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Review Mon Feb 10 2014
Roky Erickson's re-emergence on the touring scene has been a boon for devotees of the reclusive songwriter; plagued by mental health issues for decades, he's been performing more frequently in the past several years. While headliners The Black Angels have filled the role of Roky's backing band in the past, last Wednesday at Park West The Hounds of Baskerville did so capably. Particularly notable were the organ jabs from keyboardist Kaylie Bernhardt, as well as Roky's son Jegar, who filled in on background vocals and some intermittently visceral harmonica.
Roky's voice was surprisingly impervious to the wear and tear of age, but he seemed to encounter technical issues with his guitar throughout the set, and the band's sound through the speakers was often unintelligible. At times, this could work to their advantage; the muddiness of the sound was so encompassing that the clatter of a Telecaster lead or a yelp from Roky himself could cut through like a serrated blade, but if you were unfamiliar with the catalog the songs tended to blend together. Highlights included "Two Headed Dog" and "Slip Inside This House", but the biggest cheers came with set closer "You're Gonna Miss Me," the most famous track by the 13th Floor Elevators (Roky's first and most famous band), and one of those rightly celebrated, mythical garage rock 45s. The show proved that there was more to Roky's music than one hit, but it was still great to witness such a seminal tune played by the man who'd originally penned it.
The Black Angels sauntered onstage to the ghostly strains of gospel act the Staple Singers; it was an apt choice, as The Black Angels, at their best, evoked an early gospel group drowned in psychedelia. Behind the band ran a constant barrage of trippy images encompassing the entire stage backdrop, and that video felt like a direct feed into someone's REM sleep. Stephanie Bailey, the band's drummer, proved essential, as she never missed a beat but also refrained from becoming too intrusive in the droning soup concocted by her band mates. Their willingness to delay the climaxes in their songs worked to their favor, as they would constrain themselves to the point of bursting or even forgo the typical payoff to follow their unsettling atmospherics further into the murk. While the first songs of the set had a bluesy vibe, their later songs reminded me more directly of Erickson's sound. One exception was the set closer "Young Men Dead", which lulled the audience in with a sensual guitar figure seeped in the blues, before sucker punching the crowd with the pummel of the full band.
After a brief encore break, the band returned and closed with "Bad Vibrations", which began as a slinky dirge before exploding into a double-time rave-up accompanied by a liberally applied strobe light. The crowd around me got more energetic than at any other point in the evening, which made the fact that it was the closer a bit deflating, but they left the people wanting more. It was a great band, and also the right band at the right time; after several weeks of seeing quieter, more acoustic acts, I was ready to have my bones rattled, and the Black Angels supplied exactly what I was hoping for and more.