Last weekend, I attended this year’s Psycho Las Vegas festival. For decades, European music festivals have far outpaced their US counterparts in terms of talent, scale and overall festival management. In recent years however, North American offerings like Chicago Open Air, Rock on the Range and a handful of others have emerged as legitimate institutions in their own rights. And yet it’s one of the more recent additions to the festival circuit — Psycho Las Vegas — that stands head and shoulders above the others.
Going down in Sin City, Psycho Las Vegas is a sprawling, innovative and reasonably-priced four-day event that dropped 80 of the heaviest bands on the planet into the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino for a rousing, end-of-summer, heavy metal blowout. I took a shit-ton of photos, gambled way too much, devoured piles of food at the breakfast buffet and hung out with some truly wonderful people.
Here are ten things I learned at this year’s Psycho Las Vegas:
Bring your battle vests and corpsepaint – the bone-drying heat won’t be a factor.
When Dante wrote about the 9 Circles of Hell, it was implied that Nevada in August was the tenth. If you want to give your sweat glands a workout, try walking a hundred yards in any stretch of Nevada in the summer and you’ll quickly resemble a person who was just pushed into a swimming pool. But any concerns that such apocalyptic heat could plague a summer music festival proved mercifully misplaced.
Unfolding entirely within the grounds of the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, Psycho Las Vegas plays out on four separate stages over the course of the weekend: a small bar in the center of the casino for smaller, up-and-coming acts, the House of Blues inside Mandalay Bay, which can hold over 2,000 people and the Mandalay Event Center, which holds 12,000. There’s also an outdoor stage on the sprawling Mandalay Beach (we’ll get to that later). With the first three stages all tucked within the cool confines of the climate-controlled resort, goths and metalheads can revel in all of the demin, leather and corpsepaint they need without breaking so much as a bead of sweat. Shows at the outdoor stage kick off around dusk – well after the 105 degree temperatures have passed.
Liver be damned, drinking at Psycho Las Vegas is way cheaper than other festivals.
Shell-shocked from the eye-watering $12-15 beers at other festivals? At Mandalay Bay, you’ve got a slew of cheaper options, depending on how dedicated you are to keeping the party rolling at wallet-friendly prices. As with most places in Vegas, drinks are complimentary if you’re gambling on the casino floor, but for non-gamblers, the resort boasts a number of bars and shops were punters can score reasonably-priced beer, wine and spirits. If you’re traveling on a slimmer budget, have no fear – there are a couple of liquor stores in walking distance, where you can load up on provisions. Throw a couple bags of ice in your bathtub and you’re rocking and rolling all night long.
Genre diversity is the key to curating a great festival.
Sure, you could fill up the weekend with thirty black and death metal bands and you’d get a load of headbangers in total aural reverie. But most metalheads have far broader tastes than just one or two genres so the organizers at PSV made sure there was something for everyone this year – black metal, death metal, sludge, stoner rock, punk, thrash, prog, hardcore, doom, post-rock and even pop (Beach House). We didn’t see a single set that wasn’t absolutely raging; every single set surged with throngs of noisy fans. Of course, there’s little point in curating a diverse lineup if you’ve got two bands from the same genre playing at the same time. Imagine the poor sludge fan being force to choose between Weedeater and Warhorse! Thankfully, the organizers spared us any agonizing dilemmas by ensuring that clashing bands represented different styles, allowing us all easy, angst-free choices.
Carcass remain one of the best live bands around.
Walking out to the melodic strains of 1985, the British legends wasted zero time piling into an absolutely ferocious campaign of classics. Their sixteen-song set included arena-friendly belters from 1988’s Reek Of Putrefaction to 2013’s Surgical Steel, all delivered with taut, highly-energized aggression. Bill Steer has long-secured his throne on the pantheon of heavy metal history, gyrating and shredding with the vitality of a twenty year-old and Jeff Walker remains one of British metal’s most engaging frontmen. Don’t ever miss a chance to see Carcass live. Ever.
Chill out options abound.
