80s Retro Concert Week: Violent Bunnymen Edition

One night after seeing Pat Benatar and Rick Springfield, Greg and I journeyed into DC, this time along with Katie. The objects of our attention this time were two bands with considerably less US chart success, Violent Femmes and Echo & the Bunnymen.

The venue was The Anthem, a club on the Southwest Waterfront, not all that far from the Jefferson Memorial.  It opened just over nine months ago. There’s very limited seating: a few banked rows in the very rear, and then two balcony levels along three walls. The open floor is very large, easily big enough for a few thousand. We were among the first to arrive, close to ninety minutes before showtime, so we planted ourselves at the very front of the room. By show time, the place was fairly packed. No complaints about acoustics—it’s a very nice place to see a show.

First up were the Femmes. My main previous experience with them came while I was in college, probably junior and/or senior years—friends of mine across the hall blasting the eponymous debut album with decent frequency. I never bought Violent Femmes, though maybe James did eventually?  I totally get that it’s a classic of its genre, though—many bands never come remotely close to recording anything so fresh and vital. It’s remarkable to me that Gordon Gano, the vocalist and songwriter, is less than a year older than I.

VF put on a fab show. Great energy, playing with flair, goofy guest backup singers/musicians (they call their instrumental support The Horns of Dilemma)—they came out ready to entertain, and succeeded. It’s almost certainly true a good percentage of the enjoyment came from being so close to the action.

ViolentFemmesJuly18DC

Since they’re not a band I sought out back in the day, I recognized maybe a third of the songs they played (set list), maybe all but one of those from the first record; the one I wished they’d done was their cover of T. Rex’s “Children of the Revolution.” That quibble aside, it was pretty much all you could ask. A solid 9/10.

I knew even less about the E&tB going in—most of my exposure has come via 1st Wave on SiriusXM the last three or so years—so my comments will be much more limited.  I will say that they were much more serious and business-like about the enterprise. That’s cool—every act has to do it their way. Lead singer Ian McCulloch was clearly the main focus on stage. They did the four or so numbers with which I had a passing familiarity; they’re not completely my style but it was all done with care and reasonable precision.

EchoBunnymenJuly18DC

I couldn’t get a picture with all six members of the band—there’s another guitarist off the right edge of the frame.

It’s pretty obvious (IMO) that their best song is “The Killing Moon,” and that was a high point. McCulloch’s voice wasn’t in the best of shape—this was the last show on the tour—and the crowd really came to his rescue on the final go-round of the chorus of “Moon,” singing in unison, loudly, for an extended period when it looked like he might not be able to hit some of the higher notes.  Greg and I—both around six feet tall—made the day for a few rather short women who were clearly Echo fans (they seemed to be roughly our age), letting them slide in front of us for the last few songs of the set. I give it 7.5/10.

It’s hard to compare the two concerts—both had great moments.  It was super fun to see them with friends and share reactions. I’ll be on the lookout for shows that might get Greg out to KY sometime.

Yes, the Femmes had a xylophone on stage just for this song, and yes, bassist Brian Ritchie played it:

 

I have to feature the Bunnymen’s best tune:

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