TVD Live: Psycho California, Day Three at the Observatory OC, 5/17

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TVD spent a weekend at Psycho California in May and we’ve brought you a full report of all that happened at this unique music festival. Our coverage has been 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. Coverage of Day One can be found here and Day Two can be found here.—Ed.

Day two had gotten off to a sparse beginning, and day three wasn’t much better. As I sat and ate lunch and chatted with the guys from Wo-Fat, we watched the bleary-eyed metalheads wander into the lot little by little, like aimless walkers on the Walking Dead looking for food. Today’s menu was metal, and the feast was on its way.

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I wandered in a little after 12:30 and Montreal’s Tumbleweed Dealer had already begun their set on the main stage. I walked around the venue a bit, somewhat enjoying the last moments that I would be able to move around this freely from room to room. Red Wizard finished up their opening set on the side stage and Loom followed behind them. The dual guitar attack of Hippy Goods and Ricky Rodriguez filled the venue sonically as more people filed in to fill it spatially.

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The bar on the main stage was about to be set high as hell as the Texas trio Mothership dropped a rock-and-roll bomb on Santa Ana, CA. The crowd was still filing in, but that didn’t seem to matter to these guys as they laid down a high-octane set of heavy Texas boogie rock that was easily one of the highlights of the whole weekend.

Tattooed, bell-bottomed guitarist Kelley Juett channeled his inner Angus Young with his onstage energy, and the riffs from his Gibson Explorer got asses shaking and fists pumping early.

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One real treat of the fest was a rare appearance of Bang, an early ’70s “hidden gem” metal band, considered both an early American answer to Black Sabbath and a forerunner of the doom metal genre. I’m not sure who was smiling more, bassist Frank Ferrara, guitarist Frank Glicken, or the fans overjoyed at this rare performance from Bang.

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I made my way to the side stage to jockey for position for more Texas stoner rock, courtesy of Dallas’ Wo Fat. In one of the more bizarre logistical moves of the weekend, venue security had the room barricaded off, causing a huge line to form on all sides of the hall outside the room. Once the band’s soundcheck was over, the crowd poured inside—and Wo Fat proved that the wait was worth it.

Led by the thick guitar tone of Kent Stump, the band was turned up to eleven and sounding fantastic. As the Misfits once said, “Texas is the reason…,” and with bands like Wo Fat and Mothership churning out flawless, killer sets, it was easy to see why.

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Saddened that I had to leave Wo Fat’s set early (such is life at festivals like these), I headed to the main stage for the Truckfighters. The Swedish band came out fired up as guitarist Niklas “Dango” Källgren instantly ran to the front of the stage, waving his arms and hyping up the crowd before hurling his shirt out into it.

My disappointment was quickly assuaged as the Truckfighters wowed the crowd with their distinctive flavor of Swedish desert rock.

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Källgren barely sat still for a moment, running and jumping around throughout the entire set. Bassist Oskar “Ozo” Cedarmalm, also handling vocal duties, appeared Muppet-like, his hair covering his face as he sang, but both his bass and vocals were on point. To end their set, Cedarmalm stagedove while playing, then left his bass in the crowd as he climbed back onstage and made his exit.

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In an abrupt change of pace, Tombs shook things up with their unconventional style of dark extreme metal. The icy gaze of singer/guitarist Mike Hill pierced the gloom as his bestial roar blared out in front of a wall of distortion from the rest of the band.

After taking a brief respite outside in the California sun, I returned just in time for a hazy set from Bongzilla on the main stage. After sharing a joint amongst band members onstage, singer Mike “Muleboy” Makela did the courteous thing and handed it out to the eager crowd. Sharing is definitely caring, especially when it’s Bongzilla sharing with you.

Shrouded in darkness and smothered in a wash of blue light, the dense, heavy guitar tone was complimented by Makela’s gravelly wail.

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With song titles like “Greenthumb” and “Grim Reefer,” it didn’t take long to catch on to the herbal theme of their set. After some slight technical difficulty and a snare drum swap, Bongzilla tore through the rest of their murky song list.

Meanwhile, on the side stage, The Atlas Moth sounded amazing, and despite my best efforts, could not get through the impenetrable crowd that had jammed the room for their set. A good vantage point was not to be had and it would remain that way for Elder‘s set in there as well. Foiled, I returned to finish out Bongzilla’s show, grab a beverage, and get some face time with friends from home that had made the trip.

