Levitation 2015

author BV date 16/05/15

I’ve been talking big for a while now about actually going on a psychedelic pilgrimage of sorts to the renowned Austin Psych Fest, but I’ve never actually gotten my plan together on this particular point before this very year. Now on its 8th year running, I finally managed to convince myself and others around me that this would be the perfect year to go to Austin, Texas due to the downright incredible lineup which would include the enormous scoop that was the 13th Floor Elevators’ 50th anniversary show. Partnered up with trusty photographer Philip B. Hansen, we went to Austin, Texas for our very first Austin Psych Fest – or Levitation, as the event is now officially called.

All photos courtesy of Philip B. Hansen

Austin, Texas

Arriving in town a few days early, Philip and I spent the majority of our time there checking out what you can experience in the days leading up to the festival. Austin is known as the ”live music capital of the world” so we figured that we would eventually come across something interesting. For the music fan, Austin has a wide variety of things to do. My personal choice was checking out the many different record stores located all over Austin where you can find a wide array of music on vinyl and CD for very reasonable prices – eventually ending up costing me a fortune as large quantities of reasonable prices tend to become a not so reasonable total amount when you have such small levels of restraint as I do.

Personal recommendations of record stores we visited would have to be End of an Ear, Antone’s Record Shop, and Waterloo Records all of which have a particularly varied selection of all things old and new where most music lovers would probably find an item or two of particular interest.

Of course you could also just spend your time enjoying the many different facets of Austin as a city, finding many strange and quirky small places along the way where you could get a drink, some food or catch some live music. Places like The Ginger Man in Downtown Austin where the selection of draft beers was utterly insane and quite reasonably priced, Juan in a Million where you can get tacos, fajitas and more in excess amounts or Magnolia Café where you could get amazing gingerbread pancakes are all places we’d readily recommend. You could also just follow the sound of music and end up watching small acts playing super chilled out sets at completely random locations like supermarkets and such – like at Central Market North where Philip and I caught world music act Atlas Maior delivering an extremely relaxing set of instrumental tunes that were as pleasant on the ear as the air-conditioning felt on my body in the otherwise humid climate of Austin.

Levitation

Now, there are a few things you need to know about the festival if you’ve never been there before. Transport to and from the festival grounds can be quite the difficult task to master, as taxis and busses are generally hard to catch near Carson Creek Ranch due to it being quite far from the Downtown area of Austin. The festival provides shuttle busses that are supposed to run at fairly regular intervals for the price of $5 or so, but these didn’t really seem all that effective until the second day of the festival, when the worst logistical problems surrounding them (like the bus driver not knowing exactly where the pickup spot was, or there apparently being too few busses to handle the demand near the end of day one) had been addressed – hence it would seem that camping on site is clearly the favorable option, from what I could understand talking to far more experienced attendees than myself. Next up we have the general layout of the festival grounds. Scattered over three stages, the acts either play the Elevation Amphitheatre usually located at the waterfront with a hill leading down to it, for maximum comfort, the Levitation Tent which has a quite fitting layout for mind-blowing projections scattered around all surfaces and then, finally, the Reverberation Stage where the headliners would play, along with smaller acts who would play during the earliest hours of the festival.

Due to heavy downpour a few days before the festival start, the stages all had to be relocated to less desirable positions, leaving the grounds quite different from what regular guests would have though, with the Amphitheatre being the one with the most impacting change, as it was no longer located by the waterfront (to the disappointment of many festivalgoers) as the area it was situated at before was no longer deemed safe until the grounds had settled back in from all the mud. Scattered around the festival grounds you’d find vendors selling everything from pizza, tacos and various drinks to vintage clothing, records, art and even guitars and guitar effects. Most of these vendors did an amazing job at creating a genuinely inviting and relaxing atmosphere around the grounds. – Likewise the portable toilet situation was quite well-planned as there never seemed to be too long lines for these, but of course some queueing is expected as it is a festival, after all. That was a short presentation of the grounds, so let’s move on to the reviews.

