Words by Matthew Hutchison | Photos by Brendon Crigler Photography
3950 S Las Vegas Blvd
Las Vegas, NV 89119
August 15th – 18th
It’s 4:00 p.m. on a Saturday and Tatooine is an uncomfortable 107 degrees outside, it’s been like this since 9:30 a.m. We’re sitting in our holding station inside this grounded Imperial Star Destroyer, hiding out from the Tusken raid occurring below us 22 floors down. Aside from a few structures surrounding the perimeter, it’s barren outside. Yet, in plain view of us is the menacing dark steel exoskeleton of the new Death Star set to launch upon worlds in 2020. This event has been an interesting experience so far, but the highlight for many is Emperor Palpatine and his Sith officers taking over the main hall to whip the legions in a fury for an hour and a half.
Psycho Las Vegas 2019 had surreal moments where Star Wars analogies were appropriate. Deciphering the above, Tatooine is Las Vegas, Imperial Star Destroyer is the massive Mandalay Bay hotel, the Death Star is the oncoming Allegiant Stadium (home to the soon to be Las Vegas Raiders and UNLV football), Tusken raiders are all the metalheads and Psycho Las Vegas attendees, and Palpatine and the Sith are The Misfits.
Yes, Psycho is still a gauntlet. But, this time the gauntlet leans more towards navigating Mandalay Bay than enduring Psycho’s punishing lineup. Mandalay is much larger than the previous hosting venue, Hard Rock Hotel, giving good insight as to how much this festival has grown by the numbers. Seeing all the bodies crammed into the 12,000 capacity Events Center during the Misfits set proves this. Each of the Mandalay’s four stage rooms holds more people than the Hard Rock’s individual venues, and sizable crowds were present at each throughout the weekend. Getting from one venue to the next is an effort due to how spaced out each venue is from each other. Security is also a big standout here ever since the shooting in 2017. Mandalay and Psycho took no chances on that level, security was tight and enforced throughout the weekend with the guards being respectful and accommodating in the process. As expected but still worth the shout out, no affordable food options in or around the casino, but that’s how it is here. Bob Balch (lead guitar – Fu Manchu) is pretty spot on about late Summer weekend experience:
“Psycho Fest is always a blast. It’s a reunion of sorts, running into almost every band we’ve [Fu Manchu] has toured with one night is a trip. I also really enjoyed my $56 room service sandwich! That was my first and last $56 sandwich…”
A new era for Psycho Las Vegas is here and delivered with its most diverse lineup yet, adding indie rock, luciferian R&B, and dream pop to round out their curation of metal, darkwave, hardcore, post-rock/post-punk bands of the weekend. Here are some of the takeaways from the weekend.
The set of the weekend, which resonates most is Old Man Gloom. With 2019 marking their 20th year, the performance they deliver is nothing short of visceral and emotional they were on another level that Saturday afternoon in the Events Center. The four guys on stage shrouded in blue and reddish lighting played as if this could have been their last show, with no reformation plans in sight! If the flying hair on stage from Santos Montano (drummer) and Aaron Turner (throat/guitars) didn’t pull your attention, then the watching Stephen Brodksy (bass) fill in for the fallen Caleb Scofield and pulling off an intense performance in his own right likely did. Turner barks while he and Nate Newton (guitars) scrapes the chords from tracks off Christmas (“Skullstorm,” “Sleeping With Snakes”), No (“Common Species”), Ape of God (“Shoulder Meat,” “A Hideous Nightmare Lies Upon Our World”) and more, including a new song off their forthcoming LP in October. The past year has been tough for these guys with the sudden death of their long time bassist Scofield who has been with Old Man Gloom since their beginnings. The response from the underground community to the tragedy is positive, due in part to the outpouring of support to the group and Scofield’s family with the arrangement of two benefit shows to help the latter – one which included the one-off reformation of Isis (performing as Celestial). Santos has this to say about their set at Psycho Las Vegas.
“Really, we heard a few stories from day one that made us a little nervous. We expected only a few hundred people to watch out set in that 12,000 capacity room. While this would have been weird and kinda hilarious, that was NOT the case at all! It certainly wasn’t 12,000 people, but it was still a lot of goddamn who seemed to be super stoked! It was fantastic for us. The rest of the day was awesome, so a lot of old friends , at some really expensive food. Overall, a really good time! The only bummer is I took out a payday loan and used my house as collateral. I was so excited to play the Sex & The City slot machine that I didn’t read the fine print. Turns out, I have to pay that back and now I’m being evicted. Gonna toss up a kickstarter to kickstart myself out of homelessness. I’m such a Samantha, right?
“As for the room service, I DID order from there! I was about to pay like $50 for a cheeseburger until they told me it would be an hour or more before it gets to me. Fuck that! I went down to one of the restaurants and had a mediocre meal that took less than an hour to prepare and only cost $90. I forced the groomers to another hotel to go to Momofuku, my favorite ramen spot NOT in Japan! They grumbled a little bit but they were all stoked when I said I’d pay for it. I regret doing that, because now I’m homeless. I really thought the mini game in the Sex & The City where you try to find the Manolo high heel behind the Magnolia Bakery cupcakes was going to yield more winnings. I just won 200 credits, which I found out later was $2. Oh well, there’s always next year.”
After Old Man Gloom’s violent set, the North American debut of Triumph of Death imposes their will on the crowd with a nostalgic set from Thomas Warrior’s 1980s group, Hellhammer. Asking the room “Are We Suitably Morbid?”, Warrior and his cohorts enable the Event Center’s first circle pit of the day as they replicate tit for tat the exact sound on the Apocalyptic Raids EP with cuts like “Aggressor”, “Messiah”, “Reaper” and the Celtic Frost track “Visions of Mortality.” The band is tight and on point the whole set, and they didn’t give the crowd a break whatsoever. Donning all black and illuminated in full, Warrior’s voice hasn’t lost the growl and snarl effect (that “UGH” grunt) he’s known for with his time in Celtic Frost and Triptykon, as he expresses his appreciation to the crowd and to Psycho for the opportunity during the concluding “Triumph of Death” track.
Godspeed You Black Emperor pulls into Vegas on their 18 date US tour in continuous support of 2017’s Luciferian Towers LP, with their heavy multimedia use of cinematic soundscapes matched with flashing visuals, capturing the torrential atmosphere of their set. Setting up quickly upon Graveyard’s conclusion, the seven-piece group huddle together in center stage with co-founder Efrim Menuck leading his people in building crescendos, droning instrumentation, and galloping percussion throughout their mid-afternoon set, while two monitors displayed natural settings, flashing terms and vocabularies, mechanical schematics, and musical notation to along with their compositions. It’s more of a ceremony feeling in this room; each member focuses without distraction on their instrument throughout each passage of music. The group carries over their shroud of ambiguity on stage as they do in their online presence, illuminated only by the lights of the monitors and floor lights highlighting the huddled bands focused activity building on each others contributions.
When Mark Lanegan’s name fades in across the display screen, the sky is already a twilight velvet with stripes of orange – a fitting atmosphere for one of alternative rock’s storied crooners. Dressed in black with long brown hair combed back, Lanegan steps up center stage as his band begins the night with “Deaths Head Tattoo” from the recent Gargoyles LP. Competing with his time slot against Clutch’s across the way in the Events Center, the audience packed out the Beach area to see the man. Lanegan’s name carries substantial significance across the heavy music scene, with his affiliations and collaborations throughout the years spanning the likes of Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age, Greg Dulli (Afghan Whigs), and many more. Grasping his mic while gazing upon the crowd, his voice doesn’t’ trail from the grit feel he’s always been known for, as he leads his group through cuts such as “Stitch It Up”, “The Gravedigger’s Song,” “Beehive,” “Bleeding Muddy Water,” and the recent collaboration he and Wesley Eisold (Cold Cave) perform together “Finding Nero” to conclude the set. His new album Somebody’s Knocking is in Fall with the new single “Night Flight to Kabul” shows his music leaning towards a New Order sound.
The Women of Psycho Las Vegas
Between the press that Twin Temple has been receiving and the number of shirts seen walking the casino floor, the hype machine was in full effect for the Los Angeles couple. Pressure doesn’t sway these two as they put on one of the most solid performances of that whole weekend. It didn’t phase the House of Blues crowd that Opeth’s only US performance was going on across the casino, they’re here to see a group best described as Dusty Springfield-in-league-with-Satan. Performing a set they coined Satanic Doo-Wop, the duo conducts pre, mid, and post-show rituals amongst themselves and the audience and throw in a brass section to go with singer, Alexandra James, and husband, guitarist Zachary James, with a vintage feel. Yet, with five people on that stage, your attention is on Alexandra the whole time. With a commanding presence and confident demeanor, she swoons the audience with such cuts as “Lucifer, My Love,” “The Devil (Didn’t Make Me Do It),” Sex Magic,” and leads a sing-along with the whole room to “Satan Is A Woman” garnishing raised beers and cheers from the packed room. Here’s what she had to say about their Psycho appearance:
“Psycho Las Vegas is an incredible festival. We’re honored to share a bill with so many talented artists, and it was lovely to see so many fellow blasphemers haunt Sin City. We had such a diabolical time performing and are pleased to have initiated all the new neophytes in the blood of Babalon. Thank you to all who came and sang our unholy hymnals with us. This ritual was one for the grimoire indeed. Hope to see you all again on tour this Fall. Hail Satan!”
