Earlier this month, thousands of psychedeliacs descended on Carson Creek Ranch for the 7th iteration of Austin Psych Fest, a music festival specifically designed for those who enjoy mind expanding music and visuals. The dust-ridden weekend was replete with psychedelic music from all over the world, delicious food trucks, and friendly vibes. Whether you made it out there or not, allow me to recount for you all some of this year’s most memorable performances…
When I heard Temples for the first time, I knew right off the bat their set at Austin Psych Fest 2014 would be nothing short of explosive. Well, I wasn’t wrong. As soon as the band came out, they went right into their very British brand of glam psychedelia. The band opened with the song “Colours to Life” off their 2014 debut album Sun Structures. As front man James Edward Bagshaw hit the first jangly notes of his Danelectro 12-string guitar, the crowd was soaking it all in.
This band is movie-like in appearance. It seems as though each band member fits his rock n’ roll stereotype perfectly. Their glamorous appearance makes them a delight to watch and their skillful performances really bring their act together. Temples are blowing up in England and they have come to grace us Stateside to great effect. Their music is accessible and reminiscent of mid-sixties psychedelia and their sound onstage is huge.
While Bagshaw’s live voice lacks the crispness of the studio recordings, bassist Thomas “Edison” Warmsley’s and rhythm guitarist Adam Smith’s harmonies give it that extra dimension it needs to really resonate. And while we’re on the subject of the bass player, Thomas Warmsley is really a force to be reckoned with. His lankiness, bass choice and haircut make him look like a modern day Roger Waters, which for a millennial unlucky not to have seen a young Pink Floyd was a pleasure to watch in and of itself. But his driving, fuzzy bass lines, which are far more impressive live than in studio, are what really got me.
Temples left me with the feeling that there is a lot more to come. After all, they just released their debut album this year and while they weren’t the most original band at Psych Fest, Sun Structures really shows that the band knows how to write some really great psych-pop songs. I’m eager to see what’s next. For a band that’s only been together since 2012, they seem to have their image very well defined including their offstage “rock star” personalities. As opposed to some of the other artists we met, the guys from Temples were not the most inviting or engaging. But hell, if I were as cool as them I’d probably be wary of others too.
For me, Sleepy Sun’s Sunday was the sleeper hit of Austin Psych Fest 2014. I had learned about the band in the month leading up to the fest and while I very much liked their music, I had no idea of the explosiveness it could carry on stage. Needless to say, I was very pleasantly face melted. Lead singer Bret Constantino is a very relaxed person, as I learned when I spoke to the band on Friday, but when he goes onstage he is a minion of groove. He seems to want to jump right out of his body and into omnipresence constantly bouncing around and shaking his hands.
Throughout the Sunday night set, guitarist Matt Holliman and Evan Reiss laid down their catchy rhythm and lead work t1at carried the band through its ups and downs. This is a band of much dynamic with many of their songs often going from soft, trippy grooves to grungy explosions of sound in a matter of seconds. Kind of like the sun from the top and back around. A lot of this is in part thanks to the airtight rhythm section composed of bassist Jack Allen and Drummer Brian Tice. Their handling of musical dynamics is very impressive and it kept me on my toes grooving peacefully during the soft parts all the while waiting for the next burst of rock n’ roll. Sleepy Sun recently released their 4th full-length studio album, Maui Tears, in January of the current year. In it, the band claims to have explored the use of musical space a lot, writing more expansive arrangements than in other studio efforts, such as on the 10 minute long title track. As for their future, the band is not sure what’s in store for them as they just finished their latest album and they want to bide their time. When asked if he would be willing to work with original female back up vocalist Rachel Fannan, an early staple of their live sound, Constantino says he wouldn’t be opposed to it.
The Fresh and Onlys
“Stand up… Get that LSD flowing…” muttered Tim Cohen, deadpan, from the Elevation Amphitheater stage on Friday, May 2nd. The Fresh and Onlys’ frontman sported a Steal Your Face Grateful Dead t-shirt and select fingernails painted orange while he led his band through an hour long set that relied on The Fresh and Onlys’ extensive discography. While they have only been together since 2008, the band has released 5 full-length albums and about 15 EPs. Their impressive discography really gives them material to work with for their live show which they demonstrated impeccably with their varied Friday afternoon set at Austin Psych Fest 2014.
Tim Cohen doesn’t smile much. That’s not to say he’s not fully enveloped in and enjoying his craft. The band was tight and the songs sounded true to their studio counterparts, if only a little more punchy, which is almost never a bad thing. “Listen to that,” he said as he raised a finger to quiet down the audience. As the chit-chat went down, one could hear the river frogs croaking behind the band. It was the kind of moment one can only experience at Austin Psych Fest. Seconds after, the band launched into their rocker “Waterfall” and the frogs were lost forever.
Throughout their set, the band seemed aloof onstage. Maybe it’s because they are comfortable with where the band is at the moment with an album called House of Spirits coming out in a month. Tim and Co. half-jokingly claim that the album was very inspired by the desert, babies, consumption, and dehydration. They also mentioned that it will sound a little different than their other efforts, adding some drum machines and slow-burners into the mix, all the while staying true to their signature sound. Maybe the drum machines are a throwback to Tim’s early involvement with several hip-hop bands, something I was certainly surprised to learn about when I spoke on Friday before their set. After the release of House of Spirits, they will do some one-off shows, take a short but well deserved break and then tour more extensively to support the album.
On Saturday, May 3rd, at 5:30 P.M., 26-year-old Dutch musician Jacco Gardner (pronounced “Yacco”) took the stage with a smile that spread from ear to ear. In retrospect, I don’t know who was happier to be there, him or me. After what seemed like an eternity of a mic check, at least to me, they finally launched into their psychedelia infused set. The band relied heavily on Jacco’s self-produced, self-recorded 2013 debut album, Cabinet of Curiosities. Jacco manned the acoustic guitar, which sounded crisp and warm, while he also sang his tunes with a gentle and melodic croon. Behind the keyboards was touring musician Frank Maston, of the band Maston, who showed complete mastery of his parts. Even though he did not write them himself, he seemed very comfortable in his own skin as he added his own flair to the music. Composing the rhythm section were drummer Jos van Tol, who also played drums on the album, bassist Jasper Verhulst and guitarist Keez Groenteman, all of whom stayed true to the parts recorded on the album by Jacco himself.
While Jacco has created what I consider a modern day masterpiece and the band played a highly enjoyable set, I couldn’t help but notice their relative youth when compared to some of the other artists on the lineup, both as individuals and as a band. Even though the quality of Jacco’s music is already untouchable, the band’s stage act is still a work in progress. And that’s OK. They will get there. Jacco is currently working on his second album, which he and Frank claim is a relative departure from his debut while also maintaining some of the elements people look for in his music. Their plan is to tour around the release of this album, hopefully some time next year. Jacco and Frank proved to be some of the most genuine and levelheaded musicians we met in our trip. As we talked about his influences (namely early Pink Floyd, Love, Van Dyke Parks, Pearls Before Swine) I found myself forgetting whom I was talking to; something other successful musicians wouldn’t let happen. If anything, it gives me hope that someone so insanely brilliant at his craft is human after all.