When Psycho Las Vegas lost its Saturday-night headliner, Megadeth, just two months before the festival, organizers Evan Hagen and Ronnie Exley didn’t panic. They surveyed the scene for possible replacements, and less than two weeks later they’d confirmed one with arguably more buzz: the reunited Original Misfits. And though a close connection—a former Psycho lighting director now runs lights for the Misfits—helped, Hagen says it wouldn’t have happened without support from the festival’s new partner and home base: Mandalay Bay.
“Mandalay and MGM [Resorts, parent company of Mandalay Bay] really helped make this lineup happen,” Hagen says. “They gave us the opportunity to take a chance on something and go a little out of the box to make it happen.”
Psycho offered refunds after Megadeth canceled (the band scratched most of its tour schedule when frontman Dave Mustaine announced he’d been diagnosed with throat cancer), but Hagen said only a handful of ticket holders dropped out. “We knew Megadeth was our largest headliner, so in Psycho tradition we had to take it to the next level to make it right.”
From August 15-18, Psycho will look to take its fourth-year Vegas endeavor to the next level as well. After three years at the Hard Rock Hotel, the event—built loosely around heavy, psychedelic and metallic music—makes the move to Las Vegas Boulevard, becoming the first major music festival to inhabit a single Strip resort.
“The opportunity came twofold, with the potential sale of the Hard Rock [to Virgin Hotels] and the growth of the festival,” says Sid Greenfeig, vice president of entertainment and booking for MGM Resorts, who booked Psycho alongside Erin Calhoun, MGM’s executive director of booking. “They were looking for an opportunity where they could grow it even more, the stars kind of aligned and we were able to successfully bring it over.”
The long weekend kicks off with Thursday’s Psycho Swim party at Daylight Beach Club (noon-10:30 p.m.), then continues Friday through Sunday at four distinct venues: Mandalay Bay Events Center, known for hosting arena headliners like Maroon 5 and Toby Keith; the intimate House of Blues; Mandalay Bay Beach, which stages music alongside the sand and surf of the resort’s sprawling aquatic area; and Rhythm & Riffs Lounge, an open stage set amid the casino itself.
Though walks between stages will take longer than during Psycho Las Vegas’ Hard Rock Hotel run, access to on-site amenities—already one of the fest’s strong suits—should improve further at the much larger Mandalay Bay. “When you think about all the conventions that go through there—Toyota, Amazon—these are big-time conventions, and that property does a great job with them,” Greenfeig says. “Fans can check out our restaurants, shop, maybe stay at the hotel. You can be as immersive as you want.”
And that, Hagen says, involves the bands on the bill, too. “It’s nice to have everyone in one area, the convenience of having a room on-site,” he says. “The bands also get to stay on property, which is a big plus for fans. At most festivals, the artists are backstage. Here, you can walk out of your hotel room and see your favorite band throwing dice at the craps table. You can interact with them. Psycho is like a giant backstage, and everyone is invited.” –Spencer Patterson
Top of the bill: Catch all three Psycho headliners if you can
ELECTRIC WIZARD (Friday, 9:30 p.m., Events Center) The English doom metal masters, who headlined Psycho’s middle night at 2016’s first Vegas edition, might embody the festival’s sonic ethos better than any other band. Since debuting in the mid-’90s, leader Jus Oborn (guitar/vocals) and a revolving cast of supporting characters that now includes his wife Liz Buckingham (guitar), Simon Poole (drums) and Haz Wheaton (bass) have released nine albums, including stoner-rock favorites Come My Fanatics… (1997), Dopethrone (2000) and Witchcult Today (2007). Live, Electric Wizard’s pairs its hypnotic, relentless riffs with footage from old horror films for a heavy experience unlike any other.
THE ORIGINAL MISFITS (Saturday, 9:30 p.m., Events Center) Tapped to replace Megadeth atop the second-night lineup, this throwback version of the Misfits brings original vocalist Glenn Danzig—who headlined last year’s Psycho fest with his other band, Danzig—back to the fest, along with founding guitarist Jerry Only and longtime bassist Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein, plus drummer Dave Lombardo and rhythm guitarist Acey Slade. The horror-punk patriarchs have performed fewer than 10 times (including a 2017 MGM Grand Garden Arena gig) since returning to the stage in 2016, stuffing their sets with classic cuts like “Last Caress,” “Night of the Living Dead,” “Hollywood Babylon” and “Halloween.”
