Gonerfesters got a running start on Friday with an afternoon superkegger at Memphis Made’s taproom on Cooper. Memphis Made created a pair of custom beers for this year’s festival: A tart saison IPA and Gonerbraü, a smooth creme ale. Both proved popular with the rockers assembled in the sun to watch a four-band bill. New Orlean’s Trampoline Team turned in the most turnt tunes of the afternoon.
Yes, I just wrote that sentence. I probably should have just deleted it, but I’ll leave it to show the effects 48 hours of pounding beats are having on my synapses.
The eventful Hi Tone Friday night got rolling with Opposite Sex from Deundin, New Zealand. They led with an impressive one-two punch in bassist/screamer Lucy Hunter and guitar squealer Reg Norris, who is able to get an huge range of sounds from just a wah pedal and a souped up stomp box. (TurboRat represent!)
The Hi Tone was filling up quickly as Memphis family affair Aquarian Blood howled to life. The husband and wife duo of Memphis hardcore OG JB Horrell and Laurel Fernden, supported by drummer Bill Curry and Coletrane Duckworth (son of Memphis guitar legend Jim Duckworth), gets better every time I see them. Between Horrell trying his best to strangle his ax into submission and Fernden switching between a clean microphone and one with rubbery echo effects—sometimes within a single lyrical line—they sound like no one else.
When I walked into the Hi Tone Big Room to see Power killing it, I briefly wondered if I had stepped back in time to 1974. Like their countrymen Wolfmother, the Melbourne, Australia trio have embraced butt rock, mullets and all. And the Gonerfest audience went right there with them.
I have to admit I totally missed Buck Biloxi and the Fucks. I was visiting the food truck out front for a much needed gutbomb burger when the party (it may have been a hip hop show, I wasn’t clear on the details) across the street at the erupted into a shirt-ripping brawl. There was at least one shot fired, but no one was hurt, and cop cars quickly swarmed the area. It was a strange, tense scene: on one side of the street, an African American crowd rapidly dispersing as police arrived; on the other side of the street, sweaty, mostly white punks from all over the world watching with a combination of horror and fascination, wondering if we were going to be witnesses to some kind of racially charged incident that has dominated the news in 2016. Fortunately, the first wave of cops to arrive seemed focused on de-escalating the fighting, and the situation cleared up without further violence or—judging by the lack of ambulance—injury.
Flashing blue lights provided the background as The Blind Shake took the stage. The Minnesota brothers Jim and Mike Blaha, who describes themselves as an “extraterrestrial backyard surf party”, are Gonerfest regulars. This year, they topped themselves with the tightest, snarlingest set I’ve seen from them. “Shots fired next door,” Jim said from the stage. “It’s an old marketing ploy.”
When 1 AM rolled around, the wrung out crowd milled around, trying to catch our breath as Black Lips meandered onto stage. The original Gonerfest grew out of a Black Lips show, and the band represents something of a garage rock ideal. The sound they have been chasing for the last decade and a half is something like a drunken 60s girl group backup band practicing in the stairwell where John Bonham recorded “When The Levee Breaks”. This is the strain of punk rock that originated in Memphis with the immoral Panther Burns. With the addition of a new saxophonist, the Black Lips pushed ever closer to the Panther Burns party vibe, gathering steam with each woozy rocker until “Katrina”, their 2007 underground lament of New Orleans devastation sent the crowd into a frenzy from which we didn’t emerge until the lights came up.