As the weekend begins to officially commence on Beale Street this Friday evening, the foot traffic and oversized souvenir drinks will increase to the sound of Goner Records' "Beale Street Takeover 2." This is Goner's second annual contribution to the "Memphis Jams on Beale" series of free shows held each Friday in June and July at Handy Park. Last year's lineup was Nots, Jack Oblivian and the Sheiks, and Tyler Keith and the Apostles, and following the loose (and forward-thinking) theme of the series, these three bands are not exactly synonymous with what's normally offered as live fare on Beale. If memory serves, the running, good-natured joke was that the bands played in front of a new audience ... including the sun.
This year, Goner presents another three-band bill that kicks off with Toy Trucks, Jeremy Scott's most recent outfit following the demise of Burning Sands. Scott was the original bassist and backing vocalist in the Reigning Sound from 1999 to 2005 and fulfilled the same duties in the makeshift band that backed Harlan T. Bobo on the Too Much Love and Sucker albums. Steve Barnat, Dylan Cranmer, and Ryno Hanson make up the rest of Toy Trucks, and the quartet is adept at playing energetic and loud pub-rock and power-pop that owes a serious debt to mid-period Replacements.
Following Toy Trucks at 7 p.m. is just two men, but their combined body of work and decades of musical history are unmatched in volume, influence, variety, and insanity. Individually or together as a duo, Jeff Evans and Ross Johnson might need very little introduction or unpacking of their respective biographical backstories for some Flyer readers, which is good because only a fraction would fit in this feature anyway. Each has assumed countless and considerable roles during the last four decades of Memphis' underground music. To shortlist, Evans led '68 Comeback, Gibson Bros., C.C. Riders, and South Filthy, and Johnson's recorded discography starts with Alex Chilton's Like Flies on Sherbert and Tav Falco's Panther Burns, before nurturing a sporadic solo output and collaborating with Evans in this very duo.
For a couple of decades, the two have been honing their deconstructionist, secret-history takedown of rock, R&B, folk-blues/blues, soul, rockabilly, and you-name-it, assaulting the funny bone with a deranged interpretation of the venerable "straight-man and unhinged foil" (Evans the former, Johnson the latter) comedy duo dynamic or lapsing into stream-of-consciousness monologue, all of which inspired this writer (while MC'ing Goner Fest in 2007) to call Johnson "the Spalding Gray of garage-rock and drinking." Evans and Ross finally released the Vanity Session full-length on vinyl last February by way of California/Austin-based Spacecase Records, where they are the perfect addition to the label's Memphis-centric roster. The duo comes hot off of last weekend's Rock-n-Romp performance, which somehow conjures a match that makes both perfect sense as well as absolutely none, and that's a compliment.
Rounding out the evening's "prolific" theme during the final 8 to 9 p.m. slot is Alicja Pop, the home-recording project of Alicja Trout, another Memphis iconoclast. Trout has been performing as Alicja Pop since 2009, releasing two 7"s behind the moniker (both on Certified PR Records) while dedicating time and energy to, among other things, the River City Tanlines, Hannah Star, MouseRocket, and, most recently, Sweet Knives, a live project by three-fourths of the classic Lost Sounds lineup that revisits songs from Trout's part of the back catalog. Like any endeavor with Trout at the wheel, there's nothing "halfway" about Alicja Pop. The project belies the trappings associated with "home recording," with variety and her distinct song-crafting applied to everything, from pensive and moody synth-dominated balladry to all-out noise-pop burners.
Rocket Science Audio will be on hand to lend their sonic golden touch to the Beale Street show — an especially beneficial (if not crucial) component, guaranteeing a good live sound in a relatively large open-air environment where such a thing can be a challenge. Apologies to them for the pre-event pressure.