In the heart of downtown Austin,TX lies The Red River Cultural District, a densely compact area that hosted Levitation Festival for the second year. The area contains some of Austin’s most well known music venues, such as Stubb’s BBQ and Mohawk. The 4-day weekend was filled with music of all sorts, but ultimately permeated with psychedelic acts. Though it was unexpectedly freezing at first, thousands of music fans gathered to watch Levitation’s amazing 4 day line-up. Here’s a recap of my experience!
The 40 degree weather that was causing us all to suffer (yes, that is cold to us southern folk) was quickly overcome by Banhart’s warm and soothing vocals. “Is This Nice” was as delicate in person as it is via streaming. He used up the entire stage to dance around his bandmates and to engage the audience. The audience took a little time to warm up, but the salsa groove of “Mi Negrita” and upbeat nature of “Fig in Leather” got the crowd moving. All through the night he sang blissfully, made purposefully corny jokes, and reminded us that there aren’t enough covers of the “Friend’s” theme song. It was a delightful set. After watching Mr. Banhart perform for the first time, I came to the conclusion that he is a very odd, charming, and talented fellow.
You couldn’t count the number of beanies in the audience when Olsen and accompany were up to perform even if you tried. The gang of 7 wore all black, excluding 2 bandmates who wore different color beanies. Olsen mostly played through her newest release, “All Mirrors,” opening up the performance with “New Love Cassette.” An interesting choice to open with as it gave close attention to the two strings players on stage. Their performance of “All Mirrors” felt somewhat haunting, but peaceful; reminiscent of Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged. Olsen’s vocal range was beautifully showcased on “Summer.” After two relaxing performances from Vagabon and Devendra Banhart, this was a great way to close out day one of Levitation.
The Flaming Lips:
The second day of Levitation Festival started as a bang for me considering my first act of the day was The Flaming Lips. Everything you’ve heard of their live performances, well it’s all probably true. Giant inflatable balls flew through the air while fans were blasted with confetti. Wayne Coyne proved why he’s known as such an amazing frontman. His energy never fell through. The group played fan favorites “Race for the Prize” and “She Don’t Use Jelly.” Wayne expressed his friendship with recently passed Daniel Johnston and followed it with a cover of Johnston song, “True Love Will Find You in the End.” After a few encore tracks, The Flaming Lips ended their performance with “Do You Realize.” This is truly a must-see live band.
Easily one of my favorite performances at Levitation, Kikagaku Moyo delivered one of the most colorful performances I’ve witnessed all year. The Japanese psychedelic five-piece consists of guitar virtuosos. The chemistry that is shared between the members could be heard within minutes of listening to the group. Just from the look of it, the guys are traditional rockstars. I mean every single members has at least 1 foot of hair. There is an obvious Led Zeppelin influence on the group. The hard rock grooves and extensive guitar solos combined with the Indian influence of the sitar reminded me of “Black Mountain Side,” by Zeppelin. Kikagaku’s performance of “Kodama” was hypnotic. As the bass guitar loops along with the percussion, the guitar player screams with a solo. “Smoke and Mirrors” had the audience in silence for a few a seconds and yelling at the top of their lungs the next. The guitar solos were reaching new heights here in terms of volume and pushed the audience’s ears to the limit. Kikagaku Moyo had an unforgettable performance.
By the third day of Levitation, the weather warmed back up perfectly in time to experience some hefty doom metal. I could hear guitars screaming before I even walked to the outdoor section of Barracuda, well that and their lead singer. Lori S. has a knack for her ability to echo her voice over sustained guitar distortion. The sign of the horns were thrown to the sky all across the crowd while Acid King enchanted the audience. “Electric Machine” was as powerful as the size of their amps. The elongated chords of “Busse Woods” served pleasure to not only the metal heads in the crowd, but to the seekers of psychedelia as well. My only complaint was that the show didn’t last for hours.
You would think that after 40 years of performing brutal, high intensity chaos, it would wear you down. However, Flipper would prove you wrong. The low-fi punk legends brought their anarchy all the way from San Francisco and drilled it in everyone’s face this past weekend. Guitarist Ted Falconi seemed a bit modest, but he still shreds, and that’s a fact. Bassist Rachel Theole played fiercely, and stood with enough confidence to kill a bear. Longtime drummer and co-founder Steve DePace held a non-stop groove that’s been aged through his years as a punk drummer like fine wine. Finally, newly addition David Yow had the energy of a bull, flinging himself into the crowd and shouting about his dissatisfaction of the world we live in. “Way of the World” seems to speak just as loud and clear as it did four decades ago. It felt as if we were teleported back to the hardcore punk scene of the early 80s. Electricity passed back and forth through Yow and the audience. People of all ages, some with not a single hair on their body that wasn’t white, pushed, shoved, and crowd surfed. A saxophonist let loose on “Sex Bomb” as David Yow handed the microphone to some lady in the crowd. Yow danced freely and it seemed to liberate the audience as dozens hopped on stage to join him. The saxophonist continued on with her solo and all of a sudden the crowd that appeared so wild turned into a massive dance party. The lady that was handed the microphone earlier lifted her shirt and written on her stomach was the most accurate thing I read all weekend, “FLIPPER STILL RULES.”
Deafening. If I could use one word to describe this performance, it would be deafening. J Mascis is known for his use of guitar pedals, and I could affirm that he did not shy away from distortion. Although his solos were blaring loud, he himself seemed as calm as always. Dinosaur Jr. mostly performed tracks from their most recent album “Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not.” The driving force of “Goin Down” felt much faster live than recordings. Two songs later, they made a drastic transition to a slower track, “Left/Right.” They also played major hits “Feel the Pain” and “Start Choppin,” the latter with an amazing guitar solo. If you plan on seeing Dinosaur Jr. perform live, do your ears a favor and wear some earplugs.
Kurt Vile & The Violaters:
Kurt Vile seems like the most chill guy on Earth. His calm demeanor helped to focus on his band and his playing. Vile is an experienced guitar playing and I believe his skill is most evident when playing acoustic. He has a special way of approaching an acoustic guitar where he creates a certain twang feel. Speaking of twang, the use of a banjo on “I’m an Outlaw” was immaculate. It created a western scenery that played out all night. Vile could have played “Bassackwards” 20 times and I don’t think I would’ve gotten bored for a second. The catchy riff makes it endlessly refreshing. As the night was coming to an end, there seemed to be a folk spirit developing in the air, but most likely just the smoke of some good old sweet leaves.