Jewish Journal

Flashback with the Violent Femmes

by Daniella Wexler

Posted on Jul. 26, 2007 at 8:00 pm

The Violent Femmes' folk punk sound speaks to nostalgia for the indie 1980s, appearing on such Gen-X oriented soundtracks as "Reality Bites" and "Grosse Pointe Blank." And yet the Femmes' 1960s-inspired music endures today, with Gnarls Barkely covering "Gone Daddy Gone" and Wendy's tapping the opening of their enduring hit "Blister in the Sun" for a recent commercial.

Since their discovery 26 years ago, the Violent Femmes have released 16 albums, which include such hits as "Kiss Off," "Add It Up" and "American Music," as well as "Gone" and "Blister."

And the inclusion of the Femmes as headliner at this year's Justice Ball on July 28 will undoubtedly inspire wistful thoughts among the audience of young professionals, providing an interesting contrast to past Justice Ball performers -- a list that includes Billy Idol and Macy Gray.

"We always want a band that people will have fun dancing to ... people enjoy bands they remember from their high school and college days," Bet Tzedek President and CEO Mitch Kamin said.

Kamin counts himself among those who will be reminiscing after the Violent Femmes take the stage.

"I'll be singing along to every song," he said.

Aside from his personal enthusiasm for having the Violent Femmes perform at this year's Justice Ball, Kamin also takes great pride in the unique and energetic nature of the fundraiser for Bet Tzedek, a pro-bono legal service for the low income and elderly in Los Angeles. He views the Justice Ball as a creative alternative to "your typical sit-down dinner with people in suits."

Now in its 11th year, the Justice Ball will be held this year at West Hollywood's The Lot, branching out from its venue for the last two years, the Hollywood Palladium. While Kamin cites the recent sale and subsequent renovation of the Palladium as a reason behind the change, he is looking forward to hosting the event at The Lot.

"It's always great to try a new space, and it gives us the flexibility to offer new things," he said.

Changing the venue means that the Justice Ball will be outdoors, which allows for the option of VIP cabanas ($3,600 each, which have already sold out) and a second stage for the event, as well as casino gaming, a dance stage and a karaoke lounge. Kamin hopes to raise $500,000 this year.

While the Violent Femmes traditionally play concert venues, colleges and festivals, benefit shows are not out of the ordinary for a group whose songs occasionally verge on the political.

"The poor and elderly are being shoved aside not only by financial interests, but also cultural, social, and even artistic indifference," Femmes bassist and co-founder Brian Ritchie said of Bet Tzedek's target clientele.

Founded in 1980 by Ritchie and percussionist Victor DeLorenzo, the Violent Femmes added vocalist Gordon Gano before taking to the coffee houses and street corners of Milwaukee. In 1981, James Honeyman-Scott of The Pretenders heard the band busking in front of the Oriental Theatre and invited them to play as the opening act. Soon after their debut performance, the Violent Femmes were signed to Slash Records and released their first record, "Violent Femmes."

So what keeps these rockers relevant after more than 25 years?

"We have retained the ability to laugh at the world, its inhabitants and particularly ourselves," Ritchie told The Journal. "Musicians who take themselves too seriously are boring."

For more information, visit http://www.bettzedek.org/thejusticeball.html or http://www.vfemmes.com/

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