Roky Erickson and Black Angels
Grand Central, Miami
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Last night, we here at Crossfade witnessed what may truly be the ultimate in psych-rock shows: A tour featuring the living legend and originator of the genre, Roky Erickson, and the band that has preserved and carried on the spirit of psychedelia, The Black Angels.
This tandem of Austin, Texas' psych royals turned downtown Miami's Grand Central into a swirling cavern of mind-bending sounds and overwhelming aural textures, and the horde of fans that gathered for the rituals reveled in the night as if hypnotized.
The show began with Brooklyn-based outfit Golden Animals, who played shortly after doors opened for a crowd that appeared to be less than interested in the trio's webs of twangy psych.
Though the band played well, its brand of psychedelia was a hard pill to swallow in the context of opening a show, with nearly every song being a dirge of echo-laden guitar and vaguely British-sounding vocals.
Perhaps the anticipation of the impending Roky Erickson set caused some distraction as well. And anyway, Golden Animals still made for decent background music.
For anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Roky Erickson's unbearably difficult past, the fact that the man is performing at all in 2014 is simply astounding.
For the uninitiated, we cannot recommend the documentary You're Gonna Miss Me enough, as it tells the former 13th Floor Elevators figurehead's compelling history in heartbreaking detail. However, based on last night's performance, Erickson is in the midst of penning a happy chapter with this late portion of his career.
The legend hit the stage promptly at 9 p.m., backed by his band, the Hounds of Baskerville. The erratic performer (who, after being diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic in the late '60s, nearly became a casualty of the pseudo-science that passed for psychiatric care -- namely electroshock treatment -- during that era) has been known to get lost in the turbulence of live performances from time to time. However, last night, the Erickson was locked into the moment and absolutely unstoppable with the help of the band backing him.
Erickson's set was comprised mainly of Elevators' favorites. And though he frequently wore a look of trepidation on his face, the fiery voice delivering classics like the uproarious "Levitation" and the meandering twang-trip of "Kingdom of Heaven" was that of a ghost unleashed from the grooves of nearly lost Elevators' vinyl.
The Hounds' guitarist, Eli Southard, was an absolute force to be reckoned with, filling in the gaps that Erickson occasionally left with burning salvos of lead guitar and aggressive psych crunch.
Closing his time, Roky ended with the psych-rock skeleton key that is "You're Gonna Miss Me," which was met with a scream-along from fans, all seemingly aware of how fortunate they were to enjoy the Erickson that had showed up, rather than the painfully aloof Erickson of recent memory.
A short time later, the Black Angels came out to a recording of the Staple Singers' swampy rendition of "Uncloudy Day" as a cartoon projection of outer space fell upon the stage. Then the thump and thwack of the "Mission District" introduction silenced the uproar from the audience, now settling in for a trip deep into the past and present of the Angels' catalog.
Jagged guitar stabbed through endless walls of reverb, bass thump, vintage combo organ squall as the band baptized the crowd with all that is great about psychedelia. Frontman Alex Maas led the proceedings while tucked beneath a short-brimmed cap, digging into a pile of electronics and organs that laid in front of him, even narrating the sonic explorations with shouts and coos.
The audience was attentive, pogo-ing a bit and milling about during some of the band's heavier numbers. Newer tracks, such as the title song off the group's most recent full-length, Indigo Meadow, hit hard and led the crowd further down the fuzz-filled rabbit hole, ending in a wash of reverb and pulsating bass.
Though Black Angels pulled songs from the depths of its past, its present, and its future, the set became a singular experience with songs seamlessly running into the next and the band navigating those segues in a way that felt simultaneously spontaneous and perfectly planned.
It was the dynamic, all-consuming adventure we've come to expect from this psych crew, and it all ended in a noisy freakout that put a Day-Glo period on what we believe was the quintessence of psych-rock performances.
Black Angels' Setlist:
-"You on the Run"
-"I Hear Colors"
-"Better Off Alone"
-"Young Men Dead"
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