The 1980s was a decade of neon colors, shiny pop, big hair and bigger shoulder pads. The music of that era ranged from snarling punk and synthed-up dance fodder to yowling hair bands and moody groups from Great Britain. Of all the sounds that tumbled from that raucous, excessive decade, the most original and attention-grabbing group was a quirky trio from Milwaukee that dared to be different. The Violent Femmes, influenced by the disparate sounds of Velvet Underground, Sun Ra, Johnny Cash and Devo, offered the world a style of music that was at once obvious and obtuse, incredibly danceable and lyrically layered with innuendo and wry humor. Clearly not the same old you-know-what.
The Femmes got a big break when Chrisse Hynde of The Pretenders invited them to open a gig for them, after catching the band busking outside the venue. Their first album, Violent Femmes, has sold millions of copies, reaching platinum status eight years after its release. It was a simple, acoustic affair with understated percussion, and Gordon Gano’s urgent vocals spoke to young people seething with frustration and yearning to rebel. It was punk without the spit, pop without the shine. And a xylophone solo, too! Right out of the chutes, the record made the band a legend.
The reunited Femmes will headline the festival Friday night. We are so gone, daddy gone!