As curator of the first Memphis Pops Festival, happening Saturday, July 28th, at the Hi-Tone Café, Shangri-La Projects owner Sherman Willmott has assembled a lineup of past, present, and future talent that showcases a genre sometimes overlooked when Memphis music is discussed. With the legacy of blues, soul, and rock-and-roll looming over the city's music history, Memphis' contribution to the pop genre tends to be neglected. And by "pop," I mean pop rock, power-pop, and the garage or punk variations of pop. I do not mean Survivor.
A cursory survey of Memphis pop would probably begin with the Box Tops, where a teenaged Alex Chilton led his band through such '60s hits as "The Letter" and "Cry Like a Baby." That band helped launch a scene in the '70s that included Chilton's classic cult band Big Star, the Hot Dogs, Cargoe, the Scruffs, Tommy Hoehn, Van Duren, Chilton's solo career, and Calculated X. It might also include the late '80s/early '90s when nascent incarnations of the Simpletones and the Grifters were putting their own twisted spin on pop. But another key band in the history of Memphis pop was the Crime.
The Crime's heyday was '80 through '84, when they released the "Do the Pop" single and the 12-inch EP Crash City USA. Headlining the Memphis Pops Festival are Crime founders Jeff Golightly and Rick Camp, reunited in the form of the new band Everyday Parade, which recently wowed a small crowd at the Buccaneer and should certainly prove to be a highlight of the evening. A brand-new set of Everyday Parade material will be released on CD later this year.
Another surprise on the comeback trail is the Tim Lee 3, featuring the founding member of '80s jangle-pop stalwarts the Windbreakers. The advance tracks from the band's upcoming album sound like outtakes from the Dream Syndicate's classic '80s album The Days of Wine and Roses.
Representing a younger generation at the Memphis Pops Festival is a who's who from the hooky end of the local indie scene.
Though currently based in Brooklyn, Viva L'American Death Ray Music for years used various Memphis bars to craft and tighten an evolving, catchy post-punk sound that puts most of their new neighbors to shame. Death Ray is another band on the bill that will be gracing the world with a new album sometime soon.
Antenna Shoes is the rare case of a "supergroup" equaling the sum of its parts, with Steve Selvidge, Paul Taylor, and members of Snowglobe knocking out widescreen power-pop like it's a walk to the drugstore. The band is currently shopping around a debut album.
Vending Machine's King Cobras Do, released back in February, is hands-down this writer's favorite local record in recent memory. Backing Robby Grant for Saturday's Vending Machine slot will be brother Grayson, Quinn Powers, and longtime drummer Robert Barnett.
The most ubiquitous version of pop-punk can be found blasting from the speakers at your nearest Hot Topic. A better version can be found on a Carbonas record. Channeling what made the Buzzcocks and late-'70s DIY punk great, the Carbonas may be from Atlanta, but they're honorary Memphians due to regular live visits and a single on Goner Records. The third Carbonas full-length album will be released on Goner in time for Christmas.
Emcee Zac Ives (co-owner of Goner) and DJ Buck Wilders will be filling the spaces in between the bands. Revelers are encouraged to get the festivities started early with an afternoon pre-show at Shangri-La Records. Starting at 3 p.m. on Saturday and concluding just in time to grab a quick nap before heading over to the Hi-Tone, the lineup is as follows: Nice Digs, Arch Rivals, Wallendas, and the Perfect Fits. A seven-inch compilation featuring Viva L'American Death Ray Music, Vending Machine, Antenna Shoes, and the Carbonas will be given away at the show. The EP is a co-release by Shangri-La Projects, Shangri-La Records, and Goner Records. With burgers and hot dogs served throughout the evening (somehow, the perfect power-pop food!), it will be interesting to see how many copies emerge covered in drunken food smudges. As an added bonus, Ardent Records: 40 Years Story, former Commercial Appeal music writer Larry Nager's documentary on the studio/label that birthed many of the best '70s pop records, will kick off the evening.
There's no such thing as overdosing on great pop, as a successfully catchy song happens to be the hardest piece of music to write. Regardless, it's a safe wager that the Memphis Pops Festival will succeed in filling the fans' ravenous need for timeless hooks.
Memphis Pops Festival
With Everyday Parade, Vending Machine, Antenna Shoes, Viva L'American Death Ray Music,
The Tim Lee 3, and The Carbonas
The Hi-Tone Café
Saturday, July 28th
Door opens at 6 p.m.; admission is $10