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Reissue CDs Weekly: The 13th Floor Elevators | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: The 13th Floor Elevators

Reissue CDs Weekly: The 13th Floor Elevators

Bad trips and altered time on compelling live psychedelic artefact from 1967

The 13th Floor Elevators back stage before playing at the Houston Music Theatre, 18 February 1967. LSD-assisted guitarist Stacy Sutherland (left) loses control of his body


13th Floor Elevators Live Evolution LostThe 13th Floor Elevators: Live Evolution Lost

“I lost control of my body. I looked up and Tommy and Roky were turning into wolves, hair and teeth. And in my mind I was hearing the echo of space, and rays of light were shooting through the roof. All of a sudden there was a vision in light that we were wolves and we were spreading drugs and Satanism into the world. These angels walked into the room and they had light shining on them.”

Stacy Sutherland, The 13th Floor Elevators’ guitarist’s subsequent memory of the events surrounding the live show caught on Live Evolution Lost were vividly coloured by the bad trip he experienced back stage (caught on camera in the main picture), minutes before they stood in front of the audience. He and the rest of the band, including front man Roky Erickson and jug player Tommy Hall, had taken Sandoz LSD at their hotel before they set out for the Houston Music Theatre on 18 February 1967. Once on stage, he saw the show’s MC as “the devil, he had a pointed hat on.”

This was meant to be a triumphant Texan home-coming show following the band’s return from California and the release of their pioneering first album, Psychedelic Sounds. Their label, International Artists, planned to record in Houston for a live album. The tapes were shelved and, with Live Evolution Lost, have now resurfaced in full for the first time.

13th Floor Elevators Live Evolution Lost_Houston Msuic Hall posterDrugs weren’t the band’s only problem. Their approach to chemical enhancement had led to hounding by Texas’ police – their return to the state just before Christmas 1966 was accompanied by an ever-present threat of arrest. Moreover, International Artists were pushing them to record new material to capitalise on the hit  single “You’re Gonna Miss me”. (Pictured left: the poster for the Houston concert)

It’s a wonder they could perform at all. Even more surprising is that the tapes captured a band with something approaching coherence. This show – which has been issued in various forms before, but with fewer tracks – has a reputation for being a mess. The liner notes of its first vinyl issue in 1988 described it as having “an unusual, disjointed atmosphere". Then, it wasn’t known where and when the show was from, and the band’s, particularly Sutherland’s, condition was also not known.

Hearing the complete tapes for the first time doesn’t alter that perceptive initial assessment, but it does debunk the idea the band was a mess. Notes are missed. So are entire guitar phrases. Erickson fluffs lines and forgets entire verses. But together, the band has an inexorable forward thrust. They are exceptionally powerful. The hard edge is heard to incredible effect on “Reverberation (Doubt)” which begins with Sutherland’s deep, bell-like guitar – a major influence on Television's Tom Verlaine. John Ike Walton's metronomic drums are pile-driver solid.

At other times, the band sound as though they are falling into a black hole but kept locked to each other by an invisible, gravity like force. The opening of a thrilling “Don’t Fall Down” has drums, bass, guitar and backing vocals where each is coupled to its own beat. The disjunctions become a logical whole, like musical crazy paving. At 24 seconds before “Don’t Fall Down” ends, the band loses all sense of time and the swirling performance becomes an aural analogue of Dali’s melting clocks.

13th Floor Elevators Live Evolution Lost_album oneExtraordinarily, after the Elevators finished their set they carried on to jam with the co-billed rootsy Grateful Dead-like outfit The Conqueroo. Also taped, these are heard in their entirety for the first time. They are hard going and consist mostly of lunges at blues and rock ‘n’ roll, with one fractured jazzy workout. The most interesting is a version of Dylan’s “(It’s all Over now) Baby Blue” where Erickson really sounds as though he is singing backwards, sucking effect and all. It is deeply strange. (Pictured right: the cover of album one of the box set edition of Live Evolution Lost)

Beyond these mainly dodgy post-main course jams, Live Evolution Lost has two other carrots for any potential purchaser. The first is new mastering by former Spacemen 3 member Sonic Boom. The package’s book evades saying what the source actually is, but the sound is more full and widescreen than any previous issue, with a markedly greater clarity and separation between instruments and vocals. The other selling point is the package itself. As well as a double-CD set, this is issued as a three-album box set including a fine, well-illustrated floppy cover book and a full-size reproduction of the concert’s poster. Each album is in different colour vinyl and, as the music only fits five of the six sides, a mystical image of a hand is printed on the sixth.This is the one to get.

Live Evolution Lost is no ad for the effects of drugs; if it had been issued in 1967, it would have bombed, bringing the band an even speedier demise than the one they actually experienced. But it is evidence for the mysterious bond uniting the 13th Floor Elevators at a concert where they ought to have imploded – a connection, despite a change in rhythm section, which was soon to see them record Easter Everywhere, one of the pivotal and most cryptic albums of the Sixties.

Like the live Wire album reviewed recently, Live Evolution Lost is no entry point, but it's essential to any understanding of what made this band a unique, vital force.

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