Spread across two venues two blocks apart, four stages between them, Denver Psych Fest, in its second year, proved a memorable experience. The walk between the Larimer Lounge and the Savoy Events Center -- as well as the Big Wonderful Sustainability Park between them -- was easy to navigate, and the soothing sounds of Rum Tum sure proved a fitting end to the outdoor stage as the sun went from dusk to dark.
As with the well-known Austin Psych Fest, the term "psych" wasn't limited to overtly psychedelic rock bands. Instead, the lineup was a fairly eclectic line-up of a broad range of what might constitute "psychedelic music." If there were clear disciples of Roky Erickson, Pink Floyd or Red Krayola, it was hard to tell.
Instead we got the folk and jazz-inflected otherworldliness of Ancient Elk and its weaving together of melody and atmosphere in a way that transports and grounds at the same time.
Pale Sun played a darker, more brooding set in a similar spirit. The subtle details within each moment of music took you out of your usual mode and instilled a vibrant emotional experience. Pale Sun's set was greatly enhanced by the visuals projected by Mario Zoots on the back wall, with angles and rendered into circles pulsing with shifting hues.
Pale Sun performed in the smaller room on the ground floor of the Savoy, and in the large ballroom on the second floor, Snake Rattle Rattle Snake exorcised some demons as Jeromie Dorrance worked his own visual wizardry over the band and against the wall. It looked like Hailey Helmericks was conducting some kind of ceremony, with the stage draped in broadly swirling iridescence. The band's sound now is a dark, moody post-punk with an energetic drive running through.
Downstairs the more rock and roll side of psychedelia was represented in the garage rock sense with a blistering performance from Colfax Speed Queen. Ostensibly, virtually a punk band, but the guitars meshed with disorienting wails when not riding the irresistible rhythms created between the bass and drums. A bit like Ex-Cult in transcending just punk and psych garage and delivering a supremely visceral show, Colfax Speed Queen had one of the standout performances of the festival and definitely rattled off the dust of mundane life.
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Wild High, over at the Larimer Lounge back patio, had some technical difficulties, but it too showed that straight-ahead rock and roll imbued with ample imagination. Cody Coffey sounded just a little bit like Stephen Malkmus in his prime, without any of the quirky vocal play. But all the guys dressed the part and gave a sense of the kind of band a modern day Lewis Carroll might have dreamed up.
The really weird stuff happened later in the night. Such as Thug Entrancer, joined by Docile Rottweiler's Stefan Herrera, for what sounded like a psychedelic version of industrial and ambient music. Complemented perfectly by Zoots's visuals, which were at times like an extended trip down the wormhole-esque image at the introduction to Dr. Who in the late '70s, processed seamlessly with the dark beats of the music. That dovetailed perfectly into the set Tjutjuna performed upstairs at the Savoy, which unified rock with electronic using, two synths, Theremin, bass and acoustic drums. It was like a rock band playing with electronic-music composition sensibilities. The set was symbolic of the festival's entire lineup. There was a real sense of camaraderie between bands and audience, making Denver Psych Fest really feel like part of something.
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If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.