• Title: Violent Femmes: They’re the latest rage–but for how long?
  • Author: Kristian Lawson
  • Publication: Daily Cal (UC Berkeley)
  • Date: June 17, 1983

Every once in a great while an unknown band will come out of nowhere and release a re- cord so good that people have to stop and take notice. For just a few months they are the “property” of the progressive radio stations and the few people that pay attention to new releases. Then they are dis- covered and the rest is history. In 1977 it was Elvis Costello; in 1978 it was the B-52s; in 1979 it was the Pretenders; in 1983 if will be the Violent Femmes.

The Violent Femmes are a semi- acoustic trio that hail from Milwaukee and they are the best thing to come out of Wisconsin in a long time. They have released one re- cord (called, appropriately, “violent femmes”) and you won’t hear it on the Top 40 stations — at least not yet. But the local college stations(KALX, KUSE, KEFC) know a good thing when they hear it: the disc jockies won’t let a show go by without playing at least one Violent Femmes song. Right now they are in that peculiar limbo of being played to death by small stations and totally ignored by the commercial stations and thus the general populace.

The Violent Femmes came to the Bay Area very recently and played around in some of the local clubs. I saw them at the On Broadway on May 29 on what they billed as their “Acoustic Punk” night. The title was somewhat of a misnomer, since none of the bands were punk per se, but rather offbeat originals who defied categorization. I especially enjoyed Johnny and Reggie, a rockabilly band without a song to call their own and a black lead singer with while hair and a terminal case of Elvis Presleyitis.

But when the Violent Femmes came on, they rose above the level of novelty and presented some excellent music and a sparkling sense of humor. Their instruments were unusual: Brian Ritchie (clad in a full length dress, red stockings and a cape) played a gigantic Norteno acoustic bass guitar; Victor DeLorenzo (who looked like the drummer of a bar mitzvah dance band) played a snare drum and an upside-down can; Gordon Gano (the diminutive lead singer) played the only electric instrument, a guitar that was toned down so low it was actually the quietest of the three instruments.

Their songs are exciting but not overpowering. They rely not on volume for their energy but on the brilliant song-writing talents of Gordon Gano, the amazing musicianship of Brian Ritchie and the frenetic stage presence of Victor DeLorenzo. Every song drew loud applause, and the jokes flew fast and furious. At one point Gordon Gano limply threw a crumpled-up waxed paper cup into the audience and said, “You like that? l know you like that, ’cause I saw Flipper do it, except then it was with a full beer can.” Throughout the show they mocked each other, made puns, pretended to walk off stage in the middle of a song and in general kept everyone in good spirits. And two days later we were still humming the songs to ourselves.

The first “hit” off the album is is the nearly five-minute-long “Add it Up,” a multi-layered, catchy opus about sexual frustration, uncontrollable youth and several other topics too cryptic to decipher. Unfortunately, the song repeats the line “Why can’t I get just one fuck?” which some people think is overly sexist and which also seals the song’s fate as far as commercial airplay.

Next came “Kiss Off,” my favorite, featuring an extremely catchy tune, amazing bass playing and lyrics that apparently concern repeated failed suicide attempts. It’s songs like this that make me feel good to be alive. Now the current rage is “Blister in The Sun” which will probably be their first major hit because of its nearly flawless up- tempo, and lyrics like “Body and beats I stain my sheets I don’t even know why My girlfriend she’s at the end she is starting to cry Let me go on like I blister in the sun Let me go oh big hands I know you’re the one.” There are two other great songs on the album (“Prove My Love” and “Promise”) and the other five songs fall into the merely good-to-excellent range.

You may find this record next to impossible to find because they’re sold as soon as they’re puf on display. l stopped into a store, noted they had four copies, went away for no more than 15 minutes to get some money, and when I came back there was only one copy left, and there were two people busily searching through the V’s. If you can’t find the album and you want to hear what they sound like, re- quest then on the radio stations that play them. Once you’ve heard the Violent Femmes you’re sure to catch the bug too. And why not? It’s better to catch it now before everyone else does.