Psycho Las Vegas day 3 review: Alice Cooper, Sleep, Candlemass, Baroness & more
photos by Levan TK
While the Friday and Saturday of Psycho Las Vegas flew by with nearly wall-to-wall exciting bands, for whatever reason Sunday had a bit more down time. It was a nice way to cap the fest, with some real heavy hitters like Sleep and Candlemass, some smaller but still excellent bands on the Vinyl stage, and by far the most insane show I have ever seen courtesy of Alice Cooper.
Things kicked off on the vinyl stage with Salt Lake City’s INVDRS. Sharing the same drummer as SubRosa (who had been hyping them during their Saturday set), these guys put on an absolutely crushing show for those of us awake enough to make it. Vocalist Phil White is an imposing and distinctive presence with the screaming chops to back it up. They were all business and no-holds-barred, ripping through a brief set of heavy, heavy doom with an intensity and a focus that was a bracing way to start the day.
I then headed over to the main stage to catch Truth and Janey, a ’70s proto-metal band with an excellent 1975 album called No Rest for the Wicked to their name. Guitarist Billy Lee Janey is the only remaining member and has been active with a bunch of projects over the years. Largely though I found the set to be a disappointment. They opened with a jammy cover of the Rolling Stones “Under My Thumb” and most of the set was along these lines. Simple blues-rock with ample guitar soloing (and thuddingly one-note drumming). Janey is a really excellent and distinctive guitar player, but there just wasn’t enough material here to justify it for me.
Next up on the main stage was Danava, of whom I saw just enough to get bored. I ducked into Vinyl to catch some of Hornss, a San Francisco doom band that put out a heavily enjoyed 2014 album called No Blood, No Sympathy and who have a follow-up on the way. I didn’t catch their whole set but what I saw was heavy as hell.
At this point it was time for Fu Manchu, who are just the best. Their brand of stoner rock is so funny, groovy, and perfectly calibrated, and they played one of the best sets of the day. Tons of energy, hair flying everywhere, and the crowd wayyyy into it, it was the type of mid-day gem that really makes festivals like this.
This was followed by Dead Meadow, who I know people really like but again I just wasn’t really sure what the whole big deal was. But I stuck it out for Candlemass, who delivered an amazingly fun set. I wasn’t sure how they’d be without any their original vocalists, but it was no problem whatsoever, as current vocalist Mats Leven does an admirable job and really has the vocal chops to nail all these songs. And of all the classic doom at the fest, this just felt like the most classic. You could feel Candlemass’s influence throughout the bands on the bill, and getting to hear Epicus Doomicus Metallicus material like “Solitude” and “Under the Oak” was just about as fun is it gets. Also I caught Jan Lindh’s drumstick.
After that I was hoping to catch Lycus, but Vinyl was running behind schedule so I caught some of Witch Mountain instead (whatever), and I didn’t want to miss the beginning of Baroness‘s set. Baroness are a weird band for me–I loved Red and Blue, I really had no interest in Yellow and Green, and I found Purple to be a nice move towards their destiny as a great arena rock band. Which is really what they’ve become–they’re a band that delivers choruses. But I was struck by a kind of same-i-ness with their set. They’re very skilled (although the muffed drum fills at the beginning of “A Horse Called Golgotha” were a huge drag), and they essentially deliver what fans love about them throughout the set, but it’s hard not to feel that a lot of the songs from the last two albums, which the set was heavy on, are kind of too similar for their own good.
I hustled over to the pool stage to catch the end of the entertaining masked thrash crew Midnight. They were typically fun, doing a kind of pared-down version of what Ghoul go for. They closed their set by jumping into the pool, which, I’m surprised no one did that earlier.
And then it was time for Sleep. I have written about Sleep in these pages before, and suffice it to say that this time might have even been a little better than when I saw them a couple years ago. I don’t have much else to say; they just rule. Al Cisneros and Matt Pike are one of the great guitar/bass combinations in any genre of music in any decade, and seeing them play together live is a rare treat that all should take advantage of.
And finally it was time for Alice Cooper to close the festival. I have to confess a certain degree of ignorance about the man. Sure, I’m good and familiar with “School’s Out” and “I’m Eighteen” and “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” And I’ve seen Wayne’s World, and I know that he’s known for having a huge, theatrical live show, and I’ve even spent considerable time listening to his nationally syndicated classic rock radio show. But ultimately I’m glad that I did not have the necessary context to not be completely knocked on my ass by the sheer insanity of his live show.
He has a 5-piece band with three guitarists who all move in perfect synchronization, running across the stage and participating in various skits, and each taking what seemed like at least 2 solos per song. I was prepared for a certain degree of theatricality, but I was not prepared for the following things: a giant Frankenstein puppet that sang “Feed My Frankenstein” (which, in case you forgot, is the funniest song of all time: “I’m a hungry man but I don’t want pizza”) in a pitch-shifted version of Alice’s voice, Alice’s execution by guillotine, three giant (and I mean giant) tombstones commemorating Keith Moon, David Bowie, and Lemmy (accompanied by covers of “Pinball Wizard,” “Suffragette City” and “Ace of Spades”), giant balloons (like, human-sized) that were released into the crowd, Alice throwing around a human-sized doll while he sang one song, and all the rest of it. It was just high psychosis on all levels. And here’s the thing: most of these songs are, to put it mildly, not good. But that’s almost the point of this high-camp extravaganza, which, maybe I sound naive or something for being stunned by this, but I honestly was not prepared. The budget and rehearsal time alone on this thing, my god.
It was a very Las Vegas way to close the fest which resisted that kind of showmanship in a lot of ways, but it was fitting enough, not to mention wildly entertaining. Which about sums up the fest: fun, weird, and exhausting like all festivals. I saw a bunch of great, varied bands and I’m glad to be leaving Vegas.