Like any reckless rock ’n’ roll weekend, the freakin’ one began on Wednesday. A line of college-aged punks stretched from The End’s entrance well into the adjacent alley. Those in the crowd weren’t all fresh-faced locals, though — while Nashville’s burgeoning garage-rock/punk scene is a cult that grows with new, young followers it seems by the day, we met one guy who we were told traveled all the way from Bristol, UK, to check out the Freakin’ Weekend while on holiday. And of course we were there too, feeling like elders at 30.
Regrettably, the wait to enter The End cost us an opportunity to see local newcomers No Regrets Coyote. But what we heard bleeding through the club’s walls sounded pretty righteous. So righteous, in fact, that we panicked upon briefly, mistakenly thinking that we were missing potty-christened party punks Diarrhea Planet. Luckily we weren’t, because finding out second-hand that the band opened with a salt-grained take on John Williams’ "Theme From Jurassic Park" straight into its now-somewhat-seminal local-rock anthem “Ghost With a Boner” would have made us bristle with envy. To the apparent chagrin of End soundman Brad Baker, the raucous opening onstage was met with what look like a pipe bomb of silly string, human hands and beach balls detonating in the middle of a dog pile on the floor. And the fun continued as DP unleashed one gang vocal- and guitarmony-laden happy-hardcore nugget after another and band members crowd surfed mid-solo or scaled their own amps.
Next up, New Jersey’s Screaming Females — almost honorary Nashvillians at this point — overwhelmed our ears with walls of reverb-drenched overdrive and beats as big as Arizona canyons, the way DP overwhelmed our eyes with airborne silly string. Despite the wholly accurate and by-no-means lazy Dinosaur Jr. comparisons this band oft receives, what they really sound like is Smashing Pumpkins before Billy Corgan became a melancholy, modern-rock embarrassment — back when he was all about sweet riffs, frenetic fury and dreamy hooks.
And speaking of dreamy, let’s talk about Titus Andronicus. Also in-dwellers of the Garden State, the night’s headliners dream of Nashville like Leif Garrett dreams of a drug-free comeback. Just before leading his band through a high-spirited, careening set of literate, post-graduate pop punk, lead singer Patrick Stickles — proudly donning a Grimey’s shirt — praised and regaled Nashville, excitedly telling us how jealous bands up North are of our punk scene, taking to it like tourists to a night at the Opry, and expressing how excited he and his bandmates were to fly their freak flag in Nashville for the weekend. He then confirmed the legitimacy of his Nashville fanboy status by introducing an opening cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Boys Are Back in Town” as a JEFF the Brotherhood cover, which featured ad-libbed lyrical references to Natural Child, Melrose Billiards and (the other) Dino’s Bar and Grill. Across town at The Ryman, pasty-faced Americana folk fetishists Mumford and Sons were probably jocking Nashville in their own way, but we were happier to party with all the young punks over at The End. Maybe next time, Mumford. Still, so much interloper love is a damn good thing for Music City.
Our who-the-hell-let-us-in-here opportunity to catch Jack White’s secret solo show at Third Man Records unfortunately forced us to miss most of Thursday night’s Freakin’ festivities over at Exit/In. But bellies full of free drinks be damned, we made way to Elliston and arrived just in time to join a hundreds-strong hipster herd in pumping fists to the bottom half of PUJOL’s set. Fresh off the heals of his triumphant War Memorial debut opening for Dr. Dog, The Pooj & Co. pounded out the hyper-balladic hooks of “Black Rabbit” harder than the public horsewhipping Rush Limbaugh deserves for existing.
Closing out a long evening, night and now the start of a new morning of rock for The Spin was a welcome-as-always performance from The Greenhornes. Our only complaint was that the somewhat-subdued set could have been longer, as it ended before the band made its way to bluesy, psychedelic freak-out territory. We were still ready to rock. And so was Jack White, who — looking high on life after his stellar solo show — arrived just in time to return the favor and cheer on his Raconteurs bandmates, making his way through the crowd to rock out front-row-center. White and friends even led the crowd in a chant for encore, but unfortunately the band didn’t heed the call.
Friday night’s when the shit got real. Really real. We returned to Exit/In just in time to hear D. Watusi kick off their set with a breakneck cover of Brian Eno’s “Needles in the Camel’s Eye.” The balls on those kids! Big balls. And big win as they totally pulled it off. Especially considering as how we heard the doorman proclaim the show a sellout right as the band hit the stage. The club was packed to the goddamn gills. Not a bad night to catch the finest, tightest showing we’ve ever seen from Nashville’s Dead Records and Freakin’ Weekend honchos Ben Todd and Dillon Watson’s jaunty garage-psych outfit. The band jumped from one tune into the next without coming up for air as they furiously shredded through sick licks like grizzly bears feasting on the flesh of Timothy Treadwell. (Too soon?) But unlike cold, indifferent Alaskan bears, D. Watusi and their audience are good kids. So good that when the folks in the pit found a crowd surfer’s lost smart phone, they made a group effort to delicately pass the PDA to the stage where Watson made an earnest attempt to reunite it with its owner.
