Most music festivals don’t create much of an aesthetic impact on Las Vegas. Concertgoers at rock, hip-hop, and country gatherings blend right into the general crowd; EDM fans stick out, but their bright outfits blend right into the ambient garishness of Sin City. When a metal fest hits a resort, however, you know it — black t-shirts fill the casino with a cloud of darkness. Between August 17 through 19, Psycho Las Vegas took over the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino as the attendees drowned the bacchanalian splendor of the hotel in a sea of battle vests, beards, and unfortunate tattoos.
Not that the unwashed masses weren’t happy to participate in the bacchanalia themselves. Iron Maiden and Khemmis t-shirts sat between Hawaiian shirts and cocktail dresses at the craps tables. A Valhallan quantity of alcohol was quaffed just by the band members alone. And, of course, the semi-legalization of marijuana in Nevada led to many concertgoers experiencing the show in a variety of altered states.
For Psycho’s fifth year in Las Vegas, the festivities moved from the Hard Rock Hotel, which led to a slightly longer walk between some of the stages and a disparity between the upscale splendor of the building and the down-to-earth metalheads. Otherwise, the show fit well at its new locale. Quibbles with merch aside — most of the popular bands sold out of common sizes by the end of Friday — it was well-run despite spanning four stages: the club-sized House of Blues, the arena-sized Events Center, the Rhythm & Riffs lounge in the middle of the floor and the Beach stage in the middle of the casino’s wave pool.
I arrived at the venue just in time to check out The Crazy World of Arthur Brown at the Events Center. The 77-year-old space rock progenitor was still limber, still the god of hellfire, and possibly still on a trip that started in the ’60s. The utter lack of atmosphere in the House of Blues (the Applebees of performance venues) robbed death goths Devil Master of their mystique. Swedish throwback rockers Graveyard proved they could fill an arena stage as capably as any of their classic rock influences. Directly after, Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s post-rock chamber ensemble filled the Events Center with an overwhelming melancholy set to Darren Aronofsky-esque visuals.
Tourists took pictures from the windows of the clump of darkness amassed by the Beach Stage as Yob unleashed thundering waves of their own that shook the thick glass. High on Fire’s Matt Pike turned on thousands of metal dudes with his shirtless physique, shot a video at the show, and got married. Surf bums Fu Manchu felt right in their element on the Beach stage, kicking out the stoner rock jams as fans headbanged in the water. Electric Wizard exhorted drugs and murder with their socially irresponsible doom at the Events Center while Bad Religion brought their socially conscious punk rock to a surprisingly sparse crowd at the pool. Technical difficulties forcibly shortened Perturbator’s set, but their driving darkwave took everyone there to the post-industrial environs of Nocturne City.
Day two started with many hangovers and a set from death metal revivalists Tomb Mold at the House of Blues. Despite a stage presence that consisted of just standing there, they locked into a groove that got the pit moving. Danava played the Rhythm & Riffs lounge in the middle of the casino floor, and while their frontman seemed like he was still drunk from the night before, their greasy 70s rock went down smooth. Old Man Gloom did late bassist Caleb Scofield proud as their suffocating industrial din echoed beautifully through the Events Center.
Unfortunately, I had to miss three of the fest’s highlights — Triumph of Death, Carcass, and Black Mountain — to attend a Vegas wedding, myself. I made it back in time for a killer set from Clutch, who commanded the stage with their stoner-groove jams and Neil Fallon’s charismatic bark. Unfortunately, problems at the House of Blues prevented freakout electronic duo Tobacco from showing their alien porn A/V component. Sumac cleared out the Beach stage either because the Misfits were about to go on or because the post-sludge weirdos’ horrifying noise scared people away.
Several thousand people showed up just for The Misfits, filling the Events Center. Despite technical difficulties that kept towering guitarist Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein offstage for the first few songs, Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only rewarded the faithful with a 90-minute set of horror punk hits. Danzig was in fine form, having a blast and chatting with the crowd as he ripped through classics like “20 Eyes” and “Astro Zombies.” The guy in the pit wearing a giant stuffed shark head found plenty of prey.
Full of Hell brought their powerviolence to a small but appreciative audience at the House of Blues. A little of that went a long way, so I made my way to the Beach stage and crashed in a lounge chair as The Black Angels sent out undulating waves of shoegaze-y feedback. The godfather of doom himself, Scott “Wino” Weinrich, closed out the night at the House of Blues with a kick-ass show from his power trio The Obsessed.
Day three dawned with reunited doomsters Warhorse (90s vintage, not 70s) picking up as if they’d never left off. Weedeater brought their ugly sludge rumble and plenty of whiskey to the Events Center, probably the biggest stage they’ve ever played. 80s third-wave thrashers Vio-Lence provided a quick injection of energy at the House of Blues before Mogwai destroyed the Events Center with a transcendent performance of their cinematic post-rock. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats followed with another of the fest’s highlights. Their sleazy doom rock transported the listener to a scummy ’70s London filled with sex and murder and drugs (so … regular ’70s London).
Truckfighters and their straightforward stoner rock fit in well at the Beach stage. Beach House did not play the beach house — the Events Center housed their low-key shoegaze. The band seemed as surprised as the audience that they were at the fest. Instead, 1349 played at the Beach stage at that time — a poor fit for their purist black metal schtick. The mystery band on the schedule at the House of Blues turned out to be Cleaveland hardcore legends Integrity. The venue wasn’t too crowded, but that gave the fans plenty of moshing room. Deafheaven effortlessly proved that their ethereal blackgaze worked just as well at a pool as it does in a darkened theater.
The most brutal moment of the weekend didn’t come from a band, but rather a tough choice: Opeth’s only show of 2019 in the Events Center or Power Trip at the Beach Stage? Ultimately, the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the Texan thrashers in their unnatural environment won out — and turned out to be the highlight of the entire weekend.
Security gave up trying to prevent moshing in the pool, especially once Riley Gale told the crowd he wanted to see a circle pit in the water at the beginning of “Swing of the Ax (Executioner’s Tax)” and released the Kraken. That performance was hard to top, and Kadavar didn’t, but their dark 70s throwback vibe provided the perfect comedown for the weekend.
After that, it was back to the hotel room to pass out face down on my bed. I’ve already made plans to return next year. Psycho Vegas was a unique experience — a celebration of all things heavy raging under a cloud of black t-shirts.