Roky Erickson

support Bellhound Choir
author BV date 19/04/16 venue Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN

It has hardly even been a year since I was fortunate enough to feast my eyes and ears upon the reunion of the surviving members of the 13th Floor Elevators at Austin Psych Fest, now called Levitation. Yet, somehow, I have been fortunate enough to once again witness not only Roky Erickson, former front-man of said band, but also witness him revisit the 13th Floor Elevators’ material with his backing-band, The Hounds of Baskerville. Granted, everyone knows that Erickson’s shows can be somewhat hit and miss, but there is something undeniably special about watching a legend like him performing and, as such, I would hardly be enough of a fool to miss out on this.

Photos courtesy of Stefan Frank thor Straten

Bellhound Choir

The support of the night was none other than Christian Hede Madsen (formerly of Pet the Preacher) under his new(ish) moniker Bellhound Choir. Armed with an acoustic guitar and a rather commanding stage presence, this solo artist led the attentive parts of the crowd on a dusty journey through the grooves of the desert and coupled those grooves with some solid blues licks and a straightforward vocal approach that, although all too familiar, remained convincing as ever. The support slot on nights like these is always a challenge, but Madsen seemed quite unfortunate in general with the crowd whose insistence on talking (rather loudly) through most of his set would have been enough for most support acts to cower, play their set and just walk away. Madsen, however, met this with clever responses like; ”I appreciate you guys too, even though you’re talking instead of listening” and ”To those who just entered; don’t worry, Roky Erickson is still performing, I’ve just gotta finish my set first” and more along those lines. It’s an admirable approach, but not one that can entirely make up for the disappointing lack of attention to those otherwise carefully crafted songs we are treated to here tonight. It’s a shame that it probably requires a full band for something like this to penetrate the noise, but nonetheless the short 30-minute set got me excited for the upcoming Bellhound Choir full-length, “Imagine the Crackle”, which is apparently out very soon.

Roky Erickson

As I mentioned in the very beginning of this review, I saw Roky Erickson with the remaining Elevators in Texas just short of a year ago, where much of the setlist was, quite obviously, fairly identical to the one on this particular night. However, there was still something rather unique about the very first notes of “Fire Engine” which opened the set in a rather grand way. Sure, the band’s entrance in and of itself wasn’t overwhelming as it led to a seated Erickson and a low-key introduction of Erickson by the band’s drummer. However, once the instantly recognizable tracks like “Earthquake” and the mighty LSD-hymn “Slip Inside This House” took over the air in Pumpehuset it was hard to argue with the feeling that something pretty special was happening here. For one, it was amazing to hear Erickson actually being able to sing many of his parts with something resembling lively vigor (a stark contrast to my previous encounter with him) and it was equally great to actually hear a guitarist trying to tastefully channel some of that Stacy Sutherland magic without overdoing it or becoming a far too straight copy of a very unique guitar-player.

As one of the few remarks throughout the night, one of the band members asked the crowd; “Who’s up for ‘Bull of the Woods’? One person, well this one’s for you” before venturing into “Dr. Doom” from the less regarded third album by the 13th Floor Elevators. I’ve never understood why people dismiss this album, even though it is strange, oddly straight-forward and essentially sounds like Creedence Clearwater Revival with tons of echo and reverb. I dig it, and thus “Dr. Doom” was a pleasant surprise on this night even though it prompted a necessity for a lyric sheet for Mr. Erickson as he couldn’t remember the lyrics. One thing I did find regrettable as a near-constant throughout the night was the use of far too straight drumming. Nowhere throughout the set could there be found even slight traces of that certain cowboy madness John Ike Walton used to emanate from the kit. It does make a bit sense when the band as a whole has the primary function of acting as a rock-solid anchor for Erickson’s at times unpredictable place in the music – whether that included playing the wrong chords or singing a few phrases slightly off-beat. In that sense it is admirable that the band so successfully manages to veer through the worst pitfalls of the night, but it is still regrettable that the final piece of the puzzle seems to be missing.

From the very introduction of “Splash 1” and all the way to set closer “Two Headed Dog”, the audience was introduced to a barrage of the Elevators’ greatest tracks, topped off with fan favorites from Erickson’s solo career. “Kingdom of Heaven” was a highlight in particular as hauntingly beautiful phrases like; ”Through the stained glass windows moonlight flashes on the choir / And splashes on the altar in glows of liquid fire / Then it bathes you with its glory and you begin life anew / And the kingdom of heaven is within you” were being sung with chilling conviction by an iconic figure with a distinctly blank gaze – channeling all he has given to psychedelic music as well as all that has been forcibly taken from him over the years.

It seemed common for some in the audience to pity Roky Erickson – even on this night as he performed admirably through a surprisingly long set. I don’t pity him, instead I admire what seems to be a stern will to defy hardship and continue living through music, even if he never reclaims the majestic vigor of the mid-to-late sixties.

Setlist:

  • 01. Fire Engine
  • 02. Earthquake
  • 03. You Don’t Know
  • 04. Slip Inside This House
  • 05. I Had to Tell You
  • 06. Dr. Doom
  • 07. Monkey Island
  • 08. She Lives (In a Time of Her Own)
  • 09. You Gotta Take That Girl
  • 10. Thru The Rhythm
  • 11. Tried To Hide
  • 12. Splash 1
  • 13. (I’ve Got) Levitation
  • 14. Kingdom of Heaven
  • 15. Roller Coaster
  • 16. Reverberation
  • 17. You’re Gonna Miss Me

—Encore—

  • 18. Night of the Vampire
  • 19. Two Headed Dog

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