My head thrums, my feet smell and my hearing is several shades off normal and I only got in 6 hours ago, but I’m too excited to sleep much. Such is the lot of the roving psychedelic war correspondent. Last night was the opening night of, to grant it it’s full title, Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia 2014. It’s like a better world, people, a better world.
Due to not being very well I had to miss Friday, which is a shame but most of the bands I most wanted to see were on last night anyway, so this was more of a gig for me than the full-on mini-festival experience it could have been. Food stalls and Liverpool craft ales all went unsampled this time around. Also for the second year running I literally bumped into someone I admired, this time it was the very tall and very affable Neil Murphy from Mugstar, no real force just gentle shoulder to shoulder contact for which I apologized. Surely it’s too much to hope that next year it’ll happen again? Surely if it happens three times, it’ll have to become an official event within the festival? ‘Watch as renowned clumsy dude 1537, shoulder barges a musician who he is a big fan of’. It’d sell tickets.
As I couldn’t find my chums I was meant to be meeting up with* I wondered into the furnace room to see Sleepy Sun. I only joined their set part way through and was thoroughly impressed by them and the room. The latter because it is my favourite concert space in Liverpool by far** lit up by all the usual cool projection screens it looked, like it had last year, incredible, the former because they had an expansive wide-angled sound that I found really compelling. They played some great aerial footage of a skydive at one point and of various steel-framed constructions from above and, far from being a distraction the way these things can be, it really complemented and enhanced their music. I had never heard a note of their music before last night but I was so impressed with their musicianship – finishing their set with Black Sabbath’s ‘Hole In The Sky’ was a neat move too.
Next up for me were Hills, I wandered past casually and got snagged on their drone rock like a, umm, comfy jumper on a thorn, sonic thorn maybe^. They were quite close to the sound of Carlton Melton who I really enjoyed last year but there was something about the tone of the vocals which gave their songs a slightly sinister edge and bend. They varied the tempo quite a bit too, which is always good at gigs like this because whilst I do like a 14-minute cosmic drone jam as much as the next man, you stick too many of them together and no matter how great the musicianship I start to think about clearing out the garage / whether the car insurance is due this month etc. Hills, being the clever Swedes they are, rev it right up occasionally to great effect.
Being the solitary nerd I am I got myself right down the front for Teeth Of The Sea and got to watch them set up from close quarters. It really is one of my favourite things to watch that highly coordinated ballet of one group whisking their stuff away and another setting up, quick efficient no messing around – okay, so I know I’m not normal, but I find it entertaining^^. Teeth of The Sea are the skinniest band I think I have ever seen, they would struggle to produce a bicep or a buttock between the four of them – however here at 1537 we are proud to say that our criteria for judging bands is marginally less shallow. They were just immense live and managed the difficult trick of melding pumping techno beats, trumpet, melodic synth lines, stabs of sampled noise, trumpet and shredding guitar solos to great effect – even just typing that now I’m conscious that it shouldn’t all work together but it does wonderfully, which can only be the sign of a band far greater even than the sum of their individual parts.
Playing large chunks of Master they struck me as the perfect band to soundtrack the end of the world, they just sound like the logical conclusion to so many different types of music. I really liked the way that the trumpet bookended the set, the opening track which I didn’t recognize sampled the trumpet and played it back out as another texture in a noisy whole*^ before they hit the fast beats of ‘Reaper’ and the set closed with the epicness of all epicosity that is ‘Responder’, which ends with some rather beautiful playing to take us all safely back down to earth. In between all that we had lots of loudness, tracks which confused me as to whether I should be head-banging or dancing (answer: dancing), minor technical difficulties, more fist-pumping than you usually get during the course of an entire metal weekender and a guitarist who was very definitely channelling his inner Michael Schenker. It was brilliant and I want to see them again, soon.
