Psycho California The Observatory 5/15-17/2015
On the five year anniversary of legendary heavy metal vocalist Ronnie James Dio's death, metal fans travelled from all over the United States in order to pack the Observatory and immerse themselves in sludge (and other subgenres of heavy metal). In his preview of the Psycho California music festival, Jason Roche suggested that the worst band in the three day festival's 50-plus band line-up was "very good." If the 20 acts that performed on Saturday were a decent cross-section of the talent playing over the entire weekend, then Mr. Roche's assessment proved accurate and the pilgrimages that the numerous metalheads made paid off.
Though Friday's attendees were not going to let a few hiccups ruin their overall experience of this musical and cultural feast, several recalled a couple problems from the opening day of the event. Specifically, they said that the Constellation Room (one of the Observatory's two performance areas) had been double booked with the indie rock band The Wombats, and this resulted in the programming for the "Grizzly Stage" being relocated to an outdoor stage, which allegedly had bad sound. The other main gripe was in the arrangement of the merch area, which was also located outside. This issue hadn't been resolved satisfactorily by Saturday, as fans wanting to buy t-shirts and sundries had to wait for prolonged periods of time, in a long line that stretched through the courtyard behind the venue, in order to reach the tent of the coveted merchandise.
See also: The 10 Best Bands at Psycho California
Given that these, a couple sound issues here and there, and the overcrowding of the Constellation Room ("Grizzly Stage") starting about halfway through Saturday's programming, were the main gripes with the event, the folks who had traveled from Idaho, South Dakota, and Florida still beamed that the scope of the festival was extensive enough to allow them to scratch several items off of their respective bucket lists, and they allowed themselves to become overtaken by the rich atmosphere.
Every single band performed a highly stylized and atmospheric set. As is the nature of the metal beast, the atmospheres of the bands permeated not only their music but their onstage appearances. With terrific light shows (particularly on the larger "Monarch Stage") to complement their respective looks, the metal soundtracks took audiences on a variety of doomed excursions and psychedelic trips.
Among these, the appearance and guttural growling of Slasher Dave provided the horror film nostalgia of Acid Witch with the perfect visual and aural combination to complement their thematic content; for example, he introduced one of their numbers by saying, "This song's about religion and how you don't fucking need it."
The fact that the blues is an ancestor of metal was evident when Banquet hit the stage; yet, their jamming was heavy enough not to isolate the rest of the crowd. In fact, despite how stone-faced and evil-looking many of the pot-smoking, Pabst Blue Ribbon chugging fans were, they knew that this was a haven for their kind, and each regarded one another as a fellow dude or dudette -- including the members of the various bands, who blended into the black t-shirt and torn denim vest-wearing crowd. Furthermore, while waiting for the rockin' Doom band Pallbearer, which performed an incredible set, CCR's "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" came over the PA, and the hardcore metal fans broke out into a singalong.
Further down the psychedelic road, Mammatus stood out with their compellingly funky psychedelic grooves. When Electric Citizen mounted the Monarch Stage, the crowd got its first taste of some femininity in the otherwise male-centric realm. Vocalist Laura Dolan was also the first musician of the day to fire up a joint onstage and then pass it to the audience.
The crowd's response to Bloodmoon, which performed on the Grizzly Stage, was interesting. The space between their songs was not greeted by applause; however, this was not a reflection of disappointment. The darkness of their Sludge Doom Metal was simply so enveloping that had fans clapped their hands and cheered, they would have diluted the band's dense atmosphere. By the time Bloodmoon had completed their set, the filled-to-capacity Constellation Room had cultivated a locker-room funk, which would linger and mingle with the scent of Modelo beer for the remainder of the day.
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Of the other bands that played the sardine can-like room, it wasn't until Sludge meisters Rozamov took the stage that the room's sound mixer must have gone deaf. The first indication of this was the fact that the music was so loud that even industrial earplugs were not enough to keep listeners' eardrums from hurting. This was a particularly tragic turn when one of those bucket list bands, SubRosa, took the stage. The band includes violins, which along with the vocals, guitars and drums, could not really be discerned over the sound of an all-powerful bass drone for a decent amount of their set.
Despite these shortcomings, the atmosphere was very positive, and the patrons were generally very happy to simply be there. Those who had travelled great distances were ecstatic to be in an environment so suited to their niche. The bands all had terrific energy and put on terrific shows. And the Observatory, though perhaps showing signs of its limitations in terms of massive music festivals, is a cool place with a great vibe to it. Besides, amidst such overwhelming amounts of Doom and Sludge, how could one possibly find the nerve to be a sourpuss?