The Violent Femmes are on the rebound.
Whereas the ensemble turned in a decidedly by-the-numbers set when they played on the main stage at OCNYE at the Orange County Fairgrounds on Dec. 31, 2006, it was a much stronger ensemble that performed before the faithful at the House of Blues in Anaheim on Wednesday night (Aug. 1, 2007).
This more intimate showcase found the group delivering a full-length concert clocking in at almost two hours that fully captured the simultaneously schizophrenic and cohesive approach that makes the Violent Femmes so appealing.
There has been renewed interest in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin export over the past few years. Indeed, Rhino Records has issued a wonderful retrospective of the band’s best-known hits (“Permanent Record: the Very Best of Violent Femmes”) and the first-ever official DVD release (“Live and Otherwise”) featuring both concept videos and performance footage.
For the thirty- and fortysomething fans that crowded into the venue to catch the show, they had plenty of company as they sang along to all their favorites (“American Music,” “Gone Daddy Gone” “Add It Up” and the timeless “Blister in the Sun”). And for the young fans – many of whom were toddlers when the cult band released its self-titled debut in 1983 – this was the kind of energetic and freewheeling show that likely turned many into permanent devotees.
Leading the charge on stage were singer-guitarist Gordon Gano, bassist Brian Ritchie and percussionist Victor DeLorenzo, all of whom are distinctive players skilled at playing the mix of indie rock, alt folk, country-western and post punk that makes up the group’s distinctive sound. The three original members were all positioned at the front of the stage and a rotating line-up of other players (at times there were as many as 10 musicians on the stage) would come and go depending on the arrangement of a specific song. Horns of Dilemma member Jeff Hamilton was especially impressive with his mandolin work on the bluegrass-flavored “Jesus Walking on the Water”; that selection also featured Gano playing fiddle and Ritchie performing one of many fiery bass solos that thrilled the adoring crowd throughout the night.
The recently-reunited True West opened the night with a 50-minute set of songs gleaned from the band’s 1983 album “Hollywood Holiday” and 1984’s “Drifters,” as well as a couple of new tracks (both discs were reissued in by Atavistic Records in June).
The group’s blend of early ‘80s rock of the Plimsouls meets R.E.M. variety and post-psychedelic pop was not what this crowd ordered (many in the audience rudely cheered when singer Gavin Blair introduced the quintet’s final song), but the reformation of the band was worth an early arrival. The driving “Shot You Down” and “Hold On” were both highlights.