On a blustery, snowy night in February, I pulled myself away from the school library, downed several drops of concentrated oregano oil, and set out to the Corona Theatre on an odyssey for the night. On this particular night in question, the Black Angels and Roky Erickson—Austin-based psych stalwarts from different generations—had come to town. Common wisdom dictates not going out to a show while sick. But if there's one personal truism that says anything about my sense of priorities, I will put a solid night of psychedelic goodness over my health pretty much every time.
I found myself a CJLO cabal to boot: Idle Matt (host of Radio Fun and my Thursday night on-air neighbour), Stephanie Dee (magazine editrix and the twee-est DJ at the station), and campus radio alum Michael B (who had a middle school math class to teach the next morning).
For the uninitiated, Roky Erickson—through his contributions to both the 13th Floor Elevators and through his solo pursuits—is maybe number-one contender for the title of Grand Goddaddy to Pyschedelica, as one of the original pioneers of the genre as we know it. Also, he should probably not be alive right now.
I suggest giving Easter Island a quick listen, and then The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, and then his stuff with the Aliens... and while you're at it, go watch the documentary on Erickson's charmed life, You're Gonna Miss Me, too. You go ahead, I'll still be here when you get back...
...done? Good! I can tell that you've returned as a more enlightened person.
Roky's band, The Hounds of Baskerville, was energetic and capable, and did justice to the original material, which is laudable considering the variety of original bands and backing-band incarnations in the set list's origins. There was a bit of disconnect in hearing songs so well-known as fuzzier, lower-fi entities in a live setting, with an energy and crispness in a live setting different to—but not incongruous to the spirit of—the original material. He looked a bit weak at times, sometimes after a verse you would flinch in case he passed out, but ultimately belted and shredded until the end of his set. It's a nice feeling to be at a show (an all-ages show to boot) with a full spectrum of generations present, rocking out in unison. When a true veteran can pull out a song originally recorded almost 50 years ago, and still have it responded to with unadulterated excitement. And then do it a dozen more times. The rub is that the response wasn't out of nostalgia, but because it still sounded fresh.
This was the first show in a while that had me exponentially more excited for the opener than for the headliner (we stuck around mostly for the promise of sitar). If the Black Angels are the studious pupils of the genre, then they had the privilege of having the principal of the school precede them. The Black Angels are steeped in their influences, and a throwback band that has their retro-aesthetic fine-tuned. It's significant that the Black Angels were the first contemporary group to sign with Light in the Attic Records, a label which is otherwise known a fine re-issuer of much earlier works (...like Erickson's!). Their band name is a callback to the Velvet Underground's "Black Angel's Death Song". Their first (and, judging by the crowd response, still the most popular) album Passover doesn't stray far from allusions to the late-1960s/early-1970s, with wartime song titles ("The First Vietnamese War", "Young Men Dead", "Call To Arms", et cetera). Add in a drone machine to muddy up the works, and you've got psychedelic revivalists to charm the kids.
The Black Angels are good at what they do, sonically tight and on-point when it comes to recreating the aural aesthetics of the genre. Live, however, they suffer from the same limitations as they do on recording: the music they put out sounds just fine, but after about a half-hour it all bleeds in to feeling... same-y. Erickson is an exemplar of someone who plays music that has its grounding solidly in another era, but only by virtue of where the music came from; otherwise, his songbook still sounds current and vital. The Black Angels, on the other hand, are a contemporary group who do a masterful rendition of the trappings of this same period of time, but end up limiting themselves in the process. The greater psychedelic genre has splintered off and has created so many off-shoots in the past several decades that there definitely room for all kinds, but after a bill that brings together both Erickson and the Black Angels, one of them almost feels redundant. And it ain't the old kid on the block.
As a group, we ended up leaving before the end of the Black Angels' set, partially because it was late and we all had boring grown-up things to do in the morning, but also because we collectively decided that we had already heard the same song played out over the past hour. And of course, it was just as we were heading out the door that we heard the sitar for the first time that night.