13th Floor Elevators reunion a revelation at Levitation

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The 13th Floor Elevators reunite at Levitation Fest, Sunday, May 10, 2015. / Photo by Peter Blackstock
The 13th Floor Elevators reunite at Levitation Fest, Sunday, May 10, 2015. / Photo by Peter Blackstock

The 13th Floor Elevators reunite at Levitation Fest, Sunday, May 10, 2015. / Photo by Peter Blackstock

“She lives, no fear, doubtless in everything she knows,” Roky Erickson sang out to the thousands gathered at Carson Creek Ranch, as the sounds of chiming guitars and Tommy Hall’s ghostly electric jug surrounded him. And with that, the first proper 13th Floor Elevators performance since the 1960s had begun.

“She Lives (in a Time of Her Own)” was a perfect opening number for a band that, indeed, still lives in a time of its own. That the Elevators managed to transport themselves into the year 2015 for this unlikeliest of all sets at Levitation Fest was a minor miracle. In the end, not even forecasts less than a day out that called for a 90 percent chance of thunderstorms Sunday night were a match for the magic of a 13th Floor Elevators reunion marking the band’s 50th anniversary.

Erickson has performed with increasing frequency in recent years, but Sunday’s show was not only Hall’s first performance in more than 45 years, it marked his first trip back to Texas since then. Imagine the time-warp of a band whose drug associations landed Erickson in jail and pushed Hall to the Bay Area being greeted backstage decades later by an official proclamation from the governor of Texas recognizing the band as innovators of psychedelic music.

Onstage, the Elevators wore their time travel well. Supplementing Erickson, Hall and original-era members Ronnie Leatherman on bass and John Ike Walton on drums were guitarists Fred Mitchum and Eli Southard. (Original guitarist Stacy Sutherland died in 1978.) Roky’s son Jegar Erickson also joined in on harmonica for a few songs. Embedded within the swirling spells of “Slip Inside This House” and the screaming licks of “Fire Engine” was the foundation that nearly every band playing at Levitation Fest has been building upon for five decades since the Elevators’ heyday.

When they played “I’ve Got Levitation,” the song that gave the festival its name, it was a defining moment. But not the only one: Performing on the event’s Reverberation Stage, they also played the song which gave that stage its name, Erickson’s chants of “Reverberation” echoing across the field as cool breezes blew the wisps of misty clouds around on a night that turned out to be perfectly fitting for the music.

A mid-set pairing of more contemplative numbers “Splash 1 (Now I’m Home)” with “The Kingdom of Heaven (Is Within You)” proved revelatory. Erickson’s vocals brought forth the mysticism in lyrics such as the latter song’s “Through the stained glass windows moonlight flashes on the choir” — written by the band’s longtime friend Powell St. John, who was in attendance.

Southard’s considerable guitar contributions stood out on the set-closing “Roller Coaster” as the whole band barreled toward a spectacularly psychedelic finish. Nobody seemed ready to go as the band casually ambled offstage, so they ambled back on for the obvious encore, “You’re Gonna Miss Me.” From behind the drums, Walton gave a friendly wave of his cowboy hat as the audience soaked in the final moments of a historic and triumphant reunion.

The Flaming Lips would follow, and later, finally, the rain. But for a glorious hour on Sunday night, everyone at Levitation lived in a time of their own.

Set list:
1. She Lives (in a Time of Her Own)
2. Fire Engine
3. Earthquake
4. Tried to Hide
5. Slip Inside This House
6. I’ve Got Levitation
7. Splash 1 (Now I’m Home)
8. The Kingdom of Heaven (Is Within You)
9. Nobody to Love
10. Reverberation
11. Roller Coaster
Encore:
12. You’re Gonna Miss Me


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