Factory Theatre, 20/03/17
Despite selling out an Australian tour only a year ago, Violent Femmes returned to Sydney for their most extensive tour since 2005. After hitting up Golden Plains, WOMADelaide, and regional venues all across Australia, they still somehow had enough energy left to play a truly sensational set at Factory Theatre in Sydney on Monday night.
Stepping on stage, lead singer Gordon Gano wearing glasses and a t-shirt, and bassist and band founder Brian Ritchie with long hair and a wide brimmed hat – the pair, 27 years on, don’t look exactly as they do on the covers of their first albums. Frankly, I was ready to be disappointed – too often, older ‘classic’ bands that you’ve so highly revered and romanticised never live up to the expectation. The rock n roll lifestyle can be very unforgiving. Yet, completely remarkably, the moment Gano opened his mouth it sounded exactly like recordings from albums dating back to the 80s, and Ritchie’s skill and passion for the music has only become stronger.
Opening with the short and sharp ‘I Hate The TV’, the mood of the room became immediately electric. Next up was the unmistakeable ‘Kiss Off’, igniting the whole crowd into singing along only a minute into their set, accompanied by a disjointed, erratic solo on the acoustic bass by Ritchie, and quick, sharp, single drums by John Sparrow.
The set had servings of folk, rockabilly and swing styles woven into the largely punk energy. At one point, the country vibe got a bit much for me and I felt as if I were in the film Deliverance – I later looked up the song, and it was aptly named ‘Country Death Movie’.
This dynamism in their style was exemplified further by the diversity of instruments that seemed to keep appearing on stage – including an incredible sax solo in ‘Love Love Love Love Love’, and Gano shredding a violin (didn’t really know they could be shredded) in ‘Good Feeling’.
Halfway through the set, the Femmes invited support act Rayella onto the stage, a father-daughter act from the Northern Territory. Eleanor Dixon’s goose-bump inducing voice sang ‘What Am I Doing Wrong’, “to tell everyone to do what you wanna do…you know, get on stage with the Violent Femmes.”
The crowd ranged across all age groups, but everyone was ecstatic. While the main body of the set relied on these folkier roots, which isn’t entirely my vibe, the last third of the show just came out of nowhere, taking a dark and beautiful turn. It was a blurred, distorted, neverending mess of Ritchie switching between his bass (he’d moved on from the acoustic bass that he opened the set with), the cajon, a xylophone, and at one point he even whipped out a conch shell. They played ‘Gimme The Car’, ‘Gone Daddy Gone’, and pulled out a brass section for ‘Black Girls’. Honestly, it felt like an episode of the Mighty Boosh in there – perhaps one about anti-christal swing dancing.
Normally I’m disappointed by a lack of audience interaction or banter (and personally I would have liked to have garnered some insight behind the lyrics “Big hands, I know you’re the one,”) but I barely even noticed considering the incredible stage presence – particularly between Gano and Ritchie.
They closed up with ‘American Music’, but didn’t make us wait long for an encore. I’m not proud to admit that, basic as I am, I was really hanging out for ‘Blister in the Sun’. Unfortunately, it was delivered with a surprising lack of energy compared to the wild set we just witnessed. Though this is unsurprising if you think about how many times they must’ve had to play that song since its release in 1983. Thankfully, they brought it back with an untamed rendition of ‘Day After Day’, and both the Femmes and the crowd went wild. As a parting note, Gannon said “man, I’ve always wondered. Is this fun to watch? Cause it’s just so much fun to play, I can’t imagine it being more fun to watch.”