Rock lives

Posted By on March 7, 2010

In rock ‘n’ roll, comebacks are by no means a sure bet. Some bands never go away, even when they should, like the Stones and the Who. Some go acoustic and minimal, like Ray Davies of the Kinks. Others devolve into their leader, like Roky Erickson, whose 13th Floor Elevators yielded the barbed-wire breakup song, “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” in 1966, a semimajor hit featuring Erickson’s barbaric yawp and a surging rhythm bed that presaged heavy metal in its power and punk in its simplicity.

I saw Erickson at the Beachland Ballroom last night, after catching him Nov. 14 at a Janis Joplin tribute in which he sang “You’re Gonna” and “Ooh! My Soul,” a Little Richard number perfectly suited to his primal scream. Could Erickson sustain a whole set? No problem. He was fabulous.

Not only did he end with “You’re Gonna” (no encore despite wild applause, whistles and the usual hoots), he stomped through a gang of other numbers from his work in Elevators and Roky Erickson and the Aliens, and he was fierce. This was hellfire rock ‘n’ roll snatched from the abyss and delivered by a master. In the beginning, the rock word was Sun Records. The second generation was the British Invasion and the American response spearheaded by the Beatles, the Byrds, Dylan—and misfits like Erickson, a leonine phoenix who works idiosyncratic hard rock as if he’d invented it. He’s on a brief tour with Okkervil River, a startlingly good young band from Austin, the liberal oasis in secessionist Texas, where Erickson made his first mark nearly 50 years ago. I can’t wait for “True Love Cast Out All Evil,” his first album of new material in more than 10 years. It’s due out April 20.

The show was cool for other reasons. Not only was it a highlight of the Beachland’s 10th anniversary, it also featured two talented Cleveland bands: Living Stereo, a sharp, new wave quartet with complex songs and stage presence to burn, and the Alarm Clocks, a Byrds- and Petty-influenced guitar band of chops, seasoning and occasionally interesting texture. Living Stereo was a hard act to follow (especially for an opener), the Clocks a nice bridge that got better as the mix settled in. Erickson, however, dominated as soon as he took the stage.

I wish I’d caught Pere Ubu the night before, when the storied and fractious underground Cleveland band recreated “The Modern Dance,” its 1978 breakthrough. Friends tell me the house was nearly full, the energy level high, Ubu mainman David Thomas in relatively high spirits. A frazzled-looking, withdrawn Thomas was at the Erickson show. He looked thin and weary, a shadow of his former self. I hope he enjoyed the Erickson revival as much as I did.


One Response to “Rock lives”

  1. Nancy Wasen says:

    Missed you last night! I was there right in front of the stage in the middle! Another great Beachland Ballroom show.

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I'm a veteran critic and business writer who reads and listens and writes about music, books, hotels and travel. I've been in the business for many years and still enjoy it. My pride and joy is my book, Cleveland Rock & Roll Memories. Follow me on Twitter: