The Black Angels and Roky Erickson, Together at Last

No, you’re not hallucinating.

Black Angels vocalist Alex Maas is so excited it sounds as if he might leap through the phone and into my lap at any moment. His Austin-based, lysergic-leaning band has spent the past several weeks rehearsing with pioneering psychedelic folk hero Roky Erickson. It's an honor and privilege so serendipitous it sounds like part of some sort of peyote-induced hallucination. But it's a dream that will be actualized when the Black Angels kick off a five-city tour with Erickson at the Showbox next Wednesday, October 28. "[Angels guitarist] Christian [Bland] and I saw Roky Erickson at an Austin City Limits taping and we thought it would be more psychedelic; it was a lot of his old friends from Texas playing a more bluesy version of things," says Maas, speaking via phone while a torrential downpour hits outside his Austin home. Having grown up listening to Erickson's initial incarnation as the leader of groundbreaking band 13th Floor Elevators, Maas was hoping to hear that band's acid-tinged sound in the mix, but that was not practical given the more straightforward tone of the accompanying players. "We thought it would be awesome if we could play his songs how we remembered them...how we'd interpret them. And fucking hell! [Erickson's management] contacted us and now we are playing with him!" Plans were quickly laid for the Angels to pull double duty, opening the shows with 45 minutes of their own material and then joining Erickson as his backing band during his headlining set. "We've spent two months in the studio learning these songs," continues Maas. "We wanted to play all 13th Floor Elevators songs, but his camp wasn't really into that idea in the beginning. They wanted to play his solo stuff and said that he hadn't played those songs for years. But we got in there, and he wanted to play them!" Despite his obvious enthusiasm for resurrecting and expanding on Erickson's late-'60s sound, it's evident that Maas and his bandmates had no desire to force their vision on their hero. "We were careful to preserve how the song actually feels...we didn't want to trample all over his work and we were very cautious," he says emphatically. The collaborative process was daunting at first. Erickson's decades-long struggle with paranoid schizophrenia (the subject of Keven McAlester's beautifully made 2005 documentary, You're Gonna Miss Me) was an obvious concern when it came to communicating and finding a mutual comfort level among all the players involved, but there was also the physical reality that Erickson is now over 60 years old. "Roky is getting older and he gets tired quicker—and our little practice space is pretty small and hot," explains Maas. "So we were a little worried at first. But the first time he came to the practice space, we played "You're Gonna Miss Me" and he started doing those yelps he does at the beginning of the song. My legs started shaking. I looked around the room and everyone's eyes got really wide and everyone's height in the room seemed to drop. I've never seen or felt anything like it. The experience has been therapeutic, actually—for us and for him. Just to see him change physically and mentally as we are playing these songs is such a good thing. It's not us foisting our thing on him; it's an art project." Back on the local level, and also in the department of top-notch collaborative art projects, the good folks behind a handful of Capitol Hill art and retail spaces are coming together this weekend to host an intriguing cross-pollination of live performances and visual art. Anne Bonny proprietor and Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive to Death frontman Spencer Moody has joined forces with Cairo gallery owner Joel Leshefka to produce Expo86, a droll reference to their shared childhood experience attending the original Expo '86 in Vancouver, and a celebration of the collective talents of their peers. Running this Friday through Sunday, the schedule features a nice cross-section of that community's more off-the-wall artists and musicians, including Katharine Hepburn's Voice, Tiny Vipers, Widower, Pedwin Drag King (Moody's latest brainchild), Karl Blau, and Hoquiam (a side project from Damien Jurado), as well as the unexpected revelation of lead Cave Singer Peter Quirk offering up a few poems. There are 32 performances in all, taking place at Anne Bonny, Cairo, and the NoSpace Gallery. Tickets each day are $10; more can be found at www.expo86seattle.blogspot.com. rocketqueen@seattleweekly.com

 
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