ROKY ERICKSON
The Factory Theatre, Marrickville, Australia
Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Words by MR INTOLERANCE
Pictures by THE BARMAN

Share If you'd told me 22 years ago when I first heard The Thirteenth Floor Elevators' "You're Gonna Miss Me", that I'd actually get to hear Roky Erickson play that song live in Sydney, during my lifetime, I'd've called you a dirty liar. Sometimes it's grand to be proven wrong.

If you don't know who Roky Erickson is, firstly, I'd be wondering why you'd even click on this review, and secondly, you've obviously also never heard of Wikipedia. I'm not going to recount the various tragedies that have beset this highly influential garage/psych-punk pioneer's career, because frankly I'd much rather instead celebrate the fact that he put on a corker of a show last night. Too many contemporary reviews of Roky's work are either totally mired in the past, or exclusively center on the "overcoming adversity" angle – look, the latter is fair enough, given that it certainly shows resolve, determination, courage and strength on Roky's part; nothing like his return to music could ever have happened by chance – but tend to be a bit light on when talking about the music itself. And it's the music I'd like to talk to you about – after all, it's why we're here in the first place, right?

Rumours had abounded that opening act The Treatment were actually You Am I doing a psych/punk set. They weren't. That said, You Am I's drummer Russell "Rusty" Hopkinson was most definitely behind the kit, which for me was the highlight of the set. I could listen to him pummel the tubs all night long. Is that damning The Treatment's brand of psychedelic hard rock with faint praise? I wasn't much of a fan of their work, to be honest. Are they good musicians? Yep. Most importantly: did the songs rock? I guess so, but something just seemed a little inauthentic, to me. And a bit samey, if I'm being honest with you, which is a danger when you're mining that particular vein of music – at times I thought they were more Sonic Youth than The Sonics (I'm not being glib, I could hear elements of SY's post-rock wig-outs as well as the more traditional straight ahead rock riffage of Seattle's finest), and that's simply not my bag. There was a fair bit of energy (not to mention sweat) coming off the stage, most of it courtesy of the lead singer/guitarist – so it's not like their hearts weren't in it – but I found it difficult to warm to, and a reliance on effects pedals wasn't helping matters along, despite all of the songs moving along at a fair old clip. If psychedelia, post-rock with the odd bit of early 90s shoe-gazer wall-of-sound are your bag, you'd probably dig The Treatment more than I did – like a lot of the crowd.

Next up was Roky's son, Jegar playing a brief set, who along with his backing band provided Roky's band for the evening. I wasn't a fan. If you've been paying attention this far, you'll probably have noticed that I said I was impressed by Roky's set – and I was, but what it all gets down to is material: Roky's was strong, Jegar's was not. The band themselves are certainly good musicians, and Jegar's got a good voice, but they didn't have the songwriting chops, to my mind. It was raucous (that's a good thing), and bluesy, but much like The Treatment's set, it lacked that certain something, despite, in this case, the singer's impressive pedigree. Both bands' material sounded oddly clinical – on paper, they did all the right things. But up close and personal, it didn't click.

Roky's set clicked. The band vamped on "Bo Diddley" for a while, with Jegar on vocals, and then He appeared. It's odd – Roky these days is a big, burly fella, but at the same time he seemed frail, almost fragile, and a little bit lost and uncomfortable being there. I don't know if that's me reading too much of his past into his present, because he still has that killer tenor wail, and when he's in full flight (as he often was) still possesses great charisma – you're in the presence of a master, and you know it. Once on stage, Roky proceeded to play what was simply a great gig, fat-packed with highlights of a back-catalogue most acts would sell their own mothers for, blasting things off with "A Cold Night For Alligators". Between-song communication with the audience was limited at best, although none of it came from Roky. One of the guitarists provided the repartee, often inviting us to roar our appreciation at the reason we were all there – which we did, heartily.

Jegar's band acquitted themselves more than ably (a mate of mine thought they were a little too slick, but they didn't strike me that way – well-rehearsed, certainly, not to mention as tight as a duck's proverbial), breathing new fire into tracks like "Don't Slander Me" (the absolute set highlight for me – Roky snarled his way through this spit-in-your-face anthem with as much venom and righteous anger as he could muster – which was a LOT. I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up during that one), a rip-roaring rendition of "Two-Headed Dog", a driving and pulsing "Bloody Hammer", a suitably Gothic "Night Of The Vampire", a flat-out barn-storming "Don't Shake Me Lucifer" (a song that point blank refuses to be played at a volume other than full) – see what I mean about a grand back catalogue?

The sound mix at The Factory was thankfully sympathetic to the band as well. After hearing the sound guy at the Metro make a dog's breakfast out of The Damned's recent gig, that was a relief. Making three guitars clear and distinct from each other isn't easy, but the big, full and quite rich sound coming off the stage was pretty well defined – it's worth mentioning that The Treatment also received "the treatment" from the sound guy at The Factory; if they're taking good care of the support (and a band with a huge, dense sound, to boot), then you know the person on the desk takes pride in their work. Admittedly, I thought the mix for Roky and co took a couple of songs to get together, but when it did, the gig went from impressive to nigh on magical.

But there's one in every crowd – and in this instance there were two. I've always hated people who invade the stage, wanting their pathetic little moment of glory – it can disrupt the gig badly, throwing the band right off, if not actually fucking up the equipment, and while that wasn't the case here, it was still a major annoyance. The first of these fucking idiots got on the stage during the last song of the set proper, the Thirteenth Floor Elevators stone-cold classic "Reverberation (Doubt)" – a track I'm sure plenty of people present at the gig would like to have better memories of than some useless dipshit clinging on to anything he could on stage for his moment of self-gratification at the expense of our enjoyment.

But the real fuck-knuckle was yet to come: the band come out for one last song, and it could only be the song Roky's best known for, one of the strongest cornerstones of garage punk – if aliens landed and asked, "But what is this thing you call garage-rock?", you'd play this song to them, the absolute nugget of "Nuggets" – the very definition of the psych-punk movement, "You're Gonna Miss Me"; and as we get towards the midpoint of the song, and I'm practically achieving nirvana (I love this song so much I want to cuddle up to it and whisper sweet nothings in its ear, before starting a family with it – I even sing it in the band I play in these days; hell, we even open our set with it), and this complete waste of sperm and egg gets on to the stage and lunges at Roky.

No, I am not making that up. Possibly this dipshit had only benign intentions, but most of the band instantly downed tools and went for him, regardless. Now that's loyalty – after all, the dipshit could have been a dangerous nutter. Anyway, dipshit high-tails it off of the stage, security (besides the band and Roky's assistant) were nowhere to be seen, and as you can imagine, it kind of left you with a soiled memory of what should have been the only fitting end to a glorious gig. I don't imagine Roky and co will walk away from this gig with fond memories – not just for that reason, but also for Jegar getting hit on the head with a full water bottle. As a mate said to me later, the crowd generally seemed rowdier than the one we'd seen at Motorhead last year, where you might expect a more rambunctious element. Maybe it was all those "jazz cigarettes" being smoked in the audience that security did nothing about…

If you were sitting at home thinking that maybe you should've gone to see Roky, but didn't because you weren't sure what it'd be like, because it was too much, and a weeknight, to boot, well – you lost out. I didn't know what to expect from this gig either, but I took a punt on a legend, and won. I can also tell you that it's raised the bar pretty high for the Sonics' gig in April. A great selection of songs, rock solid performances – how could you possibly lose? If you ever get the chance to see Roky live – take the opportunity.

Roky Erickson tonight, the Sonics in a month's time – my life could only get better if the Flamin' Groovies tour again soon.

 

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