It’s been ten years since legendary Texan howler Roky Erickson first emerged from decades of untreated physical and mental illness, healthy enough to start performing again. He’s made half a dozen trips to LA in the years since, and each trip has seen him increase in strength and confidence. Once again backed by his son Jegar Erickson’s band, the Hounds Of Baskerville, the appearance at the Roxy last Friday was his most powerful yet. Though the glass-shattering high shrieks that used to punctuate his songs is gone, his unmistakable phrasing and haunting tone remain totally intact.
It was a younger-than-usual crowd at the Roxy, the same general type likely to be in attendance for the next day’s Burgerama in Santa Ana (where Roky appeared as one of the headliners). They were pressed up close to the stage, pumping their fists and turning the choruses of “Two Headed Dog” and “The Wind And More” into football chants. Even the relatively new song “John Lawman”, from his 2010 LP True Love Cast Out All Evil, got the mass-chorus effect. And creepy it was to hear a room of people sing along to a lyric like “I kill people all day long/ I sing my song/ Cause I’m John Lawman,” more so than any paean to Lucifer or Count Dracula. Roky seemed genuinely surprised and buoyed by the raw energy being fed back to him, and gave back an outstanding show.
Indeed, mass flashbacks seemed to be taking place across the floor once the band launched into an extended set of songs by the 13th Floor Elevators (given the age of the attendees, maybe those weren’t “flashbacks” as much as “current events.”) I had wondered if that band’s forthcoming reunion show in Austin would cause Roky to alter his own setlist, as a way of warming up, and indeed he did. More than half the set was devoted to cuts from the first two Elevators albums, and it’s hard to express the bliss of hearing those psych-garage gems played so sublimely, right in the heart of the Sunset Strip. By the time he got to the line “Let me take you to DMT place in my fi-i-ire engine” (yes, the correct lyric, not “the empty place”, per Tommy Hall), he didn’t just sing it, he did it.
While much of the enjoyment on hand had to do with Roky’s largely restored vocal power, credit has to be given to the Hounds of Baskerville, probably the most sympathetic and effective backing group he’s had yet during this second run, all of which have been good. And as fronted by Jegar, they are a dynamic and compelling band in their own right, prone to cabaret-style musical dramatics and expulsions of dark poetry. It’s surreal and uncomfortable entertainment; if that sounds like your kinda thing, check out their debut album here.