Violent Femmes @ The Tivoli Theatre Review

Published in Music News  
The flood-heavy rain has set in on this Wednesday night (29 March) and while the Brisbane weather isn’t exactly like a Blister in the Sun, it doesn’t stop the Violent Femmes from heating up the packed-out Tivoli for a reckless night of dance, sweat and beers.

Violent Femmes are a defiantly raw and intoxicating mix of Americana country, folk, punk, blues, gospel and rebellious rock & roll music, originating in the US in 1980 and leading an empire of cult followers until this very moment here tonight.

Violent Femmes’ influential catalogue of work truly stands at the heart of Americana music and although they are not to be considered mainstream by any sense, they have become a household name for many generations with their unique sound that can’t be defined by genre and their rebellious high-school punk attitude playing music by their own rules.

The audience are lively already and people are screaming and chanting the band’s name at least ten minutes before Violent Femmes are due to start. The show begins with the renowned Femmes’ sound of the slap-bassline playing a slow, blues phrase to open the set with a song from their latest album, 'We Can Do Anything'.

The majority of the audience are all 50-something, with a few '80s kids, like myself, thrown into the mix. The second song plays, now accompanied by the familiar sound of the Violent Femmes classic drum beat, consisting of no more than a set of steel brushes and a snare drum.

Originally a high school trio from Milwaukee in the '80s, Violent Femmes are led tonight by original members Gordon Gano and Brian Ritchie joined by the incredible John Sparrow. A sultry, baritone sax player turns the original trio into four creating an immense, full sound on stage; each musician showcasing a number of extravagant and manic solos throughout the show, showing their true talent and musicianship.

Violent Femmes started their set with a slow burn, warming the audience with blues, evolving into a true Americana sound with ‘Country Death Song’ featuring Gordon Gano on the banjo; the Americana style enhancing his country vocal style. I want to call this genre country-punk; is that even a thing? [Ed's note: Sure is. It started in the UK and California in the late '70s] It is certainly beautiful, banjo-inspired storytelling at its finest.

Now an hour into the set, the band are firing up with extremely manic and disjointed sounds of country-punk, a cunning bass and spirited drum beats with ‘Gimme The Car’ and ‘Gone Daddy Gone’ sending the audience into an infectious and erratic '80s dance routine; the xylophone frantically providing the perfect, unpredictable soundtrack.

The saxophone starts grumbling down into an inconceivably low register with ‘Black Girls’ accompanied by a piercing violin, percussion-soaked solos and the bass playing like a lead guitar, including a solo by Brian Ritchie actually playing a seashell into the microphone with his mouth.

The show concludes and the band leave the stage; the crowd thunders for an encore. They return on stage and play the opening guitar riff and two familiar snare explosions of 'Blister In The Sun', rolling straight into the sexually-frustrated declaration of ‘Add It Up’; an incredible and crazed finish for the Violent Femmes leaving the audience sweating for more.

Wait a minute, honey, I'm gonna add it up.

2018 AIR Awards Nominees Playlist


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