Roky Erickson The Kessler Theater Friday, July 13
Sam was in a tattoo shop Savannah, Georgia when he heard Roky Erickson and decided he needed a two-headed dog tattoo. I spotted him at the Kessler Theater bar, and noted Sam looked very young, probably not much past his late 20s. That tattoo now lives on the back of his leg. Later on Friday night, when Roky Erickson played "Two-Headed Dog," Sam was front and center, singing the words right back.
Much has been written about Erickson's life and unlikely re-ascension. I use that term because he is revered, by many like Sam, as a godlike figure, one who fought static and silence in some very dark corners before re-emerging. You can find reiterations of his legacy in various media, so I wanted to approach this review of Friday's show at the Kessler, the same venue he played less than a year ago, in terms of the cult that's sprung up around him in the wake of that re-ascension.
Robert Christgau said this about Erickson's 1986 album, Don't Slander Me:
"The album... sounds like a bunch of would-be old farts (with genuine article Jack Casady lending a touch of authenticity) latching onto the old wildman for the kind of magic carpet ride other music lovers only collect. It's too precise, too forceful, too showy. And if you can bear the protracted tributes to Erickson's private gods, it'll rock you out."
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I see what he's getting at, that part about folks latching on to Erickson's magic carpet. Throughout the crowd Friday night, there were murmurs about his health, his well being, his lucidity, the last time they saw him, his catalog. I'm sure many in attendance were there to see an artist they've long admired, but there were also the curiosity seekers, there to see if Erickson went off the rails. This is expected when an artist spends much of his life with little control over his image and legacy; we try to fill in the gaps for them.
The backing band was a bit too bar-band, and when Erickson would suddenly drop out of the vocals, which happened often, they struggled to fill the space. "Creature With the Atom Brain" and "Don't Slander Me" were serviceable enough, if a bit rough around the edges, and the 13th Floor Elevators' "Roller Coaster" and encore of "You're Gonna Miss Me" filled the checklist. Still, that Erickson is on stage and engaged with his music again is important. The crowd's chants of "Roky!" were a sort of collective prayer to this.
There were this, too: On Saturday night, at an Erickson-themed psych night at the Texas Theatre, soundtracked by Gabe Mendoza and Fred Holston, I watched a stray dog run down the sidewalk with a bag of trash in its mouth. It paused and looked up at us for a moment, eyes narrowed, contemplating its next move. It lowered its head, as if ashamed of being caught in this particular act, or maybe it was willing to defend the find. I watched it with curiosity, feeling neither threatened nor ashamed for it, just seeing an animal living on instinct.
Then it dropped the bag and ran across the street, into the shadows.