at Marathon Music Works | Nashville
October 31, 2022 Review by Traci Turner
With an assortment of instruments – actual or unexpected – a Violent Femmes show is never a generic repeat. “Often imitated, never duplicated,” the Femmes put on shows that words can’t always describe (which must be why I’m sitting here, grasping at adjectives). They just wrapped up their tour, which primarily covered the Eastern half of the US, and while SoCal did host them in May for Cruel World, we always hope they will be back again ASAP.
Violent Femmes are celebrating 40 years as a band and at the start of October, they dropped a reissue for the 30th anniversary of “Why Do Birds Sing?” The deluxe remastered set includes the original tracks, early versions of “Color Me Once,” “4 Seasons,” “Breaking Up,” an alternate version of “American Music,” B-side “Dance, M.F., Dance,” plus a full 1991 show. While they did play “American Music” at the show, they really dug deep and played several tracks off their 1983 debut album.


Nashville, Tennessee

October 27, 2022

Now, it’s been a minute since I’ve seen Violent Femmes live, and I admit to wondering how they would be received in Nashville compared to California. It was incredibly stupid of me to have any doubts; the venue was full and the fans were fanatical – in a positive way.
In a rare situation, I actually had a cluster of friends at the show. The group included a recent OC transplant who has seen the Femmes many times, including when No Doubt opened for them; two fans who have loved the Femmes for decades; and one friend who did not know who they were. Were they in for an experience!

Opening the evening was Jenny O. from Los Angeles, who a friend described as sounding like 4-Non Blondes. The singer songwriter took the stage with just a guitar, and her laidback vibe helped welcome the audience into the open room of the standing-only venue. Before hopping on a few dates with Violent Femmes, Jenny spent the summer touring Europe before returning to LA for a residency at Permanent Records Roadhouse. She released her “New Truth” album in 2020, but has another one almost ready to release as well.
The chill vibe set by Jenny O. got turned up when it became time for the Femmes though. As soon as they took the stage and front-man Gordon Gano began with “Daaaayyy….” the fans started screaming, prepared to sing along to “Add It Up.”
The energy level of the crowd was intense! With fans dancing, jumping, and singing, “Add It Up” was a fabulous opener for the set, plus a perfect intro for the “virgin” Femmes attendee. That level of excitement would stay high the entire performance, but seemed to explode during the mega-hits the Femmes are known for, such as – spoiler alert? – “Blister in the Sun,” “American Music,” and “Kiss Off.”

The band went through an incredible rotation of instruments during the show. While Gano began with vocals and guitar, he later strummed a banjo and a fiddle. Bassist Brian Ritchie played a variety of basses, a flute, and a xylophone. Drummer John Sparrow had his stripped down drum kit, plus his Weber Grill. The evening would also include the Horns of Dilemma – sax, trombone (a pink one, no less), trumpet, and even a conch shell, led by Blaise Garza.
As the band ripped through “I’m Nothing,” “Please Don’t Go,” and “Confessions,” the crowd cheered at each intro and sang each chorus loud enough to cover the task for Gano.
Gano, Ritchie and Sparrow had friendly banter between songs and each seemed to be in a jubilant mood. Gano discussed the difficulty of playing in Nashville since it is home to so many musicians, but heaped praise on his bandmates for their skills being even more amazing. In a festive mood of that moment, Ritchie chugged his drink, tossed a guitar pick to the crowd, and jumped into “Country Death Song.”

After taking on banjo duties for “Waiting for the Bus,” Gano introduced Horns of Dilemma sax man Blaise Garza with “No one has a sax a big as Blaise Garza!” before shifting into “Prove My Love” and “Promise.” Gano then took up the fiddle for “Jesus Walking on the Water” and “Good Feeling.”
The crowd once again let out an incredible scream when Ritchie yelled, “When I say dance, you best dance motherfucker!” As he sang “Dance, Motherfucker, Dance,” the audience scream/sang along and seemed even more hyped than they had been; the energy level was climbing higher and higher as the night progressed!
Sparrow got to show off a bit during “Gimme the Car.” His drum solo displayed the ingenuity of using a Weber Grill as percussion and drew big applause from fans – and a “What the?!” from my “virgin” friend. Seriously, is there another band that can jam with such skills on so many “instruments” and make it sound so fantastic?

A few rapid fire songs and musical interludes were broken up by the band introductions and Gano talking about their Milwaukee beginnings, their acoustic style being different, being a “reluctant superhero.” He wrapped it up with, “I sound drunk” and a laugh.
Just when I thought, yea, the crowd is pretty amped, “Gone Daddy Gone” was up and Ritchie was on the xylophone, which elicited a massive audience response. Then into “American Music” with more fans screaming, clapping their hands above their heads, and what seemed like the entire room singing.
Violent Femmes left the stage for about three whole seconds before popping back out to do an encore which included Ritchie picking up a flute for the intro to “In the Dark.” Gano then said, “Sing it if you know it,” and they started that oh-so-familiar guitar intro of “Blister in the Sun.” It looked like a sea of bodies jumping, many with phones videoing, and the sound level was crazy.

While still riding the high of “Blister,” the crowd was treated to “Kiss Off” and the countdown in the song was so stinking loud – but in all the best ways. While the lyrics don’t seem cheerful, when shouted along with 1,500 or so strangers, it became an incredibly fun time with Violent Femmes.
Sadly it was time to say farewell to Violent Femmes and resume our grill-drum-less lives, but the departing crowd still had smiles on their faces as some sang their favorite songs back to their cars.

Next year marks the 40th anniversary of the debut album from Violent Femmes, which is home to “Blister in the Sun,” “Kiss Off,” “Add It Up,” and “Gone Daddy Gone,” so surely they will be doing SOMETHING?! We will keep you posted…


by Stephanie Pepper Photography



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