September 9th, 2011
I’ve been slowly catching up with the second season of Treme this summer and recently listened to an interview with New Orleans music journo John Swenson about his latest book, New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans. There was commentary in the interview which reinforced what viewers can see in Treme – New Orleans has a unique musical landscape.
This got me to thinking about whether Madison, or Wisconsin more generally, has any unique music. The Goose Island Ramblers probably were uniquely Wisconsin but I can’t think of any current music that “sounds like Wisconsin” in the same way that a brass band evokes New Orleans. Swenson didn’t focus on the type of music and mentioned how the almost quotidian presence of it pervades New Orleans – second lines and whatnot. I suppose that was the case here back in the day, whether it was people wielding accordions for week-long Polish wedding celebrations or perhaps some fiddles at a dinner after a barn was built. Today it’s more about turning on a radio, having a DJ, and bands of note making a tour stop somewhere in Wisconsin.
With this being on my mind, I’ve decided to podcast a little homegrown Wisconsin music even if it isn’t exactly unique to our state – Milwaukee’s Violent Femmes.
The Femmes began in 1980 with Gordon Gano on guitar and voice, bassist Brian Ritchie, drummer Victor DeLorenzo who preferred to stand at a pared down kit. They are probably most well-known for their eponymous debut album and its folk-punk but they wandered elsewhere during their career. You can catch a bit of country inflection here, some blues, et al in addition to the folky punk of “Add It Up” and “Blister in the Sun”.
I’ve looked around but have never found a Femmes show that was recorded in Wisconsin. You’d think that being from Milwaukee would mean that there’d be at least one in common circulation but, if there is, it has eluded me.
This is a really nice recording as the show was broadcast over the radio on 93.1 WXRT in Chicago. The Femmes were at the Cabaret Metro and the date was 3 July 1984.
Intro (horns and drums)
I Came For Your Women
Country Death Song
It’s Gonna Rain
Sweet Misery Blues
Add It Up
Blister In The Sun
I was surprised to find that there’s a fair amount of early Femmes on YouTube. Here they are at the Lyceum in London sometime in 1984.