Roky Erickson Continental Club July 14, 2012
With the arid summer of 2011 fresh in our memories, it's easy to forget that Houston's often a sweaty, swampy mess. Saturday night it was no different, having rained for a week straight.
Though the rain was done by evening, the air was thick and balmy through the night. It was heavy air, the kind that forces folks to smoke their cigarettes faster and down their beers a bit quicker, just to crisp their lips once again.
Inside the Continental Club, the atmosphere was not much different. A swath of bodies had gathered in anticipation, chattering in excitement. They knew what was coming, or at least had been roped in by a knowing friend and were appropriately expectant.
Though he might not lay claim to "household name" status, Roky Erickson is a legend: the storied godfather of psychedelic rock has legions of disciples, including fans as well as followers in his musical footsteps. The crowd assembled at the Continental featured plenty from both camps.
The night followed what has become the familiar pattern for Erickson's shows over the past several years, with the openers playing a standard set before putting in time as Roky's backing band. Saturday it was The Hounds of Baskerville, a raucous blend of bluesy swamp-rock fronted by Roky's son, Jegar Erickson. They were a fitting appetizer, and lent a clue as to what sort of set the night would provide.
After taking the customary break, The Hounds rejoined the stage, playing Roky onto the scene with "Hey Bo Diddley." The crowd cheered, and Erickson grinned. The band switched into "Cold Night For Alligators" and out came Roky's raspy vocals to another big cheer.
The band spent the night powering through big renditions or Erickson's songs, bringing out mostly tunes from his time helming the 13th Floor Elevators and the Aliens. A couple numbers from Erickson's most recent output True Love Cast Out All Evil made it onto the set list, including the wrenching "Goodbye Sweet Dreams."
Jegar shadowed his father most of the evening, adding harmonies and yelping along, while the Hounds' guitarist capably added a bit of flair to the work. They did a fine job, though Jegar needs to work on mimicking Tommy Hall's famous electric jug.
Erickson, with his hoary beard and froggy vocals, provided cues to his fellow musicians, leading them through the set. At times his voice would wind up hidden in the mix, due to its rasp and the overall onslaught provided by the Hounds.
Roky is still a sight to behold; and while his guitar work may not have grand complexity, he does not merely sit on open chords and let the band handle the burden of the songs. Instead, he riffs through, offering up his pleas and visions, and sports a large smile much of the time.
Occasionally his eyes frosted with a hundred-yard stare, and they became the immense, sad eyes of the Santa of psychedelia, that grand gift-giver of Texas rock. They see something we cannot, some frozen moment that plays in a cinema we never enter, despite the metaphors he provides.
Though his eyes did drift, his hands wouldn't, and he remained at the command of his crew the entire night. "Creature With the Atom Brain," "Don't Slander Me" and "Two-Headed Dog (Red Temple Prayer)" came and went, met with much approval from the audience.
At one point between songs, Jegar interrupted the set and apologized for checking his phone so frequently. There was good cause, however -- it was midnight, and time for the crowd to sing Roky a song: "Happy Birthday." Erickson playfully clapped his hands over his ears while the concertgoers sang, seemingly scolding his band for allowing it to occur.
With a catalog full of tunes to choose from, the entire night was a steady build to the encore. As the band announced that "The Wind And More" was the final song, everyone could feel the impending curtain call. "You're Gonna Miss Me" was the first 13th Floor Elevators single, and is likely enough to include Roky in the music history books even if his career had stopped shortly afterward.
It was a fitting close to the night, and though Roky will be missed, hopefully he'll return to Houston soon.
Personal Bias: I wasn't about to pass up the opportunity to see Roky for the first time.
The Crowd: A bouncing mixture consisting of regulars of the 3700 block of Main Street and some genuinely curious kids.
Overheard In the Crowd: Whoops, hollers, and some shouts for several songs from Roky's catalog.
Random Notebook Dump: I can tell people for the rest of my life that I once sang "Happy Birthday" to Roky Erickson. How cool is that?
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Hey Bo Diddley Cold Night For Alligators Goodbye Sweet Dreams The Interpreter Bermuda Creature With the Atom Brain Don't Slander Me John Lawman Two-Headed Dog (Red Temple Prayer) Stand For the Fire Demon Night Of the Vampire Roller Coaster Splash 1 (Now I'm Home) Reverberation (Doubt) I Walked With a Zombie The Wind and More You're Gonna Miss Me