Streaming toward Mandalay Bay Events Center to catch Saturday-night headliner The Original Misfits, Psycho Las Vegas’ crowd came face-to-face with New U Life National Convention attendees leaving their closing reception.
It made for a comical and memorable contrast—Psycho fans in black band T-shirts. New U Lifers in all-white suits and dresses—but it also drove home an important truth about the four-year-old music festival’s new home: Mandalay Bay is massive, big enough to simultaneously host two major gatherings, with loads of room left over for folks blissfully unattached to either stoner-rock or homeopathic, anti-aging products.
For its first three years in Las Vegas, Psycho took over the far-more-compact Hard Rock Hotel, filling it with metal and psychedelic music, fashion and camaraderie. To be sure, not everyone on that property during the festival was attending, but they were the outsiders, as if they'd stumbled into a poison ivy patch soundtracked by Pentagram, Neurosis and Sleep.
At Mandalay Bay, Psycho worked hard not to blend into the tropical-themed background, dotting the casino with the festival’s logo and bands and turning the Rhythm & Riffs Lounge just off the parking garage into Psycho ground zero, staging sounds that felt Vegas-appropriate (the funk of Polyrhythmics, the soul of Monophonics) and those that pushed the envelope (the sax-spiked metal of Yakuza, the trippy surf of LA Witch). And yet, there was no denying: Psycho got swallowed up a bit by Mandalay Bay.
You could feel it in the three main venues. Mandalay Bay Events Center holds 12,000 bodies, compared to 4,000 at the Joint, the Hard Rock’s biggest room, so it wasn’t a huge surprise to see the former (maybe) half-full for headliners Electric Wizard (Friday) and Opeth (Sunday) and well-short of capacity even for the weekend’s top single-draw, The Original Misfits.
Fire code at the fest’s new club space, the House of Blues, is around 1,800, versus 650 at the Hard Rock’s Vinyl; and Mandalay Bay Beach could gobble up the Hard Rock’s Paradise Pool grounds like a side salad. In every respect, the scale felt different, resulting in some less-than-stuffed rooms for many of the weekend’s performances.
All of which is to say that, from an audience member’s perspective, Psycho Las Vegas 2019 was a dream. Scrambling over late from Dead Meadow at House of Blues to Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats at the Events Center? You still got a primo spot, either on the floor or in the stands, from which to enjoy that arena’s consistently excellent sound and lighting. And on the flip side, when biggish names like Glassjaw, Phil Anselmo’s En Minor or “surprise,” unannounced act Integrity played House of Blues, everyone interested got in (and again, experienced routinely expert sound), without security having to resort to the dreaded “one in/one out” policy prevalent at other boutique festivals utilizing intimate venues.
Oh, and concerns over the longer distances between stages at Mandalay Bay, compared to those at the Hard Rock? Overblown, even for those in a hurry. Moving from the Events Center to House of Blues typically took under 10 minutes at a casual pace, and multiple ways into the Beach made that easy to access from anywhere.
If anything got lost in translation, it was that outdoor segment. Though the idea of splashing around in the wave pool or floating on the lazy river while rocking out to Deafheaven or ex-Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan seemed novel, the sprawling aquatic center’s primary attractions shut down while bands were onstage. And though you could stand knee-deep in the water while watching The Black Angels or YOB, sound at the Beach was consistently subpar and muddy.
It wasn’t enough to bring down the mood, however, and a lot of that credit goes to Mandalay Bay’s generous policies and excellent staff. Where the Hard Rock disallowed entering or exiting a venue with any beverage in hand—water or beer, even if it had clearly been purchased from another point of sale inside the hotel—Mandalay Bay fully encouraged it, providing cups to those walking up with bottles and cans, then sending them inside without a hassle. It surely cost the hotel in the beer-sales department, but it more than made up for that in good will.
As much as any ear-pummeling number or head-spinning light show, that friendly, accommodating atmosphere—created by Mandalay Bay staffers ranging from the smiling ushers at the Events Center to the expert servers at the Border Grill’s Sunday brunch—helped Psycho extend its streak of success in Vegas. Surely, part of that welcoming atmosphere can be attributed to the hotel’s financial struggles since the October 1, 2017 mass shooting took place there, but it never felt forced or strategic. Those smiles were real, and MGM Resorts, and Mandalay Bay specifically, earned serious kudos for treating a strange gaggle of metalheads like family.
Psycho’s organizers also deserve major credit, not only for continuing to program the festival in a unique and interesting way (where else in North America can you witness the dream-pop of Beach House and the prog-metal of Opeth back-to-back on the same stage?), but also for filling last-minute gaps in the lineup—caused when Oranssi Pazuzu and Rotting Christ dropped out for Visa-related reasons—with solid replacements Sumac and Weedeater. And don’t forget, Psycho stepped up to book The Original Misfits, replacements themselves for originally scheduled headliner Megadeth.
What does the future hold for Psycho Las Vegas? The fest’s founder has already told the Weekly the fest plans to return to Mandalay Bay next year, though it will surely make adjustments, as it did throughout its stay at the Hard Rock. A couple suggestions would be to 1) curtain off a chunk of the Events Center (or move the stage toward the center) in order to ramp up audience energy, and 2) provide frequent live updates on social media, so fans know if their favorite band is running late or schedule changes have taken place.
Here’s hoping no one involved feels pressured to supersize Psycho by bringing in bigger, less-interesting acts in order to sell more tickets, resulting in a watered-down musical experience, plus longer lines into the festival’s smaller spaces.
Really, not much needs fixing, from a fan perspective, at a festival where you can sleep just upstairs from the stages, duck into Hubert Keller and Akira Back restaurants for dinner and never have to hear the words Porta-Potty. If that’s not the future of music festivals, we’re not sure what is.