Do not adjust your TV set: Thirteenth Floor Elevators - live! - in Texas
Speak to Austin natives and not all will have heard of Roky Erickson – not your average man-in-the-street at any rate - but by having a few decent conversation with various Austin locals, commonalities begin to emerge. Everyone will have either seen a UFO first-hand or have a close friend or relative that has, including a 40-acre behemoth that buzzed the ranch of one, G.W.Bush, just a few years ago.
Austinites love Beer, UFOs, Barbeques, Guns and…..MUSIC. Just as Sydney is the home of the world’s best Detroit music, Austin then, is the Global Capital of Psychedelia – thanks to seminal legends the Thirteenth Floor Elevators!
Enter Psych Fest, an ostensibly alternative/independent festival that debuted in 2008, and was reportedly instigated to some degree by local psychedelic outfit, the Black Angels. Held over three days, it has since grown to accommodate even more local talent, as well as swelling to include many top-notch overseas acts. This year’s line-up reads like a who’s who of altered consciousness – Tame Impala, Jesus and Mary Chain and Primal Scream were three of the previous evenings’ acts.
Levitation - Austrin Psych Fest
Carson's Creek Ranch, Austin, TX
May 10, 2015
Tornados had been playing havoc across Texas since Friday, with record Austin rainfalls (at least since the deluge of 1917) which necessitated the moving of a few festival fixtures, most notably the Elevation Amphitheatre. Basically a river-stage for the more left-of-centre, ambient and hell-bent experimental acts, this is what first greeted all who entered those hallowed gates…
So Tornados, UFOs and now blazing sun. Sunday found the Carson Creek Ranch site hot and humid. A strange smell filled the air, pungent and pigpen-esque, as the ground dried underfoot. Apart from the amphitheatre and the (main) Reverberation Stage, the Levitation Tent played host to a string of harder-hitting, poppy outfits, albeit with a disproportionately loud drum mix, while providing some shade in the process. Bands such as Baby Robot, Los Mundos and Fat White Family, backed by a wall of plasma/LED screens, churned out dozens of tight-sounding pop-ier songs– if that’s your bag.
The whole layout was great, a psychedelic rock festival on a Texan ranch is attractive enough a concept, and in this case it was augmented by a bizarre collection of vendor tents, peddling everything from band merch to exotic food to alternative medicine, second-hand vinyl, dope-soap, hippy clothes, printing, aromatherapy, massage and jewellery. Austin Facial Hair Club thankfully sold hats for sunburnt bald scones such as mine - otherwise you could buy beer, bicycle wheel-generated music technology (check it out here) and, finally, an actual record mastering lathe/turntable rig, which was later to provide a live mastering demo of a limited run Flaming Lips track. The whole air was that of a carefree, ‘60s festival, with glitter-adorned trees shading sleeping couples and painted flower-children of a bygone era. Not one unhappy or miserable person was encountered all day….
Enough. Let’s get down to business – the Reverberation Stage.
Ryan Sambol, Tele Novella and Paperhead came and went, in the early afternoon, and (along with some of the later bands on the River stage, such as Samsara Blues Experiment) helped form the impression that for most bands, the Cream/Hendrix approach of a fuzzed-out wah-wah drenched axe, feeding back in the hot Texan sun equated to live psychedelia, and they’d be right – it certainly helped create a superb atmosphere for what was to follow, whilst drawing punters’ attention to the music, which is always key (no pun).
Things really kicked up a notch with The GOASTT – an acronym for The Ghost Of A Sabre-Toothed Tiger – with a frontman and axe wielding virtuoso brandishing the most beautiful metallic teal-hued Jazzmaster/Mustang looking instrument imaginable, chrome scratch-plate flashing as massive echoey, trippy screaming notes were pulled from its core to great appreciation. That man is Sean Lennon – that’s right; SEAN ONO-LENNON, who, at first sight, appears like a hardened Southerner in a black pointy hat, black moustache and unruly black hair.
His chat to the crowd was spot-on and modest, informing us all that this was WAY better than ‘Coe-chella’ – did he just bung on a southern accent? Not bad for a Noo Yorker! Yeah, those guys are worth checking out. Some multi-skilling, with instrument swapping, but great, solid songs - a lot of fun and worth looking up.
Unfortunately, Mac Demarco and band were next and psychedelic they were not. Jingly jangly, wishy washy, posey, tossey pop rubbish was interspersed with asinine comments and lame attempts at humour, all with way too much ‘feel good’ and smiling – not recommended for live music!!! Having said that, Mac and his troupe were a massive hit with the Gen Y-ers who grooved to every song and applauded wildly. Mainstream, to be generous… the beer tent’s looking good.
Darkness falls, no more frying-pan sun and it’s starting to get packed up front. There’s about 50,000 rabid psych freaks tongue-ing for Austin’s favourite and revered sons, the heavily Elevator-inspired Black Angels.
Holy Shit!! Where have these cats been hiding???? From the moment they hit the darkened, moody stage they oozed the very distillate of darker, heavier Elevators numbers – think “Slip Inside”, “Earthquake”, “Reverberation” and “Livin’ On” (especially). Everyone from late-30s ladies with short, office haircuts to bare-chested, wild-eyed festival pigs were going completely apeshit and screaming the words out in perfect time. Dope smoke wafted over the heaving mass, threatening to obscure the stage completely, on more than one occasion, while a large beach-ball was being punted randomly around.
Tracks like “Sniper in the Grass” and “Better Off Alone” were just plain KILLER, and the advice from one and all was “you gotta get their first album – it’s a BANGER, man”
So here we are, at last. It’s a long review, but this was an epic day.
A drumkit sporting Elevators graphics was set up by an elderly gentleman in a white collared shirt and white cowboy hat – John Ike Walton!!! At the same time, a tall, thin bassist of similar demographic (think older version of Jim Dickson, in a baseball cap) is setting up his own rig – Ronnie Leatherman!!!!! This is insane. They are joined by rhythm guitarist Fred Mitchim stage left, and the much younger, brilliant lead guitarist Eli Southard to the extreme right. The scene is set, the crowd inconsolable. We wait…..
Two heavily bearded figures enter stage left and the crowd erupts, the noise is deafening.
Roky is instantly recognisable and he’s shadowed by a darker, slightly shorter figure, with drab baggy clothes and drab back pack – TOMMY HALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Tommy sits centre stage, reaches into his backpack and retrieves THAT moonshine jug, as Roky belts out the opening chords to “She Lives (in a Time of Her Own)”, the first of 12 Elevators classics, the “dooga dooga dooga dooga dooga dooga dooga” of Tommy’s jug mesmerises, the hits delivered one after another, with no dialogue and a sound that shocks and amazes. The wave of sound that ensues is indescribable, as they hit us with “Fire Engine” – Tommy lending ‘’Woo-ooo’’s that jolt us back to Avalon Ballroom, 1966, and 50,000 people think they’re on nitrous……….
“Earthquake” and “Tried to Hide” are followed by “Slip Inside This House” and this writer is feeling like a bit of a bastard, knowing how much friends and fellow enthusiasts SHOULD be getting this as well.
“Splash #1” and “Kingdom of Heaven” serve as decompression, and highlight the depth of that debut release of exactly 50 years ago, as this is a truly psychedelic band – and here’s the thing; we’ve heard Aussie (and overseas) bands cover some of these songs, and always in a much tougher vein. In fact Birdman’s “You’re Gonna Miss Me” is a classic cover, and indicative of the usual treatment for Elevators covers, post punk.
This then, is the genesis of psychedelia - in its purest form - loose-sounding, atmospheric, spacey and harmonious – exactly what the Grateful Dead and many other SF bands attempted to capture in the years immediately following the release of “Psychedelic Sounds”. A benchmark.
Thanks to Eli Southard’s expert mastery of the Stacy Sutherland sound, “Nobody To Love” kicks in with THAT riff reincarnated par excellence, and what a welcome surprise, as an inclusion. Next is “Reverberation” sounding powerful and strong, with the creepy meandering intro of “Roller Coaster” winding straight into the cerebellum of all present. Bloody Hell……..what a rendition. Eli in general acts as the glue - director, captain, admiral and drill sergeant – and it works wonders.
After leaving the stage, they return for “You’re Gonna Miss Me” and the crowd goes wild. Jaeger Erickson bursts into the picture and slams a timely harmonica solo into us, just at the precise moment – it rocks! They rocked! The applause is deafening, the band proud. Tommy quietly replaces his jug in his bag and exits stage left. It is done.
The world has seen a unique event. The magic has arisen, the people cleansed. History has been re-written and the legend authenticated…
Rating? 13 Billion Rolling Rocks (conservatively)