Overcoming their hangovers from the night before, Getintothis’ Jamie Bowman, Patrick Clarke, Vicky Pea and Adam Lowerson take in the second day of Liverpool Psych Fest.
Ah, the familiar day-two blues. Crawling from the perennially deflating air-bed on a friend’s apartment floor that was this writer’s home for the twilight between departure at 4am on Friday and re-arrival the following morning, a midday pint and veggie burger failed to provide the necessary kick to the system to get the brain back to psych mode. Perhaps it’s the fact they cost £10 between them.
Fortunately, in the claustrophobic mayhem of the Blade Factory stands Girl Sweat, armed with his pink guitar and caterpillar ‘tache to catapult one’s head back into shape. Dripping in the humid indoor heat with a crazed, almost comedic glare, it’s certainly no chillout, ears ringing and eyes dilating amid the havoc of his twisted lo-fi garage-punk.
Equations are an altogether more hospitable segue into day two, bursts of colourful reverb searing atop a tight, sophisticated rhythm section. Give or take the odd lapse in momentum, they’re excellent.
There were some tired and hungover faces milling around the Psych Fest site early on the Saturday, only a few hours after getting home from the night before for some, yet there was no time to feel sorry for yourself at the Camp stage with the juggernaut sounds of Dreamweapon kicking the day off. Their chiming, hook laden guitars and crashing cymbals certainly didn’t ease you in gently, so with a hair of the dog pint of Wrexham lager down us (a friend of Getintothis mistakenly thought it was called rectum lager), we were fighting fit and ready for another day of PZYK sounds.
Next up the fittingly named Radar Men From the Moon sent us into orbit with their industrial space rock sounds. Their epic instrumental voyages made for entrancing viewing, taking aspects of krautrock, electronica and shoegaze to make for a great set before the double whammy of disappointment from the next two acts, No Joy and the much anticipated Menace Beach. The former’s monotonous slacker drawl drained any building atmosphere from the Camp stage, while the early 90s pastiche of Leeds ‘supergroup’ Menace Beach, made up of members of Sky Larkin, Hookworms and Pulled Apart By Horses brought nothing new to the table, and due to frontman Ryan Needham, were generally quite irritating.
Opening the Furnace bill at 2.30pm could’ve been a daunting task for Liverpool’s own Strange Collective, especially with them missing an unwell bassist. But fear not, for this is a band made of stern stuff and even better tunes as they turn in the latest in a series of brilliant hometown gigs. In all seriousness, is there a better band in the city at the moment? We struggle to think of many as they spit out song after song of garage rock classics full of pummelling percussion, sparkling riffs and a set of songs tailor-made for a festival. If they’re not massive this time next year then something is wrong.
PAUW meanwhile, who follow at the Blade Factory, are the first of the venue’s true Saturday showstoppers. With a pop edge toned to perfection they lather on the character with huge leaps of mystic eastern edge to their commanding hooks, Shambala is as anthemic as psychedelia gets.
Just when we think we’ve recovered, Crows peel back the frivolities next for a hard-rocking half hour to tear the Blade Factory a new one. Clambering atop the amps and shaking with the ghost of Ian Curtis to jaws agape beneath them, they’re just the face-melter we need as things really get going on the docks.
Anton Newcombe protégés Altered Hours are the hazy drift back down to earth after the mayhem of Crows, and though they draw back much of the frenzied energy still lingering in the room they’re a transporting watch.
Belying Orson Welles’ famous quote about Switzerland, Roy and the Devil’s Motorcycle whip up something of a late afternoon alpine storm on the Furnace stage with their combination of blues, gospel and Spacemen 3. There’s a cool don’t give a fuck attitude to these veterans who demand attention from the growingly inquisitive audience who are rewarded with a set full of hypnotic outer-spacey solos and fuzzy chord progressions.
If our Swiss friends are a pleasant find then The Flowers of Hell are even more of a suprising treat as a mini ‘rock orchestra’ takes to the stage complete with violins and operatic female backing singers. Leader Greg Jarvis is clearly a well-connected man tempting various space rock luminaries to work with him in the past and it’s easy to see why as his blend of classical music and spacey gospel is incredibly reminiscent of Spiritualized at their testifying best. Another great find.
The shamanic desert freakout of TAU is next, and is the perfect headspinner as darkness closes in outside. Hypnotic is an overused adjective when it comes to live reviewing, yet for those under their spell of winding drone and drifting acid chants it’s most certainly the word as their heartbeat bongo pound lifts us to a Jodorowsky soundscape.
French proggers Forever Pavot are newly moved to the Blade Factory with a warped groove of revivalist psych-frivolity and found sound mind-fucks. Charismatic and louche with ominous chimes and diabolic synth descents they’re an immensely enjoyable addition to the evening’s entertainment.
Noveller’s longform set of washed out dream guitar, sandwiched between the shambolic dance delights of Forever Parot and the expansive swarm of Indian Jewelry is a faultlessly well-crafted one with emphasis on the slow build, yet feels a little like a mere transition to the sumptuous warmth of her aforementioned successors to the stage, many reluctant to give it the time and attention it deserves given the plethora of options outside.
Indian Jewelry’s set, meanwhile, is simply superb. At times teeming with a nourish haze, at others slipping into a sumptuous groove, they thrive on the knife edge of darkness and light with colossal aplomb and are one of the weekend’s absolute highlights.
Unfortunately for Kogumaza things don’t run quite so smoothly. With the running order already in disarray due to Forever Parot’s late addition and over-runnings here and there, their set is cut drastically short. With a booming drone only just beginning to slip into its momentum and their slow-burning stage presence starting to impose, they’re cut short mid-song and are justifiably furious. With the band shouting and swearing at festival staff the crowd begging for more any attempts at the proverbial ‘one more tune’ prove fruitless, and it’s a shame given the impression that they were poised for their monolithic march to reach a whole new gear. Sadly we’ll never know.
In a statement on their Facebook the next day the band claim that they had only agreed to play the festival under the proviso they could bring their own equipment, which had been duly agreed to, before a communication breakdown with Psych Fest as to tech specs in the close quarters Blade Factory. With Indian Jewelry allegedly allowed to overrun by 15 minutes without hassle, the band claim they were limited both setting up and playing. The statement ends: “It was just frustration on our part to drive all day to play and not be allowed to and to watch the different ways the American band over-running were treated compared to us over running. No more festivals for us.” Make of all that what you will.
A slight criticism of Psych Fest is that the casual psychedelia fan could at times be left pining for some distinguishable ‘pop’ melody, but there is certainly no shortage of that in Fever The Ghost’s short but sharp set of quirky indie pop. A complete contrast then to the dark, menacing instrumentals of Dead Sea Apes, who without doubt put on one of the highlights of the day. Their fuzz soaked guitars, towering drums and sinister riffs give a nod to the prog-metal sounds of bands like Mastodon, slowly building and morphing to a monstrous climax. All colossal noise and swagger, these boys are the business.
It’s impossible not to feel sorry for Death and Vanilla frontwoman Marleen Nilsson as she apologies profusely for a broken keyboard that has delayed the band’s set and left her apparently struggling to play her new one. If this is the case than this gig is all the more astonishing as the Swedish three-piece’s set of beautifully gentle chamber pop is a revelation. Think Stereolab and Broadcast mixed in with the harpsichord powered genius of The Left Banke and you’re getting some way to capturing their lovely and enchanting mixture of baroque pop. Marleen apologies again at the end but there’s really no reason to. The pleasure was ours.
Hometown heroine Jane Weaver (well, Widnes is near enough) is clearly enjoying being back on familiar territory after a whirlwind year which has seen her sixth album The Silver Globe finally make her if not a star than on first name terms with the concept. It’s easy to see why as the album’s wonderful combination of propulsive Krautrock and Euro-disco has made her into the kind of sashaying frontwoman she always threatened to be. Live the LP sounds wonderful with Argent’s cascading solos seemingly made for the surroundings of the cavernous Furnace. So good are proceedings that the crowd begin to chant her name. It’s no more than she deserves.
Simon Price of cult legends the Heads had an early warm up with his solo side project Kandodo 3 and didn’t disappoint with his droning ambient noise. With layers of intricate guitars and sweeping electronics, his expansive sound is worlds apart from his full-time band the Heads, who performed later the night with a mind blowing set for those who decided against braving the huge queue for main headliner Spiritualized. Cherry picking tracks from their 25 year career and impressive 20 studio LPs, the Bristol trio powered through their set at ear splitting volume. Their guitar riffs could tear through a concrete wall, drum beats cause an earthquake and with rhythms so intense they could rattle your brain. Stay clear of the speakers for this lot.
If there was a running theme on the Camp stage today, it was definitely big, fuzzy guitar riffs, and The Cult of Dom Keller carried this on, and although not matching the sheer volume of The Heads, they certainly gave them a run for their money in guitar tone. With fat, beefy grunge guitars crunching through the band’s underlying soundscapes, the set is dynamic throughout. Lumerians followed suit, yet their warped, pulsating synths and sinister, snarling vocals added a different dimension to the sound, and had a kind of PiL inspired feel.
So perfectly do Hookworms seem to crystalise this festival’s modern day appetite for psych, freakbeat and space rock, there’s a feeling they could be the event’s house band. Since bursting onto the scene with 2013 debut Pearl Mystic, they’ve developed their sound with last year’s The Hum LP adding a droney haze to their sonic armoury. Live though it’s all about power, embodied by an extraordinary performance from keyboard screamer and dreamer MJ who manages to turn the band’s swirling freak outs into something anthemic and life affirming. Crucial to this is Hookworms’ ability to groove with the best of them with the band’s clear understanding of dance-influenced dynamics leading to some monumental scraping of the sky.
Timing balances duly restored at the Blade Factory, although at some expense, Turzi provide a show laden in the kind of atmosphere you really don’t need if the trip’s going the wrong way, with vaudevillian keys plucking with malevolent intent beneath banshee wails of vocal. They’re brilliant at what they do. It’s just a little scary, that’s all.
With Spiritualized soon due at the Furnace, Mamuthones are a joyfully left-field alternative. An understandably modest crowd of those too disinterested, ignorant, or simply out-of-it to be drawn to J. Spaceman and co. is dealt the Blade Factory’s most insane blow of the weekend; frenetic, pumping, truly twisted diazepam dance to leave us reeling with unadulterated glee as well as the headliners and their gospel choir ever could.
Endng the stage’s proceedings, Finland’s K-X-P brought darkness upon the Camp with their doom laden electronic laced sound. Clad in black cloaks, resembling some sort of Grim Reapers of psych with, the three piece performed in a trance like state, engulfed in smoke like some ghostly beings. Space age synths pulsate over towering drums and mesmerising motorik beats, it was music how it should be. Pure evil.
For many here Spiritualized’s 1997 masterpiece Ladies and Gentlemen We’re Floating In Space must have been a key text on their journey into all things psych. Coming out during the dying dregs of Britpop it fried many a young mind and remains a touchstone of British head music. There’s something utterly fitting then that J Spaceman is here to pick up the plaudits almost twenty years later.
Dispensing the orchestral backing of former tours in favour of more stripped down sound (just two backing singers add gospel authenticity to the likes of Lord Let It Rain Down) and allows so many of these songs to breath underneath Spaceman’s energised guitar. Electricity fulfils this scorched-earth policy perfectly, scrawling and crawling from the stage before seguing perfectly into the whacked out intimacy of a beautiful version of Pure Phase’s Shine A Light. Come Together and Set My Soul on Fire provoke possibly the festival’s first sing along moments before the set builds to an utterly shocking and frankly fantastic version of the Spaceman 3 classic Take Me To The Other Side. Hearing this classic vision from the group’s 1997 sophomore album was an almighty way to end a festival. Visionary, revolutionary and full of highs and lows. The Perfect Prescription indeed.
Pictures by Getintothis’ John Johnson, Michael Kirkham, Vicky Pea and Tom Adam.