DAY ONE

So much water on the stage

Off to a pouring wet start, the festival grounds were engulfed by a yet another shower of rain, slightly similar to that which had utterly destroyed the grounds earlier during the week. Prepared for the weather as we were, we made our way towards the Reverberation stage to catch Sungod, an ironic name for a band supposed to play in this kind of weather. Standing by the stage, listening to a fairly awesome DJ set while we waited, we were dumbfounded as to why the band had yet to go on stage, as we had barely made it over there before their scheduled start. Nearing the end of their allotted timeslot, the band emerged only to pack up their gear and leave – leaving us with further confusion and slightly grumpy demeanors. As we wandered over to the Levitation tent to catch the next act, we spoke to another photographer who claimed that if bands cannot perform within their allotted timeslot, their spot at the festival is lost, as the festival would not push back the timetable – further explaining that Sungod (and other bands) had been unable to play due to a safety hazard caused by this troublesome weather.

Hollow Trees

Hollow Trees @ 16:45 - 17:30 in Levitation Tent

Following the initial disappointment caused by the weather, I ventured into the tent to see what Hollow Trees were all about. As I immediately noticed Christian Bland (notably of The Black Angels) sported as one of the members, I took this as an initial indicator of quality. As they went on to bombard the audience with a sonic attack of deafening volume, it was hard to pinpoint exactly what genre one could label these guys. Some would call it noise rock, others would call it drone – most would probably just umbrella-label it psych. What matters here is that the combination of the gnarly sound created by two drummers and a plethora of instrumentalists on guitars and bass worked in quite the great combination with the strange backdrop on stage, created by connecting several old and obsolete TV’s to display gnarly low-resolution visuals. It’s an aesthetic that would work well for the band, and although their material would end up lacking diversity and, in some cases melody, the sheer wall of sound and the pounding groove created by the band was enough to at least get things going on an otherwise quite disappointing first day. I’ll have to remember to check out their recorded material at some point though. [6½]

The Holydrug Couple

The Holydrug Couple @ 18:45 - 19:30 at Elevation Amphitheatre

Moving out into the, at this point quite sunny, festival grounds I made my way towards the Elevation Amphitheatre to catch an act I’d wanted to see for quite some time. As the band took the stage and started unfolding their atmospheric, floating pop songs on stage I was immediately sold while gazing into the gorgeous backdrop produced by the trees surrounding the stage. It was a beautiful experience to hear newer tracks like “Dreamy” being played in full splendor to a large attendance in the sweltering heat that had now begun to surround the festival grounds. Smiles were seen on many faces and as the band made their way through the catchier parts of their discography, several people were swaying or dancing away to the lush grooves from the Chilean five-piece who seemed equally humbled and amazed by the acceptance displayed from the crowd. Although the vocals were occasionally harsh sounding in the mix, the general meld of instruments worked quite well and would set the tone for what would be the best mix of sound to be hear on this first day of the festival – attributed as much to the band as it was to the quite talented engineers manning this stage. [7½]

Holy Wave

Holy Wave @ 20:00 - 21:00 at Elevation Amphitheatre

Following the relatively standardized 30-minute changeover it was time for Holy Wave to take the Amphitheatre stage. As I had been pleasantly surprised by their album ”Relax” when I reviewed it last year, I had also had an underlying curiosity towards the band’s abilities as a live act. Initially coming across as a slightly awkward five-piece unsure of how to act on stage, with one member proclaiming ”I’m not a good talker”, the band would eventually settle into the role of captivating performers. Armed with jangly 12-string guitar-sounds galore and an underlying organ, the soundscape was utterly befitting of that super chilled out moment when the sun was setting and the mind-bending visuals began to appear on the trees in the background – letting us all slip into a psychedelic frame of mind. Sporting psych-pop songs like there was no tomorrow, Holy Wave gathered a massive crowd relative to the size of the stage – making it almost impossible for the backmost rows to see anything but the visuals in the trees. Supported by great sound from the engineers, the band’s catchy songs won over the audience and instilled quite the memorable party – effectively making the band an entity I simply have to experience live again. [7½]

