Our journey into Memphis began inauspiciously: Traveling west, we managed to overshoot the mark, miss both exits to downtown, and cross the bridge into Arkansas. Oh, no! It wasn't long before we were able to turn around, but the 10 minutes we spent in that laughably paved nightmare of a state were enough to convince us never to return. We've never been so happy to be back in Tennessee.
After checking in to the Motel 6 (there are nicer options, but maybe next year), we headed to the Hi-Tone Cafe and got our wrist tags from a friendly Goner Records staff member. The Hi-Tone is a rock club roughly comparable to the Mercy Lounge in size. It was pretty packed, with a high proportion of dudes in black T-shirts. It was already pretty late, and the first act we saw was Thee Oh Sees.
Thee Oh Sees are a four-piece band from San Francisco that play a psychedelia-tinged style of garage pop. They played an awesome hour-long set of catchy, mid-tempo, slightly echo-y music. All of the songs have a strong '60s feel, and call to mind The Kinks, The Sonics and The Zombies. During the course of the set, more and more friends and band members joined them onstage in a sort of dance-y love-in. By the end of the set, there were about 20 people up there, and we couldn't see any of the band members. You can watch a video that one fan posted online here.
Between acts, we observed some local color. A metalhead in a Motorhead T-shirt, to another metalhead in a Megadeth T-shirt: "You're using Big League Chew? Really?" One Memphian we met observed that she'd never seen the Hi-Tone so packed. We also heard from multiple sources that at the previous night's Reatards show, Jay Reatard pissed all over himself, and possibly audience members. (Seth, we know you were there--care to give us the deatails?)
The Compulsive Gamblers are a Memphis garage-rock band that Greg Cartwright and Jack Yarber formed in the early '90s, before they were in The Oblivians. They re-formed the band in 1999 after The Oblivians broke up. Although they're a garage band, they have a varied range of influences including country and R&B. Each song was built around a tense, compelling riff, reminding us at times of The Cramps, at others of Bob Dylan or Sticky Fingers-era Rolling Stones. We loved their combination of aggression and poignancy. (Greg Easterly's fiddle playing contributed to this effect.) Off the top of our heads, we'd say they reminded us of more of Dead Moon than any other live band we've seen.
We're not professional photographers, and sadly, were not equipped with the Cadillac of digital cameras--it's more like the Geo Metro of digital cameras. We'll spare you the poor-quality pictures we took of bands on stage, but here's one of fans enjoying themselves:
As befits a band with such a large back catalog, they played a long set. By the time they finished, with a cover of "Walkin' the Dog," we were ready to go back to the motel. Coming up next, the Saturday afternoon show, including Hunx and His Punx, better pictures, and more!