They've Still Got It
Gordon Gano is developing a few wrinkles, Brian Ritchie looks as though he's building up a bit of a double chin and Guy Hoffman's thinning hair is streaked with gray. Time is showing on these three musicians, but even if they're getting a little older, the Violent Femmes rock.
As the band showed Friday night at the Rialto Theatre, the music hasn't suffered a bit in 18 years.
The Milwaukee trio has crafted brilliant music since 1981, including the anthematic "Blister in the Sun" and the loud angst of "Add it Up."
Ritchie, on bass and vocals, walked out first, zombie-style in a sleeveless T-shirt and goofy, orange-framed glasses. He was followed by Hoffman, who took his helm at the drum set in jeans and a T-shirt. Gano, the singer and guitarist, walked out last, in a simple collared shirt and jeans.
Over the course of the next hour and a half, the Violent Femmes rolled out an energetic, crowd-pleasing show, filled with all the hits.
"Out the Window" and "Country Death Song" energized the crowd in the early part of the set. "Out the Window" provided the first sing-along opportunity for the mostly-younger crowd, while "Country Death Song's" strange dark lyrics and bouncing country style bass line displayed another unique side of the band's talent.
Then came "Blister in the Sun," which even had some of the beefy security guards clapping along. It's impossible to ignore the cultural significance of this song. Written by a teenage Gano, "Blister" captures a better picture of the American teen than any white-bread suburban image ever could.
On "Waiting for the Bus" and "Jesus Walking on the Water," the band again tackled some of their early hits, which almost all the crowd seemed to know by heart. Ritchie's expertise on the acoustic bass is amazing, and his showmanship and bizarre antics only added to his speed-laced solos.
Then a radio promotion brought a 17-year-old girl wearing a top made entirely of KFMA bumper stickers to the stage, to meet the band and win a guitar.
When the band got back to business, "36-24-36" started, and the familiar refrain of "I want lots of pretty chicks" echoed over and over throughout the Rialto.
"American Music" followed, and the crowd seemed to agree with Gano, especially about doing "too many drugs." The pace kept increasing until "American Music" spun out of control in a crash of the cymbals.
Later, Ritchie seized the vocals and bellowed, "When I say dance, you best dance, MF!" The band's loudest, rudest and most profane song had Ritchie growling his way through the lyrics, and ending with a defiant, "You're such an ugly MF, dance!"
Ritchie's diverse talents shifted over to the vibraphone for "Gone Daddy Gone," and he frantically pounded on the instrument in an outstanding solo. Gano used a bit more freedom on the electric guitar, and came up with a solo of his own, which provided yet another bizarre mix with the xylophone.
The highlight of the show came with the final number. "Day, after day ... " Gano shouted, and then the band broke into "Add it Up." As all teenage angst begs the question, "Why can't I get just one screw?" Gano has summed it all up years ago, and continues to deliver to his crowds.
After perhaps the shortest rest ever, the Femmes came out for the encore, a wild, free-form, multi-instrumental jam of "Kiss Off." Ritchie picked up the didgeridoo, among a number of other strange, very hard-to-identify noisemakers. As the song came to an end, the Femmes de-tuned their instruments, and banged and wailed their way to a thunderous conclusion, and an ear-splitting ovation.