White Fence

White Fence @ 21:30 - 22:30 at Elevation Amphitheatre

Now, I’ve heard (and given) a lot of praise in the general direction of Tim Presley, aka White Fence so naturally it was pretty much a given that White Fence’s performance at the Amphitheatre would be a crowded affair –which was actually more than alright as it created a generally cool vibe for the show. What was not entirely great, however, was that the otherwise stunning sound of the Elevation Amphitheatre would apparently descend into sheer mud during certain points of White Fence’s set. Whilst the music is meant to sound lo-fi as hell, the mix is still supposed to make most instruments quite audible. This was not the case, as the guitars (when audible) sounded tinny and weak, whilst the vocals often wound up as a muddy blur. There were redeeming periods where “Like That”, for instance, came across as stunningly clear, only to once again descend into mud. As for the performance, it is seemingly true what they say – White Fence deliver every time. Armed with frantic, yet oddly stoic movements on stage and a general attitude that conveyed sheer joy of playing, one could argue that the performance aspect was impeccable, but the sound was devastating at times. I’d love to see White Fence again with better sound, but until then I’ll have to settle for this experience. [7]

Spiritualized

Spiritualized @ 22:30 - 23:45 on Reverberation Stage

Now, I’m not gonna lie so I might as well admit that “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space” is one of my all-time favorite albums, hands down. This makes it all the more dumbfounding that this particular festival appearance would be the first time I’d ever get to see Spiritualized live, so naturally expectations were somewhat through the roof. However, following an initial delay of 15 minutes my expectations were already faltering a bit. As Jason Pierce and his band came on stage, they ventured off into Spiritualized’s signature style of music – atmospheric, slow drones that slowly cascaded and built up – supplemented by a near-angelic choir in the very back of the soundscape. It was alright to float away to, but a terribly unbalanced mix made the overall experience far lesser than it could (and should) have been. This was most notable throughout “Electricity”, a veritable hit in the Spiritualized catalogue. However, due to a complete lack of bass in the mix and terribly weak vocal from Jason Pierce, the song fell flat to the ground in the saddest way possible. What started climactically with the initial riff soon descended into something most attendees around me were not too shy to mock openly after the set. Most people I spoke to after the set had seen Spiritualized before and claimed that they were usually a lot better – meaning this must sadly just have been one of those nights where everything just seems off. Somewhat saved by rounding off the performance with Spacemen 3’s classic “Walkin’ With Jesus”, Spiritualized upped the set to a mediocre experience, but still one that was far lesser than it could have been if the sound had been better. [5½]

Tame Impala

Tame Impala @ 00:15 - 01:30 on Reverberation Stage

Entering the final hours of the first day of Levitation 2015, Tame Impala went on stage only to immediately launch into one of their new tracks “Let It Happen”, which has, at best, received a lukewarm reaction from fans as it sounds like something of a departure from sound of “Lonerism” – the album that won over many of the aforementioned fans. What was interesting, however, was the reaction the track got in the live setting where it works quite a lot better than it does as a single. Throughout the danceable, almost electronica and funk induced moments, a party was created at several small concentrations of the festival ground only to be replaced with massive applause as the band launched into the highly familiar “Mind Mischief”. It was clear that this was what people wanted, and although the reception of “Let It Happen” was also quite good, the continued introductions of tracks from “Lonerism” proved that the songs of that album are not easily outshined. Throughout crowd-pleaser “Elephant” it seemed all too evident that there is still a yearning to experiment found within Tame Impala as they transformed the track into something they cheekily titled “Jazz Prog Odyssey #3007” before returning to form and ending the song ‘properly’. Thankfully the sound issues on the Reverberation Stage had seemingly vanished throughout Tame Impala’s set and as the band climaxed with a marvelous version of “Apocalypse Dreams”, the crowd was sent into the utter mayhem of getting home after this first day with a little more than a smirking grin on their faces. [8]

DAY TWO

Gourisankar & Indrajit Banarjee

Gourisankar & Indrajit Banarjee @ 15:00-15:45 at Elevation Amphitheatre

Arriving on the festival grounds in sweltering heat, I immediately rushed towards the Amphitheatre stage, knowing that I could probably seek out some shade and something cold to drink there. As I arrived I was met by the pleasant drones of a duo playing sitar and tabla. Gourisankar & Indrajit Banarjee’s tunes were inviting and enthralling, capturing the very essence of bliss as people sat around in the shade or in the sun, basking in the relaxing waves of music coming from the guys on stage seeming completely at peace with themselves. Although there was not much movement going on at all, the duo conveyed a convincing energy which, if anything, displayed their sheer love of playing music together – often sending smirking grins in the general direction of one another when something complicated was played. It was probably the most fitting and relaxed way of starting the day at a festival that I can possibly imagine and as their last drones faded out, I braced myself for the coming musical encounters of the day. [7]

L.A. Witch @ 16:15 - 17:00 at Elevation Amphitheatre

Realizing that I was already short on time, I decided to stick around the Elevation Amphitheatre for a little while longer to see what the all the fuss surrounding L.A. Witch was really about. Appearing at first as three lovely women on stage, the trio eventually transformed themselves into a reverb-soaked and gnarly garage-rock monster with plenty of attitude and quite cool songs as well. Although I was unable to catch their full set, and as such unable to justify giving them a grade, I’d recommend people checking out their work as I was pleasantly surprised by something I had mistaken for pompous hype with little substance - kudos to L.A. Witch for proving that wrong.

Creepoid

Creepoid @ 16:45 - 17:30 in Levitation Tent

Making my way hastily from the Amphitheatre, I arrived in the tent just in time for Creepoid’s performance. Having never heard of them before, I was eager to find out what they had in store – leaving me to be blown back by the sheer force of volume coming from the outfit which seemingly played noise-rock – and loud noise rock at that. Fronted by a female bass-playing vocalist who conveyed plenty of attitude on her own, the band drew notable similarities to both A Place to Bury Strangers and, at times, the Danish outfit Narcosatanicos without ever really having the same impact as either. While the attitude was most definitely set in stone, the songwriting didn’t quite seem to match it yet – making more than half the set into those tracks that are quite good, but almost instantly forgotten when they aren’t played anymore. Throughout the flaming hot tent I saw plentiful nods of approval as well as the slightly hilarious sight of attendees fleeing the tent due to a combination of volume and heat. Whilst the bands hypnotic noise-rock grooves were interesting, they never really became more than that, so there’s still room for improvement. [6½]

Ryley Walker

Ryley Walker @ 17:30 - 18:15 at Elevation Amphitheatre

Returning to the Amphitheatre just in time for another chill-out session in the shade of the tree near the stage, I noticed Ryley Walker’s band coming on stage – opting to stick around and check them out. Focusing mainly on the highly melodic use of a battered 12-string guitar and Walker’s quirky lyricism and vocal style, the band was seemingly the odd one out at Levitation as they would probably have fit a folk-tinged festival bill quite a bit more. Surprisingly, however, the crowd (including myself) ended up digging the set as the band weaves in and out of intricate, predominantly acoustic compositions that tended to linger and go on forever in a quite explorative manner – immediately explaining Walker’s relevance at Levitation. Reaching a highlight of sorts with “Primrose Green”, the title track of his most recent effort, Walker interacted with the crowd in the style of a tried and true jester – often joking his way through the set with odd punchlines or just straight up random utterances. Even though the sound was not entirely favorable, Ryley Walker and his band delivered a convincing performance that managed to create a relaxing and soothing atmosphere where one could seek shelter from the heat to sound of playful tunes. [7½]

Night Beats

Night Beats @ 19:30 - 20:30 on Reverberation Stage

As the sun was beginning to set, I ventured towards the Reverberation Stage in anticipation of an act I have previously praised to great extent, to finally see them in the live setting – where they are apparently highly praised as well. Coming on stage with a frantic burst of energy, Night Beats launched directly into what is arguably their most recognizable track in the form of “Puppet on a String”. With the fuzzy, reverb-soaked guitar lead providing a crunchy and well dirty sonic experience, the stage was set for an unexpected singalong to the words ”You realize you’re a puppet on string, a puppet on a string!” signifying that, above all else, those people checking out Night Beats on the Reverberation Stage were seemingly largely devoted fans – and with good reason, as they delivered an endearing live show that easily became the best show of day two for me, personally. Whether it was because of Lee Blackwell’s maniacal vocals or mesmerizing guitar playing during tracks like “Rat King”, or the collective entity of these gnarly garage-rockers, the outfit successfully mastered the main stage – a place I had initially thought too large for them to handle. Well, I guess they proved me wrong – so very wrong. [8½]

