I’ve seen a lot of crazy people doing a lot of crazy things at “Hell on Earth,” the old-school Memphis rock-and-roll scene’s annual fright-night shindig. But nothing compares to a 1994 performance by Neighborhood Texture Jam. For me, that may be the high-water mark for both the storied punk band and the zombie-like event that wouldn’t die.
At the time, “Hell on Earth,” which is being celebrated this year at the Poplar Lounge, was held in the Premier Palace, a cavernous room on Marshall Avenue, where the beer was always warm and the sound ranged from bad to painful. The boys of NTJ were decked out from head to toe in surgical garb, and somehow the band’s guitarists even managed to play with rubber gloves. When it came time to rip through their noise rocker “Unnecessary Surgery,” a body — a multi-gendered sex-doll stuffed with dog food, to be precise — was wheeled onto the stage. Without ever putting down the mic, frontman Joe Lapsley cut it to ribbons with a circular saw. People screamed. Foul-smelling meat and meat byproducts flew everywhere. That was “Hell on Earth.” That was rock-and-roll.
NTJ isn’t scheduled to play this year, so the chances of seeing something that completely disturbing are remote. But like I said, when it comes to “Hell on Earth,” anything can happen. This year’s lineup includes Grunt, Whatever Dude, and the folky, bluesy, goth-pop of Deering & Down. — Chris Davis