The Violent Femmes are on tour across America.
The Violent Femmes bass player and co-founder Brian Ritchie is kindly updating Violent Femmes fans on the news of the tour via Noise11.com. Find Brian’s #1 Tour Diary here.
Violent Femmes 40th Anniversary Tour Diary #2
Our last edition left you on the cusp of the tour. You are all sitting on the edge of your seats, biting your fingernails, awaiting news of the gigs by our humble band, who did not see each other for 18 months and are hitting the stage with no rehearsal and no set list.
But first let’s talk about the tempest in a teabag, vaccination. Because Planet BR was hit by several tiny pieces of anti-vax space junk since we last chatted. The venues and promoters on our tour (and every tour in USA) announced that only vaccinated punters (note to non-Australian readers, this is what they call fans in AU) or those with a negative Covid test can attend the show. Howls of fury and indignation. Also, I am Artistic Director of Music at Mona (Museum of Old and New Art) in Tasmania. David Walsh (owner) announced a staff vaccination mandate in this blog which elicited world-wide media, some supportive and some whiny and snivelling.
He compares taking the vaccine to observing traffic signals. My vaccine virginity was taken from me almost at birth with rubella and probably other childhood vaccines. My wife Dr. Varuni Kulasekera is a scientist who has taken numerous experimental vaccines for her work in the rain forests of Asia and South America. We are a heavily vaccinated family. The inability of Africans, for example, to get a Covid vaccine is a problem. Inability of a fan of a punk band to go to a show because they don’t understand how vaccines work is a First World Problem.
Back to the shows and diary. Violent Femmes haven’t played a gig since Los Angeles Feb. 15th 2020 with a bizarre lineup including MC Hammer, A Flock of Seagulls and other retro wonders. We reconvened in St. Louis a few days ago. The support act is THICK, a delightful female punk trio from one of my erstwhile hometowns, Brooklyn. They are the kind of band that restores faith in the younger generation. Our co-headliners are Flogging Molly, boisterous and entertaining Irish-American pub rockers.
Gordon Gano, our lead singer and guitarist, is joining the tour at the last minute so the first we see of him is when he walks on stage with a serious Covid mop on top of his head. He apparently reached a crossroads where flipped a coin between shaving his head and growing it. I say: Hi Gordon, long time no see……but it’s doubtful the audience realised this was a true statement. Gordon in turn starts talking to the audience about how we might be nervous if we had not done this before. But his verbiage is engulfed by an extended bout of space age tripped out reverb. Doubtless there is a legitimate technical reason for this, but I’ll stick with the magical thinking of our era and ascribe it to the ghost of the recently departed Jamaican dub genius Lee Scratch Perry. Somehow this psychedelic interruption does not phase Gordon and we launch into our first number, Add It Up.
One of the trademarks of the band is that we do not use a set list. I call the songs out one after the other, in response to our mood and to tweak the audience. For reasons even we don’t understand we have developed a new model for delivering the information of what is the next song to the band. I will explain that in a future blog. Predictably the system immediately fails and we are left on the precipice of utter chaos, but that’s OK because chaos is our comfort zone. We proceed to tear through 40 years of songs from most of our recordings, including a visit by The Horns of Dilemma, in this case members of our crew. We have a deluxe new backdrop which is our first and best logo from 1981 designed by Geoff (Stinky) Worman for one of our first gigs. The band kicks ass from the moment we drag ourselves out of this psychedelic haze and we acquit our unrehearsed selves as usual. We played some songs we had not touched in 20 or 30 years, such as Life Is A Scream. It feels great to be playing together again and post-show vibe is giddy.The Violent Femmes onstage in St. Louis. (L-R Gordon Gano, Blaise Garza, BR, John Sparrow) Photo: KSPRZK
Bands, audience and crew all share a feeling of specialness that live music is happening again. It is also Flogging Molly’s first gig since Covid. Still there are some ominous rumblings coming from the sidelines. Our colleagues and friends The Pixies and Dinosaur Jr. cancelled their tours for fear of the Delta variant. More commercial operations like Kid Rock and Kiss actually contracted Covid, despite the inoculation that being Trumpers presumably would confer upon them.
Culinary note: usually there is a lot of gourmandising but that ain’t happening because a lot of restaurants are closed and even if they weren’t we are living a sequestered life on this tour. However we have a great solution which is that Varuni is cooking up a storm on the tour. So far, lamb roghan josh, pork curry, mushroom matar, etc. As a diversion we are also getting deliver or room service of only the regional specialties. For example St. Louis ribs and St. Louis style pizza (cracker crust with no yeast, thin topping of tomato sauce and cheese).
The next night in Indianapolis is a rainy night. Thus we trot out our special occasion material such as It’s Gonna Rain and I Hear the Rain. The band is comfortable from the work go, we worked out our tiny portion of jitters the night before. Our top-secret method for imparting the song information starts to work, although my brother Peter asked: What the hell was going on with that? I will explain in a future blog.Mural of Indianapolis native, author Kurt Vonnegut. Artist: Pamela Bliss. Photo: Brian Ritchie
The tour is seriously underway but it’s time for a side trip to Louisville, Kentucky to celebrate my mother’s birthday. Mom took a dim view of me moving to Tasmania 14 years ago. Quoth: Why would you move to the other side of the world to a place where ants jump and bite you? More recently, due to Australia’s isolationism during Covid: I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again before I die.
OK Mom. We had a delightful birthday festivity including a jam with my nephew Aidan who has a good band called The Anchorites. He usually gets to sit in with The Horns of Dilemma, but is a victim of the backstage lockdown rules.Jam with Aidan Ritchie. Photo: Dr. Varuni Kulasekera
I will leave you with a photo of our late-night regional snack. We are staying at The Brown, which is one of America’s opulent hotels from the robber baron era. For about 100 years they have been serving a dish known as The Hot Brown. It is an insane open faced turkey, bacon and mornay sauce sandwich, inspired by Welsh rarebit. Similar to Welsh rarebit, gives you weird dreams after eating it.Kentucky Hot Brown. Photo: Brian Ritchie.
©2021 Brian Ritchie
For Brian Ritchie’s previous tour diaries look no further than here:
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