After the disappointment of a hiatus year in 2017 LEVITATION, the original psych rock music festival produced by members of The Black Angels returns to downtown Austin April 26-29. Reborn a multi-venue festival after disastrous weather incidents at Carson Creek Ranch in 2015 and 2016 forced festival founders Rob Fitzpatrick, Alex Maas and Christian Bland to rethink the camping festival format for the internationally popular niche music fest. The secret to the popularity of the event is simple. The organizers curate lineups they want to see much like independent Austin booking company Margin Walker helmed by Graham Williams. The two groups share that philosophy. It doesn’t hurt that both have impeccable musical taste.
This year’s lineup is appearing at venues primarily situated in the Red River Cultural District plus a few East Austin locales. As expected, the caliber of acts is solid from the bottom of the bill all the way to headliners; The Black Angels, Slowdive, Ministry and Ty Segal. Music fans won’t find a similar bill anywhere else in America. Bookers curating a lineup as unique as LEVITATION has become exceedingly rare with all the consolidation in the festival market which means you should care about this one music fans. Especially if you haven’t heard of most of the acts performing. This event is as much about music discovery as it is about booking great sounds and showing neo-psychedelic art.
Honestly the entire schedule is worth checking out. Since you’re probably not going to buy tickets to every show, we’ll highlight a few we think are worth taking a second look at. Also worth taking a look at is are the incredible official LEVITATION posters the festival commissioned from various local artists ranging from Jaime Zuverza to the festival’s own Christian Bland. Fans can purchase the designs directly from the LEVITATION poster page.
Thursday, April 26
This is going to sound counterintuitive but hear us out… Ty Segall is fun enough to watch and you should, except on Thursday (Segall performs again Friday at Barracuda) when you’d do better to hit Stubb’s BBQ early for openers A Giant Dog (Austin) and Parquet Courts (Brooklyn). Both are known for exceeding expectations live as we can attest. songwriting partners, Sabrina Ellis and Andrew Cashen have consistently made impressive garage punk recordings with their band A Giant Dog but it’s their astounding live performances that have gotten them the kind of attention deserving of an act this talented. Parquet Courts are similar in the way their recordings hint at the greatness you’ll see when you catch them on stage. Their mix of rock, punk with a dash of Americana is hard to classify. Let’s just agree they make good music. After seeing the band perform at Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona a few years ago we went from casual fan to avid.
After Parquet Courts finish, head down the street to Beerland for a noise bomb trifecta of Suspirians, Blushing and Ringo Deathstarr. All three are Austin-based. All three are really fun to watch perform. Besides there’s no better way to kick off LEVITATION than at the seediest, punkest bar on Red River.
Friday, April 27
We’re truly torn on Friday given all the great shows listed on the LEVITATION schedule but one stands out to us for a few reasons. L.A. Witch, DIIV and Ariel Pink at Empire Garage presents a number of positives. This performance is presented by Desert Daze, a sister festival in California. L.A. Witch were truly great the last time we caught this all-girl act when they come through town. Their Hotel Vegas set was something special. We’ve been keeping track of the West Coast upstarts led by Sade Sanchez. They’re riding the wave of great female-led acts into an exciting year. DIIV might be the most suspect recommendation of this lineup as lead vocalist, Zachary Smith must have been really high during his LEVITATION Fest set a few years ago. The performance was good, but not what was advertised. He kept repeating the same lame stage banter. Perhaps he was nervous? That said we’re looking forward to a “make-up show” of sorts. Headliner, Ariel Pink put on a visually explosive performance when we saw the LA artist also known as Ariel Rosenberg at Mohawk in 2016. We missed seeing the band’s gig at The ‘Hawk last year thus the group’s appearance in this preview.
Saturday, April, 28
The conundrum that is Saturday’s lineup choices is one we wouldn’t put on any devoted psych-rock fan. There’s just too much good music happening on Red River. A clone (or two) would be nice. Assuming you don’t have a clone either, we made some hard decisions for you. Get out early Saturday for The Rotten Mangoes set at Cheer Up Charlie’s. Known for great cocktails, this the perfect place to catch one of our favorite local acts deliver a sonically pleasing psychedelic experience while you sip a quality libation at happy hour. We recommend the Golden Ticket with kombucha, whiskey, ginger and lavender. After you can hang around for South Americans, Boogarins or try door number two…
Head across the street to Stubb’s for Alex Maas’ latest project, Mien. Comprised of Maas and members of the Horrors and The Earlies, the experimental psych rock group takes different approach to similarly dark material of The Black Angels. Electronic horrorscape act SURVIVE perform following Mien. The group gained notoriety by writing the theme song to hit Netflix show “Stranger Things.” Headliner, Slowdive is an example of the type of act the festival founders loved as young music fans (the band formed in England in 1989) and booked for the festival when it became apparent the group had been relaunched via a new Twitter account after band members changed musical direction in 1995.
Side note: If you’d rather dance your ass off late Saturday evening, head to Empire Control Room and Garage for Austin’s answer to LCD Soundsystem, The Octopus Project. DJ Dan Deacon will take it home after Octopus Project.
Sunday, April 27
Our recommendation for Sunday might seem obvious. Go see The Black Angels at Stubb’s BBQ. But don’t just go to see the legendary neo-psych pioneers headline the last night of their festival. Don’t get us wrong. It’s going to be amazing. Particularly with visuals from the Mustacio Light Show enhancing your viewing pleasure. But get there early for Austin’s Annabelle Chairlegs who open the show. The group is one of our favorite local acts precisely because their approach to psych-rock is decidedly different than many of their contemporaries. Lead vocalist Lindsay Mackin puts a decidedly pop spin on the songs while guitarist Matt Schweinberg melts faces with his solos. We’re eagerly anticipating their upcoming new album.
San Francisco sister act to TBA, Brian Jonestown Massacre is no stranger to the festival having played LEVITATION twice before. Catch them just prior to The Black Angels closing set. We usually trip out on tambourine player Joel Gion’s massive sideburns and retro-chic clothing while watching bandleader Anton Newcombe shred on guitar.
Tickets to LEVITATION are available for most shows scheduled. Check the festival website for more information.