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Violent Femmes (Tuesday, July 5th, 2005, First Avenue)
Violent Femmes - Photo by Jim Herrington

By Cyn Collins

If there could only be one word to describe the Violent Femmes show at First Avenue July 5th, what would that word be? . . .


The Violent Femmes were 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 tragi-comic lyrics. The iconic trio put on a fantastic and fun show worth the wait since I first heard 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-longs, getting people out of bed to party as we went.

Tuesday’s 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. "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 and dance wildly.

Gano broke out the violin for two songs. He played old-timey breaks for the 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 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 in during 1970. At one point they had a big horn section (10 members) going that Gano jokingly called "The von Trapp Family." The crowd went crazy with sheer joy.

[Interrupting this review: seeing this, 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 psychadelica. I realized the minimalist, yet dramatic drummer, De Lorenzo, who sticks with brushes on a small kit is the base, the foundation of the Violent Femmes, standing (literally) front and center, stealing the show with his antics, dancing, leaping and spinning through the air between beats, while playing performing "fabulous" solos. Toward the end of the set, Brian 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 ability to see 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.

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 across 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."