Roky Erickson & Explosives – the biggest bang of Noise Pop 15
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 corporate Clear Channel controlled Fillmore was hosting so called Noise Pop shows, with Thursday night’s Noise Pop event at the Fillmore was SF’s own crown prince of Asian rap Lyrics Born along with Oaktown’s politically adroit funksters The Coup. Friday at The Fillmore saw local folk chanteuse Jolie Holland‘s headlining set that included songsmith David Dondero‘s opening set with his “saw” player Jamin celebrating his birthday onstage. …
David Dondero – South of The South
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.
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 smokey 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…
More on Roky, Noise Pop 15 and some more sample mp3′z of related tunes after the dreaded JUMP…
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.
Howlin 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 Birdman Records debut:
Howlin Rain – Roll On Rusted Days
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, podcasters, 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 was in 1964, and his only hit 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 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 disc pictured at right.
He made sporadic attempts at comebacks, He was in and out of care facilities and lived in state sponsored housing projects on government checks. At one point he was mistakenly arrested for “stealing other people’s mail”. He was known for keeping the radios & tv’s cranked in his apt. 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 nerve shattered, money all but dried up. It was his little brother Sumner a classical symphonic 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 on the right track in 2005, Roky started gigging again around his hometown Austin Texas, and eventually he played a few other high profile shows including one last year in Chicago as well. These shows are all tentative 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 too 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
Roky Erickson & The Explosives proved that ya really just need one good show and if it’s fraught with enough excitement… Yer festival will Pop along just fine.
See ya next year at Noise Pop’s sweet 16…