Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer "Who Tends the Garden?"

The Grifters are back. That's all you need to know.

By Chris Davis

MAY 29, 2000:  Nineteen eighty-nine was a watershed year for indie rock. Pavement recorded their first 7", Nirvana released their first CD, Superchunk formed in Chapel Hill, and Guided by Voices recorded Self Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia.

Meanwhile, back in Memphis Shangri La's head honcho Sherman Wilmot was busy producing a flexi-disk for A Band Called Bud. In the decade to follow the Chunk got cred, Nirvana got famous, Pavement got airplay, GBV got lit, and Bud changed their name to the Grifters. The rest is, as they say, "all a pack of vicious lies." I mean, "history," of course. For better or worse, the musical landscape was changing (duh) and (if you believe the hype) Memphis was once again at the fore. The comparison is silly, really, but there are hosts of Internet sites dedicated to indie music which claim, in no uncertain terms, that when it comes to modern rock GBV=Beatles and Grifters=Stones. Maybe I can put it better ...

Somewhere there is a place where metal, blues, and glam collide like atoms, producing both confusion and a tremendous amount of heat; a place where punks and prog-rockers publicly embrace; a place where girls dance alone and their boyfriends watch in a drunken stupor. This is the place where the Grifters make their (sometimes) happy home. The Flyer put these guys on the cover twice. Rolling Stone gave their third CD Crappin' You Negative the maximum number of stars allowed by federal law. Spin kicked down with a couple of well-deserved green boxes, and Raygun once called them, "the Best Rock and Roll Band in the World." Hyperbole aside, this one thing can be said without fear of contradiction: Anybody who wasn't a part of the Memphis music scene that drifted lazily back and forth between the Antenna and Barristers throughout the first half of the '90s missed the damn bus. Tav Falco was almost a memory, but NTJ was in their heyday. Man With Gun Lives Here and the Taintskins made math-rock easy for all the young punks, and the supercharged surf-rockers Impala played their hearts out for hipsters everywhere. The Simple Tones (Ones one etc.) couldn't play a bad show, and the Compulsive Gamblers looked like they had the goods to make music fans say, "Elvis who?" There was the Scam, Car Crash, Stock Market Crash, Bob's Lead Hyena, and Professor Elixir's Southern Troubadours. There was a hell of a lot of homegrown music, and almost every show was packed with sweaty twentysomethings out to see and be seen, hear and be heard. At the heart of this seemingly diverse, but unified scene were the Grifters. To say that they started it all would be both false and presumptuous, but they were the glue that held it all together.

Right-thinking ladies and gentlemen, lock up your daughters: After taking the last couple of years off to work on various side projects, Dave Shouse, Scott Taylor, Tripp Lamkins, and Stan Gallimore are back in action, and they will be playing the Last Place on Earth on Saturday night. For those who may have missed them the first time around, here is a quick overview of essential Grifters recordings to help you get you up to date and in the mood.

So Happy Together. Okay, to be perfectly honest this full-length CD released on the fly-by-night Sonic Noise label kinda blows. The guys hadn't quite found their sound yet and they were experimenting. In the midst of all the Sonic Youth-like ruckus, however, are three of the best Grifters songs ever: "Love Explosion 1971," "Tat," and "Oar." Random lyric ("Oar"): "Cut straight, dig slow, shovel it ."

One Sock Missing. This Shangri La release is often touted as the definitive Grifters album. Featuring a host of unbelievably catchy rockers like "She Blows Blasts of Static," "Corolla Hoist" and "Shark," it's pretty hard to argue with the conventional wisdom. OSM's calculated sloppiness certainly sounds like Memphis, and the more somber "Sain" and "If I Can Just Keep From Passing Out" are certifiable lo-fi masterpieces. Random lyric ("Sain"): "Let me buy you a beer, hope my credits still good here, and we can talk for hours. Can I bum a cigarette to help me to forget why I quit smoking?"

Crappin' You Negative. Forget "Alt," forget "Punk." Forget everything you think you know. I shit you not, given half a chance this Shangri La release could have reinvented the Classic Rock radio format. "Black Fuel Incinerator" and "Skin Man Palace" are two of the hardest rocking songs ever recorded, and "Get Out of That Spaceship and Fight Like a Man" is an ideal anthem for this lonely planet. There's not a bad song on this disk. Okay, "Arizona" is lame, but that's about it. Random lyric ("Rats"): "I swear I never meant to leave you tied up to a train that was already restless enough. Some people pick up speed before they crumble to dust."

The Eureka EP. When Eureka came out, it came out of nowhere. It was ballad-heavy and excruciatingly beautiful. Only the radio-ready "His Jesus Song" seemed out of place. Why? Because it sounded like a Grifters song. Random lyric ("Eureka I. V."): "Here's the lowdown on the gold boy, last volcano down Highway 65. Left his armchair for the Savior. Not a trace of strange behavior."

Ain't My Lookout. So what do you do when Sub Pop offers you a record deal? You take it, of course. The Grifters' big "sell out" is everything but. If Sub Pop had half-way promoted this record, our hometown heroes would all be dating supermodels and driving sports cars. "Covered In Flies," "Last Man Alive," and "Radio City Suicide" should have all gone to number one. Random lyric ("Last Man Alive"): "As for me, of course I'm enraptured by the lilting sounds of Colorblind James."


Weekly Wire Suggested Links










Page Back Last Issue Current Issue Next Issue Page Forward

Music: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Cover . News . Film . Music . Arts . Books . Comics . Search

Weekly Wire    © 1995-2000 DesertNet, LLC . Memphis Flyer . Info Booth . Powered by Dispatch