With all the bands that played Thursday’s pool party and the after-party, Motorbabe deserves some serious props for their closing set in the Rhythms and Riffs lounge. Hailing from Los Angeles/Philadelphia, this Motorhead tribute group kept things alive and going well into the night with a setlist consisting of classic-era Motorhead up to the Wurzel/Campbell years. Donning all black with a Jack Daniels bottle in hand, bassist/vocalist Rachel Enyeart conjures up a voice ala Lemmy to lead the charge as the three blasts the room with material ranging from Overkill, Bomber, Orgasmatron, and the Bastards era. From the first note of “Iron Fist” the bodies left in the lounge area were arm and arm pumping their fists, hoisting their beers and jumping on each other while belting lyrics to “Orgasmatron,” “Jailbait,” and “Born To Raise Hell” among others with the ladies. Guitar work by Zebidy Tank is dextrous, and on point, as she nails the riffs of “I’m So Bad (Baby I Don’t Care)” and the solo work of “Overkill” along with her drummer counterpart Janna Brunner providing machine-like battery power behind the kit the entire night.
While Parisian rockers Hangman’s Chair ripped the room apart in the House of Blues area, a packed out crowd was already sent for gothic garage rockers LA Witch’s set in the Rhythms and Riffs lounge. Their sound has a hazy, dream-like feel to it as vocalist Sadie Sanchez hypnotizes the room with her reverbed soaked playing and ghostly vocals which elicits black and white 35 mm sceneries of various Los Angeles landscapes and the subcultures that inhabit it.
The curveball this weekend is the Baltimore dream-pop trio, Beach House. Shrouded in starlit projections while illuminated with mostly velvet and white lighting, the trio deliver a hypnotizing set to those who weren’t watching the 1349 blitzkrieg out in the pool area.
For 24 years, post-rock unit Mogwai delivers white noise guitar work that overpowers and enchants. Their Psycho Las Vegas debut kicked off a short US West Coast tour and made their debut with a wash of overdriven effects and guitarist Stuart Braithwaite’s soothing and very sparse vocal harmonies, which feels like we’re in the eye of a their sound storm. This set kicks off a two-week tour the Scottish quintet embarks on, and the impression they gave was nothing short of impressive and transcendent. Braithwaite holds stage right’s guitar work while longtime bassist, Dominic Aitchison, switches between bass, guitar, and keys on specific numbers as does guitarist Barry Burns. If there is such a thing as heavy meditation music, Mogwai belongs in those ranks.
In memory of the death of their former guitarist, Todd Laskowski, Massachusetts cult doom trio, Warhorse, reunited for a one off in 2018. In 2019, they return and treat the crowd at House of Blues to a crushing no frills hour long set leading off Sunday. Lead singer/bassist, Jerry Horne, was in great spirits to see the crowd’s welcoming reaction, returning the favor his way by imposing his might via a gravely throat and heavy low end to blast material from As Heaven Turns to Ash album.
Everyone that wasn’t at Beach House was watching 1349 blast the Beach area with their black metal attack across the hordes. Currently on a tour with Portland’s Uada, the Norwegian band hit the final day at Psycho with no mercy and all force. Their new album, The Infernal Pathway will be coming out in October. As for other Oslo based band appearances at Psycho Las Vegas, Mork made their US debut on Saturday morning at the House of Blues with a set equally as antagonizing as 1349.
Amenra. Loud. Punishing, experience it live for yourself and travel if necessary.
Psycho 2020 wish list
Year of No Light, Einstürzende Neubauten, Emma Ruth Rundle, Mamiffer, Zonal, Goatsnake, Milliken Chamber, Brutus, Thisquietarmy, Against The Grain, Nebula, Tankzilla, The Big Scenic Nowhere, Yawning Sons, Big Pig, Carpenter Brut.