Gonerfest Saturday is The Longest Day.
OK, it’s not like D-Day or anything. It’s just 12 hours of rock, with a short break for Pho Binh in the middle.
The Saturday day show at Murphy’s split 10 acts between two stages, one indoors and one outdoors. With low humidity and the temperature peaking out at 85 F, the weather could not have been more perfect in the venerable Midtown venue’s shaded back parking lot where the outside stage offered bands from as far afield as Ireland. Oh Boland made the trek across the Atlantic to play some no-nonsense punk that, in the idyllic conditions, sounded more uplifting than angry. King Louie’s contribution to this year’s festival, Iron Head, on the other hand, was full of nonsense—and I mean that in the best way. Louie and his New Orleans cohort plowed through a sloppy, fun set punctuated by arguments over where the guitar solo was supposed to go.
Saturday’s afternoon show is not only the most communal phase of the festival, but it’s also prime time for unexpected discoveries. This year’s big reveal was Archie and the Bunkers, a pair of brothers from Ohio who channeled Quintron and The Damned in a frenzied half-hour set. These younguns were clearly the band most excited to be playing Gonerfest, and, despite the hours upon hours of garage punk variants I was exposed to over the long weekend, it was their cover of “Neat Neat Neat” that played in a loop in my head.
The World, a postpunk band from Oakland brought a welcome change of pace outside some sax-driven tunes reminiscent of James Chance and The Contortions’ No Wave dance party. Then the soundtrack to the sunset on the crowd at Murphy’s grove was provided by Spray Paint, the beloved, Goner vet noise rockers from Austin.
Weary Goners trickling into the Hi Tone that night were greeted with the anomalously chill sound of Couteau Latex from Geneva, Switzerland. But any peaceful vibes were quickly dispelled by Sick Thoughts, a Trampoline Team side project from New Orleans whose singer DD Owen bashed around the stage like a cocaine fueled bull in a nunnery. After repeated leaps into the crowd, he finished the set off by basing headfirst into the drum set, where he and the drummer lay for a long moment in a tangle of equipment. I was about to yell for a medic when they finally stirred to leave the stage. I guess they were just resting.
One man band don't get much weirder than Bloodshot Bill, the Canadian psychobilly rambler who had to take the stage as the sound guys cleaned up the destruction left behind by Sick Thoughts. You have to be brave to pull off a full solo routine like that, and Bloodshot Bill bantered fearlessly with the audience between strange songs where his voice veered between singing, screeching, yodeling, and a vocal fry that approached tibetan throat singing territory. Then the Control Freaks from San Francisco alternated between sounding like a Mack truck barreling down the 101 and a barrage of insulting anti-humor from Friday night’s MC Greg Lowery.
The California trend continued with fellow San Franciscans Midnite Snaxx, and the Saturday night headliner, Kid Congo & The Pink Monkey Birds. Headlining Saturday night is a double-edged sword, because the crowd is going to be thoroughly worn out by 1 AM, but the best acts manage to overcome the audience’s rubbery legs. Kid Congo was one of those acts. I didn’t think I was going to make it more than one or two songs, but I ended up staying until the bitter end, and dancing harder than I had all fest. Big kudos to Kid Congo!
I was going to write this blog post on Sunday, but I found my brains turned to mush, so my wife and I wandered over to watch Gonerfest end where it began, in the Cooper-Young gazebo. A few years ago, the Mid South’s own Rev. John Wilkins was introduced to the Goner crowd with a deep set of soul-tinged gospel delivered at the Murphy’s sunset slot. I wrote at the time that we here in Memphis are jaded by all the amazing soul and blues that permeates the air like the perfume of blossoms in the springtime, but the out-of-towners from Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Japan, The Netherlands, Switzerland, and the UK werre slack-jawed in amazement when presented with The Real Thing. This happened again on Sunday at the Gazebo, when the Rev led his impromptu congregation through soul claps and call-and-response celebrations of life, brother- and-sisterhood. By the end, he and his crack band had us all beseeching the heavans with a Stax-y rendition of “May The Circle Be Unbroken”. It was the perfect illustration of the Saturday night/Sunday morning dichotomy that defines Memphis music’s unique appeal, and the perfect capper for one of the best Gonerfests ever.