The 11th edition of Gonerfest roared into Midtown last weekend, with punk, garage, power pop, noise, and just plain weird bands from all over the world converged on the Bluff City in an annual gathering of the tribes that has gotten bigger and more exciting each year. Festivities kicked off in the Cooper-Young Gazebo with New York's Paul Collins Beat
I spent the weekend embedded with the Rocket Science Audio crew, who were live streaming the performances to people from as far away as Australia watching on the web. I've done this for several years, formerly with Live From Memphis, and this year we brought the full, multi-camera experience to the audience. It's a lot of fun, in that I get to be up close and focused on the music, but also quite grueling.
The highlights of Thursday night at the Hi Tone were Ross Johnson, Gail Clifton, Jeff Evans, Steve Selvidge, Alex Greene
, and a host of others playing songs from Alex Chilton's chaotically beautiful 1979 solo album Like Flies On Sherbert
. The mixture of old school Memphis punks who had played on the album and the best of the current generation of Memphis music made for an incredible listening experience.
Thursday night's headliners were 90s Memphis lo-fi masters The Grifters
. Recently reunited after more than a decade of inactivity, Dave Shouse, Scott Taylor, Trip Lamkins,
and Stan Galimore
have their groove back. At the Hi Tone, they even sounded—dare I say it—rehearsed.
I couldn't make Friday night due to another commitment, but Friday afternoon at The Buccaneer hosted a great collection of bands, starting off with a blast from Memphis hardcore outfit Gimp Teeth
Next was one of the highlights of the festival: The return of Red Sneakers. Back at Gonerfest 5, the duo from Nara, Japan showed up unnannounced wanting to play the big show. When Jay Reatard cancelled, they got their chance and blew the roof off of Murphy's in front of an unsuspecting crowd. This year, they did it again, only they were invited, and they substituted a soulful "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" cover for the smoking "Cold Turkey" they did five years ago.
Afterwards, returning to the Rocket Science Audio van, we found that one of Red Sneakers' drum sticks had flown over the fence and embedded itself into the earth. No one dared touch it.
Hardcore Memphis vets Buldgerz
played a sweaty and confrontational set of hard and fast punk nuggets, followed by Mississippi's Wild Emotions
The weather cooperated again the next day for a memorable afternoon show at Murphy's. Two stages, one inside and one outside, alternated throughout the afternoon.
There were many great performances on Saturday afternoon, but the most incredible was Weather Warlock, an experimental heavy noise act centered around a light-controlled synthesizer custom built by New Orleans' mad genius Quintron. The cacuphony rose and fell as the light changed with the sunset, and Quintron and co-conspirator Gary Wong
swirled around it with guitars and theremin, while a plume of smoke rose over the stage.
Gonerfesters stumbled into the Hi Tone Saturday night, a little bleary from three days of rock, but with a lot of amazing music ahead of them.
The highlight of the show for me was Nots
. Fronted by steely-eyed, ex-Ex-Cult bassist Natalie Hoffman, the four piece arrived with something to prove. And prove it they did, with punishing, athletic songs delivered amid a shower of balloons and waves of reverb.
The crowd, the largest I've ever seen at the Hi Tone, never flagged throughout the night, which ended with a reunion of The Gizmos
, a seminal American band that developed something like punk in 1977 in the isolation of Bloomington, Indiana. The playing was loose, the mood buoyant, and the band vowed to not stay away for so long. And after a Gonerfest as great as this one, next year can't come soon enough.
[Ed Note: The first edition of this story incorrectly identified The Nerves "Hanging On The Telephone" as being written by Blondie.]