After going to Gonerfest in 2014, I knew that I’d want to come back to this annual Memphis punk and garage-rock shindig. Chicago has its share of lively mosh pits, but the Gonerfest crowd in Memphis tends to be a bit more raucous. Plus, the small-scale fest is a great excuse to visit Memphis, a city filled with musical history and fantastic barbecue.
I missed Gonerfest in 2015, but returned for this year’s festivities, which ran from Sept. 29 through Oct. 2. The highlights for me included seeing the original lineup of Reigning Sound (Greg Cartwright, Greg Roberson, Jeremy Scott and Alex Greene). I’ve seen this band several times in Chicago and enjoyed the shows, but none of them compared with this set. The excitement of the crowd was palpable. Maybe it was because this was a hometown show for the band. Or maybe people were just thrilled to see this version of the band. People were dancing and singing along all around me, and the enthusiasm was contagious. And as Cartwright sang one quick masterpiece after another, it reminded me of just how impressive those Reigning Sound albums are, with tightly wounded rock tunes reminiscent of the 1960s, packing memorable melodies into every minute.
Nots, an all-female Memphis band who are regulars in the Goner scene, knocked my socks off with their energetic late-afternoon set that served as the festival’s opening ceremonies.
Black Lips were the headliners on Night 2, whipping the crowd into a similar frenzy with their singalong rockers. The Blind Shake were even fiercer. Other bands that sparked intense moshing included Sick Thoughts.
On the lighter side, the Australian band Chook Race (which is on the Chicago label Trouble in Mind) made delightfully pretty chamber pop.
Groups from Down Under always have a strong presence at Gonerfest, and this year was no exception. During Saturday’s daytime party at Murphy’s — which has been my favorite part of the festival both times I’ve gone — I discovered a band from Perth called Zerodent, which slammed through post-punk songs in a style that reminded me of the Fall and Royal Headache.
Other high points on Saturday afternoon included Bloody Show, a band from Columbus, Ohio, playing noisy garage rock with swagger and flair.
And Oh Boland, a trio from Tuam, Ireland, blew me away with rambunctious yet tuneful songs. Later at the merch table, I bought Oh Boland’s new album, but the band hadn’t received a shipment of album covers, so the drummer drew the cover and wrote out the song titles on a blank cover.
While I was in Memphis, I took in sights around town — you can see my photos of Memphis on Flickr. I lucked into a chance to look around Ardent Studios with none other than Big Star drummer Jody Stephens as my guide, tagging along on a private tour he had already scheduled. (Though I didn’t know it at the time, later that day, I stopped into Shangri-La Records and discovered that Stephens has a new album with his band Those Pretty Wrongs, a nice collection of ballads in the Big Star tradition.)
Finally, on Sunday, as I prepared to head back to Chicago, I went to Al Green’s church. Read about that experience and see a video here.
My photos from Gonerfest are in several separate galleries: