Billboard (March 22, 1986)

Talent In Action:

Violent Femmes/Leo Kottke
Carnegie Hall, N.Y.
Tickets:  $16.50, $15.50, $14.50, $13.50

      Carnegie Hall had never seen anything like it.  Two Christians and a Hare Krishna lookalike sang rock'n'roll/reggae/folk songs about Jesus -- and/or the usual teenage frustrations -- to an unruly horde of underaged fans dancing in the aisles and on the seats.  Such was the scene at the sold-out Violent Femmes show here March 7.

      The Femmes offered two hours of enjoyable, if somewhat perfunctorily performed, music fro their three Slash/Warner Bros. albums.  They persevered despite long odds, including a too-low, albeit immaculate, sound system; the audience's constant chatter; overly harsh lighting; and seven guards patrolling in an often futile effort to keep people from leaping on stage.  Gordon Gano, the group's lead vocalist/guitarist/songwriter, frequently seemed ill at ease with all the commotion, especially when a few nubile girls ran up to kiss him.  But bass player Brian Ritchie -- with a shaven head and dressed in a flowing orange gown -- and drummer Victor de Lorenzo, who was everywhere around his drum kit but sitting behind it, skillfully worked the large, inhospitable stage.

      On songs from the trio's new album, The Blind Leading the Naked, two multi-instrumentalists members of the Horns of Dilemma, the Femmes' sporadic backup crew, joining in.  Even so, most of the new songs lacked the clout of "Add It Up" or "Gone Daddy Gone," from the band's eponymous debut album.  Those songs and "Black Girls," all more psychotic than spiritual, generated the most excitement among the teenyboppers.

      The Femmes seem to be aware that their recent material doesn't measure up:  All four encore songs were from Violent Femmes.

      Opener Leo Kottke, who plays on the Femmes' latest album but didn't join them on stage, deserves a medal for his performance.  He amiably played his two acoustic guitars for 45 minutes, seemingly oblivious to the occasional hoots and paper airplanes emanating from the half-filled hall.

      Seated on a stool amid the Femmes' setup, Kottke picked and strummed his original brand of folk music, singing only twice.  Though pleasant enough, Kottke's vocal performances sounded a bit too much like the records used in fifth-grade gym class to teach folk dancing.

      At the end of his set, Kottke bowed politely and thanked a largely indifferent audience.  Ironically, his virtuoso guitar work would most likely have gotten the reception it deserved from any other Carnegie Hall audience.  -- Jean Rosenbluth

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