In the fall of 1966, San Francisco was the psychedelic capital of America. But the most psychedelic band in town that season was a visiting gang of acid priests from what was then the most dangerous state in the union for freaking out: Texas ravers the 13th Floor Elevators. One of the 10 discs in Sign of the 3 Eyed Men (Charly/International Artists) — a definitive audio history of the band, curated by Elevators biographer Paul Drummond and limited to 4,000 copies — catches the band live at the Avalon Ballroom, and those ’66 performances are the electrifying heart of this sumptuous box. Local heads Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead were still coming out of folk rock. But the Elevators were already a juggernaut of enlightenment, preaching LSD as sacrament (“Fire Engine,” “Roller Coaster”) and making new weirdness out of Kinks and Beatles covers with the alien-soul bleating of a still-teenage Roky Erickson and an avenging-Stones rhythm section made wilder by Tommy Hall’s manic blowing on an amplified ceramic jug.
Formed in Austin in late 1965, the Elevators paid dearly for their daring. Exhausted by personnel changes, shoestring income, constant police harassment in Texas and the unraveling of Erickson’s mind (accelerated by his 1969 sentencing to a mental hospital on a weed bust), the Elevators on the unfinished 1968 LP The Beauty and the Beast and 1969’s Bull of the Woods were a bravely stumbling shell of that Avalon marvel, kept alive by lead guitarist Stacy Sutherland. (He died in 1978, accidentally shot by his wife in a domestic dispute.) But the 21 months covered in detail on the first seven discs of this set, starting with the 1966 garage-rock classic “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” are all glory, including a full session of snarling punk from February ’66 (finally issued in original undoctored form), long-bootlegged club and TV recordings from ’66 (now in their best searing fidelity) and the blunt-magic mono master of the Elevators’ supreme studio trip, the 1967 LSD sermon Easter Everywhere. No other American band of the acid age believed so blindly in the drug’s holy promise. But the Elevators, for a brief time, made an ecstatic rock equal to that fervor. “There’s infinite survival in/The high baptismal glow,” Hall wrote and Erickson crowed in Easter Everywhere‘s great opening mantra, “Slip Inside This House.” There’s still plenty of room.