Psycho Las Vegas Overtook Sin City's Hard Rock Hotel for Four Days of Doomed-Out Hesher Bliss

Psycho Las Vegas fulfilled every hesher’s fantasy of wandering around the Hard Rock Hotel stoned out of your mind watching Sleep, Alice Cooper, Candlemass. and more.

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31 August 2016, 9:01am


Witch Mountain / Photo by Hillarie Jason

After three years of terrorizing Southern California, Psycho California hopped over to Sin City this year and, like a demented Pokémon, evolved into Psycho Las Vegas to fulfill every hesher’s fantasy of wandering around the Hard Rock Hotel stoned out of your mind while alternating between gambling, getting wasted, smoking cigarettes indoors, eating Mexican food, flaunting your tattoos, and, of course, watching a seemingly endless onslaught of metal bands perform.

There was a decent handful of return acts (Sleep, Pentagram, Dead Meadow, and Elder among them) as well as a few weirdo wild cards (The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, the guy from Murder City Devils doing an acoustic set in a gastropub called Culinary Dropout) and a couple of classic, bigger-name headliners—Alice Cooper and Blue Öyster Cult—that felt absolutely at home on the stage of the Hard Rock’s massive in-house venue, appropriately named The Joint, and showed how far the festival has come since its conception. It’s one thing to book an incredible lineup of bands that typically play mid-sized clubs—say YOB, Acid King, Boris—but another to summon a rock ‘n’ roll god with an epic stage show like Alice Cooper to top the lineup.


The Crazy World of Arthur Brown / Photo by Hillarie Jason

But by and large, everything felt pretty seamless. The hotel was quite literally taken over by metalheads for the entirety of the weekend, confusing basic bro partygoers who flock to the Hard Rock’s thoroughly out-of-control EDM pool party known as Rehab every weekend. (Pasty, long-haired festival-goers were equally puzzled to find that they couldn’t cool their hangovers by the pool in the middle of the day without practically being strip-searched due to the high prevalence of ecstasy tablets and roofies that the staff is constantly confiscating from Rehab folk.)

While there was something delightfully cheesy about the Hard Rock trying to lure patrons to its Affliction store and in-house tattoo parlor and proudly displaying an outfit that Sully Erna from Godsmack wore on stage in its lobby, these environmental elements only served to delight the Psycho crowd with their earnestness and silliness. After all, Vegas lets everyone feel like a Lemmy (RIP) in their own rite. I’m GLAD that blackjack table just took half my paycheck—fuck it all!


Alice Cooper / Photo by Tabor Wordelman

The vibe wasn’t unlike that found at now-defunct ATP festivals (also RIP), which often saw incredibly curated lineups inhabiting strange spaces—an Icelandic military base, a dilapidated seaside resort, an abandoned Jewish country club—and where both concert-goers and bands could stay, and party, on site. As with ATP, Psycho LV felt like a bizarro summer camp, one where the only activities on the board each day are to headbang, consume as much beer as possible, and flirt with other people who love Mudhoney.

But, most, importantly, the music was phenomenal, with spirits as high as guitar solos were long. Here are some of the best acts from Psycho Las Vegas, which is inching closer to becoming one of the greatest metal festivals in the world and honestly made all of the people Instagramming from FYF this weekend look like a bunch of fucking nerds.

Elder


Photo by Hillarie Jason

Though they’ve always had a knack for sounding great live, Elder had practically everyone swaying in unison to their fat, proggy, articulate doom metal during their Friday set. The only thing missing was a wind machine and an ultra-high-powered fog machine, which could have turned the room into a Lord of the Rings-esque wizard tower. Their spell was cast, and everyone present was under it, sucked into a mythology that seemed to be unfolding with every riff.

Drive Like Jehu


Photo by Hillarie Jason

Drive Like Jehu had the misfortune of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Despite being one of the most hyped and energetic bands that played this weekend, they were caught in the wrong audience. Their Friday set overlapped with The Shrine—who were particularly well-attended—and Shroud Eater, and thus the band found themselves playing to less than 200 people when they’ve easily sold out venues such as New York City’s Irving Plaza (capacity: 1,025) and Seattle’s Showbox (capacity: 1,100) in the past year since reuniting. But their mathy post-hardcore was perfectly executed and loud as hell, and those who did show up remained enthusiastic despite the strangeness of the near-empty room.

Danava


Photo by Hillarie Jason

Portland, Oregon’s Danava came to party, and were zero-percent shy about expressing it. In between flailing their navel-length manes around and offering shitloads of hot licks, singer Dusty Sparkles (née Gregory Meleny) offered a truly hilarious compendium of stage banter game that mostly focused on the band’s love of drinking and drugs (a bottle of whiskey was passed around throughout their set) and revised names for their songs, such as “Suck My Dick.” It was like watching a live reenactment of The Decline of Western Civilization Part II, if the music was more Hawkwind and less Ratt.

Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats


Photo by Tabor Wordelman

It’s hard to believe that Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats have been around for less than a decade, since they’ve done a great job of winning over a pretty huge stoner metal fanbase, who, to be fair, aren’t particularly skeptical by nature. Just give us a shitload of distortion pedals and some warlocks yowling into a mic. But if you couldn’t get into any of Black Sabbath’s final tour shows this summer, your next best bet is probably to go watch these Cambridge rockers, who overlay triumphant, melodic Master of Reality riffiness with carpet-burn fuzz. When they took over the Joint and torched through “Death’s Door” and “Over and Over Again,” the psychos swayed in unison like cobras dancing to a demented flute.


Midnight


Photo by Tabor Wordelman

Rust belt heroes Midnight played the pool stage on Sunday night, ripping through their speedy, thrashy, punky moshpit fare as delighted, blacked out fans slammed into each other and nearly knocked each other into the water time and time again. Songs like “Evil Like a Knife” and “Lust Filth and Sleaze” pack a huge punch on record, but took on an entirely new form of destruction when torn through beneath the palm trees lining a hotel pool in Vegas. Finally, the band leapt off the stage with a ball of fire in a display of impromptu pyrotechnics and extinguished it by jumping into the pool themselves.

Candlemass


Photo by Hillarie Jason

There’s always been something almost squirm-inducingly nerdy about Candlemass; maybe it’s their Swedishness, or those hyper-waily vocals that inspired a thousand Dragonforces. They’ve traded out vocalists more than a couple of times since their career began in the mid-80s (check out their highly complex lineup flowchart on Wikipedia), but when they showed up at Psycho LV, they were nothing but resolutely badass. Guitarist Lars Johansson may look like a high school physics teacher who moonlights in a Dream Theater cover band, but he shreds with the best of them. Cheers, Candlemass. Stay Swedish, stay weird.

Sleep


Photo by Tabor Wordelman

It’s hard to believe that Sleep has been reunited for a full six years, and has been touring frequently throughout that time. Their Sunday set only served to cement the fact that they have ridden back into the doom metal canon on dragonback with flaming torches alight, and pillaged loads of new fans along the way (in addition to cementing their status as bongrip metal kings among older heshers). Matt Pike had a busy weekend, as High on Fire also played on Saturday, but it was Sleep’s set—flanked by giant screens that simply showed stock photos of weed plants—that gave everyone a massive bangover. These days, when you hear the opening notes of “Dragonaut,” it’s pretty mandatory to just drop everything and accept the contact high. (Side note: The amount of merch they sold over the course of the weekend looked borderline obscene.)

Electric Wizard


Photo by Tabor Wordelman

If Sleep are the do-no-wrong Beyoncé of stoner metal, Electric Wizard are Rihanna, bearing enough aesthetic similarity but kind of just doing their own weird thing at all times. They didn’t tour between 2002 and 2015, but started hitting the festival circuit last year and don’t seem to be showing any signs of stopping anytime soon. Which is fine, because they’ll still blow out your eardrums in the best way possible. Their molasses-thick guitar tone was like wading through quicksand after eating a whole tray of pot brownies, while their brutal vocals barked through Satanic opium den anthems like “Funeralopolis” and “Black Mass.”

Scott Ian DJing the Circle Bar at 3 AM


Photo by Tabor Wordelman

He didn’t play anything particularly remarkable, but watching Scott Ian of Anthrax nerd the fuck out on Misfits classics while DJing a hotel bar from a laptop in the middle of the night was a novelty no one seemed able to resist. In between Ozzy’s Boneyard hits, Ian would bite his lip and throw up the horns like your hyped-ass dad at a Rush show. Anthrax superfans stumbled around him spilling beer on themselves and doing a really lousy job of not looking starstruck about a man who, yeah, yeah, yeah, is in a seminal thrash band, but these days is kind of just the metal world’s number-one talking head in mainstream media.

Alice Cooper


Photo by Hillarie Jason

There’s one thing that should be said about Alice Cooper: He’s a professional. There are actually many things that should be set about him, but damn, that dude knows how to deliver (even if he is pushing 70). He took the stage with his three guitarists, a seriously over-the-top stage show (yes, he still incorporates a giant live snake), and all of the hits—”No More Mr. Nice Guy,” “School’s Out,” “Billion Dollar Babies,” “I Love the Dead,” as well as tributes to his lost friends David Bowie and Lemmy Kilmister in the form of covers of “Suffragette City” and “Ace of Spades,” respectively. During the latter, the previously composed crowd devolved into an utter frenzy in remembrance of our fallen idol. Was he lip-syncing? Maybe, sometimes. IDK, who cares. He’s a living legend, and if he wants to phone in some of the vocals so that he can focus on running around in a giant puppet costume and pretending to get decapitated, well, that’s just fine. A+ for entertainment value. Alice Cooper is the Neil Young of metal; he’s legendarily cool by default at this point.

When Hilary Pollock isn't editing at Munchies, she's dropping out of life with bong in hand on Twitter.