Performing live at Philly’s Fillmore, they blistered.
BY JOHN B. MOORE
There’s one of two ways you can handle reunion shows if you’re a beloved cult band. To be clear, I’m not talking about a group that had a few hits and are getting back together after three years off because the members just realized no one wants to buy their self-indulgent solo records. I’m talking about a time-tested music classic that has developed legions of passionate fans across the globe over 30-plus years through passed along mix tapes and burned CDs from one generation to the next.
You have one of two choices when you finally decide to reunite and hit the road again. Option one: you play mainly from your latest record, along with a smattering of deep cuts and B-Sides from your catalog. They may not be fan favorites, but fuck ‘em, they’re your songs and they deserve to herd on your terms.
Option two: you realize, for good or bad, the reason most of the people have paid for babysitters and ventured out from the suburbs for a few hours is to be taken back to a time where they sang anthems for the underdogs, while most of their classmates were focusing on Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie or Men At Work (three of the best-selling albums the year The Violent Femmes released their debut).
On this night, The Violent Femmes opted for the latter.
Striding onto the stage with little fanfare in matching faded black jeans and black t-shirts, the Femmes stepped behind their instruments and jumpstarted their set with “Blister in the Sun” and “Kiss Off” right out of the gate, arguably their two most well-known songs, playing exactly what everyone came to hear that night. And they did so with panache and without a hint that they were playing out of some sort of obligation. It would be a misstatement of sorts to say they played the hits, because they were hardly a radio mainstay in the ‘80s and aside from a few rough live videos played after midnight on 120 Minutes, they weren’t an MTV-friendly band either. Rather, The Violent Femmes were an anomaly, mainly selling records via word of mouth, but still managed to be wildly successful in their acoustic punk rock world, eventually selling millions records over the course of their career.
With some of the bigger songs out of the way, a grayer, but clearly jovial band were allowed to go deeper into their catalog, keeping the audience with them the whole time, even slipping into “Country Death Song” off their somewhat polarizing second record early into their set. Weaving in a handful of their new songs, like “I Could Be Anything” and “Issues,” the crowd enthusiastically sang along.
Though the core of the band remained a trio, throughout the night more musicians crowded onto the stage, including the Violent Femmes backing brass section, The Horns of Dilemma. At one point, along with the standard drummer, bassist and guitarist, there were two violin players, a few more on brass – including two sousaphone players – and someone on the the melodica.
The band brought the show back full circle ending the set, after a two song encore with “Add it Up,” like their first two songs, a favorite off their 1983 self-titled debut. And just like that the show ended and the crowd, dominated by 30, 40 and 50-somethings, headed back to their lives.