Roky Erickson and Okkervil River Carry Each Other in New York
Only in a live setting -- Tuesday night at New York City's Webster Hall, for example -- does it become clear what Roky Erickson and his new backing band, Okkervil River, have to offer each other.
For Okkervil, an alt-country sextet out of Austin, the benefits are obvious. Working with Erickson is a chance for the young, slightly pretentious, conceptually minded crew to cast its lot with a frazzled genius, one of rock's true eccentric outsiders.
Tuesday night, Okkervil leader Will Sheff was a ra-ra-Roky cheerleader, introducing the tunes, pumping up the crowd and engaging the show's supposed star in awkward, obviously rehearsed stage patter. "Are you happy to be here in New York, Roky?" Sheff asked at one point, eliciting no response from the man whose aloofness and fragility he worked hard to conceal.
What Roky gets from Okkervil is security. Whether playing old material or tunes from the just-released 'True Love Cast Out All Evil,' the comeback album he cut with Sheff and company, Erickson lacked the wherewithal to go it alone. He appeared unsure of himself, and as he sang, he frequently looked back at Sheff, as if seeking reassurance. His behavior was understandable, of course, given that no major rocker, save for maybe Brian Wilson, has survived as hellish a slog through drug abuse and mental illness.
For all his travails, Erickson functions remarkably well. He opened Tuesday's set with 'Night of the Vampire,' a dark, moody tune made all the creepier by Okkervil's Halloween organ sound. Moving into 'Two-Headed Dog,' Erickson dredged from his throat a mighty Southern screech -- a deeper, craggier version of the voice he used back in the '60s, when he fronted the Texas psych-rock outfit 13th Floor Elevators.
Okkervil tends to specialize in indie-flavored Americana, but