Bands are like a marriage; there are milestones, celebrations, fights, and sometimes (more often than not actually) the whole thing ends in a nasty break-up.
Gordon Gano and Brian Ritchie have a complicated relationship. As the two primary members of The Violent Femmes, they’ve worked together for over thirty years, although the last ten years have been tumultuous. The band members have sued and counter-sued one another over royalties and credits due over the entire span of the group, so when I heard they were touring and making a stop in Richmond at The National, I was curious; would the show be a train wreck?
In an amazing twist, this is without question the most profitable the band has ever been as a touring entity, and proof of this was offered by a raucous sold out crowd of jubilant fans who pogoed, moshed, bobbed and sang along, happily revisiting songs that were staples of their youth (which, at least in the case of your author, was a very long time ago).
There was at least one song that everyone in attendance knew, the song that ‘broke’ the band in 1983, and eventually, to many fans’ dismay, ended up in a Wendy’s commercial decades later. ‘Blister in the Sun’ by most accounts is the hit that you would think the band would save for the end of the show, or at least for later in the evening, but the Femmes, perhaps just to ‘get it out of the way and over with’ opened with their most popular tune. After that, the set leaned heavily on the band’s classic eponymous debut album (which should be part of your record collection if it isn’t already), but they also proved they are not just a nostalgia act by featuring two songs from their latest record (called “We Can Do Anything”) which was released earlier this year.
As I listened to their music earlier in the week, I began to wonder if the song ‘Add it Up’ would be omitted from the set, or have a verse censored due to the massacre in Orlando. Listening on my iPod, when I heard the lines ‘Don’t shoot shoot shoot that gun at me’ I cringed, and I thought if the song was featured in the set at all, it would be censored. Much to my surprise the song, which served as the final encore of the evening, was played in its full uncensored loud obnoxious angst-driven glory, and it was wonderful.
I’ll give Gano and Ritchie credit. They may not be speaking to one another, and they barely acknowledged each other on stage, but when they hit the stage, they were able to put all of that aside and give the fans what they wanted. It was a joy to travel back to a time when the most pressing thing in your life was your math homework and figuring out how you were going to work up the nerve to talk to the prettiest girl in school. The Violent Femmes’ music is timeless, because each generation brings a new crop of nervous, nerdy, awkward teenagers trying to find their footing and The Femmes are able to provide the perfect soundtrack for that awkward stage that we never think will end. Mercifully it does end, but if you’re lucky, your fandom for The Violent Femmes will carry on into your adulthood.
Shout out to my brother Brian and his wife Mary. It was a pleasure seeing this show with you.
Blister in the Sun
Good For/At Nothing
Love Love Love Love Love
Prove My Love
Country Death Song
I Could Be Anything
Old Mother Reagan
Gimmie The Car
Gone Daddy Gone
I Held Her in My Arms
Life Is an Adventure
Jesus Walking on the Water
Add It Up
–Barry, who doesn’t really care what went down on his permanent record.