ROCKY ERICKSON & THE EXPLOSIVES
Bowery Ballroom, NYC
April 15, 2007
Complete Sellout (800 people)
By GEOFF GINSBERG
At New York’s Bowery Ballroom, Roky Erickson came out on stage totally disheveled, played a whole set of songs I didn’t know with a highly mediocre band. Everyone was bummed. Well, if you want to believe that story you can...
The truth of the matter, however, was that Roky was absolutely spot on. His singing was inspired and strong, his guitar playing blistering, and his band, well, they knew what to do with his songs. If I had written the set list myself it would have been more or less the same. Roky was unrecognizable as the man on the cover of his last LP, "All That May Do My Rhyme".
I had heard great things about Roky since his comeback from the fog of mental illness a couple of years ago. Now I have seen it for myself. He was clean shaven and looked fit and healthy at 59. All he did was lead his old band The Explosives through a set of truly explosive material. To be honest, since it was one classic after another it’s hard to remember what order they came in, and I don’t take no notes buddy boy! Like I said, Roky sang the songs with great conviction and never came close to forgetting a lyric. He was all there.
Much of the set leaned on his best solo stuff with a couple of 13th Floor Elevators tunes thrown in for good measure. As they plowed through the likes of “Cold Night For Alligators,” “The Interpreter,” and “I Think Of Demons” I thought I must have died and gone to hell. It was music that is part of my DNA, being delivered with passion and accuracy. To be blunt, it was thrilling.
Roky faced the ecstatic, sold-out (of their minds) crowd when he sang. During the instrumental breaks would he would look across the stage at Cam King - not so much following his lead(s), but just enjoying them. His stage banter was limited to “Thank You ” in his slight Tejas drawl. Steady Freddy Krc, presumably the bandleader, lived up to his name, propelling the songs tirelessly.
I don’t believe I have ever seen a song-oriented band with more lead guitar than this. I mean, I’ve seen Johnny Winter many times and Stevie Ray (and all the other guitar heroes), but that’s not what I am talking about here. There were SONGS. Loaded with hooks! And every second Roky wasn’t singing Cam King was piercing through with biting leads - actual guitar hooks. How old fashioned, not to mention charming. King was very “Austin” in the way he played - very rootsy, not screaming, but damned if he didn’t wail out, practically non-stop, with everything he had.
The one exception to the songiness of it all came in mid-set with a 10-minute workout of “The Beast.” Roky played two extended lethal fuzzed out leads, with Cam King matching him stroke for stroke with extended leads of his own. It was straight ahead Texas blues rock - not that far from the aforementioned J. Winter (also a Texan) but with, shall we say, scarier lyrics. It hadn’t occurred to me that Roky played lead at all, and he did so like a demon. His guitar playing was NOT rootsy. His leads were frightening, like the songs he wrote. And his rhythm playing was churning and as I said above, spot on. When Iggy Pop played some guitar on the Brick by Brick tour, while it seemed weird and was a waste of his frontman abilities, he proved himself to be the best Iggy rhythm guitarist I had heard. When you listen to live stuff with Him on guitar it just sounds right. That’s how Roky was on rhythm - it just sounded right.
I’ll admit I didn’t recognize “Splash 1,” an early Elevators number, and had to ask a friend what song it was, but it was very cool and referred to being home to stay. I hope he meant it. “Don’t Shake Me Lucifer” had the screaming Chuck Berry licks intact, and boy did everyone enjoy shouting out “Don’t Shake Me” during the choruses. Same with “Creature With The Atom
Brain.” The whole crowd was singing “Creatuuuuuuure.” Roky even did the spoken word part in the middle (perfectly).
They could have done these two NYC shows strictly for the money - both shows sold out instantly, months in advance. But you got the feeling that, although I’m sure no one was turning the money down, the reason was to make a statement. And the statement was: “Here’s what we can do...” The musicians were way into it. If you are a professional musician at any level, playing to a super-enthusiastic sold out audience in New York, New York has got to be a major thrill.
“Bermuda” was a major highlight among a set that included nothing but, and “Starry Eyes” was one of the few songs of the night that showed the Dylanesque side of the Rok. I was told it was gonna be good. Nobody told me it would be this good. Following a burning, extended version of “Bloody Hammer,” and the inevitable “You’re Gonna Miss Me” (which, on the
screams, was the only time I noticed Roky’s voice not quite getting it perfect) the band left the stage and everyone I know, at least, looked at each other in a state of wonderment, as if to say, “I never thought I’d see THAT.”
The band returned and delivered a beautiful “I Walked With A Zombie” followed by a hard charging “The Wind and More,” which for my money was the best song of the night. And to think, I had forgotten all about that one. An hour and 10 minutes of sheer joy.
Set List (not necessarily in this order, but close):
Cold Night For Alligators
Don’t Shake Me Lucifer
Two Headed Dog
Creature With The Atom Brain
I Think Of Demons
Before You Accuse Me
You’re Gonna Miss Me
I Walked With A Zombie
The Wind And More
BACK TO THE BAR