Live music review: LEVITATION 2018 led off with stellar sold-out performances

All photos by Mike Manewitz

Earlier in the week we told you LEVITATION was back from a hiatus in 2017. Last night the festival formerly known as Austin Psych Fest indeed made an impressive comeback in the first of four days of the festival, selling out Stubb’s BBQ and Barracuda then packing a handful of other venues by presenting a carefully curated roster of psych-rock, garage-punk and shoe-gaze that pleased fans at every turn. From the visuals at Dead Meadow’s sold-out Barracuda performance to the non-stop crowd-surfing at Ty Segall’s set to the neo-pysch perfection that Austin’s Holy Wave delivered at Cheer-Up Charlie’s we got treated to a smorgasbord of underground rockers that typically don’t appear on on festival bills together. For that, we have Rob Fitzpatrick and the Reverberation Appreciation Society (festival founders) to thank. 

Ron Gallo opened the Stubb’s show Thursday and by all accounts turned in a worthy performance before local heroes A Giant Dog took up their positions on stage. It’s likely hometown bias, but AGD may have played the set of the evening with another energy-packed show by lead vocalist, Sabrina Ellis and her song-writing partner, Andrew Cashen (guitar) who ended up on his back crowd-surfing during the set closer, Sparks cover song, “Angst in My Pants.” The group is known for their thrashed-out send-ups of obscure hits and this one is a favorite. Not admitting to it, but we may have involuntarily shrieked when Sabrina introduced the song. The rising act signed to Merge Records open for Jack White next month at all his Texas dates including May 2 at COTA. 

A heavily anticipated Parquet Courts set began a slow ramp-up the setlist that won over even dubious attendees who claimed they didn’t know or like the Brooklyn wonders who strangely appeared on the “Ellen” show last week. Their fusion of garage rock, indie rock and Americana is not only hard to pinhole into a single genre, we’ve not heard a variation on a similar theme done quite the same. Parquet Courts are one-of-a-kind. That much is certain. 

Ty Segall followed with his typically loud, in-your-face guitars and a slew of songs. To say the man is prolific in terms of putting out new material would be a gross understatement. The fringe rocker averages about three new albums a year. Who does that? While we enjoyed his relentless pace, we downshifted a moment and left Stubb’s early to catch Austin via El Paso and San Marcos neo-pscych act, Holy Wave at Cheer Up Charlie’s for their album release show.

The group played in front of the outdoor stage with that rock wall adorned with a psychedelic backdrop that had more trippy visuals projected onto the screen during the stellar performance Holy Wave delivered. The six-piece were on point as you might expect a band to be that is about to embark on a multi-city international tour in support of “Adult Fear” the new record the band played in full last night. Grab a copy of that record. Trust us. It’s worth every cent and then some. 

We closed out the night at Barracuda for Christian Bland and the Revelators. Bland is The Black Angels’ lead guitarist and a festival founder. After watching our favorite touring psych-rock guitarist play his own warped compositions as well as a mind-bender of Syd Barrett-era Floyd song, we headed outside for Dead Meadow.

As tired as we were, the jam-oriented D.C. outfit gave us a late second-wind between the extended, intricate jams and the eye-popping visuals projected both behind the band and on the two-story wall along the left side of the outdoor patio. The festival had transformed the Seventh Street club into a psychedelic wonderland. A place to freakout. For a minute we wished we had better drugs. Then thought better of that sentiment and safely headed home with an exhausted grin.