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Live Report: Psycho Las Vegas 2018

Integrity. Photo credit: Hillarie E. Jason

Psycho Las Vegas, three years running at this point, has always been an eclectic mix of musical genres where you can see anything from classic rock to world music, jazz fusion to black metal, and maybe even some iteration of punk rock. However, the context still matters. For instance, even the festival’s so-called “pre-fest pool party” brings certain things to mind for most of us, even though people clearly have different opinions as to what a party is, or what it should be.

Wanting to see a band like Bell Witch plod along at six beats per minute while crammed into a tiny area around a concrete stage is a very strange party plan for anyone not looking to deflate all the beach balls and drown themselves in the pool. A band like that is best heard lying down in a dark room with some big fat headphones plugged into the stereo and none of the distractions of the real world. And, to their credit, headlining band Wolves in the Throne Room played better and had more energy on stage than I had ever seen at one of their shows, but all the fog machines in the world couldn’t change the fact that they played outside under non-native palm trees at a pool with people in bathing suits, flip-flops, and floaties.

Although not likely your ideal location to see a band, the remaining three days of the fest at the pool were booked with bands that had the necessary spunk to get the crowd moving both in and out of the pool. Most notably were Voivod, Eyehategod, Rocket From the Crypt, and Integrity all of which had the crowd thrashing, screaming, and even crowd-surfing (in the case of the Integrity set) — pretty terrifying considering the space between the tiny stage and the pool is only about 20 feet and the stage is literally a solid block of concrete. There is no amount of alcohol I could drink nor level of excitement I could reach that would have me overlook the potential for serious injury by taking a fall head-first into either the pool or the concrete stage, even if I were the crowd-surfing type.

If you are more inclined toward larger venues with better sound, lights, and atmosphere, then Psycho Las Vegas had you covered with the stages at Vinyl and The Joint, as long as you could overcome some scheduling and communication snafus. Let’s face it, these sorts of things happen at fests. Bands cancel, sometimes last minute. Things can run late and throw off your plans, but there were a couple this year that really stood out. The first was the last-minute announcement that the headliners for Friday night at The Joint, Witchcraft, canceled altogether and would be replaced by of all things, Andrew Dice Clay at Vinyl. Yes, you read that correctly. “The Diceman” did a comedy set which I decided to completely pass on for something much better going on at the Center Bar (which I will get into later).

The second big hiccup was Zakk Sabbath (Zakk Wylde) who was scheduled to play the big venue on Sunday, but you wouldn’t have known that wasn’t happening until you were already in line to get in for it. For whatever reason, Zakk was moved to the pool stage later on that night and nothing was happening in his original spot and he would, we were told, play after Big Business, which also isn’t what happened. To the dismay of many standing outside sweating and waiting for Big Business to go on, watching in total confusion as the crew set up the Zakk Sabbath gear, we finally found out Big Business was either bumped or canceled. No one knew or could/would say what happened to Big Business. There were no posts on social media about it anywhere until hours after when finally they announced that they would play at Vinyl after everyone else finished. It all worked out in the end, but a bit of communication would have made a better experience for the fans and bands.

Odd musical pairings are one thing that can make or break a fest. At times it’s like a breath of fresh air, and others it’s just plain strange to experience these extreme ups and downs. On Friday, there was a strange but wonderful clash of genres that notably began at The Joint with the horror movie soundtrack electronic stylings of S U R V I V E who many may have heard of from their musical score of the popular Netflix series, Stranger Things, moving right into Japan’s doom metal heroes Church of Misery. Once you got your fill of bell-bottom jeans and smoked enough weed to put an average person to sleep for a week, Tinariwen, a band from Mali formed in 1979 and probably the most rebellious band of the fest (quite legitimately, as members were part of the Tuareg rebel community in the 1970s) literally filled the stage (I think there were at least 9 of them) with their version of traditional West African beats and guitar sounds all wearing smiles ear to ear.

Another good example of the swings in musical diversity at Psycho occured on Sunday. After an absolutely massive, fist-clenching set from the Norwegian extreme metal band Enslaved (not black metal according to them), and while Zakk Wylde was hammering away on his guitar and wah pedals at the pool, the Swedish band The Hellacopters played some good time garage rock with Nicke Andersson (formerly Entombed) firmly at the helm. Along with their highly energetic guitarist Dregen, they shot adrenaline into the crowd inciting the headbangers and horn-throwing effiianatos to do their thing just to be pulled back down to Earth by the slow, heavily dramatic drones and extreme fog machine use of Sunn O))) (without Attila of Mayhem fame). The drop to Sunn O))) without at least Attila to look at after the huge up-lift garnered from the last few bands, was a challenge. We were so deep into the mental and physical exhaustion of a four-day fest in Vegas, where everything becomes a constant struggle to stay focused, hydrated and on task and this was not going to keep fans attention, unfortunately.

Some of the bands that stood out for just being great were Godflesh playing Merciless (which was perfect), Uada in the intimate and darkly lit venue Vinyl (how else should you see a black metal band?), Monolord, who absolutely pummeled the huge crowd, a truly blistering set from All Pigs Must Die, and a haunting musical experience watching Batushka from Poland.

It would be a mistake to forget that Danzig headlined Saturday night as he was the most important part of the fest for most in attendance. As expected, there were security guards scanning the crowd and shutting down anyone brave enough to try and use their phone to grab a photo and he stopped between songs to rant about people on the internet being incorrect about something only he seemed to care about. Even so, you have to give the guy credit. He could easily skate through a set, putting little to no effort into it and people would still com simply because of who he is but he didn’t do that at all.

The real fun of the fest was to be had at the Center Bar for the guest DJ spots. Specifically, Friday and Saturday night with Nicke Andersson, Johanna Sadonis, and Andrew W.K. respectively, playing some of the best mix of classic rock, metal, and punk I could have asked for to end each night or begin each morning, depending on how you look at it.

— Hillarie Jason

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