Fueled by a madness brought on by excessive acid use, the unhinged garage-rock and mind-bending, sometimes harrowing, psychedelia of ’60s pre-punk trailblazers The 13th Floor Elevators looked out over the edge and leaped — sanity and safety be damned. Few others, if any, followed their lead. They were too afraid.
The 13th Floor Elevators’ resident medicine man, Roky Erickson, on the other hand, risked everything, from his mental health to any chance at commercial success the band may have had, to commit wild and woolly rock ‘n’ roll to an asylum of scary, mind-f**king noise. Did the acid unleash the cavalcade of demons, bizarre planets, werewolves and general strangeness wandering around in Erickson’s mind and let it all roam free in the half-crazed lyrics and manic energy of the Elevators’ cat-scratched rock?
Maybe it did, or maybe Erickson’s imagination would have dreamed it all up without chemical encouragement. Whatever the case, the 10-CD Elevators’ anthology, Sign Of The 3-Eyed Men, goes to great lengths to prove, once and for all, that their savage brilliance is deserving of a place at the table with the greats of rock ‘n’ roll.
If Sign Of The 3-Eyed Men stopped at simply rounding up mono and stereo versions of the band’s three seminal albums — The Psychedelic Sounds Of The Thirteenth Floor Elevators, Easter Everywhere and Bull Of The Woods — and capturing their sonic glory with meticulously restored sound, courtesy of the Elevators’ original producer/engineer Walt Andrus, that would be a satisfying collection.
Toss in all the original masters, all the group’s singles, a clutch of session outtakes, two lost albums of previously unreleased material and Stacy Sutherland’s work in progress — the acetates, the safety masters and the multi-track tapes — for the aborted Beauty & The Beast album, and you’d be getting closer to nirvana.
But Sign Of The 3-Eyed Men has all of that and much, much more. There’s an assortment of live rarities — some of which are being made available for the first time on record — and a 72-page hard-cover book written by Elevators’ authority Paul Drummond, who penned the book “Eye Mind.” Scattered about is a host of reproduction memorabilia. Everything from posters, stickers and handbills to photographic prints are included, providing a feast for that “eye mind” of yours.
And while all that makes for a stunning package, what will really set tongues wagging is the incredible wealth of recorded material contained within its padded cells.
Amid the cacophony of gurgles, sirens and Erickson’s hell-spawned caterwaul, The 13th Floor Elevators — tight as can be — played at a frenetic pace, always just a heartbeat away from utter anarchy. Their rock ‘n’ roll was primal and basic, the progeny of their ’50s forefathers like Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly. And yet, the Elevators took it to places they never imagined, and this set provides the road map for their long, strange journey.
An otherworldly alternate mix of “May The Circle Remain Unbroken” and a freewheeling, ramshackle live version of “Shake Your Hips,” from 1973, are revelations. Elsewhere, outtakes of “You’re Gonna Miss Me” and “Fire Engine” are slightly less chaotic than the originals, allowing the sure-fire hooks of both to grab hold easier. Although this version of “Fire Engine” loses none of the goofy fun and howling mayhem of the original, and the intensity of this take on “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” with riffs that would blow away Them or The Animals, is just as potent.<