Monday, March 05, 2007

I Roky-ed like a zombie

I am a wee bit exhausted here... what a frickin week...weekend...whatever. I gotta get up and help with a stage breakdown but i ain't done whooshing through my memory banks enough to sleep... hence this middle f the night reflection...

While it came and went this past week already, if you blinked and missed the 15th year of Noise Pop you also missed the most ambitious edition of the festival yet. Thousands of folks were enthralled at various venues around town over the past few days, checking out almost any type of event the organizer's felt secure in branding under their umbrella. In addition to indie rock sets were film screenings, literary showcases, and even a line snaking around the block on Divisidero Sunday afternoon for a "Noise Pop" comedy show at The Independent w/ Patton Oswalt.

While it started as a one off show in 1993 at that same venue when it was known as The Kennel Club, it's morphed from a pop punk focused rock thing into a multiday event with almost no entertainment genre boundries. This years festival kick off event was a free party last Tuesday at Mezzanine including the antics of the Extra Action Marching Band and MC/DJ David Cross.

Even the Clear Channel controlled Fillmore was hosting so called Noise Pop shows, with local folk chanteuse Jolie Holland's Friday night headlining set at The Fillmore that included songsmith David Dondero's opening set with his "saw" player Jamin celebrating his birthday onstage.

The previous night's Noise Pop event at the Fillmore was SF's own crown prince of Asian rap Lyrics Born along with politically adroit funksters The Coup...

Lyrics Born w/ Mistah FAB - L-I-F-E

After the "Dangerous Highway" Eddie Hinton doc film directed by Deryle Perryman played ATA on Sunday, Annie's Social Club hosted a great Muscle Shoals sound tribute after party thang with a bill rich on local southern fried talent like Chuck Prophet, Jon Weiss, Eric Moffett, Bart Davenport, Dave Gleason and the show stealing Mike Therieau.

Bart Davenport - Euphoria

Mike Therieau - Fly Away

It was all down home enough to make this lil' blogger head home to prepare some spicy okra filled gumbo and smoky collared greens and order up some of those long lost Hinton tunes from the Zane record label.

With so much entertainment crammed into just a few days, it literally boggles the mind as to how to budget time & bucks to attend even half of the shindigs. By far though the most sought after tickets & buzz I encountered seemed to be surrounding the return of Roky Erickson of the 13th Floor Elevators after a 25 year absence from the stage.

Roky has a special relationship with San Francisco, having been the founder of one of the first "psychedelic" rock bands, His music influenced many Bay Area musicians including Janis Joplin. In the late 70's & early 80's he was also based in San Francisco and his band Roky Erickson & The Aliens were signed to CBS and played around town quite a bit, with Roky rambling on about demons in radio interviews of the era.

Preceded by Wednesday night's sidewalk clogging crowd attending his "Your Gonna Miss Me" doc screening at the Roxie about the troubled musician, his gig on Thursday at The Great American Music Hall was sold out over a month before he came to town...

I've been to a lot of shows in this town, and while occasionally there's a bit of a line, or even some anticipation afoot for a performer, the Roky buzz was odd. Here's an obscure Texas based musician who hasn't put out any new material in over a decade, yet their appears to be a diehard cult fanbase scrambling to get a glimpse of the guy. As your humble scribe attempted to merely get into the club, I was accosted by one panicked youngsta who literally was trying to impede my path & snatch the apparently scarce ticket I held right out of my hand. In 20 years of concert going I don't think I'd ever seen that.

Inside the venue was a bit more subdued, not surprising considering that while Roky was popular in the late 60's, many of his fans are also pushing 60. The older silver haired folk sat patiently at tables in the balcony while bearded pretenders to the throne made a retro rock din below. The opening bands all had some sort of smoke hash & play rehash agenda, like Wooden Shjips blaring away in a fuzzed out drone fest that coulda roused Syd Barrett up from the dead, or Oranger who mine a pop-stomp-psych turf with a theramin in tow.

Oranger - Donald, You're Freaking Out

Ethan of Howlin RainHowlin Rain seemed to ooze noodling saturated boogie rock with main man guitarist/vocalist Ethan Miller (Comets on Fire ) sporting a mean looking 70's porn-stache. The Howlin Rain set sounded like a lost tape recorded at the Watkins Glen Fest circa '73 between sets of The Dead & Allman Bros . Howlin Rain are certainly looking the part & living the life, singing of reckless whiskey & cocaine fueled binges and describing their music as "hottub type jams". Their lifestyle apparently sees them loading the van and playing their next show together at the Folk Yeah Fest in Big Sur on April 19th.

Howlin Rain from their debut:
Howlin Rain - Roll On Rusted Days

Birdman Records

The crowd was getting thicker as the headliner's set time got closer, and i spotted dozens of music biz scenesters all vying for good spots to watch the gig from. The lawyers, radio programmers, booking agents, record company guys, poster artists, record store clerks and musicians of all eras and semi failed/retired versions of all of the above were packed in tight.

Roky finally arrived at the venue and people including cameramen surrounded his car, folks were hi fiving & cheering him on like a returning war hero who been away at the front, or perhaps rock n roll's version of Walter Reed Hospital. It had actually been announced just days earlier that Erickson was again his own man, having regained his full legal autonomy, ending the 6 year legal guardianship established by his little brother Sumner.

Perhaps similar in some ways to the problems of much more well known 60's popsmith Brian Wilson, Erickson had spent a good portion of the last 40 years battling inner demons, and not enough time making music. Both musicians hit career peaks in their teens, Roky's 1st regional hit happenend in 1964, and his single "You're Gonna Miss Me" was in the top 20 in 1966 when he was just 19. Unlike Wilson though, Roky had no great fortune to carry him through his darkness, and after a few minor drug busts in tough talking Texas circa 1969, his life fell apart.

