Live music galleries

Ten great Ottawa Bluesfest sets: #10 Violent Femmes – Sunday, July 6th, 2014

(This year’s edition of Ottawa Bluesfest has been cancelled, for obvious reasons. In previous years, especially on my old blog, I would share photos and thoughts on some of the live music I was enjoying at the festival throughout the duration. So for the next week and a half, I thought I’d share ten great sets, out of the many I’ve witnessed over the years, one for each day on which music would have be performed. Enjoy.)

Violent Femmes live at Bluesfest 2014

Artist: Violent Femmes
When: Sunday, July 6th, 2014
Where: Claridge Homes stage at 8:00pm
Context: Yes, I know they’re from a long time ago but they’re a band I’d never seen live. Like the last two sets I’ve posted pictures from, sets by The Waterboys and Belle and Sebastian, this one crossed off another big one on my list of bands to see. Violent Femmes’ self-titled, debut album for 1983 was one of my favourite albums growing up and as I learned that evening, I still know every word from every song.

I knew as soon as they started things off with what is arguably their biggest song, “Blister in the sun”, that their plan was to play that self-titled, debut album from beginning to end. (Do I have to tell you that the crowd went nuts?) By the time they got to “Good feeling”, I was in heaven and my voice was hoarse from singing along. After playing “Violent femmes”, they played a selection of hits from the rest of their career (see full setlist below), including “Jesus walking on the water”, “I held her in my arms”, and perennial favourite, “American music”.

Gordon Gano’s performance was tempered to a low pitch, letting his vocals tell the story, except of course, when the songs required the use of the fiddle or the banjo. By comparison, Brian Ritchie was a monster on the acoustic bass, making his presence felt on every song, and Brian Viglione (replacing original drummer Victor DeLorenzo) was a master showman, dazzling us with solos and tossing out drumsticks and brushes to the audience. For a band that’s been around a long time, they played to a crowd of all ages, not just us old folk. There were a large group of youngsters who likely weren’t even born yet in 1983, holding on to the rail at the front of the stage and shaking their moppy heads so hard, it gave me a headache just watching. However this wasn’t a tired old reunion performance in the least. The Violent Femmes looked like they had the energy to do this for maybe another thirty years.

Gordon Gano
Brian Viglione on drums
John Sparrow on the cajón and Brian Ritchie on the xylophone
Gordon Gano on the fiddle
Brian Ritchie on the acoustic bass
Kicking it with Brian Viglione
Gordon Gano on the banjo
Gordon Gano and Brian Ritchie

Blister in the Sun
Kiss Off
Please Do Not Go
Add It Up
Prove My Love
To the Kill
Gone Daddy Gone
Good Feeling
Jesus Walking on the Water
Country Death Song
Old Mother Reagan
Freak Magnet
Gimme the Car
Black Girls
I Held Her In My Arms
American Music

(I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip through ten of my favourite Bluesfest sets from years past. Here’s hoping we don’t have to do this again next year and instead have a bunch of new performances to experience.)


Best tunes of 1991: #16 Violent Femmes “American music”

<< #17    |    #15 >>

“Can I… Can I put on something like: This is American music. Take one. One, two, three, four…”

Whenever I hear or think about the band Violent Femmes, I think of my friend Jeff from high school, even though I haven’t seen him in a couple of decades (not counting the odd word on Facebook). This is because I lent him my recorded copy of Violent Femmes’ debut self-titled album on cassette at the beginning of our final year (OAC, for those in the know) and no word of a lie, I didn’t get it back until the end of that school year. I started out asking for it daily and he would always make excuses and promise it back the next day. I stopped asking so often after a while and had almost given up hope, only keeping up the charade as an ongoing joke, but then, on the final day of classes, he returned it to me.

Of course, “American music” does not appear on the debut. It’s from the band’s fifth album, “Why do birds sing?”. Really, the only other album besides the debut that I know. Its release came shortly after the band reformed from a brief split and coincided with a tour, whose Toronto stop a bunch of my friends went to see but which I sadly missed. “American music” was another favourite of my friend Jeff’s. He’d often break into a sad impression of frontman Gordon Gano’s nasally vocals when we were hanging out during afternoon spare period and sing: “Do you like American music? I like American music. Don’t you like American music baby!”

Save for the trio’s aforementioned debut, the Femmes have always operated on the periphery of the music industry, sitting precariously on the edge of alternative and mainstream culture. They have a number of songs, though, thanks to usage in films and appearances in TV commercials, that have become part of our collective consciousness. I’d say “American music” is one of these. Though only achieving modest success and moderate airplay, it has become a favourite at the shows the band still performs today.

It is a typically upbeat and off-kilter number for the group, hinting at a love for the red, white, and blue and the Norman Rockwell lifestyle. Gano whines and yelps, Ritchie’s bass lines boom, and Victor DeLorenzo gets us all up dancing at the prom with his get up and go drum beats, whether we have a date to dance with or not.

Yeah. I like American music too… baby.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1991 list, click here.