TVD Live: Psycho California, Day One at the Observatory OC, 5/15

TVD spent a weekend at Psycho California in May and we’ll be bringing you a full report of all that happened at this unique music festival. Our coverage will be split into three parts, so you can take it all in one day at a time. If you were there, we hope you can relive that amazing weekend—and if you weren’t, here’s a detailed account of what you missed.—Ed.

Metal festivals have been the norm in Europe for years and are finally catching on over here in the States. This year, the first edition of Psycho California landed at the Observatory OC in Santa Ana, CA. Three days of some of the best stoner, doom, and sludge bands that music has to offer were on hand, pouring their souls out to the eager fans from two stages. Many fans had made the pilgrimage from near and far, coming from all points of the U.S. and countries like Brazil, England, and Australia just to name a few.

Inside, the music was split between two areas: The Grizzly Stage served as the side stage and was in a smaller side room near the front of the venue. When I say “smaller,” what I mean to say is “hotter than hell cramped tiny room that would be impossible to even get into at times throughout the weekend.” Not that that would detract from the quality of the music coming from that room, it just made seeing some cherished bands a bit tough. The second are was the large main room where the Monarch Stage would serve as the main stage for the event.

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Outside, there were multiple smoking areas, an area of the parking lot barricaded off for some pretty fantastic food trucks, and a back lot that was a place to relax and catch your breath, get in line for the big merchandise tent, or even see some of the Grizzly Stage bands—more on that to come.

DAY ONE | At about 2:20 pm, the line still snaked through the parking lot as the sounds of the first bands emanated from the doors of the Observatory. The venue location itself was an unusual one, nestled snugly within a corporate office park. After searches and patdowns from the security staff, it was time to head in and kick the weekend off.

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The venue quickly filled with the devout, many adorned in black band t-shirts and battle jackets and vests displaying the patches of their beloved bands. The growling crunch of Atriarch on the smaller Grizzly Stage stood in contrast to the blues-laden vintage sound of Radio Moscow on the Monarch Stage in the main room. After a lengthy jam, the band went into “These Days.” Try to imagine if the Allman Brothers Band or Blackfoot added metal into their sound, and you kind of get an idea of Radio Moscow’s sound.

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The side stage room was packed to capacity for the sludgy ambient doom of Samothrace. The twin downtuned guitars of Renata Castagna and Bryan Spinks dredged you down through murky pits, then soaring through the clouds and back again. Spinks’ vocals were the acrid wails of a demon, adding another dimension to their first-rate set.

While the groovy Crypt Trip played next on the side stage, a rare American appearance from Germany’s Samsara Blues Experiment filled the main room with their psychedelic bluesy sound. Bassist Hans Eiselt entered the stage, spliff in hand, as if to both emphasize and celebrate the stoner vibe of the music. Following Samsara, the UK’s mighty Conan put on an absolutely crushing set. Hoods up over their heads, and hunched over their mics and instruments, they hammered out tracks like “Foehammer” and “Hawk as Weapon.” Theirs was by far one of the most brutally heavy sets of the whole weekend, and they had the crowd ready to take up swords and go to battle against Thulsa Doom himself.

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In an interesting move, the venue chose to move the side stage from the cramped, small room to the fenced in outdoor stage area behind the venue. While we thought that this move was due to the small room becoming so jammed with people, we found out later that the move was due to a double booking at the venue that evening. I’m sure the ska fans that came in later on were probably wondering what the hell they had just walked into.

Continuing the music on the outdoor stage, blistering sets followed from Destroyer of Light and Blackout. Moving from stage to stage, and from the food or smoking areas for a respite, the crowd always seemed to be in flux, at times finding people barely squeezing through chokepoints in the aisles and walkways.

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In one of the more special moments of Psycho California, the first-ever live performance of Bedemon was up next. Originally a side project of Pentagram guitarist Geof O’Keeffe, Bedemon recorded an album with Pentagram’s enigmatic Bobby Liebling on vocals, and another album in later years, but there was to be no live touring for either album.

Joined by original Bedemon bassist Greg Mayne and featuring Scott “Wino” Weinrich on vocals, it was a trip down memory lane for some and a glimpse into the past for others. The set started off a bit shaky, but once the proverbial rust had been shaken off, the sound only got better and tighter for the classic doomsters, much like a locomotive getting up to speed.

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In a surprise late addition to the fest, Richmond, VA thrashers Municipal Waste arrived to change things up a bit. There was quite a bit of talk leading up to their set about whether the beer-soaked thrash of the Waste would go over well with the stoner/doom crowd on hand.

All talk was summarily thrown in the trash and set on fire immediately, as the band went into “Unleash the Bastards.” The crowd went absolutely bonkers, opening up a circle pit and crowdsurfing wildly—as I found out as I took a fist to the nose from a fan who was flung over the barricade into the photo pit. Good times.

As Municipal Waste tore through their frenetic set of at least twenty songs (most Waste songs are two minutes or less), the crowd grew rowdier with every song. Ripping through songs like “Terror Shark,” “Sadistic Magician,” and “Beer Pressure,” singer Tony Foresta led the charge, and the band were every bit as relentless as the crowd. The hyper set from Municipal Waste seemed to be the jolt of energy that the crowd wanted and needed whether they knew it beforehand or not.

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It was a very strange shifting of gears to head outside after Municipal Waste to catch Bell Witch on the side stage. The slow, doomy, atmospheric drone of Bell Witch stood in stark contrast to the madness we had just experienced moments ago. It was not unlike hitting a wall at sixty miles per hour—musically, of course.

They sounded fantastic and a throng of fans packed the outside lot and relished the eerie tone and slower pace. After a set by Old Man Gloom, the lights turned down low and the voodoo spirit of New Orleans took over Psycho California as Eyehategod took the stage.

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Beginning with their trademark din of feedback, the piercing squeals suddenly changed from an intentionally garbled mess to the guitars and bass in harmony with each other on the same bizarre tone. The tone was held until you thought it might split your skull apart—then broken by the opening riffs of “Agitation! Propaganda!”

The hour that followed was a non-stop chunk of premier riffage courtesy of Jimmy Bower and the boys. The crowd roared approval as singer Mike Williams introduced “New Orleans is the New Vietnam.” The entire set was immense and raucous and would have seemed like the perfect ending point of the night, but there was still one more band to go.

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Due to Sweden’s Cult of Luna dropping off the fest due to visa problems, Chicago’s Russian Circles moved into the headliner spot for the first day. With a complex, astral sound, Russian Circles almost seemed like a soft landing back down to earth after the raw grittiness of Eyehategod just before them. Bassist Brian Cook alternated between playing his bass and using foot pedals, adding a haunting synth sound to their ethereal, heaviness. Russian Circles finished their set to a spent crowd, and the first day of Psycho California was in the books.

Check back soon for the lowdown on day two of Psycho California – trust me, you won’t want to SLEEP on this one!

RUSSIAN CIRCLES

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EYEHATEGOD

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MUNICIPAL WASTE

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BEDEMON

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CONAN

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SAMSARA BLUES EXPERIMENT

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RADIO MOSCOW

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DESTROYER OF LIGHT

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SAMOTHRACE

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THE PEOPLE OF PSYCHO CALIFORNIA

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