I rocked with a zombie: Roky Erickson @ The Great American Music Hall, Oct 31

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Nov 4 2007, 23h39

Wed 31 Oct – Roky Erickson, 1990s

Last year, Roky Erickson played for the first time in decades in San Francisco, but the show (part of the Noise Pop festival) sold out before I could get tickets. Instead, I saw You're Gonna Miss Me, a documentary on his life. The movie was very good, and cleared up some misconceptions I had thanks to the liner notes for Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye: A Tribute to Roky Erickson), but still, I was kicking myself for missing what could have been a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see one of my favorite rockers play, given his age and, shall we say, notably erratic nature.

So naturally, when I was checking out the new Last.FM recommended events calendar and saw that Roky Erickson and The Explosives were playing in San Francisco—on Halloween, no less—I leaped at the chance. I went with my friend Joe, who I'd introduced to Roky's music years ago and who has become a big fan since.

The show did not disappoint. Roky was in fine form and played with gusto, and his backing band, The Explosives, were very tight. They played a good long set, featuring several songs from his best known album, Roky Erickson & the Aliens' The Evil One, including White Faces, Mine Mine Mind, I Think Up Demons, Bloody Hammer (my favorite!), Night Of The Vampire, Don't Shake Me Lucifer, Red Temple Prayer (Two Headed Dog), and Creature With The Atom Brain. He also played a few songs from other albums, including the '50s-'60s-styled love song Starry Eyes, the horror-blues number The Beast, and, as part of the first encore, The Interpreter. He finished up with a second encore, playing, of course, I Walked With A Zombie, the perfect close to a great performance.

Roky didn't really work the crowd per se, but had a very charismatic stage presence regardless, and seemed genuinely happy to be there playing. After every number, he'd wave and give a hearty shout of "Thank you!" for the applause. The lead guitarist rocked out hard, but still kept Roky in focus, which is how it should be.

Of course, since it was Halloween, several people came in costume. Beyond a few zombies (naturally), I also saw a girl dressed as Charlie Chaplin, and quite a few foodstuffs (including beer. College crowd, what can I say?). Even the bassist was dressed as Death from The Seventh Seal. I think the drummer may have been in costume too, but from where I was I couldn't see him clearly (Roky and his lead guitarist were in street clothes).

Only one thing bugged me: the crowd. What is it with hipster crowds and not dancing? Must Maintain Ironic Detachment At All Times, I suppose. Heaven forfend anyone have a visceral reaction to the music! Of course, I can't blame some of the folks in bulky costumes. Still, while it made me a little self-conscious as I rocked out, it wasn't that big of a distraction. Especially since Joe was busy dancing like he'd stuck his finger in an electrical socket, I couldn't feel too out of place.

Just as a final note, despite the billing, 1990s did not play. I don't know if they were only booked for the previous night, or dropped out, or no-showed, or what, but the show was all Roky. Not that I really minded.

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