Violent Femmes | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Violent Femmes 

The postpunk generation can reel off the names automatically: Unknown Pleasures, Second Edition, Los Angeles, Dub Housing, Entertainment...I'm telling ya: it seemed like a record that blew your mind was released every week. The debut from the Violent Femmes in 1983 was one of them, and it was as weird as they come. It seemed at first just a goofy joke on punk minimalism: a nervous song cycle of rustling acoustic guitars, bass, and snare, with a drawling litany of complaints intoned above, all of it sounding unusually bare, personal, and self-absorbed by the standards of the time. But then the songs--played incessantly on college radio, in dorms, at parties--got their hooks into you and you heard what songwriter Gordon Gano was singing about. Demons, mostly: lust, love, masturbation; impotence, loneliness, lost faith. And after that you noticed the music: gospel and blues, pop and swing, all bulldozed with punk velocity and breezy charm. The record remains one of the great one-shot wonders of rock: the follow-up, Hallowed Ground, seemed cartoony by contrast, and while the group's shows evolved into dark and challenging pieces of theater, the band has done very little that matters at all since. Add It Up (1981-1993), a new 19-song greatest-hits-'n'-oddities collection, is correspondingly misconceived: what you want on CD is the first album in its entirety with a half dozen or so later tracks thrown on for fun. Instead you get four songs from the first record (two live), a lot of uninteresting later stuff, and a set of sucky liner notes by Elliott Murphy. Fraud, I say. Saturday, 8 PM, Mandel Hall, University of Chicago, 5706 S. University; 702-0800. Sunday, 7.30 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 549-0203.

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