Levitation 2015 Photo Gallery: Day Two — Primal Scream, Thee Oh Sees + More
After Tame Impala’s enthralling Friday night headliner set, Day 2 (May 9) of Austin’s Levitation festival had a lot to live up to. It was at least encouraging upon arrival that there wasn’t a single foreboding rain cloud in sight.
“It’s nice to not be stuck in the mud today, huh,” Blank Tapes frontman Matt Adams said after running through a few garage rock tunes peppered with catchy psych guitar breaks.
Adams must not have walked the grounds just yet -- there was no apparent splatter on his orange and white striped suit -- because contrary to that rhetorical query, there were still plenty of sludgy spots to trudge through. But that didn’t deter anyone from enjoying a lineup of acts from all corners of the globe, which ended with a crushing performance by the Jesus and Mary Chain of 1985 debut album Psychocandy in its entirety.
As it goes with the vast variety of sounds filed under “psych music,” the level of appeal came in fits and starts. Early on, Chicago singer-songwriter and guitarist Ryley Walker served up something that bordered on free jazz. His voice was mighty -- a bridge between Cat Stevens and Eddie Vedder -- but erratic time signatures and bizarre scales were often more distracting than engaging. Even weirder were L.A.’s Fever the Ghost. Not only did they look deranged -- their faces were often contorted in ways that could only result from too many tabs or demonic possession -- but they also sounded it. There’s no requirement to make music people can dance to (no one could really groove to this, though a few fans made feeble attempts), but sometimes noise is just noise.
China’s Chui Wan fared somewhat better -- the quartet's use of slightly distorted vocals served as another instrumental layer rather than a melodic backbone. A better use of lyrics and vocals as a sonic device, though, came with a late-night set from L.A. quartet Health, who released third record Death Magic on April 23. The album’s title might as well describe the performance: at times, the guitar-drums-bass sounded as wildly aggressive and thrash-worthy as the Blood Brothers, but other songs laced with synth and programming evoked the hypnosis of Portishead married to the outright chaos of Destruction Unit. Overall, the band’s ability to stimulate using such varied elements made them one of the weekend’s most fascinating acts.
In between all this, there were plenty of bands perfect for mellowing-out (the Blank Tapes and Costa Rica’s Las Robertas) or dancing to like nobody was watching. Seattle’s Night Beats – recent disciples of the Black Angels’ imprint Reverberation Appreciation Society – were contenders in the latter regard with a constantly gyrating, swaying and smiling audience that extended almost as far as Tame Impala’s the night before. Yet Thee Oh Sees took home the prize for inspiring the highest energy all weekend. Up until they took the stage, not a single soul dared crowd-surf, and suddenly -- as frontman John Dwyer led his hair-flailing attacks on tunes like “I Come From the Mountain,” “The Dream” and “Tidal Wave” -- there was a veritable sea of fist-pumping kids flying through the air and over the barricade.
The Jesus and Mary Chain were certainly commanding via sheer volume during their full-album, evening-ending set, though it seemed a terrible missed opportunity that they didn’t invite original drummer turned full-time Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie out for at least one song to pump up the historical significance. (Granted, that might have somewhat undermined the whirlwind performance that mop-topped vocalist gave with his own group just before.)
Gillespie and his players embodied a determined ferocity that incited a respectable level of raucousness among the predominately younger crowd, yet everything toward the night’s end felt like a cool-off compared to the earlier onslaught of Dwyer and Thee Oh Sees. Other bands with a DIY ethos should take note: when the quartet -- Dwyer, bassist Timothy Hellman and two drummers -- got set up in a snap, nearly 30 minutes early, they launched right into the music … and played straight through for about 90 minutes. Anyone who witnessed that incendiary set should count themselves lucky -- it was a Levitation legend in the making.