This past Tuesday, excited to make a night out of a day trip to the big city of Boston, I invited a handful of high-school friends out to dinner with me. It was nice catching up with them and sharing stories of the last year, but one of their questions stuck out in relation to the night’s main event: Violent Femmes at The Royale.
“So, what brings you out to this neck of the woods?”
“I’m seeing a show!”
“Oh, neat. What show?”
“They’re an acoustic-rock band from the 80s. You’d probably know ‘Blister in the Sun’ if you heard it.”
“From the 80s? Why are you going to that?”
This question shocked me at first, but it’s actually valid. Recorded music from the 80s can be experienced now as it was experienced then. The Violent Femmes’ live performance, on the other hand, will inevitably change. And so I went into the show wondering, myself, about the value of seeing a band established well before I was born.
The median age of the audience was probably early-to-mid thirties. And this was dragged down by myself and my two friends who, from what I could tell, were the only college students there. At first, the older atmosphere was a bit concerning. The Violent Femmes play high-energy music, and I couldn’t imagine any of the folks around me getting excited to join a mosh pit. My concern deepened when I asked a dude who seemed like a fun guy if he would be so kind as to buy a beer for me. Unfortunately, he expressed offense at my mere asking.
Any apprehension, however, was wiped away by the time Violent Femmes got onto the stage. From the liberties they took to spice up their act, it was clear they weren’t milking their past fame. Both a gong and grill featured in the percussion kit, played skillfully by John Sparrow, who replaced Victor DeLorenzo in ‘94. The trio was accompanied by Blaise Garza on the saxophone, delivering some sweet, jazzy solos. Jeff Darosa from The Dropkick Murphys also made a guest appearance, much to the audience’s delight.
The band played “Blister in the Sun,” their biggest song, third in the set. Even during this song, no one was really moving around, as the crowd was transfixed by the action on stage. This turned out to be for the better, as it was easier to focus on the show itself, instead of what was going on around me. Veteran bands like Violent Femmes have been doing shows forever and know what they’re doing.
Because of this, I was able to get into some of their lesser-known work. “I Could Be Anything” and “Jesus Walking On the Water,” which I’d never heard, pleasantly surprised me. What stole the show, though, was Brian Ritchie’s magical work on the acoustic bass. A huge round of applause and a symphony of whistles followed each of his slamming solos. Homeboy translated that energy to the xylophone in “Gone Daddy Gone” and a conch shell solo.
Violent Femmes have been able to stay together and continue making music because they’ve honed their sound to perfection, whereas some newer, hyped-up acts are still figuring out their stage presence. Now, I’m not a die-hard Violent Femmes fan like some of the older dudes I saw in the crowd Tuesday night, but I do feel connected to their deeper discography. You can bet your ass that I’ll be looking for Hallowed Ground next time I go to the record store, instead of just Violent Femmes.