13th Floor Elevators

Levitation interviews

Tommy Hall (l) and his friend George Ripley in San Francisco, 2015. The pair hopped Amtrak for Austin Tuesday morning.
Tommy Hall (l) and his friend George Ripley in San Francisco, 2015. The pair hopped Amtrak for Austin Tuesday morning. (photo courtesy of Priscilla Lee)

13th Floor Elevators

Sun., 10pm, Reverberation Stage

An all-seeing eye caps the psychedelic pyramid, but the cornerstone remains the 13th Floor Elevators. The Austin quintet's late-Sixties recordings, most notably the mind-expansive garage rock of their 1966 debut and the free-flowing perfection of follow-up Easter Everywhere, proved revolutionary for generations of bands dropping acid and cranking reverb. The 50th anniversary of the group's formation might have gone without celebration had they not shocked the music world with the announcement of a one-off reunion show.

Their booking was the coup of coups for the Reverberation Appreciation Society, a group of 13th Floor Elevators acolytes who organize Levitation – the local sojourn that until this year was billed as Austin Psych Fest. Not only did they score the ultimate headliner that no other festival will land, their prompting rewrote the history of their favorite band by adding an unexpected final chapter.

The most important character in that story, besides Austin native Roky Erickson and his preternatural bark, is still Tommy Hall, architect of the Vators' vibration. He composed the bulk of the group's philosophy-bent lyrics and injected a hair-raising whoop of jug percussion into key tracks, including "You're Gonna Miss Me" and "Slip Inside This House." His arrival at Levitation after a four-decade absence from music stands as the reunion's mind-blowing centerpiece.

How psychedelic is Tommy Hall exactly? Enough to access planes of consciousness unfathomable to conventional thinkers. "My understanding is that the universe is a quasi-material abstraction," the 72-year-old Memphis native, who enrolled at UT in 1961, told the Chronicle by phone in February. "So now what I'm working on is the existential mathematics that brought the universe into this apparent materiality."

That epic inner journey unfolds in a small apartment in San Francisco's Tenderloin district where the doors of perception have been ripped off their hinges. When not digesting jazz on Bay Area frequency KCSM and news through German broadcasters Deutsche Welle, Hall ponders his doctrine, which he calls "The Design." He sees it as an extension of the 13th Floor Elevators' ideology of increasing perception.

"It's all based on the hierarchy of ideas. That's what the pyramid is. Then we climb that or advance along those lines," he explains. "You try to figure out what the real structure levels of the universe are and you go on this trip to understand that. Eventually, you realize that you have to go back to the beginning and figure out what caused it all."

In recent years, Hall's discontinued his long-held practice of routinely ingesting LSD, but maintains the hallucinogen had an essential impact on the 13th Floor Elevators.

"We were a hard rock investigation into ideas. It came from acid. That's what acid was – a vehicle to let us get ideas," he says. "Turns out weed is just as good for that."

Even so, the ceramic pottery Hall needs to put his mouth on this weekend isn't a bong, but a jug. When asked if he's stayed sharp on his electric jug hooting, he admits he hasn't played much since the Sixties, but intends to practice. The remaining instruments are in the capable hands of vocalist/guitarist Erickson, and the rhythm section of drummer John Ike Walton and Ronnie Leatherman, both of whom appeared on 1966 debut The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators. Special guests will emulate the jangly guitar work of Stacy Sutherland, who was killed by his wife in 1978.

"When we were going on we weren't very appreciated, but now the young people dig us," notes Hall. "With the younger generations' knowledge and their use of weed for good purposes, they understand the information. Once we have these ideas, it should change us physically. As we get the ideas, our perception increases.

"That's part of the thing of the Elevators. That we'll live forever."

9507 Sherman, Friday, May 8, through Sunday, May 10. Weekend ($165) and day ($65) passes are available online at www.austinpsychfest.com. Weekend camping passes are $75 per person.

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