Psychedelic visuals in the works

Spindrift @ 20:00 – 21:00 at Elevation Amphitheatre

Due to the largely captivating nature of Night Beats’ performance, I arrived a little short of 30 minutes late to Spindrift’s set. It wasn’t a great loss per se, as I have seen the band numerous times by now, but it was still surprising to see the outfit expanded into a sextet, rather than the quartet I have now grown accustomed to seeing. It had a tremendous impact on songs like “Speak to the Wind” as they were now supplemented by eerie, underlying layers of synthesizers and lush vocal harmonies and tremolo guitars galore. What little I saw of the set was more captivating than I have ever seen them before, showcasing a continuing development of the band – by now I just hope I’ll get to see them as a sextet in my native Denmark sometime soon, as I now feel like I might have been missing out on something cool here. Although I cannot justify a grading of the band, I’d like to believe that this too was a highlight of Levitation’s second day.

Mystic Braves

Mystic Braves @ 21:30 – 22:30 at Elevation Amphitheatre

As the sun had completely set at this point, the Amphitheatre stage was now completely engulfed by liquid projections and stunning visuals cast onto the surrounding trees – making for a stunning setting for Mystic Braves to make themselves heard. Admittedly I am not exactly familiar with the band, so I had very little idea of what to expect. What met me was a take on the type of music I would most often label psychedelic jangle-pop. Dressed in retro-styled 60’s outfits the band has apparently divided the crowd watching them, with some resorting to calling them poseurs. What could not be questioned, however, was the band’s collective abilities as musicians and songwriters. Scattered throughout the course of an hour so, Mystic Braves worked their way through one carefully crafted pop song after another – inciting blissful dancing in the dark at some places, whilst others – predominantly couples – cuddled up to each other whilst sitting under the surrounding trees watching the show. It was indeed a highly enjoyable and a quite relaxed set from Mystic Braves – poseurs or not. I would, however, like them to mix it up once in a while as the songs had a tendency of becoming slightly monotonous after the initial 30 minutes of the set. [7]

Primal Scream

Primal Scream @ 22:30 – 23:45 on Reverberation Stage

As I scurried through the darkness of the dimly light, but highly alluring night-time festival grounds I finally made my way over to the Reverberation Stage to catch Primal Scream – an act of near legendary status that I convinced myself to thinking that I simply couldn’t miss – no matter how much I wanted to stick around the Amphitheatre to see Earth play. Opening with “Rocks”, front-man Bobby Gillespie did everything in his power to create a party-vibe from the very get-go of the set. Supported by nicely fitting visuals, Primal Scream seemingly fought an uphill battle for quite some time during their set, as much of the crowd was either hesitant to let themselves go or simply not convinced by Primal Scream’s allure yet. Fortunately, as time passed more and more of the crowd got into the vibe and after a good 40 minutes or so the party had engulfed most of the areas in front of the Reverberation Stage. It’s hard to argue with Bobby Gillespie’s abilities as a front-man when seeing how he transformed a withdrawn and hesitant crowd into quite the party – so much so that one can easily forgive him for having something of a small off-day on the vocals. By the time the band ventured into their biggest hit, “Movin’ On Up”, the party had reached its climax and slowly faded to nothingness as Gillespie and the rest of Primal Scream left the stage to great applause. [7½]

