The Factory Theatre, Marrickville, Australia
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Words by BOB SHORT
Pictures by THE BARMAN
ShareOkay, let’s dismiss the rubbish as quickly as possible. Tight, powerful and proficient, (mystery?) support band the Treatment unfortunately forgot to write any half way decent songs for the night – if songs they were at all. A fuzzy guitar drone attached to a pounding oz rock beat, they were far more boring than bat’s piss and far less sexy than watching paint dry. The band may as well have asked “Who Am I?” Yeah, we know who you are. Now, kindly do a little more to justify your iconic (that came from the press release) status. You can start by learning how to write a melody. I am sure, there are many who will adore their wet cement meets jack hammer sound. I was relieved when they announced their last song. It meant I could make an early run on the bar.
Next up was Jeger Erickson (son of Roky). His band was doing double duty as backing for both father and son. There was a fair bit of internet scuttlebutt about megalomania and exploitation in the lead up to this gig. (Roky’s usual band had been left Stateside and there were petitions claiming sinister forces at work and demanding protection of the failing legend.) Well, I don’t know about that. My opinion is that this band worked harder to protect Roky’s legend than anyone could have possibly expected.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Jeger clearly has a big shadow to step out from behind and, though competent, he has rather less to gain out of this relationship than is given credit. As a performer in his own right, he stands up well but, as the heir apparent to the legend, you can’t help thinking talent skips a generation. If you compare Hank Williams Junior to Senior, you get a fairly good idea of what I’m saying. But, I’d go see Jeger and his band play by themselves. They did all right and kept themselves down to a comfortable twenty minute set of garage rockabilly swing. Good songwriting and interesting stage presence. They could liven any bar they graced.
A three-minute turnover and the band returned to the stage with Jeger packed off to the wings. Digging hard into the beat, they begin a version of “Bo Diddley.” After two minutes, Roky finally walks onto the stage. The moment had finally happened. This was not a dream or a hoax. Roky Erickson was finally playing Sydney.
I’ll be straight with you. At nine o’clock in the a.m. on the day of ticket release, I was on the Web trying to get tickets. I understand that Roky is “fragile”. I understood the tour could be cancelled at any time through ill health. I was terrified it would sell out in microseconds. Look, I have contemplated catching planes to Texas just to see Roky Erickson. I have been pumped up for this gig since I was seventeen years old. I waited for the inevitable declaration of cancellation as tickets refused to sell. Even as I looked at the set list taped to the front of the stage, I couldn’t quite believe this was actually going to happen. Then, there he was, a metre away...
Few performers could survive the scrutiny of such expectation and anticipation. Let’s face it, Roky Erikson is a fat 64 years old acid casualty schizophrenic who appears to not know where he is or even why he is. The stage manager puts a guitar around his neck and points him at the microphone. The stage manager takes the guitar away and Roky walks off stage. You’d expect him to be rubbish, wouldn’t you? Is there anything I have said so far that does not lead you to expect me to describe this as anything less than a car crash. (That’s how the Sydney Morning Herald basically reported the Melbourne gig - but that reporter also claimed Roky didn’t play any Thirteenth Floor Elevator “classics” so what did he know?)
Let me put you straight. This was one of the best gigs I’ve seen in 35 years of going to gigs. The backing band was great. Roky far exceeded expectations AND WAS WEARING BLUE SUEDE SHOES! You can’t tell me a man who goes on stage with blue suede shoes doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing. He throws in little unfamiliar and unrehearsed guitar riffs and smiles.
The guy might be damaged but you can’t tell me that he wasn’t having fun and wasn’t completely aware of his surroundings. I was close enough to see him play and hear what was coming out of his amp. He wasn’t faking or making mistakes. Roky Erickson was all present and accounted for. Sure, he had vocal backup when he ran out of breath but he never lost the plot. Yes he turned his back to the audience and for the most part played rhythm during solos. Elvis Presley did that all the time, even before he joined the army. That’s rock and roll. That’s how it is done. On the night, it all came together and sounded great.
You like the Elevators? He did “Reverberation” and an absolutely stunning duet with his son on “Splash 1”. You like the new album? He did “John Lawman” and “Goodbye Sweet Dreams” and made them sound like he’d had them in the set for forty years. He played pretty much everything off of “The Evil One” with a side serving of “Bermuda” and a touch of “Don’t Slander Me.” The encore, of course, was “You’re Gonna Miss Me.” How could anything go wrong with a set like that? I don’t know how many times I have to say this, write decent songs and you’re set will work itself out.
Now, I won’t gloss over the night’s less savoury turns. Firstly, it was fairly clear that stage invaders freaked Roky out. Anyone with half a brain or an ounce of empathy should have been able to work that one out. It was rather heart warming, seeing the wee slip of a female keyboard player jump out and throw a hefty intruder off stage before he could get to Roky. There were a few arsewipes in the audience who had decided to throw beers and bottles at band members. It was a shame that when the guitarist went into the audience to administer some rough justice, he got the wrong guy. It seemed a section of the audience was going out of their way to target the band for some imagined crime. The truth was, this band worked hard to get the music right and back Roky at every turn. They weren’t trying to steal limelight. They were more in awe of Erikson than many in the audience.
So, are you sorry you missed it? You should be. Given the fact there was only about 300-400 people in the room, that’s a whole lot of you who chose slippers over rock and roll. Shame on you. It was your one chance and it won’t come again.