Violent Femmes: Permanent Record: Live and Otherwise [DVD]
The once overlooked band has been getting their share of attention in the past few years. This DVD performance proves why.
And the reunions just keep on coming. In 2004, we saw the biggest and most triumphant reunion in indie music with the return of the Pixies. Gang of Four also reunited with much fanfare that same year, and, to a lesser degree, Misson of Burma, Slint and Camper Van Beethoven. In 2005, we were graced with more legendary bands reforming with their original lineups, most notably Dinosaur Jr., Big Star, and our beloved Violent Femmes.
Now in their third decade as a band, the reunion of drummer and founding member Victor De Lorenzo is seemingly about nostalgia and not forward artistic progress, as the fact that this DVD (and its companion CD of the same name) are not culled from the recent world tour but rather from a 1991 performance at The Boat House in Norfolk, Virginia and a collection of the band's seven music videos. And what sweet nostalgia it is.
The Femmes were very much a band about aesthetics. They stand in a straight line across the stage as they crank through their set, with Victor De Lorenzo drumming standing up, stage left, singer and guitarist Gordon Gano in the middle, and bassist Brian Ritchie on the right. The effect of the unitary horizontal line is both egalitarian and like that of an army standing in line, poised to attack
The aesthetic of the Femmes in terms of physical appearance falls more in the "lack thereof" category. Gano, who looks like a perfect cross between Ron Livingston and David Byrne, performs in a white wife-beater tank top. Ritchie wears a T-shirt with the sleeves cut-off, '80s metal style, and rocks a fine mullet. De Lorenzo performs in a similar sleeveless T-shirt and is seemingly the most straightforward and "normal" looking member of the band, but his attention-grabbing stage antics display otherwise.
Musically, the band's acoustic, avant-rockabilly sound is as any sound in rock. One can spot a Femmes song within seconds. Gano's mostly '50s-inspired rock 'n' roll guitar styling, Ritchie playing most of the lead lines on bass (and a conch, naturally) and De Lorenzo's stripped, three-piece drum set that he pounds with soft brushes.
The Boat House is a hole-in-the wall little venue, now defunct, and as Ritchie says, was "memorable for being 130 degrees Fahrenheit on stage". So the stripped down to tees and undershirts makes sense, but, more importantly, it is the union of the small stage and closeness of the audience, heightened by the fact that there are only three Femmes, in a single file line, make for an intimate rock n roll show.
With the exception of being joined by their sound man Caleb Alexander, who plays saxophone on "Confessions" from the sound board, the three-front Femmes blaze through hits like "Blister in the Sun", "Prove My Love" and "Add It Up" and "Kiss Off" (all of which are from their landmark, self-titled debut; that album has the unique distinction of being the only album in history to be certified platinum and never appear in the Billboard Top 200). Gano plays his thinline semi-hollow electric throughout the entire set, Ritchie plays an acoustic bass for the first six songs and an electric for the rest, and De Lorenzo manages to get more sounds out of a single snare drum than any percussionist in rock.
The DVD includes the mostly lo-budget music videos that are entertaining as filler, with some fun '80s artistic touches to the early ones such as "Gone Daddy Gone". The videos are featured in 5.1 Audio, save the street performance of "Kiss Off".
Permanent Record: Live and Otherwise confirms Violent Femmes' status as the weirdest and best (re)definition of a power trio in the history of pop music.