Clearly, the Gods of Rock 'n' Roll were smiling on The Spin last Wednesday night. Not only did we get to see psychedelic pioneer, punk forbearer and heavy-metal progenitor Roky Erickson at Exit/In — a thing that we just assumed we would never, ever see in our lifetime — but we also managed to get pulled over and let go without so much as a warning! And really, there were probably a few reasons we should have been warned by Officer Friendly. Maybe even one or two reasons we should have been arrested. But the Rock Gods took care of us, hallelujah, and what could have ended with a night in the slammer instead ended up being a pretty perfect evening. Our one major complaint? They didn't have any Roky shirts in our size. Bummerino Merch-opolis.
Now, please bear in mind that because this is one of The Spin's all-time favorite acts, we just assumed we'd arrive and there would only be three mid-20th-century-vintage heshers, two twentysomethings with questionable haircuts and a bartender in attendance. That's usually how things go when The Spin's favorite artists come into town. And we won't lie: We went above and beyond the call of duty to get the word out about this show. But maybe we overreacted, because when we walked into Exit/In, things were hopping: The crowd was healthy if not quite at capacity, and there was a palpable sense of energy in the room.
The Spin showed up about as close to on-time as we ever have, strolling into the club and scooping up a beer just as Brooklyn power-pop trio Nude Beach was really starting to shred. We've been saying that NB's latest album II is one of the best records of the year since it was released this summer — yes, it was so good we declared it "Best of 2012" with six months left on the clock — and we were not disappointed. New-school guitar pop with old-school psych rock might seem like an odd pairing on paper, but Nude Beach's Trick/Mats/Petty-channeling hooks and summery vibes were exactly what we needed to warm us up on a cold November night. With a show like this one, at which a relatively unheard-of band is opening for a legend, the openers can get the short end of the stick from an impatient audience waiting for their heroes. Not so this time. Good work, Nashville. Now, go buy that Nude Beach record, we know you'll love it.
And then Roky! Holy shit! As our wasted/elated compatriot kept saying — while possibly holding back tears of joy — "this is the man." Erickson's contributions to the way-out-weirdo school of rock (our alma mater, in case you were wondering) are vast, and our admiration for him borders on fanatical, but that doesn't mean we didn't go into this show with a bit of trepidation. Trotting out legendary recluses does not always guarantee a good show. Things can go wrong in a million different ways, but none of that happened. Barring a few feedback squeals here and there, the set was flawless, from the opening, slow-and-sludgy psych rework of Bo Diddley's "Hey Bo Diddley" to the oh-God-we-can't-believe-we're-hearing-this closer "Two Headed Dog." We were prepared for a letdown, and we are very happy to inform you that it was anything but. Frankly, it was incredible.
Backed by a brawny band six pieces deep, Erickson's voice — one of the most haunting and otherworldly in all of music — has taken on a much huskier, gravelly tone in recent years, which sounded terrific with muscular instrumentation behind it. Or maybe "terrifying" is the better word: Erickson has always tapped into a cosmic-horror vein on songs like "Night of the Vampire," but with his shaggy white beard and rugged, grizzled vocal tone, he comes off like some long-lost Hammer Horror villain. When Erickson brought it back to his '60s-era songs like "Reverberations" and "You're Gonna Miss Me," his tone didn't have quite as horrifying an effect — it just sounded incredibly badass. From start to finish, Erickson & Co. barreled through the hits (or what might be hits if the man's legend wasn't built on obscure pressings and bootleg minutiae), and the crowd was right there along with them, reveling in a psychedelic world that will most likely never return to Nashville. Roky, thanks for coming. We're gonna miss you.
Whole lotta shakin' ...
Last spring, legendary blues-hillbilly-punk ensemble The Legendary Shack Shakers got some frightening news: Longtime drummer Brett Whitacre's occasional blackouts were due to an electrical malfunction that caused his heart to stop momentarily, and he would need help if he didn't want his brief spells of clinical death to become permanent. Thirty-six-year-old Whitacre was fitted with a pacemaker, which kept his metronome in good working order, but left the uninsured musician with more than $60,000 in hospital bills. Though Whitacre can and does still play, everyone in the Shakers camp agreed that the end of the season would be a good time to recharge from their grueling years of touring and focus on other projects. The Spin was pumped to learn that the Shakers would hold their pre-hiatus sendoff Saturday night at Mercy Lounge, and that it would double as a chance to pass the hat for Whitacre's medical fund.
When we mounted the Mercy staircase, one-half of Pine Hill Haints was already serenading a packed house dotted with biker jackets and flannel. Forgoing the usual libations, we threaded our way to the front to get a better view of Jamie Barrier and his wife Kat working the crowd with a semi-acoustic set rooted in traditions much older than electric power. Though usually augmented by bass and percussion, the two core Haints relied on their delivery and the quality of the songs themselves to hold the audience spellbound, despite their bare arrangements featuring mandolin and fiddle alternating with guitar.
This was excellent foreshadowing: Though the rest of the bill had the benefit of powerhouse accompaniment, performance would remain the key to carrying the crowd, as The Dirt Daubers exhibited when they took the stage next. J.D. Wilkes, ringleader of both the Shakers and the Daubers, bounded into the spotlight, grinning and whooping like a tent revival preacher as the band ripped into a number called "Let It Fly."
Wilkes' wife Jessica is no slouch on the stand-up bass, but she really shone when her turn came in front of the mic, where the long, cool woman in a blue dress offered a perfect contrast to her coiled spring of a husband. Her delivery reminded us of Peggy Lee and Sarah Vaughan, pointing up the cool undercurrent of jazz and R&B that helps differentiate The Dirt Daubers' own boiling energy from a second coming of the Shakers. Guitarist Rod Hamdallah, a recent addition to the Daubers and the replacement for The Jesus Lizard's Duane Denison in the Shakers, let nothing disturb his Zen-like calm during his fireball runs up and down the neck. One fan hollered, "J.D. Wilkes, you're more of a man than my stepfather ever was." No one was going to argue with him.
At the end of their set, the Daubers announced the night's first surprise guest: Next up would be local favorites Mystery Twins, the duo featuring Stephanie Brush and Doug Lehmann of The Clutters. Aside from some new lighting gear — which helped them look more, um, mysterious — the Twins didn't offer much that was out of the ordinary in their set, but that's just another way of saying it was awesome. Their harmonies may not be as tight as Mickey and Sylvia or The Everly Brothers, but we can't imagine a better way to accompany the Twins' rock 'n' roll take on "Love is Strange," Petula Clark's "Heart," Leonard Cohen's "I'm Your Man" or their own fist-pumping originals, like the A-side of their new 7-inch, "Arrow."
Without any further ado, the main event was at hand. It was hard to believe there were many stops left after The Dirt Daubers' set, but Wilkes and the Shakers found and pulled out all of them as they feverishly dished out their delicious elixir of Chicago blues, mountain music, hardcore punk and possession by tongues of fire. We were glad to see Whitacre looking healthy: Being dead at least three times hadn't slowed him down a bit, and his double-kick-drum blast drove the band like a gale-force wind. Propelled to a frenzy, Wilkes bounced all over the stage, pulling faces, miming a machine gun to Whitacre's fills, trying on hats thrown by the audience, all woven in and around his growling, howling sermons and searing harmonica lines that a blind person could easily confuse for Alvin Lee's guitar work.
Four songs into the set, Wilkes' shirt was gone; shortly thereafter, he surfed the crowd while screaming the lyrics to "CB Boogie," on which former drummer Paul Simmons (currently of The Reverend Horton Heat's band) sat in. Their furious version of Slim Harpo's "Shake Your Hips" possibly beat the original, and The Rolling Stones' cover doesn't come close (and Exile on Main St. is on our desert-island list). No wonder Robert Plant invited them to open for him!
As the evening drew to a close, there was one last guest appearance: The band was augmented by Nathan Brown and Todd Anderson, who were part of the original Shakers lineup in 1996, and jumped right in as though they hadn't missed a day. We left supremely glad this doesn't mark the end of the road for any of the players involved, and that a Shakers reunion sometime in the future has not been ruled out.