Now that reunion tours by Pavement and Guided By Voices are over, it’s time to cue the return of The Grifters, another beloved lo-fi band from the 1990s that similarly took inspiration in fuzz guitars, four-track recording, and an artistic approach that relied upon oddfellow inspirations classic rock and noise.
The band reunited in November 2013 for two shows in New York City, their first in 17 years, and a homecoming show in their native Memphis, but Thursday marks their first Chicago return since their heyday, to headline the Tomorrow Never Knows festival.
THE GRIFTERS with Heat; J Fernandez When: 9 p.m. Thursday Where: Schubas, 3159 N. Southport Tickets: $15 Info: lincolnhallchicago.com
The Grifters never achieved marquee status but remained heroes of the underground, especially in Memphis, a city with as much a storied history in garage rock as in soul music and rockabilly. The band — Stan Gallimore (drums), Tripp Lamkins (bass), Dave Shouse (vocals, guitar) and Scott Taylor (vocals, guitar) — formed in 1990 after borrowing its name from a 1963 novel by pulp crime novelist Jim Thompson.
Shouse, Taylor and Lamkins shared songwriting duties, which likely accounted for the band’s indiscriminate sound, full of shaggy guitar riffs, blues attitude, and always the pop hooks. Their 1994 album “Crappin’ You Negative” (Shangri-La) became a career peak even though it was before they signed to Seattle’s Sub Pop label, home to Nirvana.
Truly alternative to the alt-nation that was emerging at the time via Lollapalooza and MTV, “Negative” is a deeply psychedelic trip that is driven by the band’s notorious live energy and dark vision. With a slow, clanging beat and lonely guitar line, “Junkie Blood” is sung from the perspective of someone facing their mortal coil, while “Black Fuel Incinerator” collapses into noise, jamming and profound heaviness. Not only could the Grifters be a reliable party band, there also was lots of experimentation and grim undertones that kept them thwarting expectations.
By the end in 2000, the Grifters had recorded four full-length albums and many singles. Calling it quits in favor of solo projects that year meant the band largely missed the digital music revolution, which stunted its distribution to a younger generation. Like any good reunion tour, there are missteps to be solved. Besides capitalizing on lost sales, there’s the recognition factor: The Grifters served as an influence for fellow Mid-South garage stars Jay Reatard and the Oblivians, among others, as well as contemporaries The War on Drugs, Ty Segall, and Kurt Vile.
The band has neither signaled if these current dates means a new recording is in the works, nor is there news a reissue campaign of the old albums is coming. Only a Facebook page for the band is posting updates on next steps. For a band that made propulsive rock music always sound like it might vanish to ashes at any minute, the mystery of what’s around the corner is fitting. Best catch them now.
Mark Guarino is a local freelance writer.
The Grifters and “Dead Already”:
The Grifters and “Bummer”: