Rockin' Roky Erickson provides a moving spectacle

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      If matters seemed a little tense when Roky Erickson first hit the stage with an ever-so-slightly shaky “Night of the Vampire”, last night’s (November 17) concert at the Electric Owl could only be considered a triumph when it ended an hour later. And it was a moving spectacle in a lot of ways. At 66, Erickson isn’t the beautiful imp he once was, and he can’t scream “Two Headed Dog (Red Temple Prayer)” like he used to. Now we hear a seasoned growl that reflects every moment of an extraordinary life.

      Any feelings of trepidation prior to the show were understandable. Erickson’s long history of mental illness would have made a Vancouver date impossible until recently. Even with plenty of YouTube footage out there showing us how tight the Rok and his band the Hounds of Baskerville are sounding, nobody really knew what to expect.

      But if Erickson appeared nervous or uncomfortable at times, those moments were fleeting. If he often resorted to fragments of lyrics, he was no less engaged in the music, often establishing the tempo on rhythm guitar and leading the rest of the band into the song. The elevator went all the way to the 13th floor, in other words.

      When the Hounds tempered an impressively rock hard attack for a few bars of “Stand for the Fire Demon”, that gravelly snarl emerged like a hot drill bit from an often muddy sound mix. Energetically conducting things from the back of the stage, meanwhile, Roky’s son Jegar offered vocal support, while all five members of the Hounds pitched in at times, creating a veil of spooky backing voices for numbers like “Fire Engine” and “Reverberation.”

      On that note—and with even more props to a shit-hot band that obviously loves the material—could the set have been any more satisfying? From Erickson’s solo years, “It’s a Cold Night for Alligators”,  “Bermuda”, and “The Wind and More” were stand-outs. (And have you ever noticed, ironically, how good Roky's ‘80s were compared to just about any other artist from the ‘60s?)

      Erickson got a little lost during “John Lawman”, but not at the cost of an impressive head of steam conjured up by the Hounds. A mid-set dip into 13th Floor Elevators territory yielded “Roller Coaster,” Levitation”, “Tried to Hide”, and, of course, an encore that ended with “You’re Gonna Miss Me” (the cat-who-ate-the-canary expression on guitarist Eli Southard’s face just before he played those iconic opening chords was priceless).

      But it was “Splash 1”—an uncharacteristically sentimental number—that probably had the biggest impact, with Jegar stepping out to join his father up front. Erickson was 19-years-old when the Elevators recorded that song, and you found yourself in that moment contemplating the remarkable, often brutal road that brought him, finally, all the way here. And if the man didn’t speak for the entire time he was on stage, the small but proud salute he gave us as the show ended was all anyone needed. 

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      4 Comments

      Agreed

      Nov 18, 2013 at 3:33pm

      Great review & an epic show

      A. MacInnis

      Nov 19, 2013 at 12:42am

      Mack's review is right on - only thing I'd add is that the Ballantynes (one of the three opening acts) absolutely blew me away! A cookin' hot band - guitar-driven Motownishness with two guitars and two drummers (among other things...).

      Full Roky set here (thanks for the help with "Roller Coaster," man! I didn't recognize that one) - my first ever submission to Setlist FM (a useful resource!):

      http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/roky-erickson/2013/electric-owl-vancouver-...

      record nerd living in the past

      Nov 19, 2013 at 3:21pm

      totally agreed! My only beef with The Ballantynes is that they lack so much (or any) of the grit that the bands they seem to be drawing references from carried so well. They are a stellar band and tight tight tight to boot, maybe a little too tight. After being psyched by the reviews of a group channeling the energy of that good ol' soulful sound. I've found myself nothing but let down by their canned and over polished recordings and totally suburban middle class live sound. Sorry but i gotta get that off my chest. Dead Ghosts are however amazing and their recordings (esp their 45's) blow my mind every time

      A. MacInnis

      Nov 20, 2013 at 12:18am

      Hm. Well, I haven't heard any of the Ballantynes' records yet, but I loved their live sound the other night, and thought it had plenty of soul and passion and maybe even some grit, too (you think they have a "suburban middle class live sound?" - really? I'm not even sure what that means, to be honest; would you rather they sounded like lower-class urban hipsters, or the rural rich, or...?)

      My main thought about Dead Ghosts was - the guitarist gave a little lick from the Cramps' "Primitive" during sound check, and I got all salivatory at the thought that they might cover it, then spent the entire set wondering why they didn't play a single cover at all (there was one tune that started out sounding like a psyched up take on "Route 66," but it wasn't). This may do them a disservice, I don't know - I have not spun their albums or seen them live before - but it's kind of weird, innit, that there's all these self-consciously retro bands (this applies to the Ballantynes and King Dude, too) who dig deep into past forms for their inspiration but then play nothing but originals... I like a good cover tune, tho', and they're a great way to pay explicit homage to your roots, to humbly acknowledge that maybe you aren't writing songs quite as classic as the people you're borrowing from, and to treat your audience to a song they recognize, even if it is by someone else...

      I probably wouldn't have gone on that tangent at all but I'd been listening to Psychedelic Jungle just the other week and was totally teased by that lick...