DS Show Review & Gallery: Violent Femmes & Las Cafeteras (Thalia Hall, Chicago, IL – 10/4/22)

Violent Femmes took to the stage at Chicago’s Thalia Hall on Tuesday, October 4, 2022, for the first show of a sold-out two-night stand. Four decades past the Violent Femmes’ eponymous debut album, the band demonstrated it still has the ability to thrill audiences.  I had not seen Violent Femmes perform since I was in the photos pit for its Riot Fest 2019 set so this was one of the shows I most looked forward to this month.

Founding Violent Femmes members Gordon Gano and Brian Ritchie flanked percussionist/drummer John Sparrow. Multi-instrumentalist Blaise Garza remained mostly toward the rear of the stage, where one of his instruments, a Contrabass Saxophone, towered over him. I played alto sax for several years so I was especially fascinated by very tall instrument.

The band ran through a substantial number of its best and most popular songs, “Add It Up,” “I’m Nothing,” “Country Death Song,” “Jesus Walking on the Water,” “I Held her in My Arms,” “Waiting for the Bus,” and “Gone Daddy Gone,”

Violent Femmes, from Milwaukee, WI, also included in its set a song about a horrific event in the history of Milwaukee and the USA at large. Playing “Dahmer Is Dead” seemed less a cheeky wink and a nod, and more a straightforward recognition of the Dahmer-mania (beyond normal anthropological fascination) that has taken hold of a disturbing number of American tv viewers (and streaming services programming executives). Granted, the song was written years ago, but still, it was a bit eerie to hear hundreds of fans chanting gleefully along to:

“Dahmer is Dead / Am I supposed to feel outrage? / Am I supposed to feel sorrow? / Jeffery Dahmer has no right tomorrow / Dahmer is Dead / Dahmer is Dead / A broomstick bashed him upside his head”

Songs are given to varying interpretations by those who write them, and by those who listen to them. I find it intriguing, and for the better, that the song does not necessarily provide answers to the questions being asked. That is, alongside its otherwise “just the facts” approach. Again, strictly my interpretation as one who has far more questions than answers.

Personally, I was waiting for two songs in particular, two of the band’s biggest hits.

As a cold war (part 2 – the 1980’s) kid, I wasn’t quite a teenage anarchist but I WAS looking for a revolution. At a time when I was an idealistic political junkie (still one though, sadly, a bit of cynicism has crept in as so often it does as we age), writing letters to US Senators, and participating in protests among other actions, “Children of the Revolution” struck a chord. It still ranks as one of my all time favorite songs and I listen to it at least weekly along with Pegboy’s “Strong Reaction,” Dead Kennedys “California Über Alles,” and Bad Religion’s American Jesus. And of course “Know Your Rights,” among too many other The Clash songs to mention here. Alas, Violent Femmes did not play its phenomenal cover of the T-Rex song on this night. But any related disappointment was short-lived toward the end of the evening.

As soon as the familiar first notes to their smash hit song “Blister In the Sun” started in there was an electrical feeling throughout the venue. Actually that electrical feeling was there all night long but it was ramped up ten-fold.

Gordon Gano’s very unique voice sounded almost all but drowned out at certain points by the fans down on the floor and those fans near my then position in the balcony close to the stage. Or perhaps Gano just gave the lead over to the crowd  How it sounded on the ground level might have been very different. Whichever was the case, it mattered little because in every part of the venue were ecstatic fans by time the starting lyrics kicked in.  

“When I’m out walking / I strut my stuff / And I’m so strung out / I’m high as a kite / I just might stop to check you out…”

One small kick I got during “Blister in the Sun” was watching John Sparrow playing a Weber Grill. Yes, a Weber Grill. The only thing which might top that is watching Sparrow play one with the band’s name and logo scrolled across it as with traditional drum sets.

If you have a chance to stop and check out the Violent Femmes for the very first time or the 20th or more time, I’d suggest you get on that. The show was unlike any other I’ve documented this season. Then again, the Violent Femmes continue to be unlike any other band, during any season.

Las Cafeteras, from East Los Angeles, provided a diverting warmup to the evening. The band blends folk music, Son
Jorocho, and Zapateado dancing. Son Jorocho is a style of folk music from Mexico, in the region near the Gulf of Mexico. Zapateado dancing is similar in some ways to tap dancing. An important aspect of it is the sound of the dance shoes hitting the stage. Las Cafeteras had a small wooden square on which members repeatedly danced. Combined with a set full of lively tunes, it all added up to an enjoyable whirlwind of a set.

See below for more photos from the show

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