Photo by Marcella D. Volpintesta. Click the photo for a slideshow of the set.
Roky Erickson's Bumbershoot performance was one of the strangest and most amazing things I've ever seen. Knowing the condition he was in only a couple years ago (he's lived most of his life an unmedicated paranoid schizophrenic) made the show that much more engaging. Strolling out on stage in a big, loud Hawaiian shirt, frizzy gray hair hanging down his shoulders, and a childlike glaze over his face, he held up his arms so his rhythm guitarist could strap a guitar over his shoulders. Then the band tore into Roky's "horror rock" classic "It's A Cold Night for Alligators". Given that I put his 70s work on the same playing field as the Stooges Fun House, it was an ideal opener. The band was tight, a group of middle-aged Austinites who've been playing with Roky since the 80s. Their sound gave the songs a more 12-bar Texas blues boogie feel than Roky's original band, the Aliens. As I told my wife and friends, if the songs weren't about two-headed dogs, bloody hammers, and satan, and sung by a really whacked-out looking guy, you might pass them off as another Stevie Ray Vaughan-lite band. But this is exactly what made their set so intriguing.
Roky himself seemed to be in full control. Aside from a slight rasp during high notes and a natural deepening of the voice (comes with age), he still sounds as fresh as he did in the 70s. He ran through a set that included "Don't Shake Me Lucifer", "Two-Headed Dog", "Bloody Hammer", Starry Eyes", and, of course, the 13th Floor Elevators' "You're Gonna Miss Me". This particular song really got the gray-hairs in the crowd boogying. Between songs, all Roky could do was raise his hand, grin like a Dr Suess character and say "Thank you!" I don't know whether this is all they're allowing him to say, or all he is able to say, but it was both awkward and endearing. They closed with a really beautiful "I Walked with a Zombie". Most in the audience probably knew Roky's backstory, given that it was made up of local luminaries like Mark Arm, Peter Buck, Scott Giampino, a handful of El Chupacabra regulars, and a lot of record geek types. This lent a triumphant feel to the set, especially when his lead guitarist quipped "It's the year of Roky Erickson" and the audience responded with resounding applause.