The Violent Femmes will travel through New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and then Washington DC this week on their two month North American tour with Flogging Molly.
The Violent Femmes bass player and co-founder Brian Ritchie have been updating you along the way for Noise11.com. Here is his tour diary #4:
We left off with Violent Femmes’ 40th Anniversary Shindig wending its way through the meat and potatoes rock stalwarts of Columbus, Cleveland and Asbury Park. The tour now finds us hitting some of the biggest, baddest Cities in the United States with routing that was devised by an Orangutan throwing darts at a map of the United States.
First a lifestyle note. You would not choose the kind of schedule we live through for your children. We play a gig, get on a bus, drive all night, get to the next city, hang out all day, sometimes do a bit of recreational activity, gig, bus, sleep, repeat. It is fun but it is counterintuitive. The reason we drive at night is because traffic in the United States is so bad, especially in the cities that if we did it any other way we would not get to the gig.
So we drove from Asbury Park back to Cleveland (where we had played a few days earlier) for a day off, and thence to Chicago. My father told me as a wee lad: Son, never go to Chicago. It is a bad place and the people are bad. All Milwaukeeans grow up hating Chicago and Chicagoans. We hate their loud voices, fear their encroachment on our fishing spots in Northern Wisconsin, they steal our women, buy everything, etc. It is a similar motif to the Launceston/Hobart one-sided rivalry in Tasmania. Launceston and Milwaukee hate Hobart and Chicago but Hobart and Chicago look upon the resentful smaller cities with bemusement. Of course as I got older I realised that my dad’s advice was just another example of how Father doesn’t always know best. I discovered the Blues and realised not ALL Chicagoans were bad people, then saw the Art Ensemble of Chicago, who were mind-blowing despite the word Chicago being in the actual band name. I would even admit that I like Chicago now, except that I would lose my Wisconsin passport.
So far we’ve been playing mostly outdoor venues on the tour. Of course in Covid outdoor venues have gained a new allure and the fetid stench of sweaty dives is no longer the preferred ambience of the performer. But the Aragon Ballroom is a glorious way to head indoors. One of the grand dames of American entertainment, it is opulent and the excitement of the crowd is palpable and audible. As they say a picture is worth……
Aragon Ballroom, Chicago. Photo: KSPRZK
Culinary note, in my ongoing series of local specialities, Chicago is known for its deep dish pizza. This is a pizza cooked in a big cast iron frying pan and is a must for after show food.
Chicago Deep Dish Pizza. Photo Brian Ritchie
Now we will drive from Chicago back East to Pittsburgh, a long overnighter. When we play in Pittsburgh, we are always invited for a private tour of The Andy Warhol Museum by Grace Marston and Donald Warhola (the artist’s nephew). The Warhol museum is dynamic and always has new exhibits and a shifting selection from the permanent collection. I’ve been into Warhol since my teen years, and the fascination has not worn off. Warhol was also associated with VF’s friends and mentors the Velvet Underground, so there’s also a rock connection there. We invited the support band on the tour, Thick, to join us on this cultural excursion.
Violent Femmes, Thick and Grace at The Andy Warhol Museum. Photo: Dr. Varuni Kulasekera
The Crowd at Stage AE in Pittsburgh
Violent Femmes don’t use a set list, I call the songs on stage. But there was some concern that my enthusiastic quarterback audible signals might send a spray or mist of Covid infused saliva across the stage and into the air passages of the other musicians so a solution needed to be found. Initially there was a suggestion that we might, gasp, use a set list. The kibosh was put on that. Ingeniously we decided to have a list of songs we might play with numbers next to them, like the menu at a Chinese restaurant. If you look at the photo above you can see the list taped to my bass amp and a microphone next to it which goes only into the wedges. Musicians can hear it but the audience can’t. I call out the number, which is usually greeted with laughter or confusion by the other musicians, but then we play the song. I know a magician is not supposed to reveal his secrets, but in the interest of self-demystification, ya know. Still there is some controversy surrounding this procedure. We will see how it develops.
Next stop is Philly. We do not actually do a gig there. It’s a pit stop on our massive tour routing between Pittsburgh and Boston. But that’s OK because it gives us an opportunity to visit the Philadelphia Art Museum. This is famous because of the scene in Rocky where Sly Stallone is running up and down the steps. Actually I encountered him once in an elevator. I was in the lift when an extremely short and visibly tense man boarded, who I recognised as Stallone. After he boarded, the door to the elevator did not close…..and this continued for an uncomfortably long period of time, while Stallone gazed with what might have been envy upon my height. He averted his glance from me momentarily and addressed the door: Fuckin’ door close! It closed. End of story.
Meantime inside the museum. Art and music are my religion. Playing music is my prayer and attending museums is like going to church. In this case it’s more like going to a cathedral because of the staggering amount of masterpieces. But the pinnacle is the best and most comprehensive collection of Marcel Duchamp, including Étant Donnés, the work he created over a period of decades, while purportedly having retired from making art. It was debuted about a year after his passing. I have seen it many times but Covid has bestowed the gift of empty art museums upon us, so I was able to spend some quality time with it.
Étant donnés of Marcel Duchamp: Photo: Brian Ritchie
View inside Étant donnés. Photo: Brian Ritchie
Back to reality we had a delicious band/crew dinner in our suite prepared by Varuni of chicken curry. I introduced some of the new crew to drinking martinis. We used plastic cups in order not to be defeated by lack of infrastructure.
Band and crew martinis. Photo: Dr. Varuni Kulasekera
And then another overnighter to Boston. Boston is notable for having the worst drivers in the Western World (or so I thought until I moved to Hobart). The gig rocks and we played some material hitherto unexamined on the tour like Never Tell. Boston is also noted for its strange dialect. If you have heard JFK say: Ich bin ein Berliner, he was speaking German. If you heard him say: Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country…..that is him trying to speak English. So I decided to get a lobsta roll and some clam chowda as part of my ongoing investigation into regional American staples.
Lobsta Roll and Clam Chowda. Photo: BR
I’m typing this in our hotel in Rochester NY after another overnighter. Will catch up again in a few days.
©2021 Brian Ritchie
For Brian Ritchie’s previous tour diaries look no further than here:
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