It’s not every evening one can be in the same room as Roky Erickson as he sings an hour of 13th Floor Elevators songs. For all he’s has been through - and I’m not going to dwell on that, if you don’t know the harrowing story watch the 2006 documentary You're Gonna Miss Me – it’s a blessing he’s here at all. And by here I mean both London Town and, let’s be honest, on earth.
I’d seen Roky play twice previously but on those occasions the sets focused on his post-Elevators preoccupation with zombies, aliens, alligators, Lucifer and two-headed dogs. Both times were good but on Wednesday he was great. That unique voice that made The Psychedelic Sounds Of and Easter Everywhere is still unmistakable. Try as I can, I can’t really pick a winner out of those ground breaking albums. If psychedelic rock started there, and it did, no one has improved it since.
Roky wasn’t, of course, the Elevators. More than most bands they were a collective, even non-members contributing. As jug blowing lyricist and spiritual pathfinder Tommy Hall once memorably said on national television “We’re all heads”. But it was Roky’s magically reverberating voice that gave them that extra ingredient, that special otherworldliness.
His current young band made a decent enough fist of the material although the jug, it seems, is harder to master than I’d previously imagined. Not everyone can "Elevatorize" a jug y'know but from the moment Roky strapped on his guitar and sat perched on the edge of a stool it was classic after classic. From the opening ‘Fire Engine’, straight into ‘Earthquake’, onto ‘Tried To Hide’, even through the muddy Forum PA, this was clearly a special occasion.
There were no oil wheel projections to dress it up, simply songs packed with a depth perhaps only comparable to Dylan back in ’66 when these missives first hit the stores. ‘Slip Inside This House’, ‘You Don’t Know’, ‘Monkey Island’, ‘Make That Girl Your Own’, ‘She Lives (In A Time Of Her Own)’, ‘Roller Coaster’, ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ all rattled past. ‘Levitation’, one of my all-time favourite songs, what an absolute treat. Still they came. Roky’s voice might not have the sheer physical force of his youth but it’s him, just a tiny bit more fragile which, in a way, seemed wholly appropriate.
It was also noticeable Roky appeared to be, somehow, less “pre-programmed” than previous shows I’d seen when he’d say thank you automatically after the last note of every song (it drove me to distraction). This time around he didn’t, only when someone shouted “We love you Roky!” did he offer a little smile, a twinkle in his eye, and a gentle “thank you” in return. It’s hard to describe how touching that was.
‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’ almost brought the house down and an encore of the one non-Elevators track ‘Two Headed Dog” damn well did. It felt a privilege to witness such an emotional event. Thank you Roky, we do love you.