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Roky Erickson and Evilhook Wildlife ET @ The El Rey 10/28

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For a night largely dedicated to tales of Lucifer and his minions, it was bit strange to look around the El Rey on Sunday night at a sea of smiling faces.

But Roky Erickson’s return to the LA stage for the first time in twenty-six years was cause for celebration. The audience - a family reunion of freaks, old punkers, and psychedelic survivors - received every devilish incantation as if it was a Christmas present. The gifts may have been overdue, but each was well worth waiting for.

Roky’s sad tale of great promise undone by mental illness has been told many times, most recently in the documentary film You’re Gonna Miss Me and the book Eye Mind: The Saga of Roky Erickson And The Thirteenth Floor Elevators, released this month by Process Media. Having seen (quite a bit of) him at his worst in the doc, there was a definite fear that this re-appearance could be a terrible embarrassment, the parading out of an addled, frightened man with no interest in his own music. With all the good will in the room that night, we might have even tolerated that. But from the second he walked out, looking alert and healthy, grinning widely and waving to his people, it was obvious that he is, really, back.

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And once he opened his mouth it was all over. That unmistakable voice came out of the speakers - “It’s a cold night for alligators, it’s a cold night for dogs” - and the entire theater turned to its neighbor and blurted out “Wow! He sounds great!” While he does stick to the lower register these days, and occasionally seems close to blowing his throat out, he sounds fierce and committed, and gave us a night to rival any of his contemporaries’ recent visits.

The bulk of the set was drawn from his 1980 solo album The Evil One and the singles that preceded it, with two nods to the Elevators (the incandescent Splash 1 and their wondrous one hit, You're Gonna Miss Me).

And what a band! It was a little troubling when I heard he had replaced the Explosives, with longtime collaborator Cam King on lead guitar, in favor of young guns from the Austin band Summer Wardrobe, simply because the recordings of the 2006 Explosives shows were so good. But he may have surpassed them with this new crew, which added depth and shading while staying true to the twisted spirit of the originals. The pretty ones were just gorgeous, pedal steel careening over a fragile Starry Eyes, and Splash 1 still the perfect moment of psychedelic affection. The brutal ones were unhinged, the smoke of hell wafting through the ballroom during The Wind And More. AndYou're Gonna Miss Me- it was garage rock perfection, opening "Aw yeah!" and all.

As they reached the end with I Walked With A Zombie, it was touching to see Roky delaying the final closing of the curtain, poking his head out for another wave, then another, then another. It's not hard to understand. This should have been his life, this kind of night, doing what he does best to a packed house. There's too much lost time to completely make it up. But sometimes the universe corrects itself for a few minutes, and it's a
beautiful thing to witness.

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Photos by Elise Thompson for LAist