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.