Ex-Cult, the Author on vocals. All photos by Brandi Rinks
If there were such a thing as the “Drinking Person’s Guide to Music Festivals,” it’s a sure bet that Gonerfest, the annual garage rock throw down in Memphis, Tennessee would be near the top of the list. For the past 12 years the Memphis record label has held the four-day event, showcasing local up and comers in addition to rising stars and reunion acts. While the music at Gonerfest 12 is obviously what draws people in from all over the world, the reckless amount of alcohol (and other substances) available at Goner Fest certainly attracts hordes of boozehounds disguised as garage rock enthusiasts. Most bars close at 3 a.m. in Memphis, some never close at all. The unofficial after shows of Goner Fest don’t start until 2 a.m., and the festival itself resumes in the afternoon. If treating your body like a trashcan while thrashing around to high-energy bands is your idea of a good time, then consider Gonerfest the shit head Olympics. Here’s how my weekend went as a member of the crowd, performer, DJ and MC.
Ah yes, the first day of Gonerfest 12. Everyone is fresh faced, healthy and ready to party. The opening ceremony of Gonerfest takes place a couple hundred feet from the Goner storefront at a neighborhood gazebo, and bands like Guitar Wolf and Thee Oh Sees have kicked off the opening ceremonies in the past. This year, the band I sing for (Ex-Cult) was tapped to play the highly-coveted slot, and while we normally prefer to play dark venues with shitty sound systems while people throw liquid-whatever on us, I must say the gazebo show was pretty fun. It also set the tone for how the rest of my Thursday would go, as I decided to slam 4-6 beers before the sun went down.
After eating dinner with some friends/ members of the band, we made our way to the Hi-Tone (the venue that hosts the night shows of Gonerfest) to catch The Sheiks, who were the first band on the bill and already crushing the crowd with their signature brand of Memphis garage rock. Since backing up Jack Oblivian, The Sheiks have really come into their own as one of the best garage bands that no one is talking about. That’ll change soon.
Pink Tiles from Melbourne played next, but didn’t bring the heat, and I grew tired of their set pretty quickly after they started, opting to go hang out backstage and pour more beer on my soul. Aquarian Blood played next, testing the soundman’s patience every time another member of the band got on the stage (there were probably 7 members total). Aquarian Blood ripped, and have one single on Goner Records along with a couple demo tapes. In the festival’s official program it was announced that The Blood are recording an album for Goner Records sometime in the future, making them one of many local bands the label has tapped for a release in recent years.
Gonerfest alumni Gary Wrong Group played next, taking the place of Vatican Dagger (who were apparently traveling as the Pope’s personal body guards as he made his way through the US last week.) Gary Wrong Group features Captain Beyonce from Wizzard Sleeve, and Quintron from, uh, Quintron. Think Bobby Soxx meets Wizard Sleeve and you’ve got an idea of what to expect from Gary Wrong Group. The band played a great set, setting the bar pretty high for New York City creeps Pampers, who played next. Pamps were up to the challenge and stole the show, plowing through a set of the damaged punk that they’ve perfected since forming their band a few years ago. Jack Oblivian headlined Thursday night, and as an ambassador of Memphis music, member of the Oblivians, and all-around garage rock god, he did what he was supposed to do. Jack had a few new cassette tapes he was selling, released on his new label Mony records, but by the time I got to him they were long gone. Look out for those.
Important note: someone passed out on the toilet in the Men’s Room sometime around midnight. I know this because the stall door was open. At first I assumed the guy was just some sort of bathroom exhibitionist, but it turns out he was flat out asleep, as confirmed by a very annoyed Hi-Tone employee. Welcome to Goner Fest, bud.
Thursday late night, Gimp Teeth, Mystic Inane, and Bummers Eve played. I know nothing else. Mystic Inane were very impressive, but I’ve learned to never buy a record at 4 a.m., because what I might have thought was the coolest band I’ve ever seen could very well end up sounding like Phil Collins when I put their album on the next day. That wasn’t the case with Mystic Inane, as I checked out their bandcamp the next day and still liked what I heard.
The Goner Fest day show on Friday at The Buccaneer looked pretty solid, but I skipped out on the affair to cry in the dark, collect myself, and head to a costume shop to pick up a few things for the Ty Rex set and my MC gig on Saturday. Pookie and the Poodlez seemed to be the band everyone was talking about, but I cannot confirm or deny them putting on a great show as I was trying not to be the first person to ever throw up in Mr. Lincoln’s Costume Shop. I suppose that would have made for a good story if I could have jumped on a plane at the end of the weekend, but I live in Memphis, and I have a reputation to uphold. I escaped with what I needed, and prepared for Friday Night’s shenanigans.
MUSK kicked things off at the Friday night show, winning the hearts of a crowd that was already hyped, drunk and ready to make more bad decisions. Up next was CUNTZ from Australia, a rather rude group of Aussies who lived up to there name by talking shit to anyone who dared walk back stage after their set. I can get down with that kind of attitude, so no problems there. CUNTZ are in the middle of a massive tour, so if you feel like being beaten over the head while they play and then verbally abused after their set, I recommend checking them out. Up next was NOTS, the band that Goner has been losing their shit over for the past couple years. People freaked out, which was expected after the amount of touring the band has done and the amount of press they’ve received since last year’s We Are Nots was released by Goner.
Timmy’s Organism played next, and caused quite the stir with their sci-fi psych rock and intense live show. The band recently signed a deal with Third Man Records, and Heartless Heathen will be out October 30th. Up next was Ty-Rex, which translates to Ty Segall covering T-Rex songs. Ty hasn’t appeared at a Goner Fest in awhile, and it showed. The crowd (mostly young people) flipped their shit during the rowdy set, and four bottles of champagne were dumped on the crowd by Ty and myself at various points of the performance. About 3/4ths through the set, Ty called me on stage to sing The Doors song “Break On Through,” breaking the heart of every garage rock purist in the place, as was reflected on social media the next day. Some got the joke, some didn’t, but everyone within reach got champagne spit on them.
Sonny Vincent (of Testors fame) headlined Friday night, a band that a lot of the old heads at the fest were there to see. Vincent killed it, and his extensive merch table was swarmed for the entirety of the evening.
I reluctantly decided to skip the Friday night after show as I had to DJ and MC the final night of Gonerfest. What am I, some kind of Sicko? Friday nights bill was solid as hell, with Buck Biloxi and the Fucks, Foster Care and Trampoline Team all playing well into Saturday morning. Bummed I missed that lineup.
By Saturday daytime, the fatigue has set in. People are wearing their hangovers like jewelry at this point. The venue is still jam packed, but many of those in attendance look like hollow, sloppy versions of themselves. I had gone to the day show in hopes of seeing one of my new favorite bands CHEENA, but sadly they were no where to be found. Instead, I enjoyed sets by Salad Boys and Obnox before heading home to prepare for double duty as the night’s MC and DJ.
Saturday night, the final act. Who will survive and what will be left of them? The crowd during First (the New Orleans band who only plays first at shows) was thin, but people started dragging in around halfway through their set. Up next was Ar-Kaics, a throwback ‘60s garage rock band that Goner called “the best in the land” in the festival’s program guide. Ar-Kaics definitely have the throwback garage sound down to a science, and the band ripped through “Back from the Grave” style rock and roll during their no-filler set. Then came the moment seemingly everyone was waiting for. Hank Wood and the Hammerheads took the stage, and other than CHEENA, they were the band I was most excited to see. They didn’t disappoint, ripping through hit after hit of their now-classic Nuke York brand of punk. Saturday night happened to be the singer’s birthday, and the Hammerhead boys partied well into Sunday morning. They were, hands down the best band of the whole weekend.
Hank Wood & the Hammerheads
Nobunny seemed to be up to the challenge of following the Hammerheads, playing familiar songs from his albums on Goner. While the man in the bunny mask hasn’t released a new album in awhile, he was still able to capture the crowd and received one of the best receptions of the night.
Following Nobunny was the band of brothers The Blind Shake; I introduced them and then snuck off to find another beer. Shutting the whole thing down was Quintron, the New Orleans native who’s been receiving a lot of attention lately for his Weather Warlock project. Quintron had the crowd going crazy way before he and his band even started, and the show was excellent. When the dust settled, there were balloons and beer cans everywhere, along with a few attendees already passed out in various positions throughout the club.
Everyone that was still standing late on Saturday once again headed over to the tiny bar called The Buccaneer, but the bartenders pulled a fast one on the hordes of drunken cretins by calling last call at 3 a.m.. Rumors spread that the club closed on time because the cops had been there the night before. Seems reasonable. Cuntz, Choke Chains, and Unwed Teenage Mothers all played, but the room was noticeably empty as the crowd outside frantically searched for more alcohol in between ingesting other stimulants. The crowd didn’t disperse until 6 in the morning. Hank Wood and the Hammerheads were some of the last crowds of people holding court, despite having to be in Columbus, Ohio for a show the next day. How was that drive boys?
The people who decided to attend the closing ceremonies at Goner Records on Sunday (featuring King Louie and River City Tanlines) are the real heroes of this marathon. As for me, I was pounding out this article while I nursed myself back to life with Chinese food and Gatorade. See ya next year, Gonerfest!
Aquarian Blood Ar-Kaiks The Blind Shake Gary Wrong Group Giorgio Murderer Kit Convict & Thee Terrible Two Lord High Panther Manhunt Nobunny The Nots Nowhere Squares Pampers Pink Tiles Pookie & the Poodles River City Tanlines Ty Rex