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Violent Femmes —John Sparrow (from left), Gordon Gano and Brian Richie. | Big Hassle Media/Provided Photo

Violent Femmes bring ‘The Truth’ to Chicago for Vic show

SHARE Violent Femmes bring ‘The Truth’ to Chicago for Vic show
SHARE Violent Femmes bring ‘The Truth’ to Chicago for Vic show

Violent Femmes 1991 love ode to “American Music” may be one of the best ways to sum up the band that has spent its career resurrecting a lot of the roots of national sounds, drawing from jazz, country and folk on nine studio albums since the band’s inception in a quintessential American city — Milwaukee — in the early ‘80s. And its proverbial flag waving isn’t over yet. On their latest album, the live “2 Mics & The Truth: Unplugged & Unhinged in America,” the band opted to use a series of radio broadcasts to capture and record 25 rearranged classics and songs from the archives, played in one take in a studio, using a variety of instruments — from the bluegrass banjo to an American classic, the Weber Grill.

VIOLENT FEMMES When: 7:00 p.m., October 28 Where: Vic Theatre, 3145 N. Sheffield Tickets: $37-$50 Info: ticketfly.com

“We discovered the grill while doing a morning show in Montreal to promote the Montreal Jazz Fest,” says singer Gordon Gano of the happenstance moment a few years when they decided the barbecue tool could be a musical asset (it joins them on tour today, part of an incredible musical ensemble that also uses the rare contrabass). “There was this cooking segment that was happening right before us, and we were trying to figure out a way to get in some percussion without making it too loud. And [bassist] Brian Ritchie saw it and said, ‘Why don’t we play with that?’ [Drummer John Sparrow] kept the cover on, playing different parts of the cover of the grill, and we got some great sounds out of it. It blends and matches so with acoustic guitar and really just brings a smile to people’s faces when they see it.”

The choice to use the instrument and expand their repertoire of sounds is one of the fortunate things to come out of Violent Femmes’ second coming. Though it’s been nearly 35 years since the band released their debut self-titled album — which remains one of the most essential recordings by an American artist — and which produced the hits “Blister in the Sun,” “Kiss Off,” “Add It Up” and “Gone Daddy Gone,” it hasn’t all been an easy road.

“Brian Ritchie and I do have a long history of seeing things as differently as two people could see them,” admits Gano, talking about the tenuous relationship between himself c0-founding member, Brian Richie. Things finally soured for good in 2007 after Gano opted to sell the rights to “Blister in the Sun” to Wendy’s. “There was stretch of time of some years when we weren’t together as a group; we were quite sure it was over,” the singer says. But things changed in 2013 when Violent Femmes received an offer it couldn’t refuse — to play Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

“As I understand it Coachella has a great legacy of getting bands back together to play, and we are a feather in their cap. And I’m glad to be because we enjoyed it and it sounded good and people loved it, and it got us talking about playing again,” Gano continues. “Coachella was a really positive step.”

Just a few months later, Violent Femmes were playing Riot Fest, and by 2016, they released “We Can Do Anything,” a symbolic statement for a band who has had to tell themselves that since the beginning.

“People in the established music world didn’t like us and would actually tell us we were no good, and so we couldn’t get gig anywhere. So we ended up playing on the streets of south Milwaukee, because we never lacked in confidence and ego,” says Gano. (It’s here where The Pretenders discovered them outside that city’s Oriental Theatre, and liking it, they invited the band to do an acoustic opening set in 1981. The rest is history.)

Though Gano and Richie have since moved away, the frontman still credits the Midwest city with giving the band its lifeline. “It was a very important city to me for a good part of my life. It was the place where I realized I wanted to be musician and write and sing and do all the things I’m doing today and really where Violent Femmes started. It’s where I wrote so many of the songs that were on first albums.”

As Gordon listens to many of those early tracks done in a novel way on “2 Mics & The Truth: Unplugged & Unhinged in America,” he has started to realize how much they mean to him, too.

“I was surprised how much I liked all of them. I had this quick thought that this is not the band I was in,” he says, laughing. “This might be my favorite band. I actually really love this band.”

Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.

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