I hate writing recaps. It seems so impossible to adequately describe the true experience of the live show, even with photos and videos, because ultimately, no matter how much you read or see, it will always be a “you had to be there” kind of thing. But that’s because, for me at least, performance is everything. If I wanted to hear a band just play their album, I’d stay at home and spin the vinyl. Why waste the money? Well, Gonerfest is no waste. Every band makes their statement on stage, throwing the gauntlet, and holding nothing back.
I waited to hit the road to catch a ride with a friend, missing the opening ceremonies with Monsieur Jeffrey Evans, but we still made it to town as the doors were opening at the Hi-Tone Thursday evening. Locals Moving Finger kicked things off with an energetic set of gritty experimental punk, continuing to prove that there’s more to Memphis than meets the eye. In addition to Moving Finger, Johnny Lowebow, Toxie, Nots, and AAAA the New Memphis Legs all joined the ranks with Rev. John Wilkins, River City Tanlines, Ex-Cult, and the Oblivians to represent the soul city during this four day festival.
Jack of Heart
Next up was France’s Jack of Heart, who pranced around in some risque and questionable attire (it’s not punk until there’s a penis in your face), playing that dark surf psych sound that’s oozing out of Europe these days from bands like Acid Baby Jesus, Yussuf Jerusalem, and Catholic Spray.
These well-coifed, leather-clad Australians brought the swagger with a grinding set of noisy post-punk, followed by Heavy Times from Chicago and their signature brand of hot and heavy rock n roll.
I’m no stranger to Austin’s The Golden Boys and their catchy tunes, and this set was another solid. The garage rock flavor with a twist of rockabilly is nothing new, but it still managed to grab the attention of one Anthony Bourdain, as he hosted them on the SXSW episode this past (and final) season of No Reservations.
Watching the Oblivians play to their home crowd of both Goners and Memphites, well, there are no words. Older though they may be, they haven’t lost their ability to show us what we like, including but not limited to a few songs off their upcoming LP on In the Red, the cynically named Desperation. While they’ll never be able to rival the first time I saw them at Gonerfest 7, which remains to this day one of the best live sets I’ve ever witnessed, they still killed it, even coming back to play a rousing encore, or what essentially became a second set.
Even though I woke up like a kid on Christmas at 8 in the morning on Friday, trips the following afternoon to Payne’s BBQ and the Goner store resulted in me missing the first band, the one-man oddity that is Johnny Lowebow, and almost all of the Anomalys from Amsterdam. Sorry guys, as much as I wanted to see your full sets, that sandwich was worth it. I generally avoid chopped pork because of the fatty bits that get left behind in the mix, but however they do it at Payne’s, every bite is perfect, with crispy pieces of skin, their sweet and spicy (but not too much of either) homemade sauce, and that neon yellow coleslaw that adds a needed balance to the richness of the meat. (I had dreams about that fucking sandwich. Or about fucking that sandwich? Probably both.) OK, but really: you have not eaten BBQ until you’ve eaten Memphis BBQ.
I still managed to catch the last song from the Anomalys, as they tore down their drums, taking them into the crowd and getting as weird as you can at 3:50 in the afternoon. Unfortunately, those 3-5 minutes were the 3-5 minutes that my camera decided to crap out on me, but from what I saw, I can guarantee you I won’t miss a second the next time I get the chance.
Sweet and sassy, Toxie was the jelly in this rowdy rock n roll sandwich. With members from Magic Kids and Coasting, there’s a poppiness that lets it go down smooth, but with a lingering, underlying edge that hints at a depth I look forward to exploring when they finally release. They were, however, one of the four Memphis bands included on the Gonerfest 7” this year (next to Ex-Cult, Moving Finger, and Nots), if you were lucky enough to snag one of those.
The Hussy from Madison, Wisconsin are what you’d call a photographer’s wet dream. Once that feedback hit, and boy did it ever, guitarist and vocalist Bobby Hussy became a distortion machine, thrashing around, flinging his long blonde hair, and otherwise writhing in a maniacal glory that came crashing down in one final freak out—a smashed guitar, lighter fluid, and the one-man wrecking crew who made short work of the remaining equipment on stage, dragging and tossing them around like a sack of dirty clothes.
Once the day show was over, we made the quick trip over to Lonerfest II, a free house party that showcased other regional locals not on the official lineup, like Tropical Punk from Nashville and The Humms from Athens. While I only managed to catch Knoxville’s Burning Itch and their infectious hook-filled tracks, it provided a nice change of scenery from the bar/hotel carousel we would play on all weekend.
To list out all the other bands these three guys are in would be exhaustive, so I’ll spare you the nitty gritty because you probably already know. But in Bad Sports, it’s the combined talents of all three, guitarist Orville Neeley Bateman III, bassist Daniel Fried, and drummer Gregory Thornton, that really make this band stand out from their others. Add in their complete abandon on stage, and you have one supergroup of mutant musicians (because it’s perverse how good they are).
Bits of Shit
Quintron took to the drums and gong during the Gary Wrong Group set of apocalyptic synth-driven post-punk, but it’d be Bits of Shit that stole the Friday night show for me. With a commanding stage presence that demanded attention, these Aussies tore through their set with a blistering fervor of punk rock carnage that left none in their wake.
Despite mask difficulties having had his trademark fur lifted on tour, Nobunny with Bad Sports backing took to the stage for a frisky set that literally kicked some pants off.
By the time Saturday afternoon rolled around, things were starting to blur around the edges, and a late morning start meant we missed many of the bands I wanted to see at Murphy’s. Nevertheless, I did manage to catch Lenguas Largas with their toe-tapping, two-drummer surf explosion before cutting out to hit the ultra-cheap gallon o’ whiskey we’d bought earlier.
If I am most bummed about missing anyone, it’s White Wires. I failed. But at least I came in as Ex-Cult was just getting started with their snotty stylings dripping a gunky hardcore irreverence all over that stage.
King Louie’s Persuaders followed Ex-Cult, keeping the frenzy flowing, and the former Carbonas frontman in GG King provided a sloppy, speedy set of primal punk.
The Spits are a riot waiting to happen. With a sasquatch in tow and all the furious rampage of deranged lunatics on the loose, these guys took to the stage, releasing a glorious, fist-pumping helter-skelter upon the crowd. It was the orgasmic culmination of a weekend of amazing band after amazing band, leaving the room sweaty, breathless, and gasping for more. Fortunately, Memphis never says die, as the Bucc would host one last late night after party. I went but didn’t want to squeeze through the cramped hallways looking for a vantage point that wasn’t someone’s back, so instead, I used the remaining moon light to say goodbye to my well-met friends, new and old, at the best rock n roll summer camp this side of adolescence.
A small group came back to after after party at the Motel 6, but waking up the next day to head back home was a mournful affair. The rain outside completed the mood, and not even a trip to Gus’s Fried Chicken could console us. It’s hard to taste the madness that is Memphis without craving more, but that’s life; this was Gonerfest.