TEMPE, Ariz. — Violent Femmes packed the Marquee Theatre in Tempe on Tuesday, May 3, as part of their tour to promote their latest album, “We Can Do Anything”. The punk-rock headliner of over 35 years drew a more mature crowd that evening, with fans eschewing sleep on a weeknight for the chance to see Violent Femmes live. They wasted no time in giving concert-goers exactly what they wanted and opened with their biggest hit, “Blister in the Sun,” from their self-titled 1983 album, then went right into “Kiss Off.” It was clear from the start that fans were in for a great show when bassist Brian Ritchie was already rocking out to a bass guitar solo by the second song.
After sating the audience with two of their most well-known hits, Violent Femmes played “Memory” from their new album. At the song’s conclusion, lead vocalist and guitarist Gordon Gano finally addressed concert-goers, “Here’s another one that sounds just the same, but with different words and chords and melodies,” he said jokingly before launching into “Big Car,” another song from their new album, after which, Ritchie announced to excited fans that it was the first time they had played the song live.
The release of “We Can Do Anything” in March of this year was a special treat for Violent Femmes fans. It was the band’s first new album in 16 years. Amid a variety of conflicts between Gano and Ritchie, the group disbanded in 2009 due to a lawsuit Ritchie filed against Gano in 2007. It wasn’t until 2013 that Violent Femmes reunited to play at Coachella. According to an interview with Gano, it was that event that laid the foundation for the two musicians to put aside their differences in order to successfully record a new album.
The set list for Tuesday’s show artfully wove together new songs with old favorites. “Now we’ll do one we’ve played maybe 3,000 times,” Ritchie smiled before playing “Country Death Song,” another one of what he referred to as “murder story songs”. From there he announced that they would play another, more wholesome murder story song and kicked off “I Could Be Anything,” which tells the story of Bongo the dragon slayer. The set list also included, “Please Do Not Go,” “Good for/at Nothing,” “Issues,” “Good Feeling,” “Never Tell” and “Hallowed Ground.”
On the saxophone, Blaise Garza stole the show during “Love Love Love Love Love.” At the end of the song, Ritchie told concert-goers that Garza had been playing with them for 14 years. “Now he’s 27, so he’s been playing with us for half his life,” Ritchie added. Later, the group played “I Held Her in My Arms,” in which Garza delivered an incredible saxophone solo in tribute to the late Steve Mackay who played with the group early in their career.
Throughout the night, Garza played at least four different kinds of saxophones, including the impressively large contrabass for “Gone Daddy Gone”. But he wasn’t the only one in the spotlight. Gano and Ritchie were surrounded by a host of talent. While Gano rocked out with a fiddle during “Jesus Walking on the Water,” he was complemented by guitarist Jeff Hamilton on the mandolin. Drummer John Sparrow hammered out beats on a charcoal grill at one point. And during “Black Girls,” Sparrow delivered an impossibly long drum solo while Gano credited all of the players.
Violent Femmes closed the show with “American Music,” after which they came back out and played “Mirror Mirror (I See a Damsel)” and “Add It Up” for their encore set. The combination of nostalgic hits from past and new soon-to-be favorites made it a fun night for young and old alike. It was also impressive to see the plethora of instruments that made their way onto the stage. If future performances hold as much fun and nostalgia as Tuesday night, Violent Femmes can look forward to a successful comeback tour.
PHOTO ALBUM by Katherine Vega