Violent Femmes - 2 Mics And The Truth

by Kevin Orton Rating:9 Release Date:2017-06-30

Full confession, I’m a long-time friend of Violent Femmes’ front man, Gordon Gano. As far as the Femmes live, I've even had the abject terror of opening for them on occasion. It’s true, Femmes fans hate the opening act. No matter who it is. “I’m not doing you any favors,” Gordon once joked. And he wasn't kidding. Screaming hordes of tipsy Bacchanals about sums it up. So, you're not getting a completely objective review here. But if you’ve ever seen Violent Femmes live, you know this one eternal truth: They never put on a bad show.

Bands who have been together this long have their ups and downs, but listening to this generous live collection, you’d never know it. Things kick off with their irresistible classic, ‘Blister In The Sun’. “Oh, yeah, we’re that band,” Gano quips. Of course, the Femmes notoriously don’t plan out their sets in advance, so it’s anyone’s guess what’s coming next. “They’ll get a feel for it,” Gano says in response to Brian Ritchie’s mocking admission about the angst that goes into their song selection process. “We talked about some songs," Gano explains, "Went over some songs. And now we’re going to play other songs.” Then, they launch into ‘Nothing. “Politics and stones and sticks, I got no time for dirty tricks.”

The truth indeed.

Suffice it to say, the Femmes are in fine form and good humor. Musically, it’s no frills. Guitar, bass and---backyard grill. Yep, you heard me. A Weber grill. Guests include Television’s Billy Ficca and banjo master, Tony Trischka. The Horns of Dilemma also appear but the accompaniment is always sparse, yielding the stage to the song. There’s a warmth and playfulness here. Rather than playing to the rafters of a packed stadium, this sounds intimate. As if recorded in a small venue. 

The download I received has no track listings. Instead, we get Sides 1-4. A cheeky middle finger to download culture. From rousing, ‘Its Going to Rain’ to ominous, ‘Breaking Up’, Side 1 is an inviting hello.

Side 2 kicks off with ‘Memory’ from their recent long player, We Can Do Anything. At the song’s conclusion, Ritchie asks, “Are You Going to buy the album now?” Right on cue, Gano asks, “Do you have a copy yet? I don’t.” To which Ritchie replies, “My own personal copy?” “What other kind is there?” Gordon rejoins. All of which should give you a taste of the tongue and cheek banter in between songs. Side 2 concludes with a song they never played live before, ‘Untrue Love’. 

Side 3 begins with the title track from, Anything.  A song that could easily be filed under Children’s Music, if not for a subversive wink or two. But no Femmes show would be complete without, ‘Add It Up’, and the cage rattling version here is sure enough to send a shiver up any parent's spine. 

Side 4 begins with a request. A song they haven’t played in over a decade, Brian Ritchie admits. That song being, ‘Ugly’. The band are keenly aware their first album is a bona fide classic for the ages and don’t shy away from it. The live version of ‘Kiss Off’ packs the same wallop as the one off their debut.

Hallowed Ground, however, has always been somewhat slightly overlooked. Just as seminal, its safe to say it predated the whole Alt Country/Americana movement by some 20 years. Live, ‘Jesus Walking On The Water’ is always welcome so far as I’m concerned. It’s one of my personal favorites off Hallowed, along with ‘Country Death Song’. A blistering version of which, follows close on the heels of, 'Prove My Love'.    

The whole set ends with an unguarded and gorgeous ballad. An characteristically offbeat, yet brave way to end a live album. But then again, Violent Femmes have always defied being predictable.

Take it from me, I’ve seen a fair share of Femmes shows over the years and 2 Mics and the Truth captures them at their best. Call it their answer to Live at Leeds.  

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