Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Gonerfest 14: Saturday

Posted By on Tue, Oct 3, 2017 at 5:40 PM

A Saturday afternoon in September was approaching the time of twilight, and the vast tract known as Memphis embrowned itself moment by moment. I settled into day three of Gonerfest 14. For the record, let it be known that we enjoyed glorious weather. Murphy's drew us in with the promise of delicious suds in the open air.

Know from the start that this is a selective chronicle, damned from the start by too much of the world imposing itself to allow me a full day of frivolity. And yet, while I regret missing the enigmatic Hartle Road bringing the 'Ssippi synth sound, not to mention their worthy predecessors, I can report that Cobra Man tore the place up with manic electro-funk, and even converted a once-retiring teen boy to crowd surfing on a sheet of plywood. The Heavy Lids lived up to their name with pounding ferocity; everyone was raving about them. “Sick of Being Sick!” Hash Redactor chilled things down with a dose of angst, focusing on the texture of their sonic guitar drones. They proved a perfect palate cleanser for the main attraction: historic proto-punk sonic sculptors X__X.
click to enlarge X__X - ALEX GREENE
  • Alex Greene
  • X__X
Now, I wouldn't call them historic to their faces, time-worn as they may have been. On second glance, one could see that X__X helmsman John D. Morton's face was not time-worn, but marked with random Sharpie scribbles. On third glance, one could see that they were actually tattoo marks made to look like Sharpie scribbles. With things going so meta, Morton donned a tinfoil hat, resembling a Hershey's Kiss with a Gibson Thunderbird. They soon played themselves into a time and space where age was meaningless. Unpredictable bursts of rhythm and guitar riffage might be in sync, then go pointedly off the rails, then return, as Morton chimed in with wry anger. If mad ranting is an art, with poet John Giorno being the Picasso of the form, then Morton could be its Monet. He cut an almost hippie-ish figure with his loose clothes and earth tone beads, which gave a sense of the kinds of contradictions one was likely to embrace, growing up in the 1970s rust belt as he did. But if there was any hippy idealism in the group's striving for trance-inducing noise, it was forever foiled by the sounds of the factory floor.

At one point, Morton's banter even seemed to acknowledge a twisted debt to hippiedom: “Ah, the Summer of Love was magical, it was when I got my first golden shower. It was so beautiful... I was alone.” Musically, free form assault and even playing with power tools would give way to a blessedly simple rock riff tune, with echoes of the Dead Boys and chants of “Transmogrification!” Then back to more twisted sounds, perhaps a chant of “Don't wear sandals!” concluding with the Dylan quote, “twenty years of schoolin' and they put ya on the day shift!”

All in all, a satisfyingly dark, layered, and rocking time was had by all. The only dim spot from these incandescent players was a theremin sitting front and center before Morton, waiting to be played. A few tantalizing seconds were heard early in the set, the arcing sound of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” seemingly ready to be unleashed amid the industrial clamor. But no, the theremin only stood there, mostly unplayed. As I left, I saw a solitary tear falling from the elderly electronic instrument.
click to enlarge Golden Pelicans
  • Golden Pelicans
As night descended, the partiers shifted over to the Hi Tone. When I arrived, ever the unfaithful correspondent, everyone was raving about Traumahelikopter. So What, who would back the Equals' Derv Gordon later that night, were playing a set of their own, great choppy power pop replete with harmonies. Then Vanity took the stage with a bit of New York grandiosity; yet all previous bands were swept away by the hurricane force winds of Florida's Golden Pelicans. They mercilessly pounded Memphis down like a crushed can of Schlitz. Coltrane Duckworth, local lad about town and bassist extraordinaire, took to the crowd surf with aplomb, resting his head on his hand like Betty Grable in repose as the audience bore him along to the riffs of accelerated sludge. Viva Golden Pelicans!

Memphis threw its hat in the ring with the formidable Jack O'blivian and the Sheiks, who combined the sonic attack, common enough during the festival, with honest-to-god songs. Seth Moody was on board for extra sax and synth zing. Jesse Davis joined on tambourine. One highlight was Jack's masterpiece, “War Child,” played tightly with abandon. The set was bookended by brilliant covers, opening with Roxy Music's “Remake/Remodel” and its earworm chorus of “CPL 593H!!”, closing with a fast and ferocious “I See No Evil” that gave Television a run for their money.
click to enlarge Jack Oblivian & the Sheiks
  • Jack Oblivian & the Sheiks

Next came the enigmatic intro by the night's emcee, Dan Rose, “The Detroit Hammer,” who had crafted a ritual to situate the festival headliners in the twisted times we are living through. A slow beat of dread pounded as he took the stage in a wolf's head, calling out and calling down the powers of Babylon that lord over us at the moment. If some in the crowd got testy, waiting for the big beat to begin, most were gobsmacked, held in suspense. It all ended with Rose leading the room in the chant, “Let's go to the moon! At the Equals show!” — a line from one of many brilliant Equals tracks.
click to enlarge Derv Gordon & So What
  • Derv Gordon & So What
Derv Gordon and So What took to the stage. “This is the oddest intro I ever had!” proclaimed Derv, and in a flash the band were laying full throttle into “Softly Softly.” So What did a fine job of staying true to the old Equals arrangements, harmonies and all, but with a bigger, louder sound courtesy of Jason Duncan's Gibson SG through a Marshall. Derv's voice was in fine shape, from crooning to belting to singalong mode. Most of your favorite Equals tunes were revived and given a new jumpstart by So What: “Diversion,” “Police on my Back,” “Michael and his Slipper Tree.” Of the latter, Derv confessed that it was originally written as a “nutmeg tree,” until Derv himself made the more enigmatic lyrical change. The crowd was revved up, joining the band in nearly every chorus of every song, not satisfied until the encore brought the house down. Clearly Memphis is Equals territory.

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