MUSIC The Violent Femmes continues to appeal
New generations of college freshmen discover the timeless material.
By JOHN BENSON
Think about it, the explosion of alternative music in the 1990s should have made the Violent Femmes multiplatinum, mansion-on-the-hill huge.
Arguably no other band was more destined for Lollapalooza success than the Violent Femmes and its irreverently compelling songwriting. While Violent Femmes original drummer Victor DeLorenzo -- who left the band for nine years beginning in the early '90s -- doesn't disagree, he believes the group's window of opportunity actually took place a few years prior to the arrival of grunge.
"What happened was we were kind of set up to be pushed into the upper echelons of the rock royalty when we were getting ready to release [1986's] 'Blind Leading the Naked' on Slash/Warner Bros. Records," said DeLorenzo, during a phone call to his hotel room in Cork, Ireland. "At that point, Warner Bros. was trying to decide where they were going to throw their money, whether it be at the Femmes or R.E.M. And it just so happened at that time the Femmes kind of shot themselves in the foot by deciding to take a few years off."
How things turned out
He quickly added, "Consequently, the focus went to R.E.M, and that's why they are where they are today and why we are where we are. But at the same time, I don't know if that's such a bad thing. We're still around and a lot of bands that came up with us 25 years ago are not. We can still play all over the world and are guaranteed sold-out shows. So, I'm not bitter about anything in regard to our career."
It's a career that is largely defined by the Femmes' 1983 self-titled debut album, which over the years has taken on a unique life of its own. Not only is the 12-track disc the only album in history to go platinum without ever appearing on the Top 200 chart (DeLorenzo believes it's now double-platinum), the manifesto of rebellious youth -- filled with tales of sexual emotion, social discontent and personal uncertainty -- has become a sort of obligatory soundtrack for college freshmen.
Like a dirty little secret passed on from generation to generation, songs such as "Blister in the Sun," "Add it Up" and "Gone Daddy Gone" seemingly have been required listening around universities for more than two decades.
"Just the energy and the thoughtfulness and wild abandonment and the joy and sorrow that's contained within those tracks can apply to anyone," DeLorenzo said.
Invariably, the timelessness of the material is what the Femmes -- DeLorenzo, Gordon Gano (singer/guitarist) and Brian Ritchie (bassist) -- have been banking on for years, with its last studio album being 2000's "Freak Magnet."
Even worse for fans is the fact DeLorenzo confirms new material doesn't appear to be on the horizon for the band. Still, audiences remain loyal to the Femmes, which brings its 25th anniversary tour through Cleveland for a Thursday show at the House of Blues.
"You cannot take away the fact that we're a fantastic live show band," DeLorenzo said. "No matter what anybody has to say about your recordings, I think people are pretty surprised sometimes when they come to see us that we not only have such a great body of songs to play for them but also we indulge in improvisation so much that the songs actually take on a life of their own from night to night. We never really repeat ourselves."