When you disembark from the plane in Vegas, the first thing you encounter is slot machines.
The airport is a strange combination of a sh*tty casino and an overpriced mall. As you stand and wait for your $13 whopper you begin to notice the stream of outsiders filtering in -- every 15 minutes, a consistent flow of tourists from all around the globe, with dollars in their pockets, looking to make their fortune.
The next thing you notice is the oppressive, crushing weight of the heat. Being one of the whitest of white men from North Dakota, the sun and the heat are a constantly threatening enemy, reminding me of my inferiority and the cold barren reality of home.
Luckily, I have arrived in this land to experience neither of these things, the heat nor the parting of ways with my money via chance, I am here to watch four days of doom and stoner metal at Psycho Las Vegas, in the Hard Rock Hotel.
Thursday’s lineup was exclusive to the pool stage, which is outdoors in a small grotto, with a giant pool surrounded by cabanas, beautiful people and two immensely overpriced bars.
The initial dichotomy of this situation was particularly evident at the pool stage. Well-worn humans in battle jackets and tattoo sleeves crashing into the paradise vibe of the pool and the bikini clad waitresses. This first day was a smaller event with access only granted to those who had purchased early bird tickets for the festival.
My draw on this day was the great and the mighty Graf Orlock, a Cinemagrind band from Los Angeles. The fury and the energy of this set was met by very few who followed, if any. The vocalist, Karl Bournze, who appeared to be a certified lunatic, thrashed and gyrated his way across the stage and often found himself leaping precariously into the small crowd which did its best to keep him aloft.
The heat was apparent and was a hurdle to be crossed as a live band on that stage, and as the final track commenced with its Jurassic Park-themed metal breakdown , Karl was gloriously carried, arms outreached, and thrown into the pool for relief.
Nothing else on Thursday was even close to as good as this set, although I did see GOYA, Ruby the Hatchet, Sasquatch, and Urchin. I took the rest of the night off to eat, wander and eventually pass out from exhaustion.
When I stumbled off the elevator Friday morning, what had once been a semisubdued, small amount of doom metallers had now become a sea of weathered dudes in battlejackets and long hair with cheap beers in hand. Never before this journey did I realize how much of the scene was seemingly into this music exclusively so that they could find reasons to wear this kind of attire.
The day started with Young Blood Supercult, a very clichéd and cookie-cutter stoner rock band. I waited through them so that I could get a prime piece of real estate for Mouth of the Architect, one of the favorite bands of my young adult life.
I managed to push myself up to the railing. Mouth of the Architect played a best of set with songs ranging from their debut up to the new material. Loud and intense but also introspective and emotional, Mouth of the Architect’s 35 minutes was one of my highlights from this festival.
Following them was tough but I stayed to watch Usnea and part of Sons of Otis at the vinyl stage, where a gin and tonic was $8 vs the $15 you paid less than a minute walk away at the Joint stage.
Young And In The Way kicked off the evening portion of this adventure with grinding hardcore at the pool at this point the Vegas experience was getting weird by not fault of anything or one but myself. Young And In The Way was in-your-face aggression, with bikini-clad females in ski masks waving their logo around on massive black flags. They were intimidating, with the most hilarious pool mosh pit I’d ever seen, with grown men splashing each other while banging their heads to the grind.
But I had to leave early to ensure I could get a good spot for Sleep. I have never seen Sleep and whereas I love them deeply and respect them, I always considered them overrated.
Sleep was seemingly the unofficial headliner and they knew it. They were almost an hour late to perform and just when I was about to hit my peak of excitement, they began.
When Sleep hit the stage they immediately jumped into ‘Dopesmoker.’ They played almost half of this epic hour-long song while bathed in a smoky green light befitting the theme and material.
‘Holy Mountain,’ to me, was their seminal work, and after the ‘Dopesmoker’ intro the lights turned purple and green and tracks from ‘Holy Mountain’ came front and center. During the tracks on ‘Holy Mountain’ the stage floor was lit green on Matt’s side and purple on Al’s side, with a side-stage light illuminating each of their bodies in the opposite color, contrasting these two metal legends.
It was epic and awe-inspiring to see Matt Pike standing erect in front of his wall of amps playing the riffs that made him a god to a headbanging army of parishioners.
Next up was Mulatu Atsake, but sadly as a result of Sleep’s set, the curtains were pulled on him mid song to make way for BJM, a sad happening for one of the highlights of the fest.
Anton and BJM ended up taking the stage angrily, close to a quarter after one in the morning and the crowd reflected this. Only diehards and the very drunk remained for their set. Their performance was rife with equipment problems and Anton seemed to just go through the motions, unfortunately, as this was one of the main reasons I was here in Las Vegas. Disappointed by the lack of effort, I made my way to bed to prepare for day three.
Day three, Saturday, opened with Cough, whom I love on album but who are excruciatingly boring on a stage first thing in the morning.
Summoner followed on the vinyl stage and brought the ruckus with their southern-tinged stoner rock jams. They reinvigorated me and got me moving for the rest of the day. I spent most of Saturday at the Vinyl stage, which was a smaller dark room with great sound and a very nice crew running the bar. This is where I posted for the next few hours to watch Hollow leg , Sail, Cult Leader, Celeste, and Elephant Tree jam out varying levels of metal madness before making my way back to main stage for Gojira and Neurosis.
Gojira was a well-oiled live machine playing mostly newer songs mixed with a couple heavy jams from the older days. Very impressive set and their drummer stood out as the highlight. The guy appears to have eight limbs and drives their immense wall of sound with vigor.
Neurosis was up next. Unfortunately, I was wearing sandals and this was the moment the drunks decided to start a sloppy, out-of-rhythm mosh pit. I lost a sandal and spent most the set fighting to find it; and after finding it, fighting to retain possession of it.
The set was great, though. Neurosis really showed all their sides and played material that spanned over 25 years of releases. After Neurosis was King Diamond. I pounded my $15 Jack and Coke and headed to bed.
Sunday was a lot less spectacular, mostly due to me, although Cult of Luna with Julie Christmas was one of the highlights of the event. For all who haven’t seen Julie Christmas on a stage, I’d recommend it. Her vocals swing to far extremes, from absolute beauty to blood-curdling screams and grunts. She is a force of nature up there on that stage. As the show went along she ripped her dress to shreds and threw it into the audience. She banged her head without regard and juxtaposed the intellectual greatness of Cult of Luna with her sheer unbridled insanity.
Cult of Luna with Julie Christmas, Domkraft’s rhythmic trance-inducing groove doom, and Game of Thrones were ultimately the highlights of the day.
In the end, Psycho confirmed that I am old, too old for this kind of massive thing and really, I sort of miss the days of not knowing that all the doom fans on the west coast all dress and act exactly alike. And while Vegas is an American treasure, I don’t see it as a place that fits for a festival such as this, maybe it is because it’s cheap to fly there or because it’s close to LA, but a Casino would not be my my choice for a festival of this sort.
Notwithstanding my old man attitude, it was “lit” and it was something I’m glad I did, and that I’d fully recommend, but I think it killed Vegas for me and ushered me out of the scene in a lot of ways.
It was the music that was outside of the genre that made this festival worthy, and I think Psycho should take a look into creating more diversity on the next lineup, to avoid the eventual doom that stagnancy brings.
[Martin Beckmann is the host of Locals on the 8, on 95.9 RadioFreeFargo]
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