We’ve all been there — you’re sitting at that massive summer festival and you reach that inevitable state where you could really use a bio break, a bit of food and a place to sit down while you recharge for the next slate of bands. But you’re in this scorching hot field where it’s hard to find shade and the lines to the port-o-toilets look like a scene from 300 and the thought of one more lukewarm slice of cardboard pizza has you questioning your entire belief system. Sure, some might say that’s part of the charm of a festival. Sure. At PSV, your freshly made-up, air-conditioned room is always a five-minute walk away. Plus, there are acres of shops, cafes and pubs throughout the resort if you’d like a side of people watching with your nourishment. There’s also the massive beach encircling a ginormous wave pool and inside there’s a goddamned shark reef, where you can gawk at some of the most fearsome predators in the galaxy, while you safely munch on fries, waiting for Opeth to come out. It’s surreal, man.
Brunch without a dessert bar is an empty, unsatisfying exercise in deprivation.
Mandalay Bay suffers no shortage of restaurants (shout-out to the staff at the Burger Bar!) and their breakfast buffet is as sprawling and opulent as you’d expect. Pretty much any brunchy-type deal one might crave is there, including warm, fluffy stacks of M&M pancakes. I’ll give you a moment to process that. But you’d have to be on crack if you thought that just because I devoured some M&M pancakes, I’d skip the dessert bar, which includes cookies, brownies, cheesecakes, mousse, cakes and ice cream. Plan on not counting calories during the festival. It’s way easier emotionally that way.
PSV is dog-friendly!
For those people driving to PSV from California, Arizona and elsewhere, you needn’t leave your dogs behind for your metallic voyage. The Delano hotel – attached to Mandalay Bay – is not only dog-friendly, but they offer a slew of cushy canine perks, like a doggie room service menu (available 24/7), places to walk and relieve your little buddy and a variety of dog-walking and pet-sitting services. The staff will even text you photos of your dog getting pampered. In the middle of a Tomb Mold beatdown, you can stop and enjoy the happy face of your pup getting an oatmeal facial at the spa! Cats, however, are not allowed at the Mandalay. lol
Vio-Lence are back. Big time.
Thirty seconds into Vio-lence’s piledriver of a set, it’s clear that the band have entered a genuine renaissance. What started out as an odd reunion show or two in the wake of Phil Demmel’s Machine Head departure has revealed that US audiences have a ravenous appetite for the thrashy crossover appeal of Vio-Lence. Their late-afternoon gig at the House of Blues saw punters packed to the rafters and one of the weekend’s livelier pits. And let’s face it – seeing Phil Demmel grinning and shredding away on his Randy Rhoads Flying-V will forever be a beautiful sight to behold.
Glenn Danzig continues to defy the biology of aging.
Danzig’s headlining Saturday night set in the Event Center was the most talked-about and well-attended show of the weekend (per this writer’s subjective assessment), and the legendary five-piece did not disappoint. Danzig himself proved to be as spry and nimble as ever, ping-ponging across the stage, venturing out into the front rows and playfully fielding requests from the fans. You’d be hard-pressed to find many other guys in their mid-sixties delivering such a long and physically-demanding set as Danzig but he appeared in top form from start-to-finish. His banter flowed freely and easily and across almost 30 songs and, with guitarists Doyle Von Frankenstein and Acey Slade, bassist Jerry Only and former Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo, the legendary frontman left the fans sweaty, hoarse and thoroughly satiated.
You never hit a fucking 14 when the dealer’s showing 15.
Seriously, what’s wrong with some people? Day two saw yours truly and a couple of other metal heads communing at a blackjack table, where the dealer was administering a beating of historic proportions. We thought our luck had changed when two of us drew 20s and the guy on the far left in splotchy yellow t-shirt drew a 14. The dealer showed 15. Everybody stays, right? Wrong. The knucklehead to the left hit his 14 and, you guessed it, he drew a King. Which would have busted the house and paid everybody. Instead, he busted, the house hit for a 21 and the rest of us lost. To add insult to injury, on the very next hand, the dealer dealt herself a blackjack. It’s a wonder that yellow shirt guy escaped the table in one piece.
You can totally mosh in a pool!
How are you not going to mosh during a Power Trip set? The Texas thrashers played the late night pool stage and in a matter of minutes, punters in the knee-high area in front of the stage had formed a cyclonic circle pit, with many of the dudes wearing jeans and denim battle vests. Inspiring headbangers to a man, they would not be denied and their splashy, joyous celebration came to define the weekend. I, for one, cannot wait for next year.