Violent Femmes “Add It Up” on Night 4 of City Winery Residency

Amid a 20-date fall tour of North America that kicked off in early-October, Violent Femmes played City Winery’s intimate Main Stage on a rain-soaked evening on Thursday, October 13 in the West Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. The underground folk punk legends who formed in 1981 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin were gracing the City Winery stage yet again – for the fourth of five consecutive sell-outs.

Violent Femmes | Photo by Michael Dinger

As drenched concertgoers hustled into the venue’s main entrance along 11th Avenue to escape the downpour, there were several options to pass the time until showtime at 8:00 pm. Many participated in the free wine tasting featuring a Limited Edition Violent Femmes Cabernet Sauvignon – each of the five residency dates featured its own label artwork with band autographed bottles also available. Some patrons attended the art exhibit (“Live From the Cell Block: Will Livingston and His Silk Screen Machine”) taking place on the second level, a remarkable body of work featuring vintage-style concert posters Livingston created during his forty years in prison. While other fans who came for dinner and a show were seen seated at tables on either side of the standing floor orchestra section, or in the balcony section with a bird’s-eye view of the ‘action’ to unfold shortly.

City Winery Stage Backdrop | Photo by Michael Dinger
Limited Edition Wine Bottles | Photo by Michael Dinger

Preceded by Amy Ray (Indigo Girls) and Jeff Fielder who opened the October 9 and 10 shows, Alsarah and the Nubatones provided support for Violent Femmes on the October 11, 13 and 14 dates. Although their musical genre could not be any different from the post-punk headliner to follow, the East-African retro-pop group formed in Brooklyn in 2011 nonetheless quickly won the over the crowd. Performing on a stage bathed in soft violet and fuchsia light for more than 30 minutes, the five-piece ensemble enchanted the City Winery audience with Alsarah’s beautiful voice and soulful presence, accompanied by backing vocals from her sister Nahid. The dynamic fusion of sound was equally rounded out with pulsating basslines courtesy of Mawuena Kodjovi and warm timbre, low texture rhythms from Brandon Terzic playing an oud (an 11-string instrument similar to the lute).

Alsarah | Photo by Michael Dinger

During the stage turnover following Alsarah and the Nubatones’ set, I chatted with a lovely couple from Denmark who revealed to me that their entire vacation itinerary was planned around this specific concert, ever since it was originally announced in the early summer. With the cozy venue now quickly filling up in anticipation of Violent Femmes taking the stage, I surveyed the crowd surrounding me and noticed the age diversity of the attendees – many of whom were twentysomething – a testament to the everlasting legacy of the Femmes, and a point to which frontman and guitarist Gordon Gano would speak to in the closing moments of the night.

After a brief introduction of the band by City Winery’s emcee, Gano and his two bandmates – founding member Brian Ritchie (bass guitar) and John Sparrow (their drummer since 2016 who plays on a Weber charcoal kettle grill!) – appeared from stage left to loud applause from the nearly 400 fans in attendance. The trio was joined by longtime touring partner and multi-instrumentalist (including a 6-foot contrabass saxophone) Blaise Garza.

Gordon Gano | Photo by Michael Dinger
Brian Ritchie | Photo by Michael Dinger
John Sparrow | Photo by Michael Dinger
Blaise Garza | Photo by Michael Dinger

Over their nearly four decades together as a band, Violent Femmes have released ten studio albums, with their last being 2019’s Hotel Last Resort and for which they toured extensively. On this night of their residency stay, fans of the Femmes were indulged to a 21-song setlist, lasting for more than 90 minutes, that spanned their nearly four decade career. The most recent material played from their discography – which otherwise focused on the first twenty years of their career – was “Memory,” taken from their ninth studio album (We Can Do Anything, 2016).

However, if you came to this show hoping to witness live offerings from their stellar 1983 self-titled debut album, as I did, you were not disappointed. All the Femmes’ classics that made up their distinctive, early career sound were played, including “Good Feeling,” “Gone Daddy Gone,” “Blister in the Sun,” “Kiss Off” and “Add It Up.” Gano’s unmistakable, nasal-style voice, accompanied by Ritchie’s thumping bass lines (whether using his signature Ernie Ball acoustic or his MusicMan StingRay electric), was solidified with a solid percussion backbone provided by Sparrow (albeit via a minimalist approach using steel brushes on a non-traditional setup of drums). All of which afforded a superior listening experience in the state-of-the-art venue with custom-designed audio acoustics.

Brian Ritchie | Photo by Michael Dinger

In their new “home away from home,” the Femmes displayed an easy-going chemistry coupled with undeniable showmanship. The band were in top form, and so too were the audience, as many sang the chorus to any catchy lyrical pop nugget they recognized, while others chose to abandon their coveted dining table for any nearby space to dance in. The ‘stole-the-show” moment came when banjo ace and New York (Syracuse) native Tony Trischka made a special guest appearance on “Country Death Song” and “It’s Gonna Rain” – both from the Femmes’ sophomore studio album (Hallowed Ground, 1984) – the former of which Trischka performed the recorded version at the Secret Sound Studio at nearby West 24th Street.

Tony Trischka | Photo by Michael Dinger

The Violent Femmes’ tour culminates at The Eastern in Atlanta, Georgia on October 28. Tickets for remaining shows on the fall run are available here.

Violent Femmes | Photo by Michael Dinger

Violent Femmes Setlist: Prove My Love > Promise > Memory > Confessions > I’m Nothing > Life Is an Adventure > Country Death Song > It’s Gonna Rain > Breakin’ Up > Nightmares > Jesus Walking on the Water > Good Feeling > Dance, Motherfucker, Dance! > Gimme the Car > I Held Her In My Arms > Color Me Once > Gone Daddy Gone > Blister in the Sun > Kiss Off > Encore: In the Dark > Add It Up

Alsarah and the Nubatones

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