Roky Erickson Continental Club October 1, 2011
Roky Erickson, the godfather of Texas psychedelic music and one of the state's most beloved musical figures, has come far since his days of disabling schizophrenia and poor health. Saturday night he roared through an hour of material that spanned his entire catalog as he looked healthy and fairly at ease. Blasting off with "Cold Night for Alligators," one of the anthems of the Blieb Alien years when he wrote songs about aliens, horror-film topics, or science fiction, Erickson wasted little time laying down the law of the evening: Turn it to 11 and let it rock. Hard. He immediately slashed into the edgy warning "Don't Slander Me." So much for warming up the crowd, which was with the 63 year-old Austinite note for note.
After two more middle-period teasers, Erickson whipped the crowd to frenzy levels with the first Thirteenth Floor Elevators number of the evening, the frenetic, threatening "Roller Coaster." If you lived through that period in Texas, you only need to hear "Roller Coaster" once to understand why so many parents feared the Elevators and the authorities marked them for trouble and harassment. It was LSD counterculture screaming through a bullhorn, and Saturday night's version was like driving a bulldozer over an ant. The beautiful yet painful "Starry Eyes," one of two songs Erickson sold to Doug Sahm for a smoothie when he was in one of his lowest periods, was the night's only bow toward a slow song, the only song that didn't sound like a template for ZZ Top and 20 other bands who were likewise deeply influenced by the Elevators.
What "Starry Eyes" does do is establish that Erickson could have been a huge force in roots music had he not gone for the harder electric sound. It screamed "Texas."
While Erickson seemed to be in excellent health and good spirits, he still barely engaged the crowd beyond an occasional "thank you" and, when not singing, turned his body so that he was making eye contact with the drummer rather than the audience. No one seemed to mind. It felt somewhat redemptive to see our tragic hero in such a good place mentally, physically, and musically. As is only appropriate, Erickson finished with his only charting single, the Elevators' "You're Gonna Miss Me." A ferocious breakup song, with his crack band of Austin young bucks driving the fire engine these days its meaning transcends to a place far beyond its original intent to something almost like an ironic "Elvis has left the building" departure song and a prophetic warning from some cosmic place where the pyramid meets the eye.
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Personal Bias: My son used to practice guitar in his bedroom to "Don't Slander Me" from the great Roky Erickson tribute compilation, Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye: A Tribute To Roky Erickson. That one still kills me. The Crowd: 101 percent stoners. Overheard In The Crowd: "I'm 10 years younger than him and my hair hasn't been that dark in years."
Random Notebook Dump: At one point during "Night of the Vampire," Erickson smiled at the lead guitar player and seemed almost to say with a wink, "Can you believe I wrote all this shit when I was crazy, and here I am on the other side and I'm still getting paid to sing this goofy stuff?"