September 30, 2011
The Kessler Theater
Dallas, TX USA
Review by William Meckfessel
Photos by Scott Witty
I'm at a loss of words. In the simplest terms, Roky Erikson is proof of just how weird Texas can get, and what that weirdness can do to you. I'm not even sure I can convey his persona properly, no matter how or what I write.
Erikson is most known for his part as front man and lead singer of the 60's Austin group, The 13th Floor Elevators. Immortalized in Ray Wylie Hubbards' Texas anthem. "Screw You, We're From Texas", Hubbard claims, "There ain't no band cooler than the 13th Floor Elevators." And that claim is hard to disagree with. After all, what other bands have been credited with starting the psychedelic rock movement, tempting Janis Joplin out of Big Brother and the Holding Company, and having an electric jug player. In 1966 Austin, only 19 years old and with hair longer than The Beatles, the very essence of Erikson and the Elevators screamed cool.
The band had one main influence. A chemical influence. One chemical specifically. Lysergic acid diethylamide. In "Roller Coaster," off their first record The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, Roky sings lyrics revering acid and his experiences with the drug. "After you trip life opens up and you start doing what you want to do," or "A trip so real it takes your breath away." And in a manner of speaking, acid came to bite Erikson in the ass.
In 1969, Erikson was arrested for possession of one joint, a felony at the time that carried a potential ten-year prison sentence. At trial, Roky's lawyers claimed risky legal insanity, saying he did not know what was in the cigarette because he was on LSD. The strategy worked and Roky was sent to a mental hospital where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and subjected to electro shock therapy. He remained in the hospital for three years and was released in1972.
Today, knowing Roky's history, it's hard to put thoughts on paper about him, especially when one doesn't know his level or awareness It's impossible to tell how any of this has affected or still affects him, especially during one of his performances. First off, the opening act played well after the time Roky was meant to go on, which I'll grant sounds petty, but it gave the show some uneasy vibes. (However, this can be looked at as an upset performer delaying his show on purpose or just the usual garden-variety pissedness that can arise from a frustrated fan, namely me).
Finally, around ten-thirty, a bearded Erikson took the stage. One of the first things you noticed was that he was always turning towards the drummer after every tune, with his back to the audience, and to the guitarist when he wasn't singing during a song. In between songs, the guitarist and bassist would gather around him have a small discussion, and then play the opening riff to select the next song. He never said, "How are you tonight?" or even, "Hello." I never even heard his voice at all, even accidentally over the microphone during the band discussions. It was almost though he was a doll they had to wind up.
His band mates seemed to be protective of him, as though he was their own dad (which is true for Roky's son, who sang back up vocals and played harmonica). The bassist even helped him down the steps of the stage at the end of the concert.
But musically, Erikson is in fine condition. His voice is the most intact of any other musician from the same decade I've seen live (this includes Paul McCartney). It's amazing how much he sounds like those old records from the sixties. He could even play every guitar hook perfectly, which ended up in an even more psychedelic "Roller Coaster" my personal highlight of the concert.
I've come to realize that most people don't know who he or the 13th Floor Elevators are and this makes me sad. This goes beyond the missing out of good music. This pertains to Roky Erikson as a being. This man is just important to Texas as the Alamo, Six Flags, or Willie Nelson. He is an artifact, a relic of our time- and we should be proud to call Roky Erikson a fellow Texan.