Thursday, July 07, 2005

Violent Femmes Review, First Avenue, July 5 (

If there could only be one word to describe the Violent Femmes show July 5, what would that word be . . . ? FABULOUS. The nearly iconic trio, founded decades ago by bassist/multi-instrumentalist Brian Ritchie, percussionist/campy thespian Victor de Lorenzo, and singer/songwriter/guitarist Gordon Gano with his distinct nasally whine and unforgettably fun comi-tragic lyrics, put on a fantastically fun show worth the wait of the decades since I first heard and loved them, during my early '80's college years. They provided the warped angst soundtrack to staying up all night painting, and tear-assing up and down the halls leading people like a Pied Piper on drunken sing-a-long, getting people out of bed to party as we went.

This sold-out show featured a wild crowd of 3 generations of college listeners singing voraciously to nearly every song, which truly made the audience part of the performance. Nearly every song brought the waves of instant recognition and enthusiasm that the first in the set did. "The Country Death Song," an over-the-top twisted ballad that I loved before I became aware of the compendium of ballads in the world, featured warped jangly huge guitar and seemed a predecessor to the Handsome Family and their kin.

Crowd pleasers, "Prove My Love," "36-24-36," and one of the very best ever VF songs, "Blister in the Sun," brought tremendous applause and drove people crazy to sing along loudly and dance wildly.

Gano broke out the violin for two songs. He appropriately played old-timey breaks for old-gospely "Jesus Walking on the Water," -- in old-time the fiddle is a percussion instrument using double stops and shuffle bowing,, not melody. At another point, Ritchie played strong bass on the ol' gutbucket bass, something you don't see much of at First Avenue, or in rock bands.

The band had cool guest tenor sax, Steven MacKay, who played with Iggy and the Stooges during 1970. At one point they had a big horn section (10 members) going, Gano jokingly called "The von Trapp Family," and the crowd went crazy with sheer joy. Interupting this review: seeing this phenomena, I want to mention if people want to hear more of this fun funky stuff, check out local legend Willie Murphy and the Bees some Monday night free at the Viking. . . while no longer 12 - 16 people kicking it up, there are certainly a bunch of 'em and they are as fun and wild as this show was. Now, back to the review.

The Violent Femmes used numerous instruments to play the twang country of the ballads and gospel songs, and referenced funk, R and B, dark spaghetti-western bad '50's B film style noir, jazz, Pink Floyd-esque dark psychedica. I realized the minimalist, yet dramatic drummer, De Lorenzo, while not having a huge kit, who sticks with brushes, is the base, the foundation of the Violent Femmes, standing (literally) front and center, and stealing the show with his antics, dancing, leaping and spinning throught the air between beats, while playing performing "fabulous" solos. Toward the end, Ritchie (in the voice of "God") told a long story about the search for the word that describes De Lorenzo's solos. It took De Lorenzo until the age of 48 to find the word to describe: playing drums, having a baby, having a platinum album, and finally the word he found was . . . "Fabulous!" It was always the drumming that got me the most, along with the plaintive, sneering whine of Gano. One of the coolest things about the show was the capability of seeing in hindsight how the Violent Femmes were precursors and influencers of future generations of nasally angst-ridden alternative rock. But they were perhaps more fun, because they never wallowed nor took themselves too seriously. . . they use a lot of campy tongue-in-chic humor.

The song I, and evidently the entire audience was really waiting for . . . began with Gano's loud and drawn out a capella "Daaaaay. . . " which was immediately buried in the deafening roar of the sing-a-long crowd. "Add It Up," caused a frenzied mosh throughout over half the floor. Gano told the audience that it feels, "very special to play First Avenue. Long live First Avenue! Long Live First Avenue!" and then played the perfect end song to an all-out, fabulous show, "Kiss Off."

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