This morning Debbie and I were sat in the front row of an intimate little room and treated to a great performance from none other than Ray and Dave Davies. Both looked healthy and happy, I’m glad to report, and the duo played a great little r’n’b instrumental; Ray on guitar and Dave on harp. Ray then began reading a poem called Chatham, which is my home town ~ how about that!
And then I woke up.
It was my second encounter within twelve hours of an absolute legend as last night I saw, for the first time, Roky Erikson, co-founder of Texas psych punk LEGENDS ~ The 13th Floor Elevators. This time it was for real.
What do you want first ~ the good news or the bad?
Let’s start with the good. Roky Erikson was ACE, possessed, as he is, with one of the most awesome voices I’ve ever heard. His vocals were clear, strong and loud. How I wish I could say the same for The Sonics’ Jerry Roslie, who played the same venue sixteen months ago. Oh, I nearly forgot, we’re doing the good news first.
It means I’ve got the first tick in my I-Spy book of Original Nuggets Legends as the Elevators’ classic You’re Gonna Miss me closes side two. Quite possibly the only one I’ll ever get. And Roky closed the show with the song (before encoring with I Walked with a Zombie). Despite giving it a rock ending and the absence of Tommy Hall’s jug, it was still a pretty special moment (for me).
Roky’s guitar playing sounded pretty neat to me too. I’m no guitarist, so I’m not impressed by virtuosity, I like a racket (like The Kingsmen’s Louie Louie or early Dave Davies!). It’s why I like the Nuggets bands and not Eric Clapton or Guns ‘n’ Roses. I also liked the way he turned to face the drummer when playing a solo. I wondered if this was to shield his playing from the guitar anoraks, like certain bluesmen used to do (Skip James apparently) or if it was to check the drummer was still awake?
The bad news ~ And I’ll try to gloss over this as quickly as poss. The drummer was bored. He was proficient, he kept the beat, but would you believe he was being fed at one point? Debbie said to me “did you see someone come on and feed him?” What? Thirty seconds later, it happened again. A roadie came on and popped something in the guys mouth mid-song, like he’s some sort of performing seal. This wasn’t done in the spirit of showmanship, this was just a lame demonstration of ennui.
I guess the fault lies partly with me. I wanna see the 13th Floor Elevators, i.e. Roky with a bunch of snotty kids in their mid-twenties, play the original Texan psych-punk classics, just as Arthur Lee linked up with Baby Lemonade to play Forever Changes. Let’s just say the set was a bit too muso heavy rock for my liking.
The sound at this venue (HMV Forum) is abysmal. Saw my second-worst Fall gig there in 1993, due to the sound (although on that night Mark takes some of the blame). Last year’s Sonics show was a disgrace and the venue’s sound engineers (and not The Sonics themselves – it’s a long story I’d rather forget) take the blame. Last night, the drums were too loud and the bass was just one long, loud, reverberating fart, that suffocated everything else.
There’s no excuse. Turning music into an over-loud reverberating mush is not big and it’s not clever. This wasn’t Pantera or some drum’n’bass crew; it was meant to be rhythm’n’blues.
They got Roky’s vocals right and I’m very thankful for that, but his guitar solos didn’t leap out, as a solo should. It was there, but my ears had to grapple with the appalling bass tones to pick it out.
Roky’s lived a tough life, you can read about it on Wikipedia, but he’s one of the greats and it’s so good to see him looking happy and in good shape. And that’s the main thing.
He’s playing today at the Green Man Festival. I hope he gets the reception and acclaim he deserves. I’m sure he will and, if ever you get the chance to see him, make sure you take it, ’cause you know what he’ll be singing when he ain’t around anymore.