Saturday, September 29, 2018

Gonerfest 15: Friday

Posted By on Sat, Sep 29, 2018 at 2:06 PM

Day two of Gonerfest 15, the annual celebration of punk, garage, and other off-kilter forms of rock, took place in two locations: at Memphis Made Brewing, during the afternoon hours, and Hi Tone on Cleveland late into the night. The daylong festivities featured a songwriter session from Harlan T. Bobo, psych-blues-punk from Chicken Snake, the dark and deranged disco extravaganza of Cobra Man, and a breakout performance from indie-pop band En Attendant Anna. 
click to enlarge Gonerbraü by Memphis Made
  • Gonerbraü by Memphis Made

Memphis Made produced a limited cream ale, the Gonerbraü, to commemorate this year’s festival. The light, fizzy beer seems like the best bet to help get into the Gonerfest spirit, so, Gonerbraü in hand, I weave my way through the crowd to the small stage on the back patio of the Cooper-Young-area brewery and catch Harlan T. Bobo’s acoustic set.

“I wonder if there are many people who get engaged at Gonerfest,” Bobo muses. “Or get divorced at Gonerfest — or at least because of Gonerfest.” The crowd laughs, and Bobo begins playing “I’m Your Man,” a love song from his 2007 album of the same name. Gone is the demented showman who, backed up by a full band, closed out the festivities sometime after 2 a.m. the night before, and in his place is an indulgent father, a humorist, and a day-drinking, guitar-wielding teller of truths.

Bobo jokingly tries to calm a crying child hiding beneath the wooden stairs, tossing a rolled-up T-shirt down to the kid in an attempt to distract him. Then he brings guitarist Jeff “Bunny” Dutton onstage to add commentary to a song Bobo wrote about Dutton, who so ably backed him up on lead guitar the night before. “He don’t drink water and he don’t eat. He lives off alcohol and nicotine,” Bobo sings as Bunny smiles and nods, unable to contest his bandleader’s claims. The crowd laughs, and the kid beneath the stairs is busying himself dragging a plastic chain around. Later, the same little boy will run haphazardly up and down the loading ramp in front of the venue, narrowly avoiding spilling my Gonerbraü.

Out front, New Orleans-based Chicken Snake take the stage, ripping into a swampy, blues-inspired punk set. The drummer sports a goth-glam mane as she attacks the drums with a frenzy. Sneering, strutting guitar licks call to mind the pioneering work of The Sonics or Roky Erickson. “Baby, don’t you give me them walkin’ blues,” the singer implores.
click to enlarge Cobra Man - JESSE DAVIS
  • Jesse Davis
  • Cobra Man

Later, back at the Hi Tone, L.A. synth duo Cobra Man blends seemingly disparate elements of punk and disco, crafting a spooky dance atmosphere. Their sequined jackets flash in the green lights. During the rising energy of the repeated line, “I want it all,” audience members begin crowd surfing. By the time the singer begins chanting, “I’ve been living in hell with you,” Goner fans are taking turns clambering aboard a large wooden plank and riding it like a surf board across the waves of outstretched hands. The lights change to red, and the rhythm shifts into cut time. The Goner fans dance, revelers in a disco of the damned. Cobra Man’s set is wild and dramatic, and I hope the next band can top it.

French indie-rockers En Attendant Ana follow the depraved rave that is Cobra Man, and far from being overshadowed by the L.A. disco duo, the Parisian quintet make their set look easy. Their Gonerfest performance marks the end of a two-and-half-week U.S. tour in support of the band’s debut album Lost and Found, out on Trouble in Mind. Their tour has taken them through Cleveland, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Boston, landing them on the main stage at the Hi Tone. They begin, and a wave of jangly guitars and trumpet blasts washes over the crowd, prompting an immediate reaction, as the collected bodies begin to move to the beat. The young indie-rockers ride the wave, all clean guitars, synths, and breathy, urgent vocals, before crashing to a halt.  
click to enlarge Margaux Bouchaudon of En Attendant Ana - JESSE DAVIS
  • Jesse Davis
  • Margaux Bouchaudon of En Attendant Ana

