Levitation 2015 Photo Gallery: Day Three — Flaming Lips, 13th Floor Elevators + More
Imagine a music festival where heavy rains and subsequent flooding cause massive restructuring before it even starts, mud persists all weekend and major parking and traffic issues add an extra two hours to your commute home each night. Now imagine a festival with unerringly chill vibes, grounds so easy to navigate you can catch a bit of virtually every band, constant sunshine cut with a cool breeze and a reunion show 45 years in the making from one of the most influential psychedelic bands in history.
Over the course of this past weekend’s Levitation festival – still known informally as Austin Psych Fest – both scenarios comprised the total reality. Operations were by no means perfect at Carson Creek Ranch: Rain put a damper on Day 1 before triumphant sets from the likes of Holy Wave, DIIV and Tame Impala. And despite outstanding shows from Thee Oh Sees, Primal Scream and Health, Day 2 still suffered from massive mud pits and inexplicable traffic snafus.
But by the third and final afternoon, the threatening gray clouds had thinned to let in some sunshine, the wind added a literal air of cool to the already more relaxed atmosphere, and attendees were beyond stoked – on top of standouts the Black Angels and Flaming Lips, they were about to see the first concert in 47 years from seminal Austin psych rock band the 13th Floor Elevators.
Without question, that show – filled out by classic Elevators members Roky Erickson, electric jug player Tommy Hall, bassist Ronnie Leatherman and drummer John Ike Walton – was the most attended of the weekend next to Tame Impala. It makes sense: There might not be a genre dubbed “psych” without them, and certainly this festival wouldn’t exist. (Its new name was inspired by the ’67 song “(I’ve Got) Levitation,” and fest founders the Black Angels would never have formed bedrock imprint the Reverberation Appreciation Society, created in honor of the Elevators’ ’66 tune “Reverberation (Doubt).”)
To the wide-eyed and madly grinning fans’ delight, both cuts popped up in the 12-song set alongside other classics like “She Lives (In a Time of Her Own)” and “Slip Inside This House.” But if we’re being 100 percent honest, that performance was extremely underwhelming relative to the hype.
There’s no denying its historical momentousness, but it played out much like the Zombies’ 2014 Psych Fest appearance: The fellas haven’t exactly aged gracefully, and it would be delusional to describe their showmanship as riveting. Yet it was exhilarating just soaking up the audience’s rabid excitement; an unceasing standing ovation prompted the players to return for a fitting one-song encore of “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” and the sheer reverence while it played out was deeply moving.
The buildup to that arguably life-changing moment permeated the day’s earlier performances with palpable excitement. Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger frontman Sean Lennon openly expressed his delight for sharing the bill with the psych legends, punctuating it with an aside, “We were at Coachella … this is the best fest.” Afterward, Tucson’s Myrrors and Portland’s Eternal Tapestry laid out intricate soundscapes that served as the calm before the distortion-heavy sonic storm, which erupted after nightfall with London’s wonderfully wild Fat White Family and Ty Segall’s appropriately titled side-project Fuzz. Japanese trio ZZZ’s got a jump on those auditory attacks on the tent stage with a brand of noise rock played at bone-rattling volume and with mesmerizing fervor, and Mac DeMarco subsequently applied the antidote to that sound with his happy-go-lucky, goofball-indie-rock.
Reliably so, a blaring set from local heroes the Black Angels marked the return to high-decibel weirdness. They threw in a handful of their catchiest yet still haunting cuts (“Entrance Song,” “Evil Things,” “Bad Vibrations”), but sounded strongest on newer, experimentally sinister tunes “Waterloo Waltz,” the live debut of “Molly Moves My Generation” and an unrecognizable track that might be titled “I Dreamt."
While many will argue to the death that the Elevators turned in the day’s best set, the incontestable crown jewels of the entire weekend were the Flaming Lips. How could you not award top marks to a band that 1) intros its performance with a shower of confetti during opening number “The Abandoned Hospital Ship,” 2) unveils a giant helium balloon spelling out “F--- YEAH LEVITATION” before touching on classic space odyssey “Flight Test,” and 3) deploys its reliably wacky frontman, Wayne Coyne, into the crowd via a giant inflatable hamster ball at the conclusion of “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1”?
All those stunts aside, the Lips deserve a nod for predominately choosing uplifting anthems (“The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (With All Your Power),” “The W.A.N.D.” and “Do You Realize??”) over those likely to cause a rash of death-trips (their last tour focused primarily on the dark and disorienting tunes of 2009’s Embryonic and 2013’s The Terror).
“This is our first time playing Psych Fest,” said Coyne. “I hope they’ve all been as f---ing cool as this one.”
Chances are, Wayne, they all have – at least based on the event’s steady rise to international acclaim. In light of that, the organizers of Levitation likewise deserve a nod for pulling off a fest that – on top of miraculously avoiding the threat of monsoon-style weather – ultimately became what so many of the greats like Bonnaroo and Glastonbury create year after year: a temporary haven that seemingly exists apart from normal time and space, that forges irreplaceable memories, that makes it possible to trudge through the grind of regular life even after the music ends and the party stops, because the next festival is only a year away.