Ah, Gonerfest. For 10 years now, this Memphis festival, curated by Goner Records, has brought together some of the finest in garage, punk, and rock n’ roll. DIY music enthusiasts make the trip religiously each year to see great bands and hang out with old friends from across the country and around the world.
There are many reasons to love Gonerfest. Music aside, one thing that I think really sets it apart is its simplicity. They spare you the non-stop sensory onslaught of many festivals and instead take a one-thing-at-a-time approach, which is extremely stress-reducing. It creates an atmosphere that’s not chaotic and inspires you to actually TALK TO PEOPLE instead of rush to the next stage or argue about which after party to go to. Each day there’s an afternoon show, a night show and an after-hours show. That’s it. No filler.
Day 1 Highlights:
The Blind Shake
I have seen this band many times and they never fail to impress. Three Midwestern dudes dressed in black with shaved heads who always seem just on the edge of sanity when they play. They have a dark and steady garage drive and their sheer force slaps you in the face from the moment they take the stage. Essential to see when they come to your town!
This Goner Records band is definitely one to see live. Yes, they have a very good debut album (produced by Ty Segall), but it really doesn’t make total sense until you see them in front of you. The band has a ton of swagger and the stage pulsated with life when they were on.
One of the artists I was most excited about seeing, Quintron, did not disappoint (unless you were one of the people who got trampled up front). Between drums, numerous synths and his hand made, light activated drum machine, he seemed to be playing at least three instruments at any given time while his wife, Miss Pussycat, shook maracas and sang backing vocals. It was nice to have a dance party in the midst of the guitar band assault.
Day 2 Highlights:
Gino and the Goons
One of the most fun budget rock bands I’ve seen in a while. The singer bounced around like a muppet while singing choruses that I was joining in on by the end of each song…even though I had never heard them before.
Human Eye is one of my favorite bands to see live. The singer/guitarist, Timmy Vulgar, is a total madman on stage. There’s an alien sound to what they do that comes from the Krautrock synths, but the rhythm section is clearly rooted in the heavier sounds of their hometown, Detroit. It’s just a perfect melding of intergalactic mania and straight up rock and roll, with no shortage of stage theatrics to take it to another level.
Still going and still great, Mudhoney were the true torchbearers of the “Seattle Sound” in my opinion. Nirvana may have been the commercial flagship, but they were simply not as good as Mudhoney if you’re judging by factors outside of radio friendliness. Their performance at Gonerfest was everything it should have been: epic, fun, sweaty, nostalgic, loud…an effortless reminder of what it means to be a truly great band.
Day 3 Highlights:
Manateees are a great singles band with three 7 inches out on some of my favorite punk labels (Pelican Pow Wow, Goner, Tic Tac Totally). Sometimes a great 7” band is not a great band to hear in larger doses. This is not the case with Manateees. Their Gonerfest set included their fast, fun singles like “Cat Food” (with the great, dumb hook of “Meow”), but also showed their darker side with some colossal doom laden moments. Looking forward to hearing a full length now.
Spray Paint is another band that is no stranger to me. I’ve probably seen them live more than any other band from Austin (where I live). They are one of the best current bands in my opinion, PERIOD. Two guitarists blasting sped up, warped Fall riffs out of monolithic Sunn amps while they both sing with deadpan delivery. Meanwhile the drummer goes ape on the kit with perfect primal beats. I’m in.
Cosmic Psychos closed out the Hi Tone on Saturday night in top gear. This is one of the few bands that contains only one original member but is still amazing. I hadn’t seen them before but some of the folks who had thought this was perhaps their best incarnation…nearly 30 years after their formation in Melbourne, Australia. The current guitarist, Mad Macca, instantly became a new hero of mine (his other band, The Onyas was also great at the fest). Cosmic Psychos are one of those “legendary” bands that really hasn’t translated yet to younger generations. Hopefully this current tour and the new reissues of their first three records will help change that.
Other bands that were amazing: Hemingers, Buck Biloxi, Head, Evil Army, The Nots, No Bails, C**tz, Cheap Time, Tyvek
Submitted by Justin Main, Music Design
Photos courtesy of Rubberneck Magazine’s Jon Chamberlain.