Violent Femmes North American tour kicks off today in St Louis. As the Femmes tour America’s Violent Femmes’ bass player and co-founder Brian Ritchie has kindly agreed to post his tour diary to Noise11.com for you all to read.
Brian Ritchie Violent Femmes 40th Anniversary Tour Dairy #1
2021 was to be the triumphant (or at least existent) 40th Anniversary Tour for Violent Femmes but we all know what happened. The Australian tour was postponed twice, the USA Tour scuttled. But then while Australia gloated about its low Covid rates (at the price of near-paralysis), USA appeared to be getting its act together enough for us to get our show on the road and salvage a few months of celebratory music making. We are in fact embarking upon a massive 38 date tour in the USA, which is one of the largest tours of any band since Covid started.
People assume that because Covid has knocked most musicians on the head, the same has happened with me. They say: Oh, you must be missing the band. Or: It’ll be great to get back in the saddle again! No, the last more than a year and a half has been a riot of music-making, gigs, media, festival direction, creation of new ensembles and overall fun. Just it’s been solely in Tasmania and a few gigs during a window of opportunity in New Zealand. Not even any gigs on the so-called Mainland of Australia or any of the rest of my usual stomping grounds in The World.
Anyone who knows much about the Femmes knows we only agree on a few things. That the band is good, and that to make that sound we must play together. So this is not intended as a band statement and I’m not going to include speculation or insider information about our processes in the interest of maintaining privacy. What will follow is more descriptive than opinionated.
Tuesday August 24th 2021 found me playing shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) at Hobart Town Hall with a stellar cast of musicians. Just a handful of players I interact with in Tasmania this group included Blaise Garza on contrabass sax (who will also be on the VF tour), Tom Rimes on the Town Hall’s 151 year old pipe organ, Tim Jones of Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and who orchestrated Femmes Symphonic shows on tuba and Konrad Park on percussion. Konrad started playing with me in 2007 when we moved to Tasmania. It also marked the end of my touring hiatus and the impending resumption of touring.
Thursday found Blaise, my wife Varuni and myself boarding a Hobart/Sydney and then LAX/Chicago flights. Even to get from Hobart to Sydney was a near comedy of errors including Qantas rescheduling our outbound portion to September 1st for the August 28th flight to Los Angeles. We explained that this would also require a time machine in addition to the plane, and hopped on a Virgin flight instead. Surreal (or perhaps just…..real) scenes of an empty flight and the deserted Sydney Airport brought home the drastic downturn in business and social activity due to Covid in Australia.
Deserted Sydney Airport
The flight to LA was pleasantly uneventful and sparsely booked. Reality check in LA to be once again in a crowded airport and on a flight to Chicago with one empty seat to spare. The muggy and humid 32 degree C. midwestern summer greeted us on the drive to Violent Femmes’ hometown of Milwaukee. It is here we start the pre-production stage of the tour.
Crowded Chicago Airport
Our last gig in USA (or anywhere) was in February 2020 when Covid was just emerging into the world as a disruptive force. Our March Australian tour was postponed, then postponed again. It has been a while between drinks.
Blaise and I went into DV’s Perversion Room recording studio to lay down tracks for Kevin Hearn from our Canadian colleagues and counterparts Barenaked Ladies. The song is a tribute to Sun Ra, our fave jazz artist. It’s a great way to shake off the jet-lag and get my hands around an acoustic bass guitar for the first time in several months.
Recording for Kevin Hearn’s Sun Ra Tribute at DV’s Perversion Room
We board the tour bus enroute and arrive in a semi-deserted hotel/office park in bland suburban sprawl outside St. Louis. The era has taken a toll on places like this. Nobody is in an office park when they’re all working from home. The hotel is sparsely occupied. On the upside there’s a fabulous BBQ joint a few blocks away and I enjoy the characteristic taste and texture of St. Louis ribs. Dry and spicy rub almost caramelised on the meat, which falls off the bone by looking at it.
I end the first proper day of touring by getting together with the crew for a briefing. Besides John Sparrow (drummer) and Blaise, we draw from a pool of technicians from Milwaukee and LA depending on who is available. The guys are overjoyed but a bit nervous about being back in the saddle again. I pick up stray commentary about how many people have left the business of being on a road crew. Anthony (monitor engineer) places his thumb and forefinger almost together and says: I came THIS close to becoming a nine to fiver!
These people are soldiers and lifers. They have seen many of their colleagues leave the business and get straight jobs at Amazon and other places. There are references to fallen colleagues, depression, and the likelihood that many of the defections will be permanent. Still there is a sense of optimism in the room about the tour we are about to embark upon. I tell the assembled: Our goal is to have as much fun as we are permitted. Which draws laughter.
Our ambitions are simple on this tour. Stay fit and healthy. Play rock music. Celebrate 40 years of VF by playing songs from that entire span and some new material. Some things will be different. No merch signings. No meet and greet. No friends and family backstage. No autographs. No guest musicians. Those are just some of the precautions we are taking to be able to play 38 gigs in this unsettling time. But those of us from Australia know what an almost total shutdown of touring looks like and we feel lucky to be given the chance to be artists and entertainers in 2021, even if it’s less than the uninhibited freak show we have grown accustomed to. Gordon flies in tomorrow and the music starts.
©2021 Brian Ritchie
For Brian Ritchie’s previous tour diaries look no further than here:
Follow Noise11 on Social Media
NEW: Noise11 on YouTube SUBSCRIBE