Thursday, October 1, 2009

Road Trip to Memphis: Gonerfest, Pt. 3

Posted By on Thu, Oct 1, 2009 at 6:21 AM

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We needed a break between the afternoon show and our final night of rocking at the Hi-Tone. So it was late-ish by the time we showed up, and Omaha's Box Elders had just started playing.

As it turned out, their set was the biggest surprise of the weekend: While we liked their debut album, Alice and Friends, we were blown away by the live versions of the songs.

The band is a three-piece, with long-haired Jeremiah McIntyre (who we think is the same guy we spotted earlier in the day, eating a carrot while riding a skateboard outside the Piggly Wiggly) on guitar, Clayton McIntyre on bass and Dave Goldberg on drums. All three band members contributed harmony vocals, and Goldberg at times played organ with one hand while energetically hitting his drums with the other. This added up to a sound much bigger than you'd expect from three people. While Alice's lo-fi production made them sound like a scruffy punk band, the cleaner, bigger sound live made it clear that they're pure power-pop in the tradition of bands like The Undertones and The Scruffs, and more recent ones like the Exploding Hearts and King Tuff.

The band's playing was incredibly tight; they used clean arrangements in which the instruments complemented each other instead of creating one big wall of sound. Their songs aren't technically complex, but they exploit time and tempo changes to visceral effect.

The crowd danced enthusiastically to "Atlantis," "Death of Me," "One Foot in Front of the Other" ("This is a song about walkin'), "Hole in My Head" ("This is a song about Philip K. Dick"), "Ronald Dean" and "Jackie Wood." They ended the set to wild enthusiasm, leading Jeremiah to insist, "We don't care what you say, we'll play another." The encore was an (amazing) cover of "Teenage Kicks." Overall, it was one of the strongest pop shows we can recall seeing--if they every play nearby, we'll be there.

Out on the patio, we spotted Hunx, and went up to say hi. We asked if he had any plans to play in Nashville. "Are there hot guys there?" We answered that, yes, of course there are.

click to enlarge With Hunx (and a friend, left).
  • With Hunx (and a friend, left).

A solid wall of people gathered around the stage in anticipation of seeing Nobunny. He came out in a black robe and tuxedo shirt, with an amusement park-style mask that covered his whole head. He took it off to reveal his trademark white bunny mask--even more more tattered than we expected--and launched into "You're Not That Good."

The crowd, whipped into a frenzy by this time, broke into isolated moshing and a few incidents of crowd-surfing. Nobunny and his band launched into "Mess Me Up," but an amp blew out or something, and they had to cut the song short (even though it's only a minute long in the first place). "Apparently, we're having fun," observed the disgruntled jackalope-man.

"This is our last song," he joked, before playing a cover of "It's so Easy to Fall In Love." During "Give it to Me," an annoying dude in the audience climbed onstage and attempted to unmask Nobunny, leading to a few moments of chaos. "Is anyone actually enjoying this?" he asked the audience. Everyone was, but we sensed that he was in a cranky mood.

The band managed to end strong with raucous, explosive versions of two more tracks from his debut album: "Boneyard" and "Chuck Berry Holiday." Still, the show was a little short, and didn't include nearly enough nudity. (Some videos of the show are posted here.)

By the time the last band of the festival, Cheater Slicks, went on, it was around 1:30, the energy had begun to dissipate, and the crowd thinned out. The band played a selection of great songs from their many singles and studio albums. (They formed in 1990.) Nevertheless, after the two preceding bands, they sounded less dynamic than might have been hoped. They played an hour-long set plus encore, and we were ready to go home.

Before driving home on Sunday afternoon, we stopped by the Goner store for their "closing ceremonies." These included a performance by Monsieur Jeffrey Evans, playing his own plaintive and gritty populist folk songs on acoustic guitar.

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While milling about, we spotted Box Elders drummer Dave Goldberg...

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...Nashvillian Chet Weise, of Silver Lions 20/20...

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...and various interesting-looking people.

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And that's all. We're looking forward to going back next year, with a better camera and more time to spare.

[Read more: Part 1, Part 2.]

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