The Grandfathers of Folk-Punk. Rock's dadaist improvisors. Calcified fossils of teen angst. American roots minimalists. The sonic personification of anxiety. Blues cubists. Spokesmen for misfits. These are just a few of the phrases that come to mind upon thinking of the Femmes.
Founded in Milwaukee in 1980 by Brian Ritchie and Victor DeLorenzo after an epiphany whereupon various deities showed Ritchie the name “Violent Femmes” written in the sky (or at least in Ritchie’s head). The lads needed a band worthy of the name. They never got it, but they did eventually find teenage singer-songwriter-tennis player Gordon Gano and added him in 1981. Gano’s original dowry of songs still forms the basis of the VF setlist (except for the fact that they don’t use a setlist, Ritchie calls the songs onstage).
They tired of practicing in Victor’s basement, so they headed for the inhospitable streets of Milwaukee in search of fans. Yeah right, in Milwaukee on the street if you’re not selling beer or bratwurst, forget about it. Luckily for them the Pretenders saw the band begging for spare change and asked them to open the show for them. 2000 plus gigs later they are still plugging away with the same energy, plus weight, less hair.
The Femmes are an old time singing group in the sixties mold. All three of them sing their hearts out for almost the entire show. Gano’s distinctive whine has influenced everyone from Billy Corgan to Bob Dylan. In his spare time he is a connoisseur of the finest espresso Greenwich Village has to offer and moonlights as producer and chanteur of polyglot epics.
Brian Ritchie’s demented and frenetic bass playing started today’s acoustic bass guitar frenzy and garnered him a spot on the cover of “Bass Player” magazine. A resident of Hobart, Tasmania, Brian’s hobby is shakuhachi, the Japanese bamboo flute. He is a licensed teacher with the professional name Tairaku.
The drum stool is shared by Milwaukeeans Victor DeLorenzo and John Sparrow, except that neither uses a stool and they barely play drums. Victor stands (and leaps) behind a snare and cymbal (when he’s not thespianizing in indie movies and plays). Sparrow plays the cajon, a percussion box from Peru. He got his job because of his long history in polka bands. VF wanted to beef up 2 and 4.
Sparrow is part of the ragtag sidekicks known as the Horns of Dilemma. His cohorts are Darren Brown on pocket trumpet and,accident and disaster prone multi-instrumentalist, Jeff "Born Under a Bad Sign" Hamilton on mandolin and trumpet. Other sporadic Dilemmas are such geniuses as Dick Parry (Pink Floyd sax), Steve MacKay (Stooges sax), Guy Hoffman (who filled DeLorenzo’s shoes for 9 years and now returns occasionally), Dr. Eugene Chadbourne (avant guitar wiz), Hani Naser (Arabic percussion expert) and a cast of thousands. In fact anybody can be in the Horns of Dilemma, just bring your instrument. The hilarity they bring keeps the usual members on their musical toes.
Currently Violent Femmes are playing the role of international troubadours, playing songs from all of their albums, and bringing the rock to every nook and cranny of the globe. The Femmes have many detractors and even more supporters, but they don’t care whether or not many or at least some of these people do or don’t come to the shows and then either cheer or boo because they haven’t refused not to purchase or illegally download those CD’s and DVD’s or buy or steal either official or bootleg t-shirts. Or not.