Forty years may sound like a lifetime ago, but the Violent Femmes made it feel like yesterday during their recent sold-out turn at Rams Head Live. Performing their self-titled debut album, Gordon Gano (vocals/guitar), Brian Ritchie (bass/vocals), drummer John Sparrow, and multi-instrumentalist Blaise Garza took this packed house on a trip to 1983.
Violent Femmes ostensibly started in the Midwest as a melodic punk rock outfit, influenced by a bit of Lou Reed and a lot of Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers. After signing to punk label Slash Records, the band released what, in hindsight, certainly, would be called the perfect record. The band’s self-titled album would go on to spawn several well-known songs from “Blister in the Sun” and “Kiss Off,” the lead-off tracks, to “Gone Daddy Gone.” Even if you aren’t familiar with the name, you know those songs.
So it was no surprise that, with the announcement that the Violent Femmes were performing the album in full for its anniversary on many of the dates on their tour, including at Baltimore’s Rams Head Live!, quickly sold out.
I’ve been to Rams Head Live! more times than I can probably count, but I don’t remember the place being this full. As the doors opened and fans started pouring in, all three levels were filled.
As the band took the stage on Oct. 20, they started right off with “Blister in the Sun.” As Gano, Ritchie, and Sparrow stood front and center they seemed to relish the reaction from the crowd. As the song progressed Gordon Gano threw in “everybody singing,” as the entire place took over singing “when I’m out walking / I strut my stuff…” before the band jumped back in.
This was a performance for the fans. As Brian Ritchie reached his acoustic bass across the stage, Gano and John Sparrow played off each other and Blaise Garza went back and forth from one alto saxophone to the giant contrabass sax.
I hadn’t seen the Femmes perform before. For whatever reason it was just never in the cards, but seeing them Friday night was pure joy. As the band moved through the set, they inevitably came to the end of the album set with fan favorite “Gone Daddy Gone” and “Good Feeling.”
Watch the official music video for “Gone Daddy Gone (Live / 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)” on YouTube:
Brian Ritchie told the crowd, “What you’ve just heard is our eponymous first album,” before Gordon Gano joked “now it’s the novelty part of our production.” Picking up the viola, Gano strummed along as the rest of the band joined in. That was followed by the old bluegrass foot stomper, “Jesus Walking on the Water.”
But one of the highlights of the evening was near the end of their set when the band played “Dance, Motherfucker, Dance” full of horns, shaking, and, well, dancing.
The Voilent Femmes returned to the stage for the encore, leaving us with “American Music.” A pretty great night that had the whole place moving. The Femmes continue their anniversary tour through November with a deluxe edition of the album coming in December 2023.
DC’s own singer-songwriter Brassie opened the show. Be sure to scroll down for pix of her performance.
The setlist included:
Blister in the Sun
Please Do Not Go
Add It Up
Prove My Love
To the Kill
Gone Daddy Gone
Jesus Walking on the Water
I Held Her in My Arms
Country Death Song
We Can Do Anything
Dance Motherfucker Dance (Voot Warnings cover)
Gimme the Car
I’m Not Gonna Cry
And here are more photos of the Violent Femmes rocking a sold out show at Rams Head Live! on Oct. 20, 2023. All photos copyright and courtesy of David LaMason.
And here is Brassie opening for the Violent Femmes at Rams Head Live!