Psycho California, now that’s a name that suggests things could get weird fast. Perhaps America’s largest doom metal festival we sent our worrisome journalist Matt Bacon out on the trail to try and get to the heart of the fucked up world represented by this festival. Seeing a ton of bands, meeting a lot of people and being surrounded by drugs can lead to a fascinating weekend if nothing else, and as Matt found out – there is a lot more to the demented depths of doom than might initially meet the eye. Find parts ONE, TWO and THREE of our coverage at the links provided.
Sunday was – weird to say the least. See – as the weekend continued John and I had realized that our hotel room wasn’t in as nice a building as we had initially thought. In fact – it was in a much worse neighborhood than we could have foreseen, it was also hella far from the venue, but that’s asides the point. It seemed fitting though, that we would be waking up in this den of debauchery, (there apparently was an incident with a prostitute a few rooms down) gambling (A couple of dudes were playing dice in the parking lot of the strip mall adjacent to the hotel) and sin (We met a lot of heroin addicts and crackheads.) There was nothing we wanted to see early in the day so we headed over to get breakfast with the Pallbearer dudes.
Watching one of your favorite bands smoke weed (That’s what I found out those funny smelling cigarettes are filled with!) in a parking lot is the kind of thing that seems distinctly Californian to me. I mean – I guess it could happen elsewhere, but never as openly as it does here. It’s kind of beautiful honestly and suggests that the oncoming wave of legalization could lead to some very interesting incidents in my journalistic career. It also helped me to get a better understanding of what it means to be a doom freak. You see – these guys aren’t bad people, they just can’t really deal with normal society. I think the sense of morality found in the community is strong, but the appreciation of legality is fairly minimal. These are the kind of core ideas the help to define this culture, perhaps the most rabid of all heavy metal fanbases. People don’t realize what it means to give it all up for what Josh Lemore of Cattle Decapitation describes as “The smallest slice of pie of the smallest slice of pie” but the raw passion on display at this festival was simply stunning.
We eventually did make our way over to the venue though, just in time to see Mothership who are among the best of the wave of heavy rock bands that is coming to once more dominate the underground. There sets are always a blast to watch, and though they didn’t do an AC/DC cover as they did when I had last seen them at Uninvited Fest in NYC they still had the crowd raising their fists and singing along. Kyle Juett – the bands frontman seems to carry himself with a sense of well deserved swagger. He’s worked for this, and his tattooed body and tea-shades show that he really has no choice but to rock. Yet that’s part of what makes Mothership so damn fascinating. These are dudes who were borne from the sewer into a world of big tours and flashy women. This is rock and fucking roll at its absolute finest, being extolled by musicians who truly get it, and who want it to return with no real financial interest in mind.
It was only when I stumbled into the opening moments of Truckfighters set that I realized that the main stage was running two hours behind. I had seen these dudes play a club show back when I lived in Paris and I was excited to see them again. Stage diving and tossing their instruments into the crowd Truckfighters live and breathe rock and roll to the point that now this is their occupation. These touches of punk in a heavy blues mindset can’t help but make the listener smile. Truckfighters get the eternal power that this music is supposed to have and they seek to play it with a sense of energy that few of their peers are ever going to match. See – I’ve had some serious doubts about the future of rock and roll, but Truckfighters are a band who clearly get it. The way the music resonates in their very bodies is impressive. And furthermore they are not afraid to improvise and build up their own sound. Sure, it’s easy to see their influences at times, but that’s part of the appeal and it’s hard not to fall in love with a band who are so candid with their adulation for the music that has come to define us all.
At this point – largely due to how everything had been moved back I realize that I had a chance to watch Tombs. This was my first time seeing these Philly stalwarts – odd since we live in the same city, but such is the nature of 21+ shows… The point being these black metal maniacs delivered utterly vile and yet surprisingly articulate and refined American black metal. There sound was precise and triumphant, the aural assault, fresh off of a European tour saw Tombs playing an extremely tight set, featuring primarily tracks from their critically hailed release Savage Gold. Suffice to say – this is a band you don’t want to miss. They are recharging traditional black metal ideas with something a little bit more evil and it’s hard to deny that these guys are turned on to a much more profound and bleak reality that most choose to ignore.
It was at this point – hanging out in the VIP area – that I realized the significance of what doom means for me. For dropouts and maniacs like me and the dudes who live for this shit we are no longer the weird one. We may be the weird ones when we walk down the street – people staring at our patches, hair and tattoos, but this is a community where there is no upper limit on weird. You can think that you’re weird because at one point you tried to model your voice after your favorite guitarists (As I did) and then you’ll hear one of the dudes in Pallbearer tell the story of how he wore a monk robe from a Halloween costume for three years. You realize that there is a place for even the craziest, and yeah, we may all be fuck ups but we can be fuck ups together. In the words of Stavros Giannopolous of The Atlas Moth “I’m a responsible adult in the loosest sense of the term and I doubt I will ever really grow up… but I am still a responsible adult”
Suffice to say – when his band came on I was ready for a good time. This was another band I had previously had a chance to check out, I had seen The Atlas Moth in New York City with Subrosa and Boris and had loved what they’d done – I was excited to see the madness of this band in a more intimate venue. This particular set left me scraping my jaw from the floor. I had totally forgotten the power of Stavros’s voice. Furthermore – David – whose beard has reached new levels of a metallitude since I last saw the Atlas Moth delivered some stunning cleans. As the crowd was awash in the bands trademark points of light it was impossible to deny that they had conjured up something truly special. The ayahuascan power that The Atlas Moth rely on is indomitable and proves to me that these guys are unafraid of plumbing strange new worlds. People in this band have met God and if you can’t accept that you might never get The Atlas Moth’s majesty.
