It wouldn’t have seemed possible a decade ago, but Roky Erickson has now become a regular performer in LA. Last week’s visit to the El Rey marked his fifth visit to Southern California in five years, but only his sixth since the 1970s. Following three well-documented decades of mental anguish, he has remarkably managed to right himself and resume the career he should have had all along. Fans were ecstatic to see him return to the stage in 2006, and that enthusiasm was rewarded with some raging performances. Last year he released a stunning new album, True Love Cast Out All Evil, backed by Austin band Okkervil River, making it one of the most complete resurrections ever witnessed in rock music.
For this trip, he was accompanied by his son Jegar Erickson’s group, while Seattle band the Night Beats offered a promisingly original set in between. Jegar proved himself a regular chip off the old block by opening the evening with a half hour of horror-rock. If you’re as old as me, you might remember that odd feeling you had when you first heard Julian Lennon on the radio… some of the melodic and lyrical instincts are so familiar, while others are so different. That was my first taste of Offspring Rock and most exposures to it since have proved, that feeling is mighty hard to avoid. And it was funny feeling it in response to hearing a lyric about overwhelming hate. I have to imagine the old man – spotted watching from the balcony – felt his heart swell with pride at every ghoulish touch.
Roky hit the stage with “Bo Diddley’s A Headhunter” and proved to be in great spirits and fine wailing form, while Jegar’s band turned out to be a superb, sympathetic support. Stomping versions of his seventies singles “Bermuda”, “The Interpreter” and “Two- Headed Dog (Red Temple Prayer)” had the spook, while the group showed its ability to go go quiet and haunting during a majestic “Splash 2”. Only two tracks from the new album surfaced, a wind-whipped “Goodbye Sweet Dream” and a pounding, sinister “John Lawman.” As expected, much of the set came from 1980’s The Evil One, with the hip-swinging “Don’t Shake Me Lucifer” getting a standout reading.
The first hour of the show was just fantastic, with Roky singing as well as I’ve heard him do since his return. He sounded clear and lucid, intense. Sadly, about five songs before the end, he seemed to be having trouble with his throat, the notes cracking into a wispy falsetto. With that, Roky seemed to lose confidence, and though the band soldiered on and picked up some of the vocals for the final run of 13th Floor Elevators songs, the man himself stopped participating and the show lost its focus. Had they just stopped, gone straight to “You’re Gonna Miss Me” at the first sign of trouble and quit, it would have been the best Roky show in LA since his recovery. Instead it was a slightly frustrating missed opportunity. But one hour of greatness followed by ten minutes of shakiness still added up to a more than worthwhile night out, and another chapter in a gratifying second act from a cherished artist.