The weather was hotter than normal for Levitation Vancouver’s inaugural year. A record-breaking heatwave kissed the Malkin Bowl’s crowd with endless blue skies and sunglass tanlines. Festival gear was out: tank tops, cheeky shorts, feathers on hats, etc. – all items available at the Eastside Flea Market steps away from the gates. Vendors sold hippie gear and cheap records – temptations hard to resist while stoned. To no surprise, by the end of the second day, most people were sporting their flowy accessories with glazed grins.
Teaming up with Timbre Concerts, Austin Psych Fest came north for the first Canadian version of Levitation. A wide range of bands falling under the vague umbrella of “psych rock” were invited to play in Vancouver this past weekend. Austin’s psychedelic staple, the Black Angels, paired with the Black Lips, created a solid one-two headliner punch. The lineup varied from soul-rocker Curtis Harding to riff-heavy Witch. There were tunes for dudes and dads alike, so to speak. Maybe even the odd dad-dude thrown into the mix.
Montreal’s Elephant Stone were the first band I saw on Saturday (day two of the festival). A shaky start. A false start created by an exploding bass amp caused the band to stop midway through a song twice. However, the show must go on. Singer Rishi Dhir continued onwards figuring out the replacement amp on the fly. As soon as the bass switched for a sitar, amp problems were forgotten. It’s a captivating instrument. They managed to overcome early problems during the set and deliver and admirable recovery.
Mystic Braves were bouncy. Their Levitation biography simply reads: “a 5 piece 60s revivalist group from LA, CA.” Keepin’ it simple, with a definite surfboard vibe: airy vocals, flowy hands, twang, and beachy guitar solos mixed with a tambourine offbeat. The band received a good response, an admirable feat coming from an otherwise mellow crowd.
Levitation having coincided with Music Waste this past weekend could partially be to blame for the smaller crowd. Levitation didn’t sell out. Two festivals with two similar tastes in music were being held on the exact same dates. People were divided. The vibe at the Malkin Bowl was very low-key. Blankets splayed out on the hill, typical of outdoor venues. Most fans stood safely behind fences in the Adult Zone, drinking beer and trying to sneak a cigarette. Meanwhile, day-trippers and those without the funds to buy a ticket lounged on blankets, under tents, outside the venue’s perimeter. The mood was mellow. Not a bad thing, at all. Everything was relaxed. The Black Lips provided the wildest part of the lineup with their beer-soaked punk rock to close the night.
Mr. Elevator & the Brain Hotel opened the Cobalt’s night showcase. The last song was all I saw. The last song was also all I needed to know that this is an exciting band. Finishing with their single, “Nico & Her Psychedelic Subconscious”, ME&BH brought it down. With a piano-forward approach, they may be doomed to be “Doors-y”, but they have the chops to live up to the hype without a drug-fueled frontman. No guitar. Instead, some keyboards with a wah pedal. The crowd cheered as the band closed with a psychedelic crescendo and extended jam.
Portland trio the Shivas followed. Now, this was my favourite set at Levitation, one of those hidden gems you haven’t heard of before a festival. There are no expectations before the set and therefore none to be met, only exceeded. The Shivas delivered simple, hook-filled rock with harmonic “oohs” and “ahs” accented by clever riffs and songwriting. Each song could have been a potential single, containing a catchy chorus. Their high-energy set was sealed with the Nardwuar stamp of approval (his trademark hat was hard to miss in the crowd). With two albums at their disposal, the Shivas knocked out song after song with few breaks in between.
Day two bled into day three. The weather remained the same: hot. The crowd remained the same: mellow. The beer remained the same: expensive. La Luz and Night Beats were early highlights. Curtis Harding followed with his blend of soul and rock. This was a situation where the mellow crowd was a disadvantage. Nobody was dancing to an artist that provides some serious funk. Previously the opening act on Jack White’s last tour, Harding belted out tracks from his latest release, Soul Power. To close his set, Curtis brought out friend and Night Beats bassist Jakob Bowden to jam out a rarely played track. A cool collaboration, yet still, no one danced.
Beach Fossils provided a more appropriate environment for swaying. The Brooklyn boys showed a sense humour, screaming “yes!” into the mic during soundcheck (simulating an orgasm) and practicing the King of the Hill theme song on bass, also during soundcheck. They kept things light. It seemed the sound guys were having a hard time with Dustin Payseur’s guitar. No problem. Jokes continued and the songs kept coming. “We only have time for one more song. Too bad it’s an hour-long jam.” Their shoegaze style was tight and light-hearted.
Witch saw the rowdiest audience. Tongues out and horns in the air. I couldn’t help myself.
The Black Angels, the originators of Levitation, closed the main portion of the festival – a fitting act to finish the weekend. The Austin group is one of the premier bands in psychedelic rock today and an embodiment of the weekend’s mood: mellow, but loud when necessary.
Overall, the weekend was a success. The weather was perfect, and the organization was well done for a first year festival. I’m curious to see if this becomes an annual event. The demand is there. Without Music Waste happening this weekend, Levitation could have very well sold out. Either way, bands named Black, Dead, and Witch descended upon the city, and the freaks came out to play, casting a witchy vibe on Stanley Park and Main Street. Next year, Levitation can only get bigger.