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8 Is for 'Mullets'

It's only speculation, of course, but judging by the fact that two out of three Violent Femmes (singer/guitarist Gordon Gano and bassist Brian Ritchie) were sporting mullets at the Catalyst last Friday night, it's not entirely far-fetched that the long-forgotten eighth reason in "Kiss Off" has something to do with Milwaukee's Best hockey cut. Drummer Victor De Lorenzo, on the other hand, was shamelessly sporting his bald spot, a gleaming reminder of the band's veteran status in the music biz. They've been around for over 20 years, but you wouldn't know it from their performance-- Gano's distinct voice was as whiny and anxious as ever. Plus, they played 10 of the 12 songs on their self-titled debut album released back in 1983, making for a set list that exemplifies Ritchie's humble rock star credo: "You love my music, therefore I will play it for you."

The show got off to a rather poor start as John Bisagna tried his best to do the witty spoof of the solo acoustic troubadour thing, but his tunes