Violent Femmes




live review


London Mean Fiddler

IN RETROSPECT it should not have been a surprise to find the first Violent Femmes in London gig for some time attended by a large proportion of the city's resident American students. The Femmes music provides the perfect campus soundtrack.

Their best songs chart sexual frustration, social disillusionment and the various traditional problems that the young, white middle classes face while growing up in the world's greatest democracy.

It’s a mark of the Violent Femmes' cultural precision that they have won such an enthusiastic audience among these very people. In addition, the three Femmes onstage are as cute and kooky as anything on Sesame Street, albeit discreetly crossed (“if we find out who threw that glass we're gonna kill them”) with a touch of Rambo.

Speaking as a non American, part of the Violent Femmes' original appeal was their idiosyncrasy: a three-piece format which was plain odd and an attitude aggressively irreverent. The most memorable numbers being those in which the melodies danced along a razor's edge, propelled by a guitar with its throttle jammed open.

But know I'm not alone (although tonight I probably was) in regarding the first Violent Femmes. LP as a minor miracle which the subsequent two have failed to improve upon. The group now seem to have become victims of that very perversity which was at first so endearing. In seeking to stamp their identity across a vast chunk of America's musical heartland they indulge in quasi gospel styles and even stoop so low as to invite us to boogie ... I like the idea but not the result.

Their most enjoyable aspect is an ability to behave onstage as if they were back rehearsing in a wooden shack in Milwaukee. Vanity and the other afflictions of the pop stage are not something the Violent Femmes suffer from. Even so I was still sometimes gripped by the notion that somewhere here is a joke which I'm not in on. And this is not a pleasant feeling.

But the crown whooped and hollered and singalongaFemmes were numerous. After the regular one hour set the group didn't observe that quaint formality of leaving the stage but stayed and eventually were to play for an astonishing two and a half hours, renditions of 'Surfin' Bird', 'Smoke On The Water, and 'I'm A Believer' being as much a surprise to the group as the audience.


mick sinclair

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