As Violent Femmes are touring the USA, Femmes co-founder and bass player Brian Ritchie has been checking into Noise11.com with updates along the way.
Violent Femmes were cruising through America’s eastern states this past week with dates in Texas this week before heading to Nevada, Arizona and California later in the week.
Here is Brian Ritchie’s tour diary #5 for Noise11.com:
Next stop is Rochester New York at the Main Street Armory, a massive, formidable, retro and spooky joint. The tour has been tripping along splendidly and spirits are high. But it is inevitable and 100% predictable that reality would have to rear its ugly head at some point. One of the Flogging Molly band tested positive for Covid-19 and had to be put into isolation. Luckily everyone else is negative and they have a mighty lineup with mucho talented musos. They are able to put on a good show in Rochester but now everybody is walking on eggshells. Some people are getting nervous, especially those who have been in isolation for most of the Covid Era. The fact that the Armory is an indoor venue and sweaty is also not well-timed.
Saratoga Springs is one of the smallest stops on the tour. Saratoga Performing Arts Center is a beautiful venue in the middle of a picturesque park. Saratoga Springs is famous for its hot baths. We do not avail ourselves of this option do to our Covid protocols. But we were able to enjoy drinking the pungent and sulphuric water, which we pray gives boost to our immune systems.
Refreshing and pungent Saratoga Water. Photo: Brian Ritchie
Rocking out in Saratoga Springs. Photo: Dr. Varuni Kulasekera
I like to return to the scene of the crime. Or a city I have lived in. Especially when it is the greatest in the world, New York City. We were wondering how the city fares during a pandemic. We already coped with the last cataclysmic event, 9/11. Varuni was working for New York City Department of Health at the time and was part of the Ground Zero cleanup. Although 9/11 was traumatic, it also brought out the best in New Yorkers and created a sense of community. This time, I am uneasy, because there is an overriding sense of dread. Don’t go on the subway. Don’t go into the crowded ramen hole-in-the-wall. Don’t go to the museums. Don’t stand so close to me. High population density and physical distancing are not a good fit. The inability to be spontaneous and do what thou wilt negates the sleazy charms of the big city.
Still we found some quirky things to do that did not blow our Covid cover. As I have mentioned in previous posts, besides my duties as an elder statesman of punk rock, I also work at a museum in Tasmania called Mona (Museum of Old and New Art) as Music Curator. I love museums and one of my favourite, but very obscure is a few blocks from our hotel. Mmuseumm is a quirky object-journalism literal hole-in-the-wall occupying a decommissioned elevator (lift in Aus-speak). The contents are not particularly spectacular but they are provocative. I just love the space itself. You can visit it here: https://www.mmuseumm.com/
Mmuseumm and security staff. Photo: Dr. Varuni Kulasekera
Mmuseumm Interior, big dude for scale. Photo: Varuni Kulasekera
Exhibits at Mmusemm. Photo: Brian Ritchie
The semi-homecoming concert at Pier 17 was exhilarating. This is one of the greatest venues in NYC , particularly now that all the indoor venues have been knocked out of the running by a microscopic virus. The paradigm shift towards outdoor venues will be riveting drama. It will also make touring more seasonal and get musicians peregrinating like migratory birds.
Pier 17 NYC. Photo: KSPRZK
Culinary image. Funny Face Bakery honoured VF with this limited edition cookie. Photo: Brian Ritchie
Social interaction is at a minimum on this tour, which is particularly harsh in New York City where we have so many friends and colleagues from the worlds of arts and science. However stars aligned to catch up with other veteran rockers, Jerry and Ernie from Modern Lovers. Jerry is the Milwaukee member of Talking Heads and produced one of VF’s albums. We spent most of the time talking stuff like marine biology, but also caught up on the gossip about which of our erstwhile colleagues are anti-vaxxers, and which members of which notable NYC bands wrote books slagging each other off. Jerry mentioned that it is not cool to do that, so I promised him I would not slander him or any of our mates off in the tour blog. Thanks for the advice Jerry!
Jerry Harrison, Ernie Brooks and BR. Photo: Mike Coffin
After the high of NYC, the news that another Flogging Molly member has gone down with Covid hits like the dull thud of a baseball bat walloping an animal carcass. They are a tight-knit organisation and this must be tearing them apart. There is the added layer of trying to figure out the right path forward, which involves a lot of analysis and negotiation. As a precautionary measure they withdraw from the next show in New Haven, and we headlined the show solo. There are minimal refund requests, and the fans are satisfied with our extended set. It’s not our first rodeo, after all.
For the remaining three shows on this swing, Philadelphia, Big Flats NY, and Washington DC, Flogging Molly decide to go with a stripped-down acoustic lineup, which is no problem because they can bring the musical goods with their remaining members. Band, crew and management are handling the crisis professionally under duress.
The Philadelphia gig is at the gorgeous and ornate Met but it was a hit and run with no cultural or culinary highlights which we already covered in on of the previous blogs. We head to the thus far smallest market on the tour, Big Flats New York which is a few hundred miles and maybe 80 years away from NYC. We love playing rural areas for a change of pace. Sometimes we intentionally set up entire tours of rural areas, which we call The Farm Tour.
Touring is a tedious activity. There is a lot of repetition. The only thing more tedious than touring is to read the verbiage of a pampered rock star complaining (or god-forbid writing songs) about said tedium. Which I just tricked you into doing! My recipe for alleviating the boredom is to go for bike rides. It clears the head, purifies the blood and is a form of improvisation. Blaise Garza (saxophone) and I decided to take in the splendour of the Big Flats region on two wheels. This included a trip to an aviation museum, rail-to-trail around a lake and a visit to a barn church, yikes. In Australia these people go by the quaint term: Religious Nutters. In USA they are the norm. These pictures also serve as a requiem for my beautiful fixed gear GT bike, because it is stolen in the next city, our Nation’s Capitol.
Gordon Gano soloing in Big Flats. Photo: Dr. Varuni Kulasekera
Washington DC is peculiarly sedate and placid (except for Ladri di biciclette). Tourism is WAY down. Many restaurants are closed or have reduced hours. We are playing at one of the best new venues in the United States, The Anthem. Audience displayed the highest rate of mask wearing due to local laws. Prior to the gig, I did my own personal performance of Banshiki, a Japanese requiem song, in honour of the nearly 700,000 USA Covid deaths. This stunning and effective artwork by Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg has a flag for each deceased person in the USA. It extends across the lawn in front of the Washington Monument. They have a tiny patch of flags representing the 27 New Zealand Covid deaths for context.
Photo: Dr. Varuni Kulasekera
Now we are off to parts unknown for a weeklong break from the tour. We’ll catch up with you in Texas, if we don’t get executed for wanting to terminate a pregnancy.
©2021 Brian Ritchie
Violent Femmes Setlist for Washington DC 26 September 2021
Add It Up (from Violent Femmes, 1983)
American Music (from Why Do Birds Sing?, 1991)
I’m Nothing (from New Times, 1994)
Memory (from We Can Do Anything, 2016)
Breakin’ Up (from New Times, 1994)
Prove My Love (from Violent Femmes, 1983)
Promise (from Violent Femmes, 1983)
Jesus Walking on the Water (from Hallowed Ground, 1984)
Good Feeling (from Violent Femmes, 1983)
Gimme the Car (from Violent Femmes, 1983)
I Held Her in My Arms (from The Blind Leading the Naked, 1986)
Color Me Once (from Permanent Record: The Very Best of the Violent Femmes, 2005)
Dance, Motherfucker, Dance (from Add It Up (1981-1993), 1993
Gone Daddy Gone (from Violent Femmes, 1983)
Blister in the Sun (from Violent Femmes, 1983)
Kiss Off (from Violent Femmes, 1983)
For Brian Ritchie’s previous tour diaries look no further than here:
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