The thing that strikes you about psychedelia as a genre is the way it keeps reinventing itself. Now in its fourth year, the Liverpool Festival of International Psychedelia has established itself as the nation’s premier celebration of the sonically weird and wonderful. Mind you, you’d need to be on some pretty mind altering substance to imagine that some of this is situated anywhere near the Elysian field of Sgt Pepper/early Floyd or that it is more closely related to any branch of ye olde psychedelic family tree than that of a bastard third cousin. The bill this year is packed with table top techno, energised acid-punk and some pretty decent and variously altered-consciousness exponents of ramped up rock. However the inescapable conclusion about the two-dayer is that the organisers seemed intent on fitting the proverbial quart into a pint pot. Four stages and more than eighty acts over two days meant that clashes, often multiple ones, were going to prove as frustrating as they were inevitable. Of course, this would never have happened at Terrastock - the daddy of them all, without whom…?
“Psych Fest” is also about the sights as much as sounds and I’m not just referring to the crowds, which span the generations from 17 through to 70 and range from studied fashionistas to grizzled veterans of a thousand psychic wars. The light shows hardly disappointed, particularly the back projections in the camp, although curiously the “resting phase” between sets depicted a woman head-butting a cake and someone with primary-coloured gunge oozing over their head and torso. At any moment you expected Noel Edmonds to leap out – which truly would have made for a brown acid moment. But moving on…
The International theme was well and truly underlined by the fact that the first two bands on the tick list were Chile’s impressive Vuelveteloca with their propulsive yet surprisingly tuneful riffing and Cambodia’s quasi exotic and visually striking Dengue Fever, though it was The Megaphonic Thrift over on the new District stage who provided the first real excitement. An energetic and at times quite thrilling chip off the old Sonic Youth/Pixies block, they were however slightly let down by the mix. Indeed this was to be a periodic recurrence and not only District but also the cavernous Camp stage. After all these are sheds and not purpose built acoustic sensitive concert halls.
Back in the Camp and Jacco Gardner turned in a tasteful and mature set before over on Furnace, Destruction Unit turned a good many heads inside out. If your idea of psychedelia is striped blazers, music hall piano and songs about Granny’s Fruitgum Shoppe then look away now. A ramped up Motorhead with severe anger management issues and with a largely monochrome light show with strobes set beyond stun, they left me wondering where I might score more of the nasty stuff and quickly. Tess Parks and Anton Newcombe (one of the curators) ran through their Mazzy Star on bombers take, essentially the same song played with different intensity but to be fair it is a good song and it provided for a diverting enough 45 minutes although Tess ought to try a bit harder to sound as though she means it.
Tess Parks and Anton Newcombe
Over in District and Graham Massey’s Toolshed were something of a revelation. Decked out in gold coloured cloaks and funny headgear the ex-808 Statesman and his fellow astral travellers came across like a funked-up four piece Sun Ra Arkestra. For a short while, space was the place and that place was a small shed in a Liverpool backstreet.
The rest of the evening was spent flitting from stage to stage without much conviction and herein lay a problem, namely the imbalance between the Friday and Saturday programmes with comparatively slim pickings on the first day and an abundance, embarrassment even, of riches on the latter. Thankfully it was left to Carlton Melton to retrieve the situation, by which time the crowd had thinned out significantly having been drawn to the arms of Morpheus if not Factory Floor over in the Furnace. The first 10 minutes of their set was the first transcendentally psychedelic moment of the weekend to these ears although some punters wondered whether they were still tuning up resulting in a further haemorrhaging of members of the audience. Any such notion that we had landed in some all-night noodling bar were soon dashed though when Andy Duvall vacated the second guitar chair in favour of the drums at which point the Camp was torn a new hole. A shame so few were still there to witness it.
We’re eased into day two by a succession of undercard players the best of which included the excellent Bonnacons of Doom (something of a house band having been born of earlier psych fests and which featured a guitarist with what looked like a dustbin lid on his face), young Dutch progressive folkies Pauw and Brooklyn NYC’s Weird Owl. Decent fare of which there is no doubt but only the warm up for a packed and crazy night session which kicked off with Dead Sea Apes, part of Cardinal Fuzz’s much anticipated and hugely deserved Sonic Attack package and who turned in a towering set of their gripping cinematic soundscapes culminating in a storming rendition of “Soy Dios”.
Dead Sea Apes’ Chris Hardman
Sun Araw was a late addition to the bill and insisted on the lights in the Furnace being turned off at which point he and his co-conspirators (a percussionist and reeds player) proceeded to mesmerise a rapt audience who in other circumstances might have resorted to talking loudly amongst themselves but not there and then. An understated highlight of the weekend. Hey Colossus’ new album may have a distinctly indie/Smashing Pumpkins feel to it but their incendiary set in District (like Evil Blizzard and a couple of other bands they were under-billed and oversubscribed) was loud and venomous, with additional marks for an animated performance. Cult of Dom Keller and Lumarians did the Cardinal proud with their cavernous and pulsating sets, the latter decked out in sparkly cloaks to add a bit of camp to the Camp. Unfortunately their sound suffered towards the end of the set precipitating what looked suspiciously like a bit of a wobbly on the part of the drummer who did his best Keith Moon impression of kit demolition.
Jane Weaver meanwhile ran through some polished renditions of selections from acclaimed The Silver Globe but retained enough freshness to remind you that this was a live performance. Jane seemed to enjoy the laddish “Wea-ver” terrace chanting between tracks and appeared to enjoy herself although it was a pity we couldn’t get to see more of her as the hoped-for vibrant light show was passed over in favour of forty-watt ghostly grey.
The Heads represented the pinnacle of the Sonic Attack showcase and predictably drew a big crowd for one of their infrequent outings. Truthfully, a Heads set in 2015 is much the same as it would have been in 2005 but none of that seemed to matter in the slightest as they powered through a tight and predictably well-received set which included staples “Quad”, “Widowmaker” and of course “Cardinal Fuzz”, from which the label takes its name. A pity that Paul “Prof” Allen’s vocals on the latter were lost in the mix, a minor quibble in what was a reassuringly loud and incendiary performance.
Mamuthones are one of the latest additions to Rocket Recordings increasingly cosmopolitan (make that international) roster of exciting acts. Here they played to an appreciative if disappointingly sparse crowd drawn, most others having been drawn to one of the main headliners and most probably queueing for an audience with J Spaceman and his Spiritualised crew. Those who did pop around to The Blade though will have witnessed one of the weekend’s most intriguing sets marshalled by main man Alessio Gastaldello (late of Jennifer Gentle), the pinnacle of which was their Symphony For The Devil. Definitely ones to keep an eye on and ear open for. I’d never heard of Sex Swing before and may never again but they swept up the remnants of a glad and weary Psych Fest crowd and sent us zig-zag wandering off happily into the night, all done-in but vowing to do it all again next time.