One thing spoilt Liverpool Psych Fest 2014 for me this year, it was the fact that the organisers put on arguably the two biggest bands on simultaneously, the two bands who I was most desperate to see 1537 faves White Hills and Goat. In fact this had made me really cross for days, just ask Jhubner who has fielded several very sweary emails from me on the subject. Now Goat I’d never seen before and put on a brilliant stage show, I wanted to be front and centre for them but White Hills I love, however I did see them twice last year – sooo with heavy heart I trudged away to the Furnace room, feeling like I was being unfaithful to my one true love – who was terminally ill, terminally ill and asking for me at her bedside, terminally ill and asking for me at her bedside because she wanted to tell me one last time how much she loved me – well you get the picture. You will not be forgiven easily Psych fest organisers.
I caught Christian Bland & Revelators next, Christian is the guitarist in heavy psych-mongers The Black Angels whom I like, who offer us a spaghetti western take on psych. Bland is an excellent guitar player, his drummer was brilliant too very fluid and his bass player looked like a cavalry officer from a particularly gnarly western, but I’m afraid the positives end there for me. They were too earthbound for my tastes, they had a good basic sound but their songs never went anywhere, never soared and if you’re going to name a band after yourself you need the stage presence to really carry it off. At one point I wasn’t sure if they were covering ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ or just stealing that wonderful, inverted riff wholesale. Bum note.
Now if I were going to get Teeth of The Sea to soundtrack the end of the world then Goat are the band I’d get to play the pre-show party. I got myself front and centre again as I really wanted to see them up close because I had heard they were spectacular, you know what? I’d heard right. A seven piece band, all masked in the freakiest fashion possible – a shiny silver one, African masks with bead curtains over the lower face, a hessian stringy one, they look amazing. This is predominantly so because of the two lissome female singers / dancers, clad in embroidered robes with incredible ornate head-dresses, they sing, dance and play various pieces of percussion and even mouth organ at one point. As the band strike up an irresistible groove that is based a long way south of their native Sweden; a lot nearer Kinshasa than Malmö.
They open up with ‘Diarabi’, a cover of a Boubacar Traoré tune and from then on they blend tracks from their two albums seamlessly. My recall and pictures are all a bit shaky, mostly because I was far too busy bobbing up and down and shaking my head to pay too close attention to it all. When I wasn’t I was spending my time being mesmerized by the dancers, they play it straight nothing is done ironically here, this is authentic Afro-Swedish voodoo rock. It would be so easy for Goat to break the spell, to sex up the dancing, to be a bit too knowing – all those wrong moves, but they toe the line between arch and otherness as sure-footedly as a, umm, goat.
The music is absolutely slamming in places, a pan-global attack, owing as much to Santana and Dungen, as they do to Africa. ‘Run To Your Mama’ is sheer, rock genius and ‘Goathead’ really cruises close to being African metal, a point made by the frantic head-banging of both dancers. They leave us at 2am, drenched to the bones in our own sweat, shattered and happy and like all the best live bands, desperate to see them again soon. If you ever spot these mysterious Swedes coming to your home town then do your very soul a favour, go see ’em, it is a truly transcendent experience.
As to how psychedelic it all was, I’m not really sure. Most of the bands I saw really took you somewhere else, but I’m not sure if that is the strict dictionary definition of Psychedelia. More probably it just differentiates a group of artists who aspire to transport their audiences elsewhere, to do more than just reflect their own lives back at them, to show them possibilities. Which is plenty good enough for me.
450 Down (Still)
*possibly sucked into a rift in the time/space continuum via an inter-dimensional vortex triggered by a particularly unusual combination of chords, or (more likely) casualties from starting on the ale 8 hours before I even got there.
**basically a series of three rooms and spaces, it’s called Camp & Furnace – but should really be called Camp & Furnace & Blade Factory – three reconstituted and rebooted industrial spaces. I love it. It’s also a bit surreal that the last time I was there was a works do.
^give me a break, I didn’t get home ’til 3am – you write inspiring, incisive prose after that! My feet hurt!
^^I just wish bands wouldn’t insist on doing all that playing in-between and give us punters what we want.
*^really like live sampling.