Gonerfest Friday: The Oblivians, Dave Cloud, The Strapping Fieldhands and More at The Hi-Tone



Five out of six is not bad, and thus we couldn’t really complain when we arrived at Memphis’ Hi-Tone just barely too late too see one of our fave raves, Guinea Worms. We were surrounded by drunk punks in black T-shirts, we had a night of music by rock legends (more or less obscure) to look forward to, and we made our way toward the stage.

The first band we caught was Parting Gifts, a collaboration featuring Greg Cartwright of The Oblivians (in a sweaty “Rock ’n’ roll Adventure Kids” T-shirt) and Coco Hames of The Ettes. Their set started with a catchy track, “Keep on Walkin’,” from their upcoming album. They sounded great, with Chuck Berry riffs and boogie-woogie piano and awesome, pounding drums provided by Poni of The Ettes. Their music isn’t straightforward punk, but soulful, moody garage rock that seems to take inspiration from many decades of intense, heartfelt rock ’n’ roll.

We took a break to socialize outside on the patio, and found the Gospel of Power prepping for their set by drinking beer. Dave Cloud was enthusiastic about his fellow musicians: “The Strapping Plowmen — I met them, they’re nice as hell.” (We hear one Strapping Fieldhands member is a longtime Gospel of Power fan, and already owned all their records!)

Next up were mozzarella-centric Ramones-worshippers Personal and the Pizzas. The band’s look and persona is Jersey Shore circa 1975 — they came out in greased hair, brightly colored tank tops and matching wristbands, sunglasses and ostentatious neck chains. “Can I get some booze up here? Is that possible?” inquired bassist Dillon Pizza. Lead singer Personal explained that he had cut himself while making tomato sauce the previous night: “I got 12 stitches in my hand, but I’m still rockin’!”

Their set largely consisted of catchy mid-tempo punk numbers, including “Brass Knuckles” and “Don’t Trust No Party Boy.” The sweaty crowd responded by dancing enthusiastically and pouring beer into their mouths and onto each other. “Gimme some of that brewski, I’m dyin’ over here,” pleaded Dillon. When
the Pizzas screwed up during “Nobody Makes My Girl Cry But Me” and had to start over, some crowd-surfers got dropped on the floor, but no one seemed to mind. As Personal observed: “All we wanna do is party, man. We don’t care about nothin’ else.”

Dave Cloud expressed a variation of this sentiment: “OK, I don’t need to urinate, I’ve already vomited — we’re ready for some rock ’n’ roll.” He had just been given a gracious introduction by one of the Armitage Shanks, and the band launched into “Motorcycle.” He removed his pants. “I made $1,200 off this as a commercial for the Louisville Courier-Journal," he said. "See if you think it’s rough.” (The song was "Subliminal Face.") At this point, he took off his blue satin shirt. He played a sinister Hervé Roy cover, “Emanuelle,” addressing the opening lines to an especially excited young man in the crowd.

The highlight of the set was threatening slow rocker “I Put the Jack on You.” Its heavy riff contrasted with Cloud’s higher, hyper guitar playing. The band’s tense wall of guitar and Ben Martin’s drumming contributed to what we’ve come to know as the classic Gospel of Power sound. (The lineup also included Matt Bach, Matt Swanson and Paul Booker.) Although most of the crowd had likely never heard GoP before, they seemed thoroughly won over and were paying rapt attention. Cloud was clearly enjoying striking rock-god poses for photographers. We’ve heard of an upskirt photo, but an up-boxer-shorts photo? That’s what one fan seemed to be attempting. After one more song, they were out.

Philly indie rockers The Strapping Fieldhands were up next. Their music combines quirky but beautiful pop melodies with loud guitar shredding, in a manner reminiscent of other alt-rockers like GBV and The Grifters. They’ve reunited for a U.S tour, and they sounded great — we liked their more expansive, melodic sound. The songs (among those we recognized was “Impossible to Say”) often started understated and built up to intense rock moments.

When we re-entered the club after some patio time, we were met with a huge wave of hot, humid air that had been accumulating in the crowded space all evening. Legendary garage-punk trio The Oblivians probably faced the highest audience expectations of the evening. And from their first number, “She’s a Hole,” it was clear why so many fans were enduring the swampy heat to see them. They sounded just like we had expected: raw and savage, with a propulsive beat and awesome riffs. Although they’ve only rarely played together since the ’90s, they sounded amazingly tight. The crowd screamed for an encore, which included “Strong Come On” and “Drill.” We were not only satisfied, but exhausted, and ready to rest up for the next day’s festivities.

Dave Cloud with Seiji, aka Guitar Wolf
  • Dave Cloud with Seiji, aka Guitar Wolf

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