I’ve seen the Violent Femmes a couple of times. Great fun always. I’ll go again I’m sure – I hope. If we ever get past this Covid-thing to the level that we bring the international bands back in, as promised, then the Femmes is one of the bands on the cards – and one I’ll probably hope to get to. But maybe it doesn’t matter – because I’ve seen them play one of the very best shows ever. Such a show. What a gig! So formative in my early gig-going years too.
It was 1995. And I had just moved to Wellington – I’d been to the brilliant Town Hall already (for The Cult) and I would go on to see hundreds of bands there before they knifed that venue in the back and cut through to tear out its heart. I’d see several of the best shows ever there in fact.
But the Violent Femmes nearly took the cake and stole the show or stole the cake and took the show. It might have helped that I was peak-obsessed with the band. I would go on to play Blister in the Sun and Add It Up and American Music and Kiss Off….well, obviously nowhere near as many times as the Femmes actually did, but I played them a lot in my wee uni covers band.
Anyway, 1995. This was the year I moved to Wellington, moved here for university. I was excited to check out live music, to be able to get to concerts. Any money I had went on them. And I remember buying a Violent Femmes ticket as soon as I knew anything about the show. It wasn’t the first great show of the year; that one had arrived by fluke – Throwing Muses had their album University out. So it made sense that they would tour the universities for Orientation. At that point I really only knew about Throwing Muses, didn’t (actually) know them. But I left that gig a huge fan. Bought several albums the very next day (in fact, on my first day of uni Sam Hunt performed at a café on campus and he closed his set by saying something along the lines of “Throwing Muses are playing later this week, tremendous lyrics, you must see them”. And so that was all the endorsement I needed).
Anyway, the Muses gig was great. But it was guesswork – I’m glad I got to it. But there hadn’t really been any expectation since there wasn’t any anticipation. The Femmes show was the one I was attending as a fan, as someone so into the Femmes (at that point) that I couldn’t believe the luck of it all: new city, gigs on tap (Hawke’s Bay in the 1990s had only recently established its Mission Concert, beyond that it was an annual trip to Auckland for one gig, at best), enthusiastic friends joining in to make any big gig feel like the very best party.
We’d go to some of these shows in a pack – the gigs of 1995 that I remember fondly including also Dinosaur Jr and Faith No More were as important for the gang that attended, ritualistic meetings in a hostel-room or someone’s flat beforehand, a few beers, and discussing the favourite records, possible setlists, playing some of the key album tracks, a stunned disbelief almost; that we couldn’t quite believe we were getting to see an artist we thought was pretty great. Sometimes there was shenanigans on the way to or from the venue. Sometimes that was as important – after – as the show. There were always aims, too, for posters to be picked or setlists or signings…
And all of this – this energy – started for me with the Violent Femmes.
The Town Hall (Wellington’s single best gig venue, always the greatest combination there, the sound and vibe, you could see the stage from anywhere, the choice – usually – to sit or stand, always the single best venue) was thrumming. Packed. We were up the front. Right up the front. As close as we could get. The opening act was The Mutton Birds. Terrific set from them ,and we were fans. This is when the Mutton Birds had just two albums. Two very good albums. And so it was a cherry-picked set of highlights). When David Long used the Theremin for The Queen’s English it was mesmerising. What was he doing? How was he doing that?
And then the Femmes.
They were only on stage for a song or two, I seem to recall it was the third song of the night, maybe fourth, and they played Blister In The Sun. The whole venue seemed to come alive. The Femmes had the album Rock!!!!! out at the time. It had some okay new songs on it – and they played a few of them. It was the last worth-having Femmes CD, really. But the gig was about the hits. Even though they played a few songs off the newie too.
When they played Black Girls, the band invited Don McGlashan on stage to play euphonium. This seemed like the highest honour – and the nicest vibe. The headliner invites the opening act back on stage. (I’ve always loved that gesture, well, if it’s done right, if it works, if it’s necessary).
The music of the Violent Femmes was a big part of the soundtrack to my high school years and then into university. But the peak of that – the absolute pinnacle of my fan-appreciation – was seeing that 1995 show.
And I had a souvenir at the end of the gig too. The bass player’s pick!