Sunday, October 06, 2013

You Cannot Fuck with the Violent Femmes, You Cannot Fuck with this Band!

The sun set on Blondie, with  Debbie Harry swishing into the night and then it was and Ms. Mayhem and I (along with about forty of our new best friends) waiting for the Violent Femmes.

“I’m going to go to the bathroom before this gets started,” says Ms.  Mayhem.

“All right. I’ll be  here, holding down the stage.”

The exodus after Blondie and the stage push had put me up not to far from center stage. I wasn’t dead center, but I was damn close—the reward of a well-planned stage squat. Being that I was on my own I decided to see what was left in my flask while leaning over the railing and waiting for Ms. Mayhem to return.

“So that was an awesome, set, huh?” said the guy next to me.

“Wasn’t it just?” I offered him the flask, which he happily took a swig off of. This began the conversations you have when you are standing on a rail, stage squatting for a Violent Femmes show. It turned out the guy was from Cleveland and had come up with a bunch of friendswhom he suspected were off getting drunk somewhere else and possibly watching the Rancid show. As he said the words, Rancid suddenly kicked off and we took a moment to enjoy the strains of the music floating over the stadium.

“I was going to go try and see Public Enemy, but I don’t know, this seems more important,” he said to me. I could only agree.

So we traded stories about why we were here, who we were here to see, and generally got to be friends.

“I figure we may as well get to know each other since I’m going to be pressed up against you for the next hour and a half.”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure my friend is not coming back,” I said.

We talked and traded stories about the Femmes. Is there anyone that did not discover the Violent Femmes as a teenager and use this band to work through the terrifying loneliness and isolation that maturation and adolescence brings? For those that suffered through high school without the Femmes, I’m sorry. The universe owes you something.

When I first heard about the Riot Fest lineup, Danzig had not yet been included, but the Femmes were always the headline show for Saturday night and that was a show I wanted to see. Surprisingly, they were not the closing act, as Blink-182 was playing after the Femmes, but I figured the fact that I had absolutely no interest in seeing Blink-182 would just make getting out of the park easier when the Femmes finished.

We watched as they set up the stage for the band. It was not too hard to set up for the show. Acoustic guitars. Drums. Xylophone. Some extra mikes for brass section. They were ready to go. The crowd was ready too, happily waiting and cheering and chanting and tossing beach balls about for the start of the show. When Gordon Gano walked onto the stage, there was a deep breath, and then he started belting into the microphone, “When I go walking, I strut my stuff, and I’m so strung out…” I’m positive that he continued to sing but at that point the crowd was practically throwing themselves at the stage and every single person in the audience was screaming out the lyricsme, Cleveland, the drunk divorcée who kept shouting “You got me through my divorce!” during what little silence there was in the songall of us, we sang those words.

Here is a song that had become something more: not just lyrics to dance and sing along to, but an anthem, a chant, a powerful spell, and as we all were gathered there together, all singing and dancing and jumping along while screaming out those words, there was this collective sigh of almost orgiastic release. That here, in these words, we had all grown, had all overcome something, those were our power words. Those were the words we could always turn to, and they were words where we would always find some kind of solace, comfort and shelter.

It went on that way. When he went from "Blister in the Sun" to "Add it Up" followed by "Kiss Off," a few of us in the know just started to realize what was happened. And then he confirmed it from  the stage. “As some of you may have guessed by now,” Gordon said, “We are playing the first album. We released this album over thirty years ago. Way back when they used to print these things on records. So, this is the point where you would turn the record over. Now, please settle in and enjoy side two.” And we did. It was an awesome set crammed with the Femmes that we all adored. He finished it up with "Black Girls," "Held You in My Arms," and finished with an encore of "American Music." Perfect, absolutely perfect set.

Cleveland and I shared a hug as the crowd broke up, most of them going to see Blink-182. I found an empty port-o-let and then had some road food, which I think was cheese off a discounted slice of pizza. My brain was fuzzy from all the amazing music and dancing and drifting into experience. Leaving the park was much the same as the previous night. I grabbed a pedicab and hightailed it to Western where I managed to get a taxi with more ease, and before I knew it I was happily ensconced in an apartment, a glass of wine in hand, and a desperate need to get out of the corset I had been wearing for over 8 hours.

There was picture taking and drinking for a bit until I finally passed into a bone-weary sleep. When I woke up the next morning every single bone in my body hurt from the jumping, headbanging, thrashing, and walking. I felt like I had been worked over by six angry punks fighting over a bag of heroin. The pain and strange bruises kept a smile on my face all the way home.

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