Violent Femmes

Liz Rhodes

aren't putting on nostalgia shows, so hold all your Rolling Stones comparisons. After all, you can't have nostalgia without an age to pin it on.

Violent Femmes

Violent Femmes

City: Chicago
Venue: The Cubby Bear
Date: 2006-05-05

The Violent Femmes aren't putting on nostalgia shows, so hold all your Rolling Stones comparisons. Sure, both bands embody the teenage angst of a generation, and both have a knack for sexually explicit lyrics ("Why can't I get just one fuck?" meets "I can't get no satisfaction"). But Mick Jagger is like 105 and Gordon Gano is only 42. Jagger has begun to look more like a raisin as he's aged while Gano just looks a bit greyer and wider around the mid-section. And most importantly, the Stones sound like a trip down memory lane, whereas the Femmes sound as much like 2006 as they do 1983. Nevertheless, I still expected some nostalgia-induced mayhem when the cult band stepped on stage at Chicago's 800-person capacity club, the Cubby Bear. The 21-and-up show had quickly sold out, due in large part to the many fans who were in high school and college during the band's peak -- the decade between the release of 1983's Violent Femmes and Ethan Hawke's rendition of one of their songs in 1994's Generation-X defining Reality Bites. Although singer/guitarist Gano seems like the type of icon for whom crazed fans scream at the mere sight, there was still a lot of talking in the Wrigleyville sports bar when he began to play, accompanied by bassist Brian Ritchie and drummer Victor DeLorenzo. But, when the band got going and started working through a set of classics with a few rarities tossed in, the audience rose to a frenzy, hoisting their Cinco de Mayo longneck Coronas and plastic Jose Cuervo margarita cups in the air and singing along. It turns out that the Femmes have a more lasting and meaningful claim to fame than their lead singer's public persona. Why? Because, their songs still sound fresh. Violent Femmes, the album that introduced the world to the Milwaukee, Wisconsin group's catchy blend of punk, folk, and blues, didn't achieve platinum status until almost a decade after its release. That's not necessarily a bad thing. One of the reasons the Femmes' music doesn't sound dated is because it was never widely embraced and it's never been exclusively associated with one period in time. Each year since its release, a slow stream of new fans has been drawn to Gano's deeply sarcastic lyrics and the band's raw, edgy sound. But it's hard to keep representing disaffected youth when you've spent a decade releasing best of, live, acoustic, and disappointing studio albums and two of your members look tired and unenthused. Gano and Ritchie, wearing coordinating prison-orange, button-down shirts, just stood on the cramped stage and delivered. Ritchie, a large mountain man with long, flowing grey hair, was almost asleep. Gano, with his cowboy hat pulled down over his eyes, was not much of a showman at first but gradually fed off the audience's building excitement. Standing centerstage to play his drums, DeLorenzo had five times the energy of his bandmates, looking like he wanted to jump off the stage to smother his fans in hugs. Although the show lacked visual punch, the Femmes' music was hardly tired. Gano has maintained his nasally, youthful voice; DeLorenzo's minimalist, brush-dominated drumming was as hard-hitting as ever; and every time Ritchie took an acoustic bass solo the crowd's jaws dropped in awe. Bands typically go into autopilot during a hit they wish they could escape, but the Femmes were enthusiastic in performing their classic material. Gano's charisma actually tripled during "Blister in the Sun" and "Kiss Off", and lulled during songs, such as "Girl Trouble", that he said they do about once every four years. Between songs the Femmes discussed what to play next, but otherwise there was little banter. "I have memorized a poem about relations between Mexico and the United States," Gano paused to say after a well-received rendition of "Rejoice and Be Happy" from 2000's Freak Magnet. "In the Mexican zoo they have ordinary American cows." Other than quoting Beat poet Gregory Corso, their talk was limited to "thank you"s and the introduction of guest musicians. Chicago harmonica player Matthew Skoller joined the band for one of the night's best performances -- a laidback, deeply bluesy version of "Waiting for the Bus". With the addition of a seven-piece horn section, "Confessions" built to a roaring, improvised, extended climax and then, in a bizarre twist, floated away on Ritchie's recorder. The Violent Femmes have the type of classic catalogue that somehow gets lost at the back of your CD case and inexplicably left off your iPod. But when you randomly pull out and put on a CD or attend one of their shows, not only are you reminded of why you loved this band in the first place, you also discover new musical and lyrical subtleties in their work That, and the secret to aging gracefully.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.