But if D. Watusi was light, then Cy Barkley and his Way Outsiders were definitely dark. By far the bill’s most aggressive band, Barkley & Co. took to the stage like a hulking professional wrestler and in-tow posse ready to eviscerate Henry Rollins with a couple of chords and a kick-ass collection of hardcore 7-inches. By this point, traversing the floor was Tolstoy struggle. That’s how you know JEFF the Brotherhood was on deck.
Easily the flagship band of The Freakin’ Weekend, if you’ve made this far into this Spin, these hometown heroes need no introduction. Opening with “U Got the Look” to an army of shouters along, the band looked more like nationally known headliners than local favorites. We even saw a few fistfuls of glow sticks get launched into the air as the band dropped into full volume. And was that Kings of Leon's Jared Followill we repeatedly overheard singing along to gems like “Whatever I Want” and “The Tropics”? Fuck yeah it was. Seems like he knows what’s up. In fact, it felt like every familiar face in local rock was there as a fan. JtB drummer Jamin Orrall even rocked a rack tom for the occasion — the band’s first Exit/In sellout and perhaps the longest show we’ve ever seen them play, clocking in well past the one-hour mark. And whether it was while they were bringing on the Freakin’ Weekend fever-pitch moment with “I’m a Freak,” shredding it out on “Shredder” or tipping their hat to old-school fans with a rare performance of the Castle Storm cut “Noo Sixties,” every minute of the set ruled. So much so that afterwards we didn’t have it in us to haul as to the after-party at Dino’s.
Saturday afternoon, we finally managed to make it over to the Freakin’ Weekend’s pop-up shop at Local Honey, where the Nashville’s Dead crew had set up crates of records, plus clotheslines clipped with prints, photographs and T-shirts. We thumbed through releases from Infinity Cat Recordings, Third Man Records, Nashville’s Dead Records and more before witnessing brief sets from Brooklyn’s lady-punk peddlers Habibi and local-rock-scene supergroup Slammers. With he-of-JEFF-fame Jamin Orrall keeping immaculate time and frontman Cy Barkley barking out punk anthems in authentic LA-hardcore style, Freakin’ Weekenders kicked up gravel dust in Local Honey’s modest front lot, slam-dancing and fist-pumping with giant grins spread across their faces. We saw some raised eyebrows amongst the Bongo Java patrons next door and the Belmont-neighborhood jogger types, but that’s just the face people make at you when you’re having more fun than they are.
That night, we closed down the Freakin’ Weekend at The End, where we caught sets from punk-rock acts of the noisy (The Men), local (Heavy Cream), psych-poppy (Mikal Cronin) and throwback-garage persuasions (The Traditional Fools), respectively. The wall of deafening noise that was stacked so high by The Men was blasted through in succinct, Ramonesian fashion by Heavy Cream (a band that is 75 percent women, appropriately enough). And we know that we say HC has improved vastly each time we see them, but that’s quite simply because they never stop improving — mostly, that is, thanks to rapid-fire, straight-eighth beats from drummer Tiffany Minton and a tough-as-nails backbone of low-end courtesy of bassist and newest member Seth Sutton (also of Useless Eaters and Feral Beat). Mikal Cronin even made a cameo on saxophone, squawking and blowing for a handful of bars.
After a bit of crowd-pleasing banter from Freakin' Weekend King for a Day Cy Barkley, Cronin laid into a set of his own, which — though certainly not as "garage-y" as the rest — was one of our favorites of the weekend. Playing mostly tunes from last year's Mikal Cronin, the San Fran native and his band (which included garage-rock heavyweight Ty Segall) kicked out pop-minded psychedelic numbers with vocal melodies that made more impact than even the crunchiest of distorted riffs could. Segall's outfit, The Traditional Fools, finished the evening, playing what Segall claimed was their first set outside of San Francisco in four years. There was some instrument-swapping and a bit of technical difficulties, but once the band managed to find a functional bass rig, they continued on, breezing sloppily through surf- and blues-rooted rock 'n' roll that was occasionally augmented by — once again — Mikal Cronin on saxophone. Word quickly circulated that an after-party was to be held at local warehouse-cum-show/party space The Zombie Shop. But after nearly taking a few crowd-surfing feet to the teeth and realizing that Daylight Saving Time was about to spring our old asses forward, we were feeling our age a bit. Thus we retired back to The Spin Fortress, content with the freakin' weekend we'd just treated ourselves to.