• Title: Violent Femmes: The Ritz
  • Author: Karen Schoemer
  • Publication: The New York Times (p. C17)
  • Date: November 7, 1991

All that Gordon Gano of Violent Femmes had to do on Monday night was amble up to his microphone, open up his mouth and start to sing, and the predominantly under-21 crowd began slamming. Halfway through the first song, writhing, euphoric bodies were being passed overhead. By the middle of the set, large circles had cleared in which skinheads hurled themselves at one another. By the last song, “Add It Up,” from the Femmes’ 1982 debut album, people were stripping off their clothes off and throwing them on-stage.

The Femmes themselves–the bassist Brian Ritchie, the drummer Victor DeLorenzo and Mr. Gano, the singer and guitarist–didn’t really pay much attention; this kind of thing has been happening at their shows for almost a decade. Their acoustic based music, kind of like ancient country speeded up to about 78 r.p.m., continues to strike some primeval chord in adolescents. Mr. Ritchie yanks acoustic solos out of his acoustic bass, and Mr. DeLorenzo plays his stand up drum kit usually with brushes instead of sticks, while Mr. Gano’s lyrics delve into subjects like alienation, drugs, incest and Jesus.

By now, songs like “Add It Up” and “Blister in the Sun” are cult institutions, and the Femmes seem happy to cater by playing most of their first album. But the crowd also responded to songs from their latest album, “Why Do Birds Sing?” (Slash/Reprise). The Femmes are one of the few surviving bands from the early 80’s who seem easily able to bring in a new fervent audience every few years. And if lyrics like “Ohh ohh, I need a date to the prom,” from the new album’s “American Music,” seem rote on record, in live performance they only fuel the feeling of twisted angst.