Presale starts Thursday, May 5 at 10AM | Tickets go on sale Friday, May 6 at 10 AM
Doors open at 6:30PM | Show starts at 8PM | 18+ | Tickets start at $45
Violent Femmes 10th studio album, Hotel Last Resort (2019), resides among the groundbreaking band’s finest work, simultaneously refining and redefining their one-of-a-kind take on American music, mingling front porch folk, post punk, spiritual jazz, country blues, avant garde minimalism and golden age rock ‘n’ roll into something still altogether their own. Founded and fronted of course by singer/guitarist Gordon Gano and acoustic bass guitarist Brian Ritchie, the Milwaukee-born combo remains as warm, wise and weird as ever before, with such new favorites as “Another Chorus” and “Everlasting You” continuing to mine the vast range of ideas, melodic complexity and organic sonic craftsmanship that has characterized the band’s body of work since their landmark self-titled 1983 debut.
“I think it’s probably the best [album] we’ve made since Hallowed Ground,” Ritchie says. “We didn’t really know that we had something to say, but it turns out that the songs are really good and we were able to sink our teeth into them and come up with something which is just as good as anything we’ve ever done. I’m even a little bit surprised myself.”
Violent Femmes are undeniably one of the most inventive and original bands of this or any other era, constantly pushing forward with their singular blend of folk and punk, sarcasm and spirituality. Founded in 1981, the originally Milwaukee-based band’s remarkable three-decade-plus career has produced a series of truly iconic singles – among them such classics as “American Music,” “Gone Daddy Gone,” “Nightmares,” “Add It Up” and of course, “Blister In The Sun” – along with cumulative worldwide album sales in excess of 10 million, with 1983’s Violent Femmes awarded RIAA platinum eight years after its initial release.
The turn of the millennium saw Gano and Ritchie – who are based in the United States and Tasmania respectively take a much-needed hiatus from Violent Femmes, returning to live action in 2013 with a wide-ranging tour that included both headline dates and ecstatically-received festival sets around the world.
Femmes have been recording prolifically of late. 2015’s Happy New Year EP was followed by the band’s acclaimed ninth studio album and first full-length collection in nearly two decades, 2016’s We Can Do Anything. Next was 2 Mics & The Truth: Unplugged & Unhinged in America, a 2-LP collection of the Femmes reinventing their catalog with all-new live interpretations recorded in-studio at radio stations around the country.
Nearly non-stop touring coincided with these releases, augmented by percussionist John Sparrow and multi-instrumentalist Blaise Garza, both longtime members of The Horns of Dilemma, the band’s ever-evolving cabal of multi-instrumentalist backing musicians. Having spent much of 2018 on the road, Violent Femmes decided to hit the studio in November before returning to their respective homes for the holidays. “We just kind of felt like [making a record],” Ritchie says. “That’s the main reason to do it nowadays. The record industry as we knew it has kind of collapsed, so the main reason to [record] is for fun.”
“There’ve always been songs,” Gano says. “More often, making a record is just about schedules. We live on opposite sides of the planet. Sides? It’s round! I don’t know, but we live far away from each other.” Five November days were booked at Denver, CO’s Mighty Fine Productions with GRAMMY® Award-winning producer Ted Hutt (The Gaslight Anthem, Old Crow Medicine Show) and GRAMMY® Award-winning engineer Ryan Mall behind the board. Working with such a skilled production team allowed Violent Femmes to be their idiosyncratic selves while still taking full advantage of the studio’s potential. “Ted is a musician himself,” Ritchie says, “and he understands the Femmes’ sound. He had no interest in trying to recreate us into something else. He wanted to bring out the best of what the band is already good at.”
With Hotel Last Resort Violent Femmes have crafted something particularly true to the progressive heritage of American folk music, linking past and present while synthesizing elements of myriad traditions into something that speaks clearly to our own contemporary time. “That’s the thing,” Gano says. “American music is international. It comes from all over the world. That’s what created it and that’s what still continues to keep influencing it. And influencing us.”
“To me, America is kind of losing its soul because it’s losing its musical soul,” Ritchie says. "We stand for traditional American music... just done in a very quirky and strange way.”
People change over the years, and the you that is you never changes. Yesterday you were a kid, and tomorrow you'll be old, and you think you're the same person you were, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Music slices you in time. Once upon a time we lived in a world of information scarcity. We knew too little about things, and finding out about what we loved took time and effort and money and luck.
The first time I heard of Kim Deal, it was because the co-owner of Dark Carnival, the bookstore in San Francisco I was signing in had been mistaken for her the night before by a waiter, who had taken her protestations that she was a bookshop person as a cover story and brought her and the people she was with, bookstore people whom he believed to be the rest of the Pixies, free drinks all night. I now knew a band called the Pixies existed.
I owned a tiny black and white television that sat on the corner of my desk, and kept me company when I wrote, all alone, too late at night, playing badly dubbed European Detective shows, late night rock shows, cheap television. Somewhere in 1989 it played a Pixies video. A week later I had every Pixies CD you could find in London record shops. I loved the aesthetic as much as the music: the Vaughn Oliver art and typefaces.
Information scarcity. I didn't know who these people were. I was 29 years old, writing Sandman, in England, with two small children. I bought the CD of Pod, and I wrote Sandman to the jangly Breeders music.
I knew nothing of the Breeders beyond what I read on the minimalist CD notes. I knew the names of the songs because they were on the CD themselves, and I recognised "Happiness is a Warm Gun", Lennon's Snoopy-and- gun-ad inspired song of murder and addiction. It's my favourite Beatles song and that seemed appropriate. Pod is a sequence of songs that come towards you, unstoppable, not needing to be liked. Not to be anything except themselves, glorious in their emotional flatness. The Berlin Wall had crumbled and technology would save us all, and there was a new optimism in the air, and despite the optimism the Breeders' music felt like a note of warning. Melodic and discordant all at the same time, women's voices singing from the darkness, uncompromising; not soft, not strident, more like a chorus of ghosts, their faces set and expressionless, singing to us while fighting to feel emotions, to feel something.
After Pod came the Safari EP and then Last Splash. I was moving to America, to a little Wisconsin village, and I played both albums over and over as I wrote. I loved the feeling in the songs that there was something I couldn't touch, something that slipped through my fingers if I tried to articulate it. It was what it was, and the sound was something that felt like late nights and old neon signs and people who stare at you from the shadows. I had a disturbed and shadowy cat named Pod whom almost nobody ever saw.
In 2002 I went back to Sandman for the first time in five years, and the Breeders CD Title TK came out. The title was a meta-title, almost a joke, but the music was as sharp as ever and no joke at all. Mountain Battles, with its glorious Vaughn Oliver cover, came out when my life was upside down, in the weeks between my divorce and my meeting the woman that I would, three years later, marry. I played it as I drove. I loaded it onto my iPod and the Breeders followed me along the silk road in China. The flatness of affect, the intersection between noise and intelligence that I expected from the Breeders was there, along with a surprising gentleness, an unexpected kindness.
Now I'm twice the age I was when I first heard Kim Deal sing, and I live an ocean away from the English village in which I first played Pod. All of the things that were going to make life brighter and easier make life stranger and more confusing. Nothing feels as good as it used to feel, nothing tastes like it did. I used to think that the world was run by conspiracies of brilliant people. Now I would love to feel that there was any agenda, other than short-sighted greed and power-hungry bluster. I'm writing this a two minute walk from what I am told was once the finest analog recording studio in the US, now a home for a man who hoards broken things. The locals whisper that it's now a meth lab, but that's just the kind of small town gossip you hear about the odd and the frangible. Everything went digital and the world went bland. In American small towns opiates really have become the religion of the masses, pills that have escaped their prescriptions pushed to dull the ache of living. The music I loved loses value and importance as it becomes audio wallpaper: Spotify as Muzak.
And then All Nerve (2018) arrives and it's as if no time at all has passed. Music slices us in time, and I get to remember what it means to be excited by music all over again. For a start, All Nerve sounds like a Breeders album: it's not retro, it's not '90s, it just is what it is: smart rock music with a Breeders sound and an oblique Breeders point of view.
There is too much information now. We could pay people not to know things on our behalf, pay them to forget our surplus knowledge. Still, Kim Deal is songwriting, deadpan vocals, and guitar, Kelley Deal is still guitar and vocals, Josephine Wiggs is still steady on bass and vocals (and she co-writes two songs), and Jim MacPherson is still the rockingest of drummers. And I don't know much about the songs: I play them over and over, a sequence that burns through my brain.
Nervous Mary, Wait in the Car, All Nerve, Metagoth (Josephine's words, based on a found poem written by her mother), Spacewoman, Walking with a Killer, Howl at the Summit (with Courtney Barnett's mob on background vocals), Archangel’s Thunderbird (an Amon Düül II cover, and also my shame, as I played a voice-treated CGI monster in a sad film of the same name in the '90s), Dawn: Making an Effort (which startles me with its beauty each time it comes on), Skinhead #2 (I love the crushed beetles on lips), and Blues at the Acropolis, which lets us fade away with junkies of the world draped across the monuments.
People change over the years, and we hope that the we that is us never changes. Yesterday we were kids, and tomorrow we'll be old, and we think we're the same people we were, despite all evidence to the contrary.
But sometimes we play music that lets us be us then and us now and us still to come, and it's all worth it, every minute, every aching second, every gaping now.
[Neil Gaiman January 2018]