Roky Erickson & The 13th Floor Elevators - "You're Gonna Miss Me"

Eventually declared insane, as a ward of the state he went through thorazine & electroshock treatments, and was released from the maximun security Rusk State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Austin after three years in 1972 only after his brother Mikel and attorneys rallied behind the scenes. Roky recorded occasionally throughout the years, mostly releasing albums on obscure labels, but never reached the commercial heights & promise of his earliest efforts. Worse yet, his material was often bootlegged and he received nothing in return, like the illicit disc pictured at right.a Roky bootleg

He made sporadic attempts at comebacks, was in and out of care facilities and lived in state sponsored housing projects on government checks. At one point he was once arrested for "stealing other people's mail". He was known for keeping the radios & tv's cranked to drown out the voices and also dabbled in Born Again christian theology at one point...

In 1993 it's said that Erickson, long diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, was brought out for another attempt at a comeback in Austin and went on stage one night to play and just grinned silently at the mic while the band played on...

Things looked grim, his money and nerves had all but been exhausted. It was his little brother Sumner a classical musician in Pittsburgh, who battled to establish legal guardianship and a trust for Roky that could extract the missing royalty payments he was due, and put that money in a fund to care for his sibling.

Finally in 2005, Roky started gigging again around Austin Texas, and eventually he played a few other high profile shows including one last year in Chicago as well. These shows are all tentaive steps for a mellow guy who likes routines and to sleep late and watch cartoons, and hasn't adapted to a constant life on the road just yet.

His handlers were all around in SF, including his brother Sumner, and they seemed to take good care of him, although their choice of local eateries made me question their foresight. Within a 24 hour period Roky ate at The Pinecrest Diner, Arinell's Pizza and Tommy's Joynt, proving that if the road doesn't kill him, maybe the menu choices will.

Sporting a clean shaven look that was a far cry from the classic pyramid meets the eye Manson-esque imagery his t-shirt hawkers were selling, he looked less menacing 70's biker ala Rob Zombie, and perhaps more 80's era Lebowski party guy, with dare I say, some sort of mullet-esque hair cut. Despite his rep as king of the garage rock sound, the band occasionally treaded a little to close to the slick Austin bar band sound ala the Fabulous Thunderbirds. They came out looking tidy, even a bit too tidy if ya ask me. The crew cut sporting bassist held his instrument up so high , like it was doubling as a breastplate, maybe to keep any sweat from dirtying his shirt.

As Shay Quillen of the SJ Merc News put it "Anybody who came to the Roky Erickson show Thursday at the Great American Music Hall expecting a freak show was sadly disappointed."

The set, while somewhat tame, was well received by an enthusiastic crowd, and was less about psychedelic noise explorations and more about a man regaining musical control, which Roky seemed to be in. Halfway through the set Roky started hitting his stride, or at least playing the tunes people really really wanted to hear...

His spooky spacerock horrorshow crowd pleaser classics like "I Walked With A Zombie", "Two Headed Dog", "Creature With the Atom Brain", "Don't Shake Me, Lucifer" and the poppy and purty "Starry Eyes" all rattled the rafters. After all those years, it seemed over all too quick...

Roky Erickson - Starry Eyes ( excerpt)
pssst ... don't forget to go buy a record now & then

oh and

Maybe i'll see ya'll next year at Noise Pop's sweet 16...

Here's something Roky's got cookin back home in Austin this month...


Roky and The Explosives, Spoon, Robyn Hitchcock and Peter Buck, Michelle Shocked, Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai, Tommy X Hancock, Black Lips, Powell St. John, J. T. Van Zandt & Sumner Erickson of The Texcentrics
March 15th, 2007 2:00 PM (DOORS) to 8:00 PM
Threadgills WHQ,
S. Austin, Texas
Tickets available at and at Threadgills.
$20.00 General Admission and children 12 and under Free with an adult.

Other Stuff:

While the RIAA last week announced they would be aggressively suing thousands more of those caught downloading music, a legally operating Canadian music download service made headlines for going just partially DRM free, and the financially troubled EMI apparently broke off all talks about releasing it's catalog DRM free.

Strangely enough as the rumors surfaced that EMI was willing to let the mp3 cat out of the bag it was also rumored that Emusic, I-Tunes and other leading online sellers balked at EMI's "DRM free" pricing model, one that was hardly free.

In the meantime Edgar Bronfman's DRM proponent Warner Music Group announced they were making an offer for EMI & it's valuable assets including the Capitol and Virgin back catalogs, definitely halting the process.

Meanwhile kicked off the launch of their DRM free MP3 music selections to Canadian's only with a free MP3 download of something only a Canadian might want, namely a Barenaked Ladies tune "Sound Of Your Voice". Puretracks, while garnering publicity for the supposed 50,000 DRM free songs they have, doesn't seem to be offering anything to North American users that isn't already out there on Emusic. Namely it;s non-major label controlled catalog tunes from labels like Concord Music, Nettwerk and Beggar's Banquet. Nothing particularly unique or different than the competition already has...

While the top two legal download websites get 90% of the attention, there are dozens of other ones you can check out. Wal Mart, the discount retalier for example offers much of the same material on I Tunes for at least 20 cents cheaper per track...

Here's a list of several authorized websites besides I Tunes & Emusic operating in the US market

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1 comment:

Xtine said...

I've got my Roky ticket for the Brooklyn gig! Can't convince any friends to go with me, though, so I guess it's not getting the buzz the SF show got.