A smile tugs at the corners of singer and guitarist Margoux Bouchaudon’s lips as the crowd cheers their support. Grinning, she ducks her head as lead guitarist Romain Meaulard introduces the next tune in a thick French accent. En Attendant Ana’s music sounds like euphoria feels. It’s bright and optimistic, like the ideal soundtrack to kick off a road trip. The clean guitars, trumpet, and dreamy rhythms call to mind Belle & Sebastian or Camera Obscura, but there’s a punk urgency that adds an edge the Scottish indie-pop legends lack. The Parisian quintet’s set seems to pass in an instant of pop nirvana. “This could be the end, oh, this could be the end,” Bouchadon sings on “This Could Be,” backed up by Meaulard and by vocalist/guitarist/trumpet player Camille Fréchou. The song is insistent and anthemic, and I don’t want the lyrics to be true. I hate for the set to end.

I catch three or four songs by New York-based Surfbort, a pure punk explosion, all alcohol-sweat and frantic guitar wrapped in a revealing bodysuit. They’re Gonerfest gold, but I can’t get En Attendant Ana out of my head, so I make tracks toward the merchandise room to find the band and ask them about their tour. I find Fréchou and Bouchadon, who are game for a quick interview.

“We’ve been [in Memphis] for six or seven hours, but tomorrow we stay all day long,” Bouchaudon says. She’s wearing a flowing red coat she bought on tour, and she and Fréchou lean close and speak into my recorder. “This will be the first town in which we can relax and visit. We want to go to Sun Records,” Bouchaudon says. “I would like to go to Graceland,” Camille Fréchou adds, “But I don’t think we are going to.” “Non,” Bouchaudon interjects emphatically. “I will go to Graceland, and you will come with me.” The nearly three-weeks-long tour marks the band’s first time in the U.S. “Every day was like, ‘I’m going to move here,’” says Fréchou, who assures me that Americans have been “really friendly.”
click to enlarge En Attendant Ana - JESSE DAVIS
  • Jesse Davis
  • En Attendant Ana

En Attendant Ana recorded an EP to tape two years ago, releasing a limited run on cassette, which caught the attention of Canadian label Nominal Records. “[They] asked us if we were okay to release the EP on vinyl, and we said ‘Yes!’” Bouchaudon says, emphasizing the affirmative. The group then recorded their full-length debut, Lost and Found, which they released on Trouble in Mind. After a successful tour with label-mates (and fellow Gonerfest 15 performers) Ethers and a day and a night spent being “the best tourists ever,” Bouchaudon says the band will “go back to France, [and] go back to work.” She says they will spend some time playing in the West of France before getting down to the business of a follow up to Lost and Found. “And then we’ll have some time to make new songs,” she says. “And a new record. And another, and another,” Fréchou chimes in. Personally, I hope Fréchou is right. After only one concert and a brief conversation in the alley behind the Hi Tone, I’m already looking forward to the band’s next release and U.S. tour. Gonerfest 16, maybe? We can only hope.
click to enlarge Oblivians - JESSE DAVIS
  • Jesse Davis
  • Oblivians

I make it back inside in time to catch The Oblivians, Gonerfest royalty, who deliver their raunchy garage-rock excellence to a packed mass of sweaty music fans. After two days of nearly nonstop music, I settle in to enjoy the show. The rhythm section is tight and powerful. The guitar tones are crunchy and snarling, as befits a late-night set helmed by Jack Oblivian, star of Memphis filmmaker Mike McCarthy’s psychedelic punk odyssey, The Sore Losers, screening Sunday afternoon at Studio on the Square. With two days of Gonerfest memories fresh in my mind, I relax, thankful for the 15-year-old festival that brings so many diverse and distant musical experimenters to the Bluff City.

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