By Dave Pehling
LAS VEGAS (CBS LAS VEGAS) — Las Vegas is playing host to an ever-increasing number of massive music celebrations, ranging from the established EDM-focused Electric Daisy Carnival to more recent entries like the mainstream Rock in Rio USA and the countrified Route 91 Harvest Music Festival.
Though not the same scale as the aforementioned events, Psycho Las Vegas returns to the Hard Rock Hotel for its second year on Aug. 17-21, delivering an eclectic sequel to 2016’s inaugural Las Vegas edition that delivered everything from ’70s rock radio legends like Alice Cooper and Blue Oyster Cult to a dizzying array of established punk, metal, psychedelic and hard rock groups from the 1990s to today.
While this year’s event may not feature a headliner with the same level of name recognition, the line-up is arguably even more diverse in the range of musical styles included over the course of the four-day celebration with performances by San Francisco neo-psych outfit Brian Jonestown Massacre, theatrical metal great King Diamond, acclaimed progressive metal bands Mastodon and Gojira, atmospheric Ethiopian jazz icon Mulatu Astatke, influential heavy-rock mavericks like Melvins and Neurosis, interstellar French progressive rockers Magma, bludgeoning experimental post-punks Swans and much more.
The party gets off to an early start on Thursday afternoon with a pre-festival pool party headlined by American doom metal pioneers Pentagram. The Virginia-based band founded by singer and sole constant member Bobby Liebling in 1971 would toil for decades in relative obscurity despite having an arsenal of powerful, foreboding songs penned by the vocalist.
That finally changed after the turn of the millennium. Between 2001’s legitimate archival compilation First Daze Here on Relapse Records, which documented the band’s oft-bootlegged early recordings (a second volume would follow), and the growing recognition of ’80s-era Pentagram albums featuring Tony Iommi acolyte Victor Griffin on guitar as early doom classics, Liebling and company finally started to get their proper due. Though the singer still had struggles with his self-destructive habits despite the renewed interest (depicted in the harrowing documentary Last Days Here, made by band manager and Psycho Las Vegas co-founder Sean “Pellet” Pelletier), the group has become a staple of heavy metal festivals.
The pool party is rounded out by a stellar supporting cast including British doom trio Conan, Phoenix sludge merchants Goya, desert-rock crew Yawning Man, instrumental post-metal band Mustard Gas and Roses, New Jersey heavy psych explorers Ruby the Hatchet and more. Thursday night will feature a summit of heavyweights trios pairing Michael Scheidt’s transcendent Northwestern doom threesome YOB sharing the stage at the Hard Rock’s club Vinyl with former Isis guitarist Aaron Turner’s blackened experimental group Sumac for a sold-out show that requires separate admission.
On Friday, the festival has it’s proper commencement with an array of 28 bands on three stages starting at 12:45 p.m. and extending late into the night. Headlining the main stage in the Joint, the Brian Jonestown Massacre might seem an unusual choice for such a metal-infused festival, but bandleader Anton Newcombe and his revolving cast of supporting players have a history of creating droning, melodic heavy psych that dates back to their San Francisco origins during the early ’90s.
The run-up to the bands midnight set includes a dizzying array of diverse psychedelic sounds such as renowned Ethiopian jazz maestro Mulatu Astatke delivering a hypnotic set of jazzy, Latin-tinged grooves after performances by returning guitar hero Matt Pike and his epic stoner-rock outfit Sleep, French progressive giants Magma offering up their intergalactic Frank Zappa meets John Coltrane hymns, prolific grunge godfathers Melvins and moody gothic chanteuse Chelsea Wolfe.
Fans will likely have a tough time leaving the Joint on Friday with early highlights being provided by opening Texas rockers Mothership, an ethereal set from atmospheric black metallers Wolves In The Throne Room and a rare set by former Kyuss lead singer John Garcia and his reunited late 1990s band Slo Burn. But there are plenty of reasons to leave the big room with the more intimate Vinyl including such varied sounds as sludgy post-metal act Mouth of the Architect, majestic Denver doom crew Khemmis, ’70s rock revivalists Royal Thunder (fronted by bassist/vocalist Mlny Parsons, one of the more powerful, charismatic singers you’ll see in the confines of Vinyl) and veteran ’80s hard rockers the Rods.
Once the sun goes down, there will also be bands poolside at the outdoor stage including Scheidt’s thrash-influenced band Vhol with onetime Bay Area metal fixture John Cobbett (also of Hammers of Misfortune, Ludicra and Slough Feg), and an encore set by Sumac before cinematic post-metal group Pelican closes out the stage.
It’s to the festival organizers’ credit that fans will be finding themselves sprinting back and forth between stages through much of the weekend. The anticipated acts at the top of the bill include former Mercyful Fate singer King Diamond performing his classic album Abigail in it’s entirety Saturday night and the one-two punch of Sunday’s main stage closers: Michael Gira’s pummeling experimental punk band Swans playing one of its last shows prior to disbanding the current acclaimed line-up and Georgia-based prog-metal conceptualists Mastodon, who will likely draw heavily on their latest thematic album Emperor of Sand.
The balance of the festival includes a wealth of gems ranging from legitimate ’70s guitar hero Ace Frehley, volcanic mostly instrumental psych juggernaut Earthless featuring six-string wizard Isaiah Mitchell, drum phenom Mario Rubalcaba and bassist/pivot man Mike Eginton, environmentally minded French prog-metal quartet Gojira, influential Bay Area crust-punks turned avante-metal explorers Neurosis, industrial electronic punks Psychic TV, black metal favorite Abbath and more underground psychedelic, metal and punk greats from the ’70s and ’80s such as Manilla Road, Cirith Ungol, Corrosion Of Conformity and Diamond Head. For more information and tickets to Psycho Las Vegas, visit the festival’s official website.
Psycho Las Vegas 2017
Friday-Sunday, August 18-21 (pre-party Thursday, August 17)
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino