By Nikki M. Mascali
Photos by Pati Bobeck
NEW YORK – Maybe it was the spirit of the Roseland Ballroom’s dancehall days of yore or maybe it was the sizeable, mostly older crowd trying to recapture its carefree youth, but the Violent Femmes’ one-off show at the Roseland Ballroom Thursday night was a damn good blast from the past.
There was no fancy, high-tech stage production, but there were unabashed singalongs, color commentary from bassist Brian Ritchie, a spoken-word segment from singer/guitarist Gordon Gano, a horn section and a lot of dancing to some good, old-fashioned American music Femmes style.
The trio, rounded out by former Dresden Dolls drummer Brian Viglione playing just his third show after replacing Victor DeLorenzo in July, opened with the title track off its second album “Hallowed Ground” and the sweet “All I Want,” which Richie said was a request from a soon-to-be-married couple in attendance.
“Every song is a wedding song,” quipped Gano before a surf-y version of “Nightmares” in which he sings, “I have nightmares thinking about getting together with you.”
An explosive rendition of “Blister in the Sun,” arguably the Femmes’ most well-known song, kicked off the group playing its self-titled debut album in its entirety to celebrate the album’s 30th anniversary. “Kiss Off,” which it seemed everyone in attendance screamed/sang along with, was an early highlight in a show full of highlights. “Please Do Not Go” was throaty and jaunty, while “Add It Up” was as aggressive as “Confessions” was slow and sludgy, until the Horns of Dilemma kicked in to add a New Orleans funeral march-like vibe.
A speaker blew on “To the Kill,” but the ensuing loud static fit in with the song’s punky feel; the speaker situation was fixed without the band missing a note. Gano picked up a violin for “Good Feeling,” which added a layer of sadness to the album’s closing track.
“Jesus Walking on the Water” had a festive, polka-band feel to it thanks to the addition of an accordion. The sinister “Country Death Song,” made even more sinister as the band was backlit in red and white lights, preceded “Color Me Once,” from the soundtrack of 1994’s “The Crow,” for a morose one-two punch. The mood picked up with “I Held Her In My Arms,” which featured a great sax solo.
Gano said he wanted to read the lyrics from one of his favorite songs and delivered a lively, Beat-esque reading of Lou Reed’s “Like a Possum” in tribute to the legendary musician who died Oct. 27.
The Horns of Dilemma came back to for a fiery version of “Black Girls” while “Gimme the Car” brought the set proper to a loud and frenetic close. The Femmes encored with “American Music,” and it was a brilliant move. The happy, anthemic song honored the Roseland’s dancehall past by inspiring the audience to move their feet before being sent home on a high note.
You could almost dub the Violent Femmes a nostalgia act after seeing conservatively dressed baby boomers, Gen X-ers and cougars who grew up during the band’s early days bounce and shout next to millennials like this reviewer, who got into the band in high school in the ’90s, and the generation of fans who came after that.
And maybe they are, to a point, because they remind fans of the people they used to be before the kids, the house payment, the less-than-thrilling job or the healthcare woes. But you can never say the Femmes didn’t put on an energetic, fantastic show because they did just that, and they looked just as happy doing so as the fans there to see them.
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