Tuesday, May 14, 2019

X and The Violent Femmes in Concert

I was very fortunate to see X and The Violent Femmes in concert and, let me tell you, this is a show you don’t want to miss. These are two of the most important American bands ever. You could fill up a dozen books and that wouldn’t even cover half of the stories of magic and loss and confusion and degradation. American rock and roll is about the experience. These are important artists. Seeing them is anything but a trip down memory lane. These are all people who are making vital, soulful music right fucking now.

The way they are touring this summer has X opening up and it felt like the headliner was on stage right from the outset. There is no comparing the history of these bands—they are legendary and cordial about it. When I go to a show, I guess I’m in the minority. I want to sit and watch the band play and I want to hear the music.

Your typical venue these days is not in business to show you musicians. They are there to provide people a reason to spend too much money on drinks and food. Okay, I get the economics. I just wish this was more of a theater than a club, but nobody’s interested in my opinion.

If you’re going to watch a great band play, all you want to do is enjoy the show.

The current version of X is the original version of the early 1980s. They drew heavily from this era and played some truly outstanding punk rock music. To hear Billy Zoom crank out those riffs was more than a reason to be there, but Exene’s voice was strong and clear, John was incredibly solid and powerful on the bass while singing great, and DJ Bonebrake was nailing every beat with perfect precision. They mixed it up, added some xylophone, a little acoustic guitar, and it was a show that was at least five songs too short. Really, it just flew by. I understand why they did not play Los Angeles, and I wish they had incorporated a little bit of the Knitters into the show, but oh well.

The Violent Femmes played here last year, and their show at The Tobin Center was remarkable and inventive. This time around, they were still daring anyone to call them a nostalgia act. They played a brand new song they had never played live to open up. Who does that? Crazy people, maybe. Or a band tired of wondering what it means to be safe.

Yes, they played the hits. They played new stuff. They took a quiet break and Gordon switched to the violin.

Really, though. If you are going to go see a show, shut up and watch. This presentation, at The Aztec Theater, was marred by an audience that wasn’t there to watch and listen. At least two different people in front of me were removed by bouncers for recording the show. During Gordon’s taking up of the violin for Good Feeling, everyone around me broke out in conversation. Before that, during one of the songs, the people behind me were kicking the seats. I had had enough.

The singular act of putting down an electric guitar and playing the violin during a rock and roll show is an act of vulnerability. Hammering on a Weber grill is just asking for the kids to look at you askance. Playing four different bass guitars, half of them acoustic, and then switching over to the xylophone is like dancing in a minefield. Bringing a massive saxophone that rightly belongs in a museum is an act of trust. I don’t get what the gong was for—I think they had a roadie hiding behind it. The Violent Femmes bring all of their gear, as a man once said.

For me to ditch the show before American Music, which is the greatest Violent Femmes song ever, that means that something had to have gone wrong. I’m not too keen on the vibe in downtown San Antonio at night anyway—lots of physical violence, lots of big trucks driving too fast, and lots of stereotypical unsafe hobo activity to go around. That’s my hangup, not yours.

It is totally not the band’s fault, but I could not enjoy the show. I love watching this band live. I love the percussion, I love the addition of a horn player, and I love what they do every time they start to play. You never know what’s going to happen, and there’s a reason for it.

The Violent Femmes are not here for bullshit or nostalgia. And if you can’t enjoy the show, stay home. Brian may seem indifferent, but I suspect he does not want you there if you can’t suspend your interest in social media and absorb the hammering vibrations of his bass playing. Victor De La Whozitnow? The Violent Femmes have a drummer. His name is John Sparrow. He is walking around like a God on this Earth, and he’s in the band now.

Shut up and watch.

I will not go back to that venue. They do not have it under control. They do not provide a chance to hear music played live the way I like it, and that’s just my preference. If it’s your thing to go out and make videos with your cheap phone and act like a shithead, hey, this place is where you want to be.

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