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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

I Got To See The Violent Femmes Play Live...and they didn't disappoint


Here it is 10 pm and I'm home already after watching the Violent Femmes play live at the Common Ground Festival in Lansing tonight.  They did not disappoint.  They were excellent, in fact.  Exceeded my expectations.  They played slightly over an hour from 8-9pm as scheduled.  I went with my lovely wife Lenore.  If you can look beyond my giant head in the photo above, you can see Brian Ritchie on the right with his acoustic bass and Gordon Gano with his violin on stage.

I like this band so much, I even went so far as to pay for a t-shirt - a black one that says "American Music since 1981" on it - something I rarely do.  After all was said and done, I spent around $100 bucks for a few hours of great live music in a beautiful park setting by a river.   It was 35 bucks times 2 tickets, plus $6 parking, plus drinks and snacks that included both a funnel cake and an elephant ear.  Mmm.

Got to see a couple other bands as well, including The Wailers, who have a singer who sounded just like Bob Marley, and guys in their band who are close relatives of the original Wailers.  They played the hits from the Legend album everyone expected, so of course it was great.  Also saw some band who I think said were from Mississippi and called The Weaks, which was funny because they were all ultra skinny guys.  They played a good blend of originals that ranged from danceable funk to hard rock with alternative stuff in between and even a tinge of southern rock.  All wonderful and worth it.

I ran into a coworker who was there with his son, which was cool.  He thought it was worth the cost as well. We talked about how it's an unique genre, a niche band that created a style of their own and has influenced many since.  He and I had previously chatted in the break room at work while getting coffee about our love of this band, and how he was turned on to them by his son, who is in a band, who were influenced by them, just as I have been.  He wishes his son's band would be "discovered" and subsequently signed to a record deal by being asked to open for the Pretenders while playing acoustic on the street, of course, just like what happened to this band.  Who wouldn't wish that for any band?

The wife and I don't get out much - mostly because I'm an introvert who is either sitting at my computer, writing or recording a song, or watching television.  She is an extrovert, however, and craves being out in public, loves crowds, and feeling a part of the community.  So, of course I spun this outing as catering to her cravings, even though it has been something I've wanted to do since 1983 when their first album came out. She agreed to go, despite her tastes including Wayne Newton, Barry Manilow, The Bee Gees, and Journey, and her only knowing and subsequently recognizing one Violent Femmes song, Blister In The Sun.

She and I observed a crowd of people around our ages, many of whom knew every word to every song like me and were obviously in a total state of joy while watching them play.  There's nostalgia in going to see a band like this because they remind you of good times you had in 1983/1984 when that first album was popular.  If you happened to be around age 16 at that time like me, the album probably meant a lot more than to someone who discovered it at a different age, I've surmised.  The crowd was an eclectic mix as you might expect and the people watching was a bonus.  I didn't feel old, like I sometimes do nowadays at concerts.

On a related note, if you're reading this you might be interested in a previous post I wrote on this blog about why I liked their first album so much, in which I expanded on the social implications of being a fan of this band, here:

Why The Violent Femmes’ First Album Was, Is And Always Will Be A Classic

What was a very smart approach on their part was that they played that first album in its entirety to open the show, then ventured into a few lesser-known songs from other albums that had a more Americana feel as opposed to the acoustic punk rock sound of that first album.  Not sure if it was the original drummer or not, but this guy was outstanding, playing stand-up style with two primary drums played with brushes - one bass-sounding drum looked like a pony keg of beer, and the other a snare with a couple small cymbals.  The bass player of course played that huge Ernie Ball acoustic, but later switched to an electric bass.  The acoustic bass solos were outstanding, as expected.

They augmented their three-piece band with a cajon player throughout, and also had a horn section for a few songs, and the marimba for Gone Daddy Gone, which again, was outstanding.  Acoustic bass solos, an impressive drum solo on a minimalist kit, great backing vocals, too.  Although Gordon isn't much of a soloist on guitar or fiddle, and only played his telecaster as opposed to an acoustic, his unique, whiny vocals were as good if not better than what you hear on the records.  So, all the ingredients that make up their signature sound were there, combined with some extended jamming, and an expanded lineup.  All awesome.

Overall, a great experience to see one of the most unique bands of all time thirty years after their debut, still sounding as great as ever.  I'd heard their Viva Wisconsin live album, so I had an idea of what they sounded like live, but to see them in the company of other fans like myself was one of the best live music outings I've ever had.  I won't forget it, and feel inspired again to write more songs after quite a long drought.  Thanks, Violent Femmes!