It took him 47 years or so to finally play Minnesota, but it only took Roky Erickson a couple weeks to adjust his set list to reflect the latest rediscovery of his music.
The Texan psychedelic rock legend’s highly anticipated concert at First Avenue – eagerly awaited, at least, by the thousand local musicheads who turned out on a cold Monday night and chanted his name at set’s end – dug a little deeper into his 13th Floor Elevators catalog than has been the norm since Roky returned to the stage with regularity in the late-‘00s.
Foremost among the way-back oldies by Erickson’s pioneering band was “Kingdom of Heaven,” from the Elevators’ 1966 debut album, a rarely played tune prominently featured last month in the second episode of HBO’s creepy series “True Detective.” It certainly wasn’t the most rocking or solidly played of the classic nuggets on Monday – an honor that would probably go to “Reverberation” or “Tried to Hide” – but “Kingdom” reiterated the ever-evolving aspect of Erickson’s legacy. His legend is still being written, and in this case it took on more of a chilling, Southern gothic tone.
Even though he has toured in the past with Monday’s headliners the Black Angels as a backing band, Erickson instead performed in the middle slot with his own five-person unit, the Hounds of Baskerville, featuring his Jack White-lookalike son Jegar Erickson as a support vocalist and flaming-red organist Kaylie Bernhardt.
The group provided a sturdy if never quite stellar foundation for the 66-year-old singer, who seemed about 75% invested in his howling vocals (a good rating in his case). At the end of several of songs, including the hypnotic version of “Slip Inside This House,” Erickson playfully lifted his arms in triumph like Sly Stallone’s Rocky. The show’s real victory was the fact that the long-troubled former recluse genuinely seemed to be enjoying himself. He never talked to the crowd, but he smiled often and watched and listened intently to his band.
With the heavy dose of Elevators tunes and one song from the 2010 collaborative album with Okkervil River, “John Lawman,” the set list unfortunately lacked several of Erickson’s best-loved post-Elevators tunes, including “I Walked With a Zombie,” “Starry Eyes” and “Don’t Slander Me.” Maybe he’s just saving those for the next time he comes around. At least we got to hear a riveting “Two Headed Dog” and “It’s a Cold Night for Alligators,” the latter certainly a fitting opener for his Minnesota debut. Here’s the full set list:
It’s a Cold Night For Alligators / John Lawman / Tried To Hide / Fire Engine / Levitation / She Lives (In A Time Of Her Own) / Slip Inside This House / Kingdom of Heaven / Roller Coaster / Reverberation / Two-Headed Dog (Red Temple Prayer) / You're Gonna Miss Me