This was only my second time in Austin, but I was somewhat familiar with the Red River District and the Barracuda club from my previous journey West to witness psych legend Arthur Brown a couple of years ago. From the moment schedules were posted, I began planning my attack like Eisenhower at Normandy. I also promised to heed the advice of A Place to Bury Strangers' Oliver Ackermann who advised, "If someone wants to drag you down some alley for cool bar-be cue or something, go!"
So just hours after getting off the plane I went out and jumped into the heaviest show of the weekend. I got in early at Mohawk and sardined myself up front for the growl of Texas's own Creeping Death and the vampiric punk of Philadelphia's Devil Master who were recently named one of America's best metal acts of the past decade by Kerrang! Magazine.
The only thing psychedelic on this dark and blustery night was the masterfully trippy light show by Mad Alchemy, who deserve high praise for welding this metallic evening to an otherwise paisley weekend.
Mad Alchemy light show
I managed to duck out and make a quick hit of Angel Olsen's set at Stubb's around the corner. I'd caught her sound check while grabbing a bite earlier and was drawn to return for her performance. Her latest album "All Mirrors" was barely a month old, and Olsen's name on everyone lips. I wondered if she'd popped in from around the corner too after she joked about "not being a metal band, but working on it". Her performance was surprisingly vulnerable and more intense than I'd expected.
With Dallas' Power Trip in full thrash mode when I returned to Mohawk, its a miracle I was able to worm my way up front for some cool photos of High on Fire. These Texas sons may have had a more raucous pit than the headliner.
High on Fire
The 'Matt Pike for President' crowd, out in vocal force, prompted High On Fire's Grammy winning and typically shirtless axeman to remark, "Gimme a break about the shirt you guys, its cold!" Chris Maggio of Wear Your Wounds made his HOF debut behind the kit. His identity being sussed out only after a flurry of Instagram DMs. His fiery debut and the bands overall performance was masterful.
A blizzard of confetti and balloons greeted Wayne Coyne's rainbow festooned congregation at Stubb's Friday night. With a nod to Austin's recently departed Daniel Johnston, the Lips treated us to a sweet memorial of his 'True Love Will Find You in the End' and dusted off 'Felt Good to Burn' live for the first time in over 20 years.
In my attempt to see every. damn. body., I bailed early on the Lips to get to the Barracuda for a sold out gig featuring Broncho, Death Valley Girls, Elephant Stone and Frankie and the Witch Fingers. On my way, I peeked through the fence outside Empire to catch a few moments of Brutus, who along with Russian Circles and Deafheaven was hard to miss.
Canada's Elephant Stone were the epitome of the orange sunshine drenched psychedelia that this festival stands for. Sitar solo? You bet. I'm in like a merry prankster.
Death Valley Girls
DVG are a favorite that I was stoked to see again since the return of Nikki Pickle on bass and addition of drummer Rikki Styxx (The Darts). The new rhythm section crushed, and frontwoman Bonnie Bloomgarden made some rock 'n roll memories by giving her rings to a couple of excited young fans up front. Larry Schemel's wall of squall drives this band that is both dark, and super fun. Kinda like playing hide-and-seek in a graveyard.
Crocodiles drew me in immediately. Television, Jesus & Mary Chain, Smithereens and bubble gum sixties all rolled into one trippy burrito. I wasn't terribly familiar with them before, but they are the one band that's been on repeat since retuning home.
From the Burger Records cadre of garage/pop/psych, Habibi dropped a dose of Motown girl group harmonies on a chill afternoon set with White Fence and Allah-Las curated by Noise Pop events. I will also never not mention that guitarist Alana Amram got me into a sold out gig with Levitation's spiritual father Roky Erikson during her stint with Death Valley Girls. It turned out to be the only time I'd ever get to see him perform. I'm forever indebted.
Tim Presley's White Fence drew upon newer material (to me at least) for a low gear cruise through mellow psychedelia in a singer-song writer vein.
Allah-Las have been on my "must see" list for several years now, and I was finally geographically advantaged enough for it to happen. If I ruled the world, you'd be sick of hearing 'Tell Me (What's On Your Mind)' on the radio. They dusted off that should-be classic from their first album early into a set heavy on selections from their newer record of easy haze, "LAHS" that dropped the Monday following the festival.
The Black Angels
Levitation is The Black Angels gig. And to see a favorite band in their home town, surrounded by their creation, and their heroes is a wonderfull thing. Their set of dark, heavy, mind excursions was exactly what you'd want on a night where the skies over Stubb's Austin hung with a fuzzy mist that propagated spacey lights above.
I can't believe I get to exist on the same planet as John Cale, much less be priviledged enough to photograph him at a such a distance that I feared he could hear me screaming on the inside. His peerless set included 'Helen of Troy' as the opener, 'Paris 1919', the Velvet Underground's 'I'm Waiting for the Man' and an encore of 'Sister Ray' with his spiritual prodigy, The Black Angels.
Flipper with David Yow
Only David Yow, formerly of Austin's legendary noise merchants Scratch Acid (and of course The Jesus Lizard) could pull this off. With the departure a few years ago of vocalist Bruce Loose due to chronic health problems, Flipper now down to two original members, guitarist Ted Falconi and drummer Steve DePace found themselves in the unenviable position of finding a front man capable of bringing the abrasive, confrontational style that made Flipper punk pioneers in the first place. Yow's manic howl is the perfect fit. The hungry throng at Hotel Vegas felt the most like a community to me over any other this festival weekend. Flipper's legendary catalog was celebrated by old school Austin scenesters and newly minted punk kids surging back and forth with the bands legendary plodding pace. When Yow approaches, you're not sure if he's going to jump into your arms, punch you in the face or kiss you on the mouth. Antics that played to the obvious delight of Falconi and DePace who had big smiles all night. Rachel Thoele who has been trading off with Mike Watt on bass for this tour kept the lid from boiling off, anchoring Flipper's low and slow fuzz that has influenced so many future noise punks. By the end of the night, most of the crowd took to the stage with Sailor Poon's Billie Buck guesting on sax for a 'Sex Bomb' blowout. I'd waited half my life to see this go down and it was everything I wanted it to be.
I managed to catch just a bit of Frankie and the Witch Fingers during both of their Barracuda sets, unfortunately not coming away with any great photos, but the intense desire to see them with my undivided attention as soon as possible. They totally ripped.
I couldn't be prouder that The Coathangers made the scene representing my home state. These badass women always bring it with super catchy songs that are equally fun and fuck you. Their Levitation set leaned heavy on the recent 'Nosebleed Weekend' and this years 'Devil You Know' albums.
I also may have seen a ghost at the historic Driskill Hotel. (For real y'all.) But even that didn't top Flipper.
I'm ready to take the ride again in 2020.