The Jesus and Mary Chain

The Jesus and Mary Chain @ 00:15 – 01:30 on Reverberation Stage

As I opted to stick around for one of the weekend’s most hyped performances, I was amazed to see how large portions of the crowd in front of the stage were now settling in for a relaxed atmosphere including lying on the ground, as if they were not really that excited at all. I would have expected more buzz in the air, as The Jesus and Mary Chain would perform “Psychocandy”, a downright amazing album, in its full length in just a short while from that point. As the band went on stage it became crystal clear that something spectacular was needed to get the majority of the crowd out of their state of near-sleep. Whether on tracks like show opener “April Skies”, which is actually from “Darklands”, or the more recognizable material in the form of “Just Like Honey”, “My Little Underground” or “Cut Dead” it seemed highly evident that only a select few of the crowd were fully immersed in a concert experience I can best describe as highly introverted. Granted, from what I could understand those select few had an utterly amazing time but the rest of the crowd seemed to either be lulled even deeper into sleep or in the middle of packing up their stuff and shuffling off towards the shuttlebuses. It was, in all fairness, an uphill battle for The Jesus and Mary Chain and from where I was standing they certainly weren’t winning it. Due to the highly introverted nature of the gig, and the lack of the same edge and ferocity that dominates “Psychocandy” as an entity, I soon found myself more fixated on my surroundings (like this girl with a really hypnotic hula hoop) than actually watching the show. It was a genuinely great idea, but somehow along the way, The Jesus and Mary Chain simply weren’t able to connect with large parts of the audience even though their performance only had few flaws and a relatively great mix. [7]

DAY THREE

Mary Lattimore and Jeff Ziegler Duo

Mary Lattimore and Jeff Ziegler Duo @ 16:00 – 16:45 at Elevation Amphitheatre

Arriving on site a bit later than the two previous days, Philip and I immediately head towards the Amphitheatre were Mary Lattimore and Jeff Ziegler Duo were finishing up their soundcheck. Utilizing nothing more than a harp, a melodica and a synthesizer, the duo created tripped out ambient drones that relied as heavily on echoing and reverberation as the festival itself depended on the visuals to complete the aesthetic. It was a strange experience watching the duo build up soundscapes that occasionally seemed like they were going nowhere – but to be honest it was strangely fitting for those moments when you’re hiding in the shade under a tree because you can’t see yourself dealing with the sun at that very moment. Unlike the relaxing atmosphere created by Indian drones on the previous day, this particular show did not really have any seated attendees – in fact there were barely anyone there. Those who were, however, were either completely engulfed by the music, or simply there seeking shade just like myself. In all fairness, however, the duo did win over more than a few attendees by the end of their show – I particularly recall one young gentleman who was dancing in circles on his own, barely dressed. That must have been a pretty good buzz he had going on. [5½]

Los Mundos

Los Mundos @ 17:30 – 18:15 in Levitation Tent

Encouraged by a friendly guy I met at the festival, I proceeded to check out Los Mundos from Mexico, as I had been told that their style was a mix of punk, shoegaze and psychedelic drones. Filled to the brim with curiosity, Los Mundos entered the stage with an energetic presence and a handful of extremely catchy tunes. Thundering through synth oscillations, walls of dense fuzz guitars and the onslaught of a seriously hard-hitting drummer, Los Mundos let no time go to waste as they led a sonic assault on the audience with remarkable results to follow. From a dwindling few in attendance, to a suddenly half-full tent, Los Mundos gradually increased the pace and threw one catchy song after another at the crowd. Peaking with “Magic Glasses”, the band instilled a sense of controlled chaos on the attendees in the tent - leaving most people sweating from a combination of the heat in the tent, and the unmistakable urge to bounce around to the grooves coming from stage. As far as surprises go, Los Mundos was definitely a positive one. [7½]

Mac DeMarco

Mac DeMarco @ 19:00 – 20:00 on Reverberation Stage

Following Los Mundos, I found myself making my way slowly towards the Reverberation Stage to catch Mac DeMarco’s set. A renowned figure in the world of slacker rock, Mac DeMarco has been getting a lot of attention for his eclectic musical stylings – labeled as “Jizz Jazz” by himself. Intrigued by his recent album “Salad Days” I found myself standing near the very front of the stage, curious as to what he might do during the course of his set. Armed with wit and delightful devil-may-care attitude, DeMarco and his band slammed out one wonderful composition after another – opening with “Salad Days” and moving on from there to “Blue Boy”, “Let Her Go” and the eclectic “Ode to Viceroy”. Although the initial mix of sound was highly unfavorable, DeMarco and his band’s charms soon got the better of most of the crowd – leading to a downright party-like situation near the stage. Throughout various humorous antics, however, it became astonishingly clear that even though the band takes on a slacker demeanor, they are indeed very skilled instrumentalists – carrying out semi-elaborate compositions with enough ease to make room for various forms of shenanigans. Completing the party-vibe, DeMarco launched himself onto the attendees to crowd surf near the climax of the set – complete with a cigarette hanging from his mouth and all. At a festival focusing on the surreal and transcendent qualities in music, Mac DeMarco is probably as real and genuine as you can get – whilst also being the epitome of good old fashioned fun. [8]

The Black Angels

The Black Angels @ 20:30 – 21:30 on Reverberation Stage

Following the shenanigans of DeMarco’s set, the crowd seemed ready for a more immersive musical experience. Even while performing their soundcheck, The Black Angels were beginning to amass quite the large crowd – making even the relatively uncrowded spot I had been at through DeMarco’s set completely packed and hard to maneuver through for those wanting to get beers before the show. Bathed in amazing visuals, The Black Angels instantly bombarded the crowd with one immersive track after the over – showcasing an impeccable mix of sound whilst doing so. Alex Maas’ vocals shone through the mix with a haunting and eerie vibe surrounding them, whilst the acidic fuzz guitar-stylings of Christian Bland melted faces up front. Much can be said about The Black Angels, but when working their way through newer material like “Evil Things” and “Indigo Meadow” it became abundantly clear that they are a live band to be reckoned with – causing frantic jumping and mesmerized head-bopping perfectly synchronized to the throbbing low end and the almost tribal, immensely forceful pounding of the drums. With “Young Men Dead” the band pushed the performance into an undisputable climax with wild cheering and blissful faces signifying the crowd for the most part, effectively leaving all of us yearning for more as they progressed into the final song of their set. [9]

The 13th Floor Elevators

The 13th Floor Elevators @ 22:00 – 23:00 on Reverberation Stage

Labeled as the 50th anniversary show of The 13th Floor Elevators, expectations were absolutely through the roof during the somewhat lengthy soundcheck. Time seemed to progress slowly as fans of all ages stepped closer to witness what could aptly be titled the greatest gamble of the festival this year – with no one having anything close to a clue of what the outcome might be. Met with great applause, Roky Erickson, Tommy Hall, John Ike Walton and Ronnie Leatherman entered the stage, backed by not one, but two guitarists meant to fill the void on stage created by the absence of Stacy Sutherland who sadly passed away in 1978. Promptly going through timeless classics like “She Lives (In a Time of Her Own)”, “Fire Engine” and “Earthquake” the crowd seemed ecstatic at the sheer sight of the band. Curious newcomers blended with avid devotees as the band progressed into the epic “Slip Inside This House” and although Erickson sang the same verse three times, struggling to remember the tangled lyrics of the track he was easily forgiven by the audience. It was strange actually, that Erickson – in stark contrast to all others on stage – had very little energy to spare besides that which was focused on singing the twisted, poetic lyrics of the band. At times he would stand still, only gazing at the crowd – and yet somehow he seemed endearing and captivating as if his sheer presence was enough to overwhelm the crowd. With “Splash 1” the band sent shivers down my spine, whilst tracks like “Reverberation” and “Rollercoaster” emanated sheer joy from the band. Culminating in a slightly forgettable version of their classic “You’re Gonna Miss Me”, these Texan originals disappeared into the night – having left their clear impact. It wasn’t flawless, but it sure as hell was memorable. [8]

The Flaming Lips

Flaming Lips @ 23:45 – 01:30 on Reverberation Stage

Dealing with the tough job of following a downright legendary act, more is more purveyors of neo-psychedelic rock Flaming Lips took the stage after an hour-long soundcheck. As they filled the stage to the brim with mushroom people and dancing rainbows, it seemed abundantly clear that the performance far exceeded the importance of the actual music being played as the band finally got going. Don’t get me wrong – I am a fan of much of The Flaming Lips’ material, but it is rarely a positive thing when several people in the crowd start asking those beside them if the show is over, because of the lengthy breaks between songs. Even through some of the band’s most well-known songs like “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots part 1” they seemed to struggle in getting the entire crowd involved. Granted, most people were genuinely feeling the party-vibe front-man Wayne Coyne tried to conjure up, but other than snickering joyfully a bit over the massive balloon bearing the statement; ”Fuck yeah Levitation” I found it hard to get into the mood. It might have been a combination of finally feeling the exhaustion of three days of music – it might just have been a failure to connect. In any case I felt very little regret when wandering off towards the Levitation Tent prior to end of The Flaming Lips’ set. [7]

Fuzz

Fuzz @ 01:00 – 01:45 in Levitation Tent

Arriving at the Levitation Tent I found Fuzz doing their soundcheck. Dead set on watching their performance round off the festival, one could argue that I had perfect timing in choosing to leave The Flaming Lips’ performance. As the initially sparse crowd in the tent greeted Fuzz, the band immediately returned the greeting with a staggering wall of fuzz-guitar, rumbling bass and downright brutal drumming. Fuelled by this combination of instruments, topped off by Ty Segall’s chilling vocals, Fuzz continued to win over a steady stream of Levitation guests as more and more people worked their way from the Reverberation Stage to the Levitation Tent – resulting in a quite densely packed and relatively sweaty tent. By jokingly interacting with the crowd by stating such things as; ”Don’t take the brown acid, man. Don’t do it!” or screaming out ”CIRCLE PIT! CIRCLE PIT! WALL OF DEATH! Oh, sorry, wrong crowd… Peace and love man. Psych out and shit.” the band continued to amaze me and everyone in my close proximity. Climaxing with the Black Sabbath sounding “Fuzz’s Fourth Dream” I couldn’t help but think that this, this very performance, might just have been one of the absolutely highlights of Levitation 2015 as a whole – as well as the perfect experience for rounding off the festival. They’d better haul themselves over to Europe sometime soon, because this won’t be the last time I’ve seen them live. [9]

Final thoughts

As is customary here at rockfreaks.net, I’d like to complete this article with a few thoughts on how the festival can continue to improve and develop further – both for the benefit of the festival itself and, as a result, myself and the rest of the guests at the festival. Because even though the festival in itself was a great experience, there are always things that could run more smoothly.

Transport

The otherwise great idea of having shuttlebuses run back and forth from downtown to Carson Creek Ranch seemingly backfired (especially on the first day) as these were plagued by delays and a general sense of unreliability. Likewise, for us foreign visitors at least, the idea of promoting Lyft seemed slightly confusing as Lyft seemingly only accept domestic payment cards. In general, getting back to downtown from the ranch was a massive nuisance and although it got better on the following days, it was too much of a hassle which resulted in many of the newcomers I talked to, proclaiming that they would either camp next year or not go at all.

Scheduling and announcements

Announcements from the festival were vague at best. It’s tough preparing for the weather, but when the weather results in bands having to forfeit their scheduled slots at the bill (to then not play altogether) it is common courtesy and just an all-round great idea to announce these changes over the PA systems or similar. Likewise a clearer announcement of where people had to show up depending on the passes they had bought and at what time the gates would open on the first day would have been much appreciated and could have helped avoid much of the confusion that surrounded the first day.

Sound

A standardized 30 minutes or so for changeovers (including soundcheck) makes a lot of sense from a logistical point of view. The reality, however, was that the sound was relatively shoddy on far too many occasions. This seemed to be a particular problem on the Reverberation Stage where the sound was far less than favorable at far too many times – contributing to the degradation of the overall performance of many bands. Getting great sound for the bands should be of critical importance.

Weather preparation

I know, I know; the weather is beyond any mere mortal’s control. What is not, however, is preparation that would ultimately make this year’s key issue of downpour less of a nuisance. The downpour which plagued the festival grounds prior to the opening of the festival had a severe impact on the grounds as a whole – and ultimately the experience of the festival itself. Acknowledging the risk of the downpour instead of underplaying its influence would mean a great deal to festivalgoers as we would then know what was coming. Most other festivals don’t seem all too affected by rain, even when it’s pouring – so hopefully Levitation can also bloom in the face of this kind of adversity.

In spite of these points of improvement, my first time at Levitation was certainly a memorable one. If I’m not able to make it there next year, I certainly hope to make it back to Austin in time for the 2017 edition of Levitation – in the meantime I’ll look back on this experience with a sense of longing. That’s it for now, see you all on the other side!

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