Gordon Gano and the Ryan Brothers
Manchester Ruby Lounge
August 31st 2011
The Violent Femmes were an enigma. the invisible band. Of course you knew their songs, ‘Gone Daddy Gone’ was a drop dead classic and the whole of their self titled debut album was dripping with clattering folk punk songs with that brilliant running bass that oozed a cheeky charm and wit and great tunes. A sort of Velvet Underground without the pouting Big Apple cool.
I saw them live at the Hacienda in the mid 80’s, they did a really trick when they came on stage from the back of the venue blowing a conch shell before climbing onto the stage and then tore the venue apart with those great early songs. Gordon Gano was a great singer then, his voice sneery, silky and sexy, oozing a velvet wit with its great story telling and those bass runs were divine.
Somehow how, though, despite the love of their songs that became student disco staples no-one seemed to know anything about them, the band members names seemed to slip out of focus and all those follow up albums were there but not part of the fabric like their debut. Unlike contemporaries like the Cramps or the Gun Club they just seemed to melt away leaving great songs. The invisible band.
So it was a bit of a shock to see Femmes frontman Gordon Gano on stage again. His voice is intact, still as slinky as ever curling its way round the songs close your eyes and he is the same Gano as on the hacienda stage quarter of a century ago, open them and there is this jovial dude standing there looking more like a spinster librarian or a jovial owl than a rock n roller with a band that look like they were plucked at random from the high street- the eternal invisibility that is actually a key part of the band’s charm. This everyman scuzzy anonymous group, a perfect invisible band with which to observe and contruct those spellbinding stories. Spellbinding stories that seem to contradict the frontman’s devout belief’s till you realise he is acting, playing out roles, disappearing behind characters.
Gano is still the shape shifter, the story teller with a sharp attention to detail, the committed christian playing roles, telling tales from third person with that hint of darkness and sleaze embedded in a series of brilliantly constructed songs that shift from classic Americana garage band chug to accordian hoe down with Gano switching to a deftly played violin. Most of the set is made up of the band’s epynomous debut album which sounds great but the real thrill is for the reworked Violent Femmes songs like the encore of ‘Blister In the Sun’ which is reworked with accordian and violin and is that rarest of things a reworked song that sounds great- the middle section when Gano gets the audience to sing his parts is great and his broad grin and the sheer sense of joy fills the room.