Thursday, November 02, 2017

Violent Femmes at the Vic

Apparently the end of October was all about music from my youth. In the last few months I've been downsizing my closet onto a practical body double and teacher who can use some clothes. During the last swap we both discussed our interest in going to shows and the tragedy of buying two tickets and having no date.


"For example, I have tickets to the Violent Femmes on Saturday."

"And-"

"No date."

"I'll go."

"Seriously?"

"Let's do it." 

And so it was set. I immediately felt like an ass for not getting two tickets to Tori cause I could have had a date for a change, but didn't mind taking advantage of the extra ticket to the Femmes. The teacher picked me up around 6 so we could get dinner and shenanigans would ensue from there. 

The Femmes are in that music zone of not so much rebellion but survival. The last few years that I lived with El Diablo Madre were perhaps the most fraught with the danger that I might not make it out alive. Books and music were my refuge and the Femmes came into my life as a best of compilation that covered most of their music from 80 to 90, which means, basically, all of the first album and then some nice outtakes like I Dig the Black Girls, American Music and Cowboy Death Song. Pair that up properly with the grunge scene, the alt-indie scene I somehow managed to discover and a hearty, heaping helping of Beethoven and Bach and you have the soundscape that got me through the things. I'm almost 41. I made it out alive, but I recall that time and there were days when that was a near thing.

Which is why when I saw the Femmes were touring Riot Fest I was on the stage rail for damn near four hours so I could be upfront for that show. It was a good show but somehow the Gordon seemed faded at the time, like the energy was there but it was a slowly deflating balloon. During the musical death cull of 2016 I wondered daily if Gordon Gano may not be listed among those that would not make it out alive. 

At the end of October 2017 I was happy to see that he was still kicking, and that the band was back together and touring. I wasn't sure what to expect at the Vic but I was excited to see the show, corseted to the nines and giddy with the combined energy of so many concerts in a single week. We had tickets for seats, which later would seem like a tragic mistake, but during the opener allowed for relaxed enjoyment.


Brett Newski was charming and talented on the guitar with excellent story songs that were a great way to warm into the Femmes. Certainly someone I hope to see again, as his albums are going into the rotation. If you like humor, charm, and handsome Polish boys from Milwaukee, than you should give Brett a Listen. Gordon even joined him for a track. All over a good show. 



It was a nice way to work into the Femmes. 

Then, the lights go down, the lights come up, the Femmes come on the stage. Stacked with everything you would want to see, saxaphones and drums and a motherfucking grill. There is a sudden tension in the audience and I have this moment where I can fully understand someone getting on stage and shouting "You can't fuck with the Violent Femmes, you can't fuck with this band."

Sliding slow into the full set and starting with Confessions, they build into the sound, creating on the backs of the screams of the audience a wall of powerful music. I don't know what changed in the two years between the last time I saw the Femmes and now, but holy fuck. I don't know if Gordon and Brian are draining the blood of young virgins or sacrificing clowns or unicorn framing, but sweet merciful goddess where they on point. 



I personally thought the last album was brilliant and they do a great job of weaving in tracks from the entire catalog. By the time they get into Blister and the Sun, the whole theater is on their feet and form there I could not sit back down. This was an electric show with the Femmes providing every ounce of wattage. Thrashing and stomping and swaying about mixing big band sound without the peripheral weirdness of Zappa, this was good music, this was a good set. I was fucking ecstatic. 

Whatever they are doing, I hope they keep doing it because this was borderline orgiastic and I'm very hopeful to hear more new music and see them again in different shows. 

This particular rock out in Chicago should definitely go on the permanent record. 






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