Concert Reviews

The Violent Femmes and Animal / object Made the Avant-Garde Accessible

The nightly rain of the past month in Denver spared the Violent Femmes at Red Rocks. When Colin Hay opened the show, there was a sprinkling, but it went away quickly and a patchwork of clouds in the sky that promised a potential downpour that never really arrived.

As evening sunlight passed into evening darkness, Violent Femmes performed a relatively short set of its most popular songs including “Gone Daddy Gone,” “American Music,” “Blister In the Sun,” “Hallowed Ground,” “Freak Magnet” and, as a closer, “Add It Up.” Although the group is thirty-five years old this year, the performance felt fresh and lively in a way a band playing with other older artists often doesn't. Sure, the Femmes treated us to a track or two from the 2015 EP Happy New Year but none of it felt like a nostalgia trip because the band was as just slightly off the cuff as usual.

With numerous guest musicians throughout the set, the most dramatic increase came when the Femmes were about to perform “Black Girls” and a full contingent of Horns of Dilemma strolled on to stage, including the expanded line-up of Denver avant-garde heroes Animal / object. Bringing the number of people performing to seventeen, Animal / object kicked up the wild energy of the song with a surprisingly coherent, and not chaotic, wail of horns to fit in with the band proper and the other musical guests. If the song wasn't so beautifully unusual anyway it might have seemed like a one-off improv, but because somehow everyone seemed to be working in conjunction with each other and in parallel it really highlighted how the Femmes and guests didn't have to spend loads of time on stage sussing out a balance because everyone was listening to each other, a strength the Femmes have possessed since their early days.

At the end of the song, Brian Ritchie graciously thanked everyone in the Horns of Dilemma without missing a beat even if he may have read the names off of a note. Gordon Gano then talked about how many of the members of Horns of Dilemma this night were in a band called Animal / object and how he enjoyed playing with the group from time to time, but more that everyone should check the project out. None of this was necessary but that's the kind of people Ritchie and Gano really are. Will it result in more people checking out Animal / object? Let's hope so. Either way, “Black Girls” was the highlight of the set.

Critic’s Notebook

Bias: Violent Femmes was one of those bands that in my late teens and early 20s everyone seemed to know about and love despite how strange the music could be because it was also incredibly catchy and accessible.

Random Detail: There's a good chance that most of the people that showed up were there to check out Barenaked Ladies but got the bonus of getting to see Animal / object play with Violent Femmes not to mention seeing members of Barnaked Ladies perform with the opening acts. This included Kevin Hearn play “Who Loves The Sun” with Colin Hay.

By the Way: Check out all official Animal / object releases on the Bangsnap Records bandcame site:


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If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.
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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.