The Violent Femmes hit the stage at Cargo Concert Hall on a Wednesday night for the band’s first Reno appearance in 24 years, with that stage containing the only breathing room in the hall that sold out within days after tickets went on sale. But while the room was thick with a palpable sense of anticipation before the band’s appearance, the Femmes hit the stage with all the momentous force of a lackluster orgy.
While this is a band whose angsty 1980s hits such as “Blister In The Sun” and “Gone Daddy Gone” were synonymous with a generation of youth coming of age to MTV’s manicured edginess, and who ushered in the beginnings of alternative radio, the chasm between their great and bland material becomes clear in a live setting. With two of three original members onstage, and an instrument-to-musician ratio of about 3 to 1, their catchy delivery seemed to be in conflict with their underwhelming stage presence for most of the night.
Not to take away from the band as musicians; singer and guitarist Gordon Gano alternated between guitar, banjo and fiddle. He seemed to only leave his spot in front of the center microphone on the couple occasions that he wandered offstage to drink from a bottle of water. Bassist Brian Ritchie worked a blistering xylophone solo, as well as a sea shell into his musical repertoire. Band members, fluctuating in number anywhere from three to six throughout the set, took up saxophone, cajón, a 9-foot-tall concert bass sax, and a barbecue grill for percussion at various points throughout the performance.
While the performance may have been lacking in energy and chemistry, the room was prepared to get down, regardless of show being put on. While hitting some lulls over the course of the band trying to include songs from each of their nine albums, for the most part the room was swept up in movement throughout.
There’s something appealing about a band who throws out arguably their most well-known songs – “Blister In The Sun” and “Kiss Off” in this case – five songs into the set, almost as a dare to the audience to hang on through what comes next. And while songs like “Jesus Walking On The Water” and “Black Girls” were well-received, the constant shuffling of instruments and relatively inert movement of the three members, all standing in a line along the front of the stage, seemed to poke holes in the sails and didn’t allow for the pace to really hit a tipping point.
However, closing out with “Add It Up” and “American Music” did turn Cargo’s intimately-packed room into a frenzy of dancing and couples swaying with each other. It was the crowd that was here to enjoy the performance, no matter what the band gave, that made the show. While it seemed that, onstage, the group was never really able to hit its stride, the sold-out audience that filled Cargo Concert Hall seemed it couldn’t care less, and that’s was what made the concert this evening.
– Shaun Astor