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Violent Femmes, Brett Newski

  • Barrymore 2090 Atwood Avenue Madison, WI, 53704 United States (map)

From the start of their recorded career, Milwaukee's pioneering folk-punk act Violent Femmes were a vehicle for main songwriter, singer, and guitarist Gordon Gano, and whatever you think of them largely comes down to whatever you think of him. Gano was somewhat indebted to Jonathan Richman's solo-era naïveté and overgrown adolescent candor, but crucially, Gano differed in his overt self-awareness and snotty calculation. Richman certainly cultivated his persona like any other performer, but you never got that impression from his wide-eyed songwriting or performances, nor were you supposed to. In contrast, and despite his best efforts to conceal it, Gano always sounded like someone trying his absolute hardest to work people, particularly any breathing and ambulatory female human within a 10-mile radius. The resulting tension between the intention of breezy, catchy charm and the effect of slickly grating manipulation often only felt most sincere at its nastiest (as on the trite collection of faux-middle fingers "Kiss Off" and the gross and exhausted would-be provocations of "Black Girls"), which really isn't how nominally twee alternative rock is ever supposed to work. Yet, despite this inherently fatal flaw, the group's style was unforgettable. Any number of rock and roll bands originally came up from acoustic street-corner busking (Hawkwind, for example), but the Femmes' stroke of inspiration was making busking into the cornerstone of their sound and developing notably clever arrangements from there. Gano's songs, with their prominent folk and country influences, often sounded best in acoustic settings to begin with. But he was truly lucky to find a rhythm section as inventive and fully-formed as bassist Brian Ritchie and original drummer Victor DeLorenzo. Ritchie's signature acoustic bass shredding is often by far the most interesting part of the music, and DeLorenzo found a lot of funny and worthwhile uses for minimal standup percussion undreamed of in Moe Tucker's philosophy. Those arrangements helped elevate a grip of memorable material on their iconic self-titled debut and the darker, more troubled follow-up Hallowed Ground into the minds of a generation of college freshmen. Whether or not that's a good thing is up to you to decide. —Mike Noto

Later Event: October 24
Tera Melos, Speedy Ortiz