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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014

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In Music

The Violent Femmes play what could be their final live shows this weekend at Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut.

Are the Violent Femmes ready to say farewell?


This weekend could mark the end of the line for the Violent Femmes, Milwaukee's most famous rock band.

Embroiled in an internal lawsuit over publishing rights and royalties, the Femmes are scheduled to play shows Friday and Saturday night at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut. Several people close to the band are whispering that the shows, which will be held in an intimate theater called "The Wolf Den," will be the trio's swan song.

Although none of the sources would comment on the record for this story, the rumors seem quite plausible when you consider that bassist Brian Ritchie is suing singer Gordon Gano.

In a telephone interview with OnMilwaukee.com Wednesday afternoon, drummer Victor DeLorenzo declined an opportunity to elaborate.

"I would neither confirm nor deny the rumor," said DeLorenzo, who offered to clarify any questions in the near future.

Ritchie added that the rumors are "premature."

"People have predicted the demise of the Femmes many times over the years. I've even had calls from journalists asking me to eulogize the other members upon reports of their deaths. Still everyone is alive and still playing," said Ritchie in an e-mail message. "We have not made any kind of decision about the future."

The Femmes' official Web site -- vfemmes.com -- does not include any reference to a potential breakup. In what could be a telling sign, it does not list any shows after this weekend. Neither pollstar.com nor ticketmaster.com, two top sources for concert information, contain information on upcoming gigs. The lack of scheduled dates is rare for the Femmes, who have toured extensively despite making it clear that they would not record new music together.

The Femmes' most recent show in Milwaukee was at the Miller Lite Oasis on opening night of Summerfest. It remains to be seen whether that was the group's final performance in its hometown.

Asked if he planned to attend the shows this weekend, a longtime Violent Femmes associate said: "I'm holding out (hope) that they will work it out."

Reports of turmoil within the group have been common through the years, but things may have reached a peak with Ritchie's lawsuit, which contends that the bassist is entitled to half of the band's past and future royalties.

"This action is the unfortunate culmination of an ongoing intra-band dispute between Ritchie and Gano over Gano's misappropriation and misadministration of Ritchie's interests in the jointly owned songs and assets of the band," the lawsuit said.

Ritchie has also publicly said he was offended by Gano's decision to sell licensing rights to "Blister in the Sun" to Wendy's.

Musicians like Sigmund Snopek, who has toured with the Femmes, have said previously that they wouldn't be surprised if the group broke up once and for all.

In an August interview with OnMilwaukee.com, Snopek said, "I don't think the Femmes are going to be touring anymore. I talked to Jerry Harrison Friday night and asked him about Brian (Ritchie) suing Gordon, and he thinks it's really stupid, and so do I. I think it's idiotic. If I was Gordon Gano and someone took me to court, I would say, "F*ck you. I'm not going to play with you anymore, you're an assh*le."

While there is speculation that Ritchie and Gano aren't currently on speaking terms -- it's possible that their relationship has been on the rocks for some time. The Wendy's commercial may have been the tipping point.

In March, Ritchie told OnMilwaukee.com, "For the fans who rightfully are complaining about the Wendy's burger advertisement featuring "Blister in the Sun," Gordon Gano is the publisher of the song and Warners is the record company. When they agree to use it there's nothing the rest of the band can do about it, because we don't own the song or the recording. That's showbiz.

"Therefore when you see dubious or in this case disgusting uses of our music you can thank the greed, insensitivity and poor taste of Gordon Gano, it is his karma that he lost his songwriting ability many years ago, probably due to his own lack of self-respect as his willingness to prostitute our songs demonstrates.

"Neither Gordon (vegetarian) nor me (gourmet) eat garbage like Wendy's burgers. I can't endorse them because I disagree with corporate food on culinary, political, health, economic and environmental grounds. However, I see my life's work trivialized at the hands of my business partner over and over again, although I have raised my objections numerous times. As disgusted as you are, I am more so."

If the Femmes do call it quits after 27 years, the band will be remembered as the "godfathers of folk-punk" and hailed for having one of the more interesting "discovery stories in rock history.

Virtually all Femmes fans have heard the story about how the band was playing on the street corner in front of the Oriental Theater on Aug. 23, 1981, when The Pretenders' guitarist James Honeyman-Scott walked by and the group's lead singer Chrissie Hynde invited the group to play a brief set that night after the opening act.

The Femmes later signed with Slash Records and released a classic album of teenage anthems like "Add It Up," "Blister in the Sun," "Gone Daddy Gone," "Kiss Off." The album, a staple of college radio, went platinum 10 years after its release.

The Femmes were eligible for nomination for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, but did not make the list of finalists.

"I definitely wouldn't put them in a novelty category," said Neil Walls, whose Web site -- futurerockhall.com -- is dedicated to figuring out which bands will get the call from the Hall.

"It may take the nominating committee to have a generational turnover before they will be elected, but there are bands in the Hall that have had less impact than the Femmes did."

The Femmes' influence on fellow musicians is obvious. Country star Keith Urban recently covered "Blister in the Sun," during an encore and The Arcade Fire covers "Kiss Off."

Lawsuits and inner turmoil notwithstanding, the Femmes will be remembered for creating a genre of music and providing a soundtrack for the angst-filled lives of generations of teenagers and young adults.


Talkbacks

kastaway | Nov. 19, 2007 at 2:40 a.m. (report)

Ritchie argues he's disgusted that Gano sold out with Wendy's ads. Then he sues over profits. DiLorenzo remains indignant. Hoffman brought some quality to the music and extended the band's life a little, but nobody can make a group of overgrown adolescents grow up. It's a tragic end to three tragic people. Sayonara. Hopefully we'll have someone famous from this city who'll bring some diginity and goodwill for a change.

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elizabethysmom | Oct. 31, 2007 at 12:26 a.m. (report)

I hope the femmes just figure out this money stuff and keep playing awesome music! I had the chance to see them at the fillmore in SF a few months back and it was the single best show I have ever been to. I have a feeling they will be back on the road someday - it seems like both Gordon and Brian like money (and who doesn't) - therefore they could possibly come to an agreement and keep playing. Who cares if they like each other - after reading many quotes from Brian I am pretty sure they haven't liked each other for several years anyway.

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Racilla.Killah | Oct. 17, 2007 at 9:52 a.m. (report)

Goodnight loving are really good... same with Jail... and The Midwest Beat

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CoolerKing | Oct. 17, 2007 at 6:02 a.m. (report)

The last VF album I liked was "The Blind Leading The Naked". That was 1986. I still listen to the 2 albums preceding it on occasion, but they've released a few albums since. I've heard them all, because I'd liked to give them a chance. However, the dynamic of the first 3 albums seems to have peaked for them. And I agree that it is time to move on. There's some great bands from Milwaukee currently creating interest across the country like Decibully, Maritime and Goodnight Loving. Instead of clinging to the Violent Femmes and Bodeans playing the familiar oldies, give the youngbloods a chance and check them out. With all 3 of these new bands, I've found the songwriting seamless and can understand why reviewers in Spin, Tripwire and CMJ magazines are into them.

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Racilla.Killah | Oct. 15, 2007 at 10:30 a.m. (report)

who cares about relevance when they still can play? I saw them a year ago and it was one of the coolest shows I've ever seen, and I see TONS of great shows every year. Relevance means nothing in rock n roll. The only thing that matters is if they can still play. They're Wisconsin's best band ever, so show a little bit of respect

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