drummer created thunderclap-like rumbles using a piece of industrial metal sheeting-as-a-gong. My question is: how much effort goes into finding just the right saw and just the right chunk of sheet metal for this? Did they spend a Saturday morning scouring a Home Depot, clanging at pieces of tin and discreetly bending saws between aisles? Did they scour the local junkyard? Or maybe they just have day jobs as foley people and they took that stuff from work.
3. Vegas Food Lifehack
When the casino you’re in charges $1.50 for a banana and $15 for a modest breakfast plate, you disrupt the system by walking to the Silver Sevens casino a block away, sign up for a player’s card, then eat all of the following things at their buffet for $7…
Berry stuffed pancake
Biscuit with gravy
Chicken fried steak
Corned beef hash
Vanilla frozen yogurt root beer float
4. Beelzefuzz vs. Bezlebong
This will take a bit of remembering, but Beelzefuzz is the shitty one that sounds like shit Uriah Heep and Bezlebong is the good one that’ll send you off on a rant about how, with their complete lack of vocals, their dependence on laying down a singular riff for five minutes at a time, and their majestic hair-flow in-sync headbanging on said riff, you will declare them stoner rock distilled down to its perfect essence.
For years I was under the impression that some great cosmic injustice must have taken place when Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden rose up from the altera-grunge heap to take over the world, leaving behind poor Mudhoney.
I was wrong.
6. Music Festivals In Hotels
Know what’s awesome? When you can roll out of bed, into an elevator and walk your way down to see Blue Oyster Cult in six minutes. Better yet, you never have to worry about porta-potties being gross because you have YOUR OWN PRIVATE TOILET. Also, if you want to sneak off for 2-for-1 breakfast specials at Nacho Daddy on The Strip it’s only an $8 cab ride away. Open air farmer’s field music festivals are dead to me now.
7. The Budos Band
A staple of soul label Daptone Records, the afro-funk jazz act Budos Band are outwardly more at home supporting the likes of Sharon Jones or Lee Fields as opposed to appearing at a metal festival. But that’s a swerve. Their set was metal as fuck. Or at least as “metal” as a band that’s fronted by a trumpet player and a saxophone player and also features two separate guys on congas can be. In the way they acted and the way they were received, it would appear that the band, who put out the metal-spirited Burnt Offering album in 2014, appeared to have finally found their people. And when trumpeter Andrew Greene declared, “This is the greatest day of my life!” part way through their set you knew it was true.
8. Oresund Space Collective
I had a bit all ready for the Oresund Space Collective, “a music collective from Denmark and Sweden that play totally improvised space rock music,” who were scheduled to play from 5 – 7 a.m. at second stage venue Vinyl. It went like this:
“6:18 a.m. Woke up to go see Oresund Space Collective to say that I did.”
“6:26 a.m. Saw them. Now back in bed.”
Except that’s not what happened.
When I walked into Vinyl there was a pack of weirdoes throwing down some of the craziest Hawkwind/early Floyd mind bombs. Better yet, the frontman, a Gandalf lookin’ dude wearing a giant alien head, was jamming away at his “instrument,” which was basically a mixing console he used to add effects to other band members’ playing. He was also the main giver of fist bumps and high fives to the 100 or so bugged out space travelers who were on a spectacular journey.
9. Drive Like Jehu
Constantines are better.
10. Audience Demographic
Shockingly, Psycho Fest was not a complete sausage fest. It was more like a 60-40 fest, or, at worst a 65-35 peen-to-vag fest. It also wasn’t the getaway for old hippie burnouts I was expecting. The audience was younger, metal-er and 100 per cent looked the part. Here’s a rough breakdown:
17% Guitar Center employees
16% Scott Ian chin beards
14% Aspiring Suicide Girls
11% Only topic of conversation is how they’re going to complete their sleeve tattoo
10% Acts like they’re tough, but they’re actually monied Silicon Valley code dorks who chose this instead of Burning Man
10% Air guitarists
7% Dudes with luxurious manes whose cascading waves of hair made you curse the day you cut yours in the failed belief it would help you to make it in the normal world
5% Air drummers
5% Lemmy had sex with their mum back in the day
1% That old guy who was at all the same things as us and was totally into it, proving you’re never too old to rock
11. Tales Of Murder and Dust
It doesn’t sound like it’d makes sense, but watching Denmark’s Tales Of Murder and Dust unleashing their bespoke Godspeed-meets-Calexico shoegaze while doing aquatic dance moves floating around a swimming pool is a pretty righteous experience.
12. Respect Fu Manchu
With Lemmy gone (RIP), someone’s gonna have to fill Motorhead’s spot in the heavy metal lifer hierarchy and one could make a strong argument for three decade-strong Orange County vets Fu Manchu. It could be argued the band represents the stoner-doom rock genre’s first wave, but what’s more important than their place in the fuzz ‘n’ phaser timeline, is the fact they’re fucking stupendous.
It’s not that hard for a band to bust out a sweet Sabbath riff and coast on it for five minutes, but what Fu Manchu does — a deft mix of songs about classic muscle cars, drag racing and outer space — is conceptually perfect and sonically righteous.
It was their set on Sunday afternoon (which started at 4:20 p.m., by the way) which represented the biggest throwdown of the weekend. They were the undisputed masters of this reality and the standard bearers for a whole musical festival that was built upon the idea of delivering non-stop undulating waves of rippin’ stoner rock riffage. Fu Manchu’s crushing renditions of “King Of The Road,” “Saturn III” and “Regal Begal” sent The Joint’s attendees into hand-waving bouts of ecstasy more fitted to a religious ceremony than a rock concert and it truly represented the peak of the form.
This story was originally published August 30, 2016 via AUX TV.