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I honestly didn’t know what to expect from San Diego’s Earthless, other than the fact that Off! drummer Mario Rubalcaba was in the band which already got my hopes way up. They made their way to the stage, and guitarist Isaiah Mitchell gave the crowd a heartfelt thank you for their attendance, then got down to business—serious jam business.

Earthless is a jam band, but not in a Phish or Widespread Panic sort of way. Think of Jimi Hendrix with a heavier, stoner rock sound jamming his ass off with Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell, and you’re on the right path. This was fun, precise, and all-around righteous rock and Earthless definitely killed it.

Bassist Mike Eginton, while sounding great, hid himself so far back near his bass rig that he was nearly offstage. The soul of the band was Mitchell’s guitar, but the backbone of the band was the driving beat of Rubalcaba. I honestly can’t recall them stopping at any point, flowing from one song to the next in one long, seamless jam.

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A pungent cloud of cannabis hung in the air as Om began their transcendental set. Their music was fit to meditate to, yet had a beautiful heaviness to it. Between the thundering drums of Emil Amos and the monstrous bass of Sleep’s Al Cisneros, it was amazing how something so heavy could still be so moving and beautiful.

Al abruptly stopped midway through one song to “get a bass amp that works.” Once plugged in, he hit a bass chord, and his sound had grown quite a bit with the more effective equipment. The song restarted from the beginning with a fuller sound, the audience applauding the improvement.

A unique piece of Om’s puzzle was Lichens, the alias of Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe. Seated at a table at stage left, Lowe was the perfect touch to round out Om’s music, adding tambourine, keyboards, superb vocals, and a guitar with a sound resembling a sitar to the mix. The packed-full house was surely elevated to a higher state of consciousness—musically, spiritually, and chemically.

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One more brief set break, and the time had come for doom metal legends Pentagram to close out Psycho California. The lights went down, and the illuminated eerie gaze of the woman on the backdrop was all that could be seen. The intro played out, and the esoteric figure of singer Bobby Liebling came into view, followed by a joyous roar from the crowd.

Opening the set with “Wheel of Fortune,” the band sounded superb from the start. Bassist Greg Turley was a force of nature, and combined with the drums of Minnesota Pete Campbell, made the backbone of their sound akin to a thunderous stampede. With longtime guitarist Victor Griffin bowing out of the fest for personal reasons, Matt Goldsborough, currently of The Skull, filled in on guitar. Fitting in comfortably, Matt did a fine job fitting in, as evidenced by the fan reaction as he hit the opening chords of the classic “Forever My Queen.”

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The band began playing the album First Daze Here in its entirety, going into “When the Screams Come,” “Walk in the Blue Light,” and right down the tracklist. There was no bigger cheerleader in the crowd than former Pentagram member and Bedemon founder Geof O’Keefe, rallying the band on from the security pit.

Liebling was his usual manic self, cavorting his body and contorting his face as he sang through the bands’ classic songs and sounded great doing it. Glad to see that cleaner living is paying off and treating him right.

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The album portion ended with the final notes of “Last Days Here,” but the band continued on with “Sign of the Wolf (Pentagram),” “Dying World,” and finished out the night and the fest with the hard-driving “Relentless.” Despite a bit of a rotating lineup of late, Pentagram still has the dark spirit that has fostered a love that the fans have carried with them all these years. With talk of a new album around the corner, it would seem that these are not Pentagram’s “Last Days Here,” and that suits me just fine.

The last notes played, the lights came up, and the staggered shuffle to the parking lot began, putting the final mark on Psycho California. A festival such as this one, paying tribute and giving a stage to many of today’s top stoner, doom, and sludge bands has been a long time coming. Despite the very few problems, mostly with the venue (the side stage could definitely use a bigger space!), Psycho California was a resounding success, and the music, good vibes, plentiful herb, and sense of community among the fans made it a fantastic weekend of music for all.

PENTAGRAM

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OM

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EARTHLESS

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BONGZILLA

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TOMBS

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TRUCKFIGHTERS

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WO FAT

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BANG

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MOTHERSHIP

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LOOM

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THE PEOPLE OF PSYCHO CA

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