As I walked in through the looming doors of The Observatory, my senses were instantly bombarded by a potent amalgamation of hazy smoke, deafening music, and blinding lights. It was a complete and total inundation from the moment I stepped inside to the moment I left, and I’ve never felt more at home.
Following months of hype, the first ever Psycho California was held by Thief Presents at The Observatory in Santa Ana this past weekend. To put it lightly, the lineup was fucking stacked, featuring artists such as Sleep, Russian Circles, and Old Man Gloom. These bands and more played over the course of three days on two different stages, with each day consisting of a solid 10 hours of ferociously thick and heavy music. Needless to say it was an exhaustive experience, a true exercise of fans’ dedication and devotion. In spite of these long, arduous days, Psycho CA’s attendees didn’t let up one bit, invoking plenty of circle pits, crowdsurfing, and stagediving. The crowd exuded an immense and constant flow of energy throughout each and every day, intensifying as the day grew older. The bands returned their audience’s enthusiasm in kind, giving vigorous and spirited performances. Even relatively unknown artists were generating much fervor from the audience. Anciients in particular put on an incredible showing, rewarding the festival’s early birds with a great set and a kickass new song.
Thief and The Observatory laid out the three days extremely well, especially given the amount of bands that played. Every band in the festival played for at least 30 minutes, a refreshing twist on the usually short set lengths of unknown bands. This granted the true metal-zealots the time to enjoy their favorite obscure bands, while also giving the not-so-knowledgeable fans time to discover a new band they had probably never heard of. However, this also meant that the subsequent, more popular bands had slightly shorter sets than normal (save for the headlining bands), which despite conventional thinking was a surprisingly welcome adjustment to the norm. Many bigger bands fall prey to the oversaturation of their music during a long-winded live performance, but this was not the case at Psycho CA. It eliminated any jarring and abrupt intermissions that may have occurred, and instead provided the festival with a more tolerable tempo.
Psycho CA almost got away with being the perfect festival, but as is the nature of the industry, sometimes shit just hits the fan. In this case, that proverbial shit came in the form of a visa, or rather the lack thereof. Friday’s headliner, Cult of Luna, was unable to make it out to the states as they could not obtain their visas in time. For myself, and most fans I’m sure, it was incredibly disappointing news, as Cult of Luna are beloved by many metalheads around the world, and are becoming an increasingly rare band to see in the flesh (they announced a hiatus not too long ago). Of course, it’s hard to blame anyone for the mishap, but it still managed to put a minor damper on the festival. I talked with several attendees during the festival and they were even more disappointed than I was at Cult of Luna’s absence. Fortunately, they’ve already announced that they’ll be back in North America come September, and that admission will be free to those that attended Psycho CA, which is a nice consolation to their heart-broken fans.
Related to Cult of Luna going AWOL is the way in which Thief decided to replace the post-metal outfit, which left me scratching my head. On Friday night, Russian Circles was the last band to play and, true to the listed set times, they ended after playing for about an hour. However, on both Saturday and Sunday night, Sleep and Pentagram respectively went over their allotted times, presumably because of their “true” headliner status. Sleep in particular played for almost 2 hours, ending at approximately 1:30am. Normally, I’m all for more music, but it felt inconsistent with Friday’s set, let alone further exhausting the diehard fans who showed up early on Sunday and had to go in to work on Monday. I would have preferred the festival to start (and consequently end) earlier given that Sleep and Pentagram played for so long, and for Russian Circles to play an actual headlining set instead of leaving out a somewhat awkward hole that Cult of Luna was, presumably, meant to fill. In the end, these complaints are ultimately splitting hairs of what was otherwise a great festival, but that doesn’t necessarily discount their validity.
Still, despite these criticisms, Thief deserves a ton of credit for organizing a fantastic festival. Their concern for the attending metalheads was more than apparent as they provided free rides to the venue via Lyft, easily accessible (and cheap) food trucks, and notifications for concert-goers regarding changes in bands’ set times. Furthermore, the addition of Author and Punisher (and his hypnotic visuals) to play in-between each band’s sets was an appreciated arrangement, as it supplied entertainment during the concert’s lulls without overwhelming the various crowd members. Similar to Hammett’s Fear FestEvil, it made me again wonder why more organizers don’t provide some type of distraction during the interlude between bands’ sets. Regardless, Thief should consider Psycho CA a resounding success, and it will no doubt be remembered by many for a long time to come.