OPETH (Sunday, 9:30 p.m., Events Center) Considering ducking out early on the festival’s final night? Don’t. These Swedish prog-metal mainstays are playing just one U.S. show in 2019, and this is it. The band, which began releasing music in 1995, now comprises leader Mikael Åkerfeldt (guitar/vocals) plus Martín Méndez (bass), Martin Axenrot (drums), Fredrik Åkesson (guitars) and Joakim Svalberg (keyboards). Several Opeth albums are considered progressive metal benchmarks, including Still Life (1999) and Blackwater Park (2001), and the band is preparing to release its first studio LP in five years, In Cauda Venenum, on September 27—in both English and Swedish language versions.
Heavy hitters: Names you should know at Psycho 2019
BEACH HOUSE (Sunday, 7:15 p.m., Events Center
Who: The current standard-bearers of dream pop, Baltimore’s Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally have spent the past 15 years putting out acclaimed albums with a live show to match.
Spin: Last year’s triumphant 7, which closed with “Last Ride,” a song that exhilarated and alarmed the band’s fanbase with its beautiful slow-build and allusions to death.
Catch because: At a festival rooted in psychedelic rock, there might not be a more hypnotic experience than Beach House. Legrand’s rich voice floats amid an entrancing accompaniment of lights silhouetting her, Scally and touring drummer James Barone.
THE BLACK ANGELS (Saturday, 11 p.m., Beach)
Who: Austin psych warriors celebrating 15 years since they began creating dark, fuzzed-out rock in their garage. The current lineup features founders Stephanie Bailey (drums), Christian Bland (guitar) and Alex Maas (vocals/bass), along with guitarist Jake Garcia and keyboardist Kyle Hunt.
Spin: Debut album Passover (2006) still makes for the best starting point (you’ll likely recognize opener “Young Men Dead” from various films, TV shows and video games), but don’t miss latest LP Death Song (2017), which adroitly toes the line between catchy and trippy.
Catch because: The Angels are closing out Saturday at the Beach, an ideal setting for their expansive sound.
CLUTCH (Saturday, 7:15 p.m., Events Center)
Who: Bluesy, stoner-rock demigods from the Maryland suburbs of D.C., known for their work ethic and fervent fanbase. Clutch’s lineup—vocalist Neal Fallon, guitarist Tim Sult, bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster—has stayed together for 28 years, putting out 12 LPs and touring up to nine months annually.
Spin: Earth Rocker (2013) jump-started a late-career renaissance that found the band simplifying its sound on anthems glorifying the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle.
Catch because: You never know what you’re going to get—in a good way. Clutch prides itself on making every show stand out, to the delight of die-hard fans who follow tours for weeks at a time.
DEAFHEAVEN (Sunday, 8:40 p.m., Beach)
Who: A strong candidate for most influential metal band of the decade. The San Francisco act’s blend of black metal, shoegaze and post-rock—termed “blackgaze” and expertly honed on 2013 breakout Sunbather—has spawned a crowd of imitators. Love it or hate it, you have core Deafheaven members George Clarke (vocals) and Kerry McCoy (guitarist) to thank.
Spin: New single “Black Brick” illustrates how Deafheaven has remained exciting half a decade after its initial buzz. Last year’s Ordinary Corrupt Human Love LP suggested the band had softened a bit, but this song arrived as arguably the group’s most abrasive track yet.
Catch because: You’ll probably never catch Deafheaven poolside again.
GLASSJAW (Friday, 5 p.m., House of Blues)
Who: Long Island post-hardcore heroes who inadvertently helped launch the commercial emo and punk outbreaks of the early-to-mid 2000s. They’ve been enigmatic since, disappearing for years without notice, while toying with genres like dub and noise rock on sporadic releases.
Spin: Worship and Tribute, the group’s introspective 2002 triumph, placed so much pressure on the band it might have knocked its career off course. Glassjaw went on its first hiatus soon after, reportedly fought with record label Warner Bros. and didn’t release another LP for 15 years.
Catch because: Nothing else at Psycho sounds remotely like Glassjaw, which is both more exploratory than most of the bill’s metal acts and more traditional than the fest’s experimental contingent.
GOATWHORE (Friday, 8:30 p.m., House of Blues)
Who: A New Orleans band at the nexus of death metal and black metal that released its first album in 2000. Longtime guitarist Sammy Duet and vocalist Ben Falgoust remain in the touring lineup, along with drummer Zack Simmons and bassist Robert Coleman.
Spin: Goatwhore’s latest LP, 2017’s Vengeful Ascension, provides the best sense of the current sound—Metalinjection.net compared it to “a moshpit that opens at the beginning of a set and never closes”—and the bleak lyrical content.
Catch because: You shouldn’t wear a Goatwhore shirt unless you’ve seen the band live at least once.
GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR (Friday, 5:30 p.m., Events Center)
Who: Canada’s esteemed experimental-rock export, a collective that swells close to 10 members—including founders Efrim Menuck (guitar), Mike Moya (guitar) and Mauro Pezzente (bass)—in concert. The group went dark in 2003 before returning in 2010 and adding three new albums to double its LP output.
Spin: Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven, the group’s 2000 masterwork, which is split into four, side-long pieces combining composed instrumental music and found-sound fragments.
Catch because: Godspeed’s breathtaking live show—which pairs spine-tingling epics with looped film projections—has never made its way to Las Vegas … until now.
MARK LANEGAN (Saturday, 7:35 p.m., Beach)
Who: The 54-year-old former lead singer of ’90s Washington State grunge mainstay Screaming Trees, who has released a string of albums under his own name beginning while that band was active and continuing since its 2000 demise.
Spin: New record Somebody’s Knocking won’t be out until next month, so circle back to 2004’s shadowy Bubblegum, described by The Guardian as “powerful enough to take your breath away … a staggering record.”
Catch because: Lanegan’s live sets are typically retrospective affairs featuring gems from throughout his solo career, along with well-chosen covers.
New to you? 10 Psycho acts to discover (if you haven’t already)
AMENRA (Sunday, 11:30 p.m., House of Blues) The Belgium-based Neurosis acolytes spare no expense for their shows, which include unnerving visuals and often find frontman Colin H. van Eeckhout pushing the performance-art envelope.
CANDY (Friday, 12:15 p.m., House of Blues) Debut album Good to Feel (2018) belongs in a time-capsule as an example of late-2010s hardcore—blazingly fast with a heavy, metallic edge and a bit of challenging noise.
GRAILS (Saturday, 5 p.m., House of Blues) Sixteen years after the release of its first album, this Portland outfit continues to produce emotive, instrumental post-rock anthems, most recently on 2017 LP Chalice Hymnal.
HAVE A NICE LIFE (Sunday, 2:35 p.m., House of Blues) The Connecticut cult band—best known for gothy, shoegazey, droney 2008 debut Deathconsciousnes—is prepping third album Sea of Worry for release later this year.
HOWLING GIANT (Thursday, 2 p.m., Psycho Swim at Daylight) The five-year-old Nashville trio fuses soaring space-rock with proggy metal flourishes for a kaleidoscopic sonic journey.
IDLE HANDS (Thursday, 1 p.m., Psycho Swim at Daylight) Gothic grunt metal might be the best way to describe this Portland act, which combines Iron Maiden-esque instrumentation with Cure-leaning vocals.
ILSA (Friday, 2:35 p.m., House of Blues) Like your sludge metal laced with horror imagery, Satan worship and strident anti-facism? These doomy D.C.’ers have you covered.
NOTHING (Friday, 10 p.m., House of Blues) Philly hardcore veterans Domenic Palermo (Horror Show), above, and Aaron Heard (Jesus Piece) have struck gold with this shoegaze-y project, which sprinkles in hints of the aggression for which they’re known.
TOBACCO (Saturday, 8:30 p.m., House of Blues) Pennsylvanian Thomas Fec brings hazy, heart-stirring psych-pop—and memorable visual projections—to the stage with his band, Black Moth Super Rainbow, or when he performs under his nom de plume, Tobacco.
TOMB MOLD (Saturday, 1:35 p.m., House of Blues) These Toronto-based masters of modern death metal are almost guaranteed to pack the most riffs into a single set.
Throwing curveballs: The far outliers among Psycho’s diverse 2019 lineup
Psycho Las Vegas might primarily be considered a metal and psych festival, but since its inception, founder Evan Hagen has mixed in some of his favorites in other fields for added flavor. Past examples have included comedian Brian Posehn and Afro-soul act The Budos Band in 2016; Ethio-jazz godfather Mulatu Astatke and masked synthwaver Gost in 2017; and African desert-blues collective Tinariwen, Cambodian-rock band Dengue Fever and Stranger Things electronicists Survive last year.
This weekend should be no different. San Francisco’s Monophonics will bring sunny soul music to the Rhythm & Riffs Lounge Thursday at 11 p.m. and again Saturday at 9:45 p.m. French electronic producer Perturbator will look to turn the Beach into a synthy dance party Friday at 11 p.m. Instrumental Seattle jazz-funk unit Polyrhythmics spice up Rhythm & Riffs Sunday at 5 p.m. And LA’s Twin Temple will perform doo-wop ditties about—what else?—Satan, Sunday at 10 p.m. inside the House of Blues. Variety, indeed.
PSYCHO LAS VEGAS August 16-18, times vary, $109/day, $249/festival. Psycho Swim: August 15, noon, $35. Mandalay Bay, vivapsycho.com.