Any big reunion tour always draws a mixed crowd — e.g., gray-haired, bearded hippies mingling with shaggy-haired, bearded hipsters, etc. The audience gathered for last night's Roky Erickson show at the Music Box was no different. There seemed to be a combination of dedicated fans and curious newcomers, some of whom no doubt expected some sort of meltdown, including two people who left the show gloating that Roky had “lost his shit” during a few of the songs.
Well, there was no meltdown: besides the occasional missed cue or mumbled lyric, it was a pretty astonishing return to form. Anyone who saw Keven McAlester's great documentary You're Gonna Miss Me: A Film About Roky Erickson knows about his troubled mental history and family drama with the scenes of Roky old and fat trying to figure out how to enter the Publisher's Clearing House sweepstakes particularly standing out. But whatever it is that's happening, his life right now is working.
Fellow Austin band Okkervil River backed Roky both at the show and on their new album True Love Cast Out All Evil, and clearly he took a lot of support from them, consistently checking over his shoulder for cues.
But his voice is back. That powerhouse screech and wail was just as beautiful and terrifying as ever, as evidenced from the first time he opened his mouth on opener “Night of the Vampire.” That first, drawn-out word “Toniiiiight!” rattled the walls. Walls, by the way, adorned with massive blowups of Hieronymous Bosch paintings. It doesn't get more appropriate than that.
They followed with loud, surprisingly forceful versions of “Two Headed Dog” and “Don't Slander Me,” before playing a few songs from the new record, “Johnny Lawman” and the anthem “Be and Bring Me Home.” Roky and his young cohorts closed out the night with favorites “I Walked with a Zombie,” “Starry Eyes” and, as an encore, “You're Gonna Miss Me.”
Having already had two successful careers in music, Roky Erickson may be proudly fat, gray-haired and bearded, but there's still fight in the old boy yet. Judging from the smile he had on his face for most of the show, the third time's a charm.