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FESTIVAL REPORT: Psycho California
Joshua Ford , June 9th, 2015 09:13

"Heshers arise. This place is your home now." Joshua Ford reports from Orange County

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For the three days that Psycho California Festival takes over the Observatory in Santa Ana the south of the state finds itself a bit darker. Tubes of sunblock give way to 100-watt tube amps, bottled mineral water is passed over for $10 beers to be necked at lightning speed, and neon hipster beachwear is clouded by an ominous thunderhead of black vests, carefully selected and obscure t-shirts, band patches and skull rings. Heshers arise. This place is your home now.

Now in its third year, Psycho California greets those in attendance with a roster still containing some of the psych elements/artists that prevailed in previous years, though now fleshed out with heavy hitters like Sleep, Earth, Om, Old Man Gloom, Bongzilla as well as a mixed bag of underground metal, doom and sludge. From the start, the Observatory is packed front to back for this; people are hungry for the riff and have been waiting for this festival to get them lost for a weekend. These are not casual music fans, popping into a show with a mate for the fuck of it. These people are hardcore diggers, never settling for what is easy in music. They're also battle-tested and can jockey crowds and absorb deadly amounts of volume for three consecutive 12-14 hour days, doing it with a smile (or doom grimace) on their face the whole time. "Buy the ticket, take the ride."

Friday's lineup has Conan, from Liverpool, playing one of their first ever shows on US soil. They deliver the snails-pace dirge that satisfies, with a set drawing heavily from their album Blood Eagle. If it were as simple as following a formula (tone+volume+slow+heavy=good), bands like Conan wouldn't stand out from the rest; but they do, and it is not simple. Pure, beautiful guitar tone, deafening, barbaric (as implied), they are a highlight of the day. Midway through the day, at the outdoor second stage, Austin's Destroyer Of Light draws the purists and the heads. They are a great representation of the underground that fills this year's lineup. You'd likely not introduce your mother to this band, unless she's been doing blow and spinning Priest LPs consistently since the 70s. Destroyer Of Light are fast, unsafe, and they fucking rip live. Those not into danger stay at the main stage for a rare performance from Cave In, and are titillated, albeit in a safer way. Bedemon, the early 70s studio project featuring members of Pentagram, follows on the main stage with their first ever live performance. Scott 'Wino' Weinrich of St. Vitus picks up the vocal duties, and founding member Geof O'Keefe waxes nostalgic about the early days of American doom music between songs, and pays fitting tribute to deceased band member Randy Palmer. Their performance is a unique opportunity, and was curated by the festival promoters specifically for the occasion.

There is a good bit of lineup juggling between the time the festival was announced and this weekend. Cancellations include Goatsnake, Stoned Jesus, Cult Of Luna and Eagle Twin. Late additions Municipal Waste, cognizant of the fact that they stick out like a sore thumb amidst this sludge/doom/psych lineup, do their best to appease the crowd by playing one of their faster songs at ½ speed, for the 'stoners'. All jokes aside, their set pushes the audience into circle pit action and stage diving; it is the most active audience of the weekend. Bell Witch and Cough close out the second stage nicely, while Old Man Gloom, Eyehategod and Russian Circles bring home the main stage. Old Man Gloom is a tough act to follow; they absolutely crush. Pounding, pounding, pounding like a boxer that smells blood and has his opponent on the ropes. Unrelenting. Their performance comes on the heels of 2014's The Ape Of God, but they don't hesitate to reach back for some crowd pleasers, closing with 'Bells Dark Above Our Heads' from 2001's Seminar II.

Day two's main stage begins with Detroit's Acid Witch getting equal parts heavy and dirty, in all the right ways. Anciients follow with a cleaner, tech-ier brand of heavy. Laura Dolan, the most magnetic lead singer of the festival, hits the stage with Electric Citizen. She's a fucking rock star, and it's refreshing. There's a good bit of throwback/vintage rock going on at this fest (and in general), but Electric Citizen are spot on and less one-dimensional than the competition, thanks to Dolan's ability to bring the material to life. Her abandon and willingness to let go fit perfectly with their sound, creating the loose, free feeling that needs to go along with this style of tunes.

The second stage moves inside, as planned, for Saturday; it is unfortunate as the room inside holds substantially fewer people than the outdoor area used for the first day. This makes it difficult for most of the punters to see some of the day's best acts. Lord Dying: room is full, don't bother trying to get in. SubRosa: room is full, don't bother trying to get in. Sourvein: room is full, don't bother trying to get in. For a 50 band festival with overlapping set times where it is already challenging to see the bands you'd like to see, this move inside makes it even more challenging. The solution is rather simple however: camp out in the main room for one of the meatiest chunks of the festival. Pallbearer. Earth. Kylesa. Sleep.

Dylan Carlson and Earth please the ear at their own deliberate pace. Carlson victoriously lifts his mutant Jackson as if it's a torch, shining a light on those before him with sustain and feedback. Adrienne Davies is the master of the magma-like drums; her job is not an easy one but she plays slow motion timekeeper with grace. Don McGreevy butters the whole fucking thing together on bass. They cover material from Primitive And Deadly all the way back to 1996's Pentastar: In The Style Of Demons. Carlson is vocal between songs, dedicating the song 'High Command ' to the users, and another to his wife.

Kylesa is a great choice between Earth and Sleep, to keep the mostly-baked-as-fuck crowd alive. Faster than the bands bookending them, and so fucking good at what they do. The two vocalists provide great range/mood changes throughout their set, and nicely set the stage for… Sleep. Fucking Sleep…

Their two-hour performance begins with Al Cisneros, alone, making his way to his mic stand while behind him plays audio that sounds like vintage NASA/Mission Control communication. Once in place, he begins playing a silent bass solo (as in, no amplification) for 5 minutes. Assuming this is his way of getting in the right headspace, but it creates serious anticipation in the crowd as well. His eyes closed, he goes on, working the mute Rickenbacker. Once signaled, Matt Pike and Jason Roeder make their way on stage and rip through 'Holy Mountain' then launch into a 25 minute chunk of Dopesmoker ('Proceeds The Weedian' as its called on their set list at times). It is as close to a perfect as anyone can get these days, in this wide word of heavy. Is there anyone at this festival who doesn't love this shit? How can you not? Perfectly curated tone through mountains of Orange and Ampeg heads/cabs. After crushing the songs 'Sonic Titan', 'Dragonaut', 'The Clarity', 'Aquarian' and 'From Beyond', they close out with another slab of Dopesmoker. Why wouldn't they? They can. At 2am, they walk off stage. The attendees make their way out of the theatre, completely broken into pieces after Sleep, not to mention the 24 hours of air/riff pushed at them by those mountains of amps over the last two days.

A scant 10 hours later, bands are on stage again, but people are trickling back into the Observatory at a much slower pace than the previous days. The second stage is graced by nine bands, culminating with Atlas Moth, Elder, and a ripping set from Coffinworm. The main stage wraps up with another 9 bands. Bongzilla (freshly charged after a 7 year hiatus), are one of the most anticipated bands of the day, bringing the masses back to the main room. Cisneros hits the main stage again with OM, showing his eastern side along with Robert Lowe and Emil Amos. No silent bass solo today, however.

Closing out the festival are the doom pioneers Pentagram. Their 2nd year playing Psycho California, Bobby Liebling leads the new recruits and battle tested members through the vintage demos recently released as First Daze Here. Liebling is electric, spreading his middle and index finger to lick between, tossing out a new expression/face with every line he sings. He is a one of a kind, well suited for this kind of work. It is not lost on anyone that without Pentagram, this festival and many of the genres/bands represented here this weekend, might not exist.

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