The third annual Psycho California fest hosted by Thief Presents (the same people who put together The Day of the Shred) was put on at The Observatory in Santa Ana, CA. The festival focuses on bringing doom, psychedelic, stoner, and sludge metal acts together for a weekend of uninhibited debauchery. For being a fairly new festival, they were about to put on some big acts. Musicians and festival-goers alike had come interstate and across seas to venture to into the black cauldron of doom that was to be brewing over the course of three days.
I started my day at the Monarch main stage with the psych/blues rockers Radio Moscow. Setting the mood with their groovy riffs and 70’s psych influences, they played a couple tracks from Brain Cycles and their self-titled debut. While adding a few more from their latest album Magical Dirt, which showcases their new rhythm section, they knew just what it would take to get people in the mood to stone out in their psychedelic trance.
This was a perfect introduction to the next band Samsara Blues Experiment, who are known for their super heavy psychedelic blues. Hailing all the way from Berlin, Germany, the anticipation for their set was palpable. Bassist, Hans Einselt, walked onto the stage with a joint the size of my arm and basically inhaled it in one drag. This was to be the quintessential image in my brain for how the rest of the festival was going to be. They kept the pace going from start to finish and lived up to the hype.
After meandering about outdoors and peeking into the smaller Grizzly stage, I headed back to the Monarch to catch doom rockers, Conan. People were pouring in for this set and it was probably the biggest crowd of the day outside of the main headliners. These blokes from the UK tore down the house with their nonstop energy. Loud, heavy, and fucking insane—their tone is so massive that it could hardly be compared to anything else on the bill for the weekend. They became the purveyors of that thick bludgeoning sound one hopes for and it continues to echo in my mind.
Following on the main stage was the progressive metal four-piece, Cave In. They haven’t played L.A. in six years, or really anywhere for that matter, so seeing them was going to be an inevitable highlight. The set started out with their space-prog sound—a complete shift compared to the heaviness that was happening minutes prior. The crowd had thinned out a bit which wasn’t all too surprising considering the transition, but that didn’t stop them from bringing their excitement to the stage. You could tell that each member was thrilled to be there and it manifested in the music. Playing tracks from their earlier work, with a focus on the album Jupiter, they had me enraptured and going back to my youth. Their set progressed with that same excitement throughout and truly brought back to life many emotions and memories that goes along with such an iconic band.
Speaking of iconic bands, doom legends Bedemon followed on the main stage. This performance, in itself, was to be one for the books because they were to be playing their FIRST EVER live show. Bedemon consists of alumni from doom metal band Pentagram, with founding member Geof O’Keefe on guitars, bassist Greg Mayne from Pentagram’s 70’s lineup, drummer Frank Hayes, and Wino on vocals. Wino on vocals was a tasteful addition without being showy while letting O’Keefe take the front. The set started out slow, but once they began playing heavy hitters everything picked back up and the crowd was immersed in 40+ years of legendary doom.
I stayed on the main stage for Municipal Waste who fucking stole the crowd with their high energy and seemingly odd slot on the bill. Vocalist Tony Foresta said himself, “You’re probably wondering what the fuck we’re doing here—so are we!” and they dove head first into their thrashing sound. It was just the kind of pick-me-up I needed before I headed outside to drastically slow down the pace.
Seattle’s funeral doom duo, Bell Witch, took the stage and this was a performance that I had been looking forward to since I read the lineup. The intensity and heaviness of their sound shook my core, and what felt like the entire venue, while causing a spiritual experience shattering the world around me. I lost myself in the haunting vocals of both bassist, Dylan Desmond, and drummer, Adrian Guerra. My soul slipped into the abyss of what I can only call a spiritual awakening while their procession carried us all into a different realm of time and space. I left their set feeling rejuvenated and enlightened.
Once I found myself again back in the present moment, I headed back inside to watch Eyehategod.Suddenly, as if on cue, all the crust punks seemed to appear out of thin air. It was as if they were in hiding for this one show alone and had saved all their energy for the pit. Eyehategod drew everyone in with lead singer Mike Williams’ quirky commentary between songs causing the sense of camaraderie to be tangible.
As the evening began to officially wind down, Friday’s headliners, Russian Circles, closed out the evening on the main stage and it was a good change of pace at the end of a twelve hour day. I was able to sit down and lose myself in this power trios melodic sound and take time to reflect on a wonderful first day of Psycho California.
Other highlights of day one included:
More Photos From Psycho California: Day 1
Collaborative write-up: Vana Black and Jon Christensen
Photo Credit: Vana Black