Fourth of July Season in Memphis often leads to one question: Was that fireworks or gunshots I just heard?
This isn’t to stereotype a city that years ago was the top dog in city Homicides before conceding to better killers like Detroit and Chicago. The adage of stay in your lane can add miles to your life in this city, just as long as you know where to drive or park. And I was in the Mid-Town area, which in years, has transformed itself into the southern charmed hipster center of West Tennessee. Thefts and bulgaries are more common in that area than homicides.
Still, with the sun setting and while trying to cross the street to enter the Hi-Tone for a show of raucous rock, cheap beer, and wafting cigarette smoke, noticeable pops went off.
And as a result, I walked towards the venue a little faster.
The night’s show was thanks to local Punk band and Smith 7 Records mainstay Wicker, whose annual Pants Tour has not only served as a multi-week showcase of local talent but has also placed its charitable heart on its sleeve. During Pants Tour, Wicker has chosen a charitable organization to give all their proceeds from the shows.
This year’s cause was for the Tennessee Immigration and Refugee Coalition which is appropriate given the political, social, and racial climate as of late.
July 1’s show featured a lineup probably as diverse as a Llollpooloza lineup, just without the huge ticket price.
First up was The Acorns aka the one-man act of Ryan Hailey aka a man, an electric guitar and a host of energetic, humorous, and catchy songs. My buddy Patrick, who is a guitarist for Wicker has shared many of The Acorns’ songs with me at work, while often going “..Oh, you’ve gotta listen to this one. I think you’ll appreciate it.”
And 9 times out of 10, I did (the 10th time I was too occupied with going to the bathroom, sorry dude, I’m only human).
Ryan is a creative machine, writing songs, joining bands, and even directing music videos. I don’t want to throw around the term creative genius or anything as that sounds to hoity toity, so we’ll just say “RocknRoll Robot,” and keep it moving.
The Swansons were up next playing their final show but it was my first time seeing them. Naming yourself after the best character from Parks And Rec is grounds to become an instant fan favorite. The self-described sad rock stylings of this three piece would have you hooked. And then there’s a song like I Don’t Think You Hate Me, which sonically sounds like walking down a suburban culdesac dimly lit by streetlights before madly sprinting towards nowhere. Yeah, just my luck I discovered this band right upon its death. But I did the same thing with At The Drive-In and they’re back, so maybe I’ll be alive long enough to witness a reunion. Also, drummer Walker’s cymbal flying off his kit as he thundered into it, seemed kind of a poetic statement, given that this was their final show.
Or maybe I’m just reaching for a proper ending to a band I just met.
Goodbye Swansons, I hardly knew ye…no, really.
If the Swansons or their musical death dampened the mood, then Wicker picked it back up.
I often fear being friends with people in bands because then there’s the threat of their band sucking. Patrick ( one of Wicker’s Guitarists) and I have built a friendship on a shared love of numerous great bands, alcohol infused commiserating on life, and pseudo-conspiracy theory podcasts. You know, good ole American male bonding. It would have sucked to have to lie to him about my enjoyment every time dude played his band’s music.
Lucky for me, I don’t have that problem.
I dig Wicker and their catchy punk shenanigans. And as cliché as it is to say that they’re a band you have to see live, it’s no less true. You’ve got singer Brain Vernon draped in American Flags like some makeshift Apollo Creed in an alley fight sing screaming his high register voice out, three guitarists and a bassist jumping and screaming like their having a throw-down in their own pit, and a drummer who hits with so much strength and precision, you’d think he’s in an MMA fight with the kit. So yes, Wicker is a band you should see live.
Another act you should also witness are HEELS. Look maybe I’m biased with this guitar-drum two-piece because 45 minutes before their set, they too-sweeted me for my Kenny Omega shirt.
Maybe that bias continues because like me, they were happy to be at the show, but both had their DVR’s set for the NJPW G1 Special that was running on the same night.
To qoute Gallows and Anderson, they’re “Good Brothers.” But they’re also a good folk punk duo that also undeniably sound as if they were smoked in a Memphis BBQ pit parked next to a dive bar in an open field. They ‘re what I wish Alternative music’s current infatuation with folk would sound like, instead of just uninspired and boring. Also, the onstage banter between Brennan (Vocals and Guitar) and Josh (Drums) sounds like it was raised in the confines of a comedy club.
Finally, Grandpa Grew Trees closed out the night’s show, sounding like if Radiohead developed a crush on My Morning Jacket. Grandpa Grew Trees gave the sense that they are probably destined to be on a best of list from Pitchfork someday if they aren’t already. They were incredibly tight and while I would never take anything away from the other bands, they seemed more technical but without being unnecessarily heady.
While the energy in their songs were low-key, almost dream-like, it seemed like the perfect cap-off to a mostly high-energy show.