A collaboration between Goner Records and Live From Memphis -- two do-it-yourself organizations that have done as much for Memphis music as anyone over the past few years -- Gonerfest 2: Electric Goneroo DVD/CD is a really impressive two-disc, two-hour collection that captures the garage-rock and punk chaos that ensued when like-minded bands (and like-minded fans) from all over descended on Memphis last September for the multi-day, multi-venue music festival organized by the Cooper-Young record store.
The DVD contains 26 performances from 18 bands while the CD contains 27 performances from 27 bands -- captured at the Hi-Tone Café, the Buccaneer, and the Goner store -- with very little performance overlap between the two discs.
I've always been leery of live albums since, as pure aural art, they're rarely as interesting or sound as good as the studio recordings of the same bands. They're snapshots of an immediate experience with the immediacy removed. So, as good as the audio disc is, I'm more impressed by the DVD, which inherently brings you a step closer to the actual experience. And it helps that this concert film is so well put together.
The Gonerfest 2 DVD was directed, produced, and shot by Sarah Fleming and Christopher Reyes of Live From Memphis and edited by Reyes and Claudia Salzig. And it isn't rooted in the stale, dim stationary camera visuals you might expect. The crew uses multiple hand-held cameras to capture different angles and perspectives on the same performances and bring you so close to the action you sometimes feel yourself heaving along with the crowds.
The editing is sharp and witty and frequently as dynamic as the music without ever being incoherently overactive. And, in a very smart move, the Live From Memphis crew veers into the crowd and outside the clubs (or the Goner store's hot-dog cookout) between performances for a sort of Gonerfest version of Heavy Metal Parking Lot. The disc could have even used more of this material.
Musically, there are no outright weak links on either disc, but I'm pretty confident it's not just a local bias that makes the Memphis (or Memphis-connected) bands stand out. The local bands are the ones most likely to push through the bare basics of noise and energy and attitude into something more substantial. (Biggest non-Memphis exception: Probably Killer's Kiss, whose "Shine It" brings a Byrds-y vibe to the garage-rock template.)
Playing songs on both the DVD and CD with his band Knaughty Knights, former Oblivian Jack Yarber conveys a wisdom, sardonic sense of humor, and emotional depth few performers here can touch. And if it wasn't already clear, Yarber's old bandmate Greg Cartwright is some kind of rock-and-roll savant. Opening and closing the DVD with performances of "We Repel Each Other" and "Bad Man," Cartwright's the Reigning Sound is fierce and soulful, but they may the one band that's even better on the audio disc: It's almost unfair to the 24 bands who come before that they have to share disc space with the Reigning Sound blasting through the whiplash rock-and-roll of Too Much Guitar's "I'll Cry." On a collection that pays loving testament to a musical genre and cultural scene, this band transcends both.
Other Memphis-connected highlights abound: The Persuaders, with Memphian Scott Rogers on guitar, boast a seductive, menacing, bluesy low-end guitar roar, especially on "Hot Stix." And though an onlooker raves about Jay Lindsey's Reatards at the Hi-Tone ("the only real punk show I've seen in 10 years," he proclaims, marveling that he got hit in the head with a full bottle of beer), his poppier band the Angry Angles are more impressive with an electric set at the Buccaneer. The Memphis band that relies the most on noise, energy, and attitude, the Final Solutions, also make the most of those qualities, barely holding together the anthemic "This Is Memphis Underground" and "I'm a Punk" before a surging, joyous crowd at the club.
Other Memphis acts here push the boundaries of the Goner musical continuum: Harlan T. Bobo's more reserved songcraft and Impala's instrumental, atmospheric movie music. (Both, sadly, are missing from the DVD.)
-- Chris Herrington