Ironic isn't it? So many famous bands name-drop seminal influences such as Television and Velvet Underground. But when these musical visionaries occasionally resurface to grab a piece of the critical acclaim they missed first time around there's no bugger there to see it. So to Milwaukee's Violent Femmes - a group tailor made for the cult band tag if ever there was one. A day or two before their Rock City appearance I get an e-mail from a friend informing me the gigs been moved round the corner to the Rescue Rooms. Surely on the grounds of catering for the demand for tickets given their very limited two-date stop in the UK? But no. We arrive at the venue the night of the gig and the truth hits home - it's been down-sized. Still in a state of shock we shuffle into the compact and intimate venue. But hang on, isn't this how the Violent Femmes are supposed to be experienced?

They file on, guitarist/vocalist Gordon Gano stage left, drummer Victor DeLorenzo in the centre and hulking bassist Brian Ritchie on the right, and kick-start tonight's gig. If you add it up you'll find that it's been 23 years since they first came to our attention via their critically acclaimed self-titled debut album - following it a year later with the equally wonderful 'Hallowed Ground'. It's these two albums that make up the majority of tonight's set. Their profound take on skiffle, jazz, punk, gospel and country hasn't dated one jot, and if anything has matured like a vintage red wine. Quite how three individuals, armed predominantly with acoustic instruments, can make such an extraordinary racket is as bewildering as it is spell binding.

Gano's guttural drawl, equal the parts of Lou Reed's country cousin and Jonathan Richman's more cynical half-brother, is what gives the Femmes their edge, making them unmistakable from any of their contemporaries. Neither is it hard to pick out Gano's deep Baptist leanings, especially evident on songs such as 'Jesus Walking on the Water'. Ritchie meanwhile twangs the living daylights out of his acoustic bass as he looms menacingly at the front of the stage, before switching to electric bass and then on to a series of increasingly bizarre instruments. He even manages at one point to get a tune out of a conch shell! DeLorenzo, newly returned to the fray after a hiatus of nine years, defies his sparse percussional accoutrements as he monkeys around, switching between brushes and sticks. Equally baffling is the reason behind why he keeps repeating the phrase ‘Tell your Ma, tell your Pa, our love is gonna grow, Hee Har Hee Har' between songs.

Despite despatching their best known song, the staccato strut of 'Blister in the Sun', early in the set; these guys have plenty of other fine tunes up their sleeves. There's the equally famous cascade of 'Gone Daddy Gone' - a song which surely features the greatest xylophone solo in the history of rock'n'roll. The twisted and sexually charged teen-car-sex anthem 'Gimmie the Car' sees Gano repeatedly whining "How can I explain personal pain?" And while on songs such as 'American Music' the Femmes wear their nationhood on their sleeves ("We like all kinds of music... but I like American music best") - they're equally at ease with, for example on 'America is", self-parody ("America is the home of the hypocrite"). The former results in the coolest put down of the night. Heckler to Gano: "Half of the Ramones are dead and American music is shit!". Gano's reply? To play, off-the-cuff, a beautiful folk song about returning to Blighty from the States!

Later in the set a roadie deputises amiably on saxophone during a stirring version of 'I Held Her in My Arms', which in turn gives way to the deceptively jolly strum of 'Country Death Song', a macabre story of child murder. By the time they close the hour-and-a-half plus set with an intensely unhinged version of 'Kiss Off' we're left with a sense that we've just witnessed something very, very special.











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