As The Atlas Moth wrapped up Elder came on. I had seen them too just a few weeks prior in Philly and I had a blast all weekend hanging out with these dudes. I was curious to see what their live show would deliver this time around. I was gratified to see that Elder seem to only be getting better. This time was in fact the best I had ever seen them. With, what the band told me, was on of their best audience reactions ever (With stagedivers, moshing, et al) it was a pleasure to be beholden to a group whose sense of jam oriented hard rock transcends that of their peers. While most bands end up emulating legions of other stoner rock bands there is something delightfully iconoclastic about Elder that – in my eye – establishes them as veritable rock and roll demons, young men possessed by strange and oft forgotten spirits that force you into strange worlds and get you to consider new layers of reality. What I’m trying to say is that watching Elder play is a trip, and not just because Jack is almost more charming on stage than he is in person (As if that was even possible) These guys are here to alter the face of rock and roll, and it might just take seeing ’em live to get you to believe it.
I had another pause now – my last of the festival (As seeing Om and Pentagram back to back would simply have me searching for a good view) I took a moment to say goodbye to those who I could find and wondered when I might see some of these people again. That’s the sad thing about kids like us. Sure we were born to run, but when you’re dealing with that bleak reality you also have to realize that you don’t know when you’ll see your friends again. Life on the road is a strange place to start a family, and for some of us that’s the only choice. Some of these road warriors will be dead in a few months, others will be friends for life. The nature of things though is that we all fall in and out of each others lives, like waves in the ocean or crescendos in a song. Transients like us practically live on Facebook – it’s the only way to find our place in the world amongst brethren who understand us as we understand them. So when I found Devin Holt of Pallbearer we knew that this would be the last time we might hang out for at least a few months. We went together to watch Om and prepared our bodies for a live ritual of legendary scope.
Al Cisneros knows how to put on a show. It’s strange because his own particular brand of showmanship is so subdued, yet somehow in the context of what he does he manages to make it work. I mean – yeah – he just kinda stands there and sips in the inevitable pot smoke drifting up from the crowd, yet his every word is grateful and he seems extremely humble. Hell – He stopped the show mid song to get an amp fixed because he cares that much about the audiences experience. The experimental vibes of Om are another fascinating aspect to me. There is something endlessly delightful about the high pitched vocals provided by the bands multi instrumentalist INSERT NAME HERE. It creates a magical aura that permeates the entire experience and once again evidences the enduring power that Om has. A band based on absolute minimalism they create a surprisingly rich and thought provoking live experience that is hard to deny and am absolute joy to listen too. The band takes you on a journey and if you find yourself on the edge of a broken heart or with shattered nerves causing you stress Om know just what it takes to guide you back home.
I managed to find a much coveted sitting spot for Pentagram and relaxed. The weekend was about to end – it had been a success and now I could witness freaked out and a perhaps perpetually fucked up Bobby Liebling take the stage. I was curious as to how this entire thing would play out. The minute Liebling picked up the mic know I knew that the man – despite years of drug addiction – still has it. He has a sense of self on stage – of his own internal terrors and of what the audience wants. Watching him is like watching an old school rock and roll band take the stage. When Liebling cries out “Guitar!” before a solo or duck walks across the stage you are witnessing a man who is rock and roll incarnate. A faded glory perhaps but a hero nonetheless and one whose name will go down in history -whether he will be remembered favorably or not – now that is a question that I am not qualified to answer. Yet he seems unafraid, sure he’s aware of his own mortality, and seems terrified of it, but when he gets up there and starts making crazy faces at wowed fans, you can’t deny his majesty. The point being Pentagrams live sow retains the rock and roll magic that it rightfully should and sure – they don’t tour that much, but it merely makes the experience all the more exciting creating a sense of magic that far too few bands manage to touch on these days.
And suddenly it was over. Pentagram had blared out one classic after another but now the beautiful surprise of the band had left me behind. It was time for me to make my way to a wholly different friends house and spend the ride talking to my very stoned cohort. We reflected on what had been unveiled to us in the process of this weekend and how Saturday had probably changed both of our lives. The fact of the matter remains though – this kind of music is not for normal dudes – you need to find your own freedom, and your own peace within yourself before you start delving into the strange worlds that doom metal can invoke.
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