As another year has gone by, one is reminded of that upcoming high school reunion (or prom) and yet another birthday. But unlike humans, good songs don't really age. They get trapped in time, embraced by future generations as their own, prompting musicians to continue to tour for decades. This was the setting for the Violent Femmes show last Saturday at Rialto Theatre.
Local singer-songwriter Andrew Collberg started the night off, but only as a two-piece with his lead guitarist Conner Gallaher. (The Femmes refused to allow even a steel-brushed snare on stage. Paranoid, guys?) Collberg initially received light heckling from a group of giggling teen girls up front, requesting "something we can jump to" between their cell-phone conversations and furious texting. Most were here to see desperate, sexually frustrated acoustic punk, but Collberg won over the fickle tweens with his timeless, wispy Beatlesque pop.
The Violent Femmes have been recording and touring pretty much ever since their 1983 debut. Femmes lead singer Gordon Gano writes timeless, raw lyrics with universal themes. "Gimme the Car" crystallizes this appeal: The author hates his life and wants the keys to the car to get some girl drunk for the purpose of (what else?) sex before he dies. What teenager experiencing full-blown puberty and a lack of wheels couldn't relate? This is why the Femmes' quirky punk continues to thrive.
The night's audience was split into two groups. There were underage teens hugging the stage, screaming every word to nearly every song, including "Blister in the Sun," "Gone Daddy Gone," "Kiss Off" and a particularly dark, Americana version of "Country Death Song," featuring a washboard and mandolin. (Femmes drummer Victor DeLorenzo was a treat to watch as he swung around his kit like a tether ball chained to an imaginary pole.) And the other group of much older fans camped out in the back and balcony. Some appeared to be sporting their graduation haircut--sort of a living, breathing piece of nostalgia.
The highlight of the night was the near-finale, when the Femmes broke into the New Year's classic "Auld Lang Syne." There we all were--budding teens, parents of four, aging hipsters--singing in unison about old acquaintances not being forgotten and bidding farewell to Father Time. Time has treated the Violent Femmes' music well, 'cause deep down, you'll never forget about how rough it was being a teen, even if you're the one hiding the car keys these days.