Levitation returned to venues across Austin, Texas on Halloween Weekend 2023, Thursday-Sunday, October 26th-29th. This four day multi-sensory experience is for those who prefer digging for deeper cuts in the album bin and the lineup for this year did not disappoint. Levitation 2023 had everything from favorite bands doing DJ sets in the Levitation Lounge, liquid light displays that saturated every surface, and the fuzziest guitars, basses, and keys that made the season change in front of festival goers’ eyes.
Saturday’s lineup featured a triumvirate of modern psych rock legends, The Dandy Warhols, festival founders The Black Angels, and The Brian Jonestown Massacre at The Far Out Lounge. Having headlined several of the past Austin Psych Fests/Levitations, this power trio brought a large crowd out to South Austin early in the day as the warm humid air lingered persistently. Later in the evening, Red River venues welcomed festivalgoers for more intimate encounters.
Capping off the Saturday party at Far Out Lounge was San Francisco, California neo-psychedelic rockers The Brian Jonestown Massacre, who emerged from a darkened stage only illuminated by vertiginous blobs of color projected by the liquid light maker housed at the soundboard. In typical BJM style, frontman Anton Newcombe barked orders at his bandmates making them restart “#1 Lucky Kitty” from last year’s Fire Doesn’t Grow on Trees.
Newcombe, shirtless with amber glasses, floppy hat, and mile long stare coyly moved back and forth from darkness to light throughout the performance. Center stage on his right was the ever present Joel Gion on percussion, sporting shades and signature black beanie while he stared at the sky ecstatically. The two shared a sensitive moment late in the set with Newcombe walking over to Gion to hug and kiss him on the head – a gesture that recognized the strong bond the two share. Performing 13 songs over the course of the evening, the band closed out their set with “Maybe Make it Right” as the harmony of guitars cascaded over the blissed out crowd.
The same night, the legendary Austin venue Antone’s hosted Ghost Funk Orchestra, a New York-based psychedelic ten-piece soul band, that had the revelers jumping along to the sick dance moves and smooth vocals of Romi Hanoch and Megan Mancini. Complete with a punctuating horn section and retro guitar licks, the band added a welcomed funky dimension to the festival lineup. The venue was at near capacity as the band approached midnight.
You wouldn’t be able to tell that the Ghost Funk Orchestra has only been around for a few years since their sound is familiar and comforting. The band is the brainchild of producer and multi-instrumentalist Seth Applebaum who started as a solo recording project that blossomed into a can’t miss live show. The groovy set included a spirited version of “Walk Like a Motherfucker” from the 2019 debut A Song for Paul,and late in the performance they stopped and invited kindred spirit and soul singer Kam Franklin from the Houston-based band The Suffers to the stage.
Those looking for a more subdued and cinematic form of music making found refuge at the goth venue Elysium on Red River at midnight for Mercury Rev’s Clear Light Ensemble. In a nearly darkened room, illuminated only by a black and white subtitled film, Mercury Rev delivered a live film score to Carl Theodore Dreyer’s 1932 classic horror noir Vampyr. This was the second of two Texas shows during the month of October – the Buffalo, New York band presented part one in Dallas the previous evening. After a day of dancing, it took time for heartbeats to slow, eyes to focus, and ears to open as a gently layered score built up to the day and film’s grand finale.
-words: Alex Freeman & Lindsey Sutherland
-photos: Alex Freeman