Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Whither Festivus: Liverpool Psych Fest 2017 Recap

Of all the festivals in all the world, the one I've most wanted to go to since I was first made aware of its existence several years ago is Liverpool Psych Fest (official proper name: the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia). After many years of drooling over the lineup and dreaming of being there, this year's festival finally became my reality. And friends, I'm still glowing in the aftermath of this late September treasure. 

It seems only fitting that in a city so often pointed to for its lasting contribution to modern music, a festival of such monumental cool is thriving. The Baltic quarter, a lively section of the city full of revitalized warehouses, houses the proceedings, and these self-contained friendly confines offer a convenient home base for this psychedelic festivus. With food and other vendors lining the space outside venues, basic needs could easily be met, though the main sustenance for two days was obviously the music. 

Greetings from Liverpool

A serious case of jet lag kept me from doing much on the festival's first day, and my only live music Friday was L.A. Witch. I'd wanted to see those spooky ladies for such a very long time and they didn't disappoint. A strong start with the serpentine sinews of "Kill My Baby Tonight" continued with songs like the hot and bothered fever dream of "Drive Your Car," the black and blue beat of "You Love Nothing," and the diabolically scuzzed filth of "Get Lost." The trio's first time in Liverpool was a triumph, their witchy ways in full captivating force. And so much noise. The walls were pulsating from all that wonderful racket. Seeing L.A. Witch was a heck of a start to the weekend. In case you were wondering, had I not been a bit of a zombie, I would also have tried to see Magic Shoppe, The Telescopes, Novella, Omni, The KVB, Gnod, and some of Songhoy Blues.

AUTOBAHN


Saturday was a truly blissful day, and started off with a dynamite set from Leeds noiseniks AUTOBAHN. It took less than a minute for me to fall in love, the backbeat pummeling and an overall tempestuous tumult in their songs that I just couldn't get enough of. There was a sinister tilt to their sound, a kind of magnificent menace. I was incredibly impressed by these gents and by the almost primal energy they projected from the stage. This won't be the last time you hear me talk about AUTOBAHN. Right after them, filling the void left by Guto from Super Furry Animal's GULP, locals The Floormen put on an engaging set. At their best when wrapped up in furious fits of psych-meets-jazz-meets-jam uncontrolled chaos, the band also demonstrated that Liverpool lads know how to flamboyantly toss their hair while putting on a show. Montreal's Elephant Stone, a band I've seen and loved before, was just impeccable. They sounded heavenly, their sublime psych filling the space with expansive, exploding gems. I was floored by how good they were. 

A Place to Bury Strangers

I was happy to catch a snippet of Jane Weaver's set, and was instantly intrigued by her rich, dazzling sounds. While I sadly didn't see all that much, what I heard made me feel the need to investigate her further, so watch this space. The band that most bowled me over, perhaps unsurprisingly, was longtime favorites A Place to Bury Strangers. I actually think I may have blacked out while they were playing, their gloriously gory noise having melted my mind (yet again). "We've Come So Far" and "Drill It Up" screamed welcome howls into my brain, among others. Once more Oliver Ackermann sought to willfully destroy his axe in one of his famous toss-the-guitar episodes. At one point, bassist Dion Lunadon climbed from stage to railing and stood before a transfixed crowd as an idol might before devoted supplicants. False idol this band is not, however. They are simply one of the best live bands on this planet.

The Black Angels

After catching my breath, it was time for my first taste of Zamrock, courtesy W.I.T.C.H. (We Intend to Cause Havoc). Formed in Zambia in the 1970s, W.I.T.C.H. is fronted by founder Emmanuel "Jagari" Chanda, a man who can cast no shortage of spells with his presence. The band's cool as fuck astral shamanic wizardry was something I hadn't even realized I was missing in my life. But I was. Songs in this set had serious muscle, demon beats, and an undeniable life force. Heavy psych. Party psych. Tribal psych. It all made me so very thankful to be there now and to experience all of that vibrant, vital energy. And then it was time for headliners The Black Angels. Once again, these stalwarts took over the stage and claimed it as their own. With a fury they played to a packed house, vitriol and venom and love poured into every note. It felt quite special indeed to see a band that has done so much for this particular scene at this festival. I went to bed an incredibly happy lass after all I had been able to take in. Had I been able to clone myself, I might also have tried to see Wolf People, The Holydrug Couple, and Guantanamo Baywatch. 

All told, my first Liverpool Psych Fest experience was amazing. This is a festival that promises to destroy you, and they're not far wrong. It's an exhausting and exhilarating weekend full of some of the best live music one is likely to see. The atmosphere is great, the festival is well-run, and the bands are so good that it's hard to decide who to see because there's just too much on offer. I'm hoping to go again, and if you're able, I strongly suggest you try to make it to one of these Liverpool dos. My only complaint is that they don't have a way of cloning oneself in order to see every band on the lineup. 

[posted 10.10.17]

[all photos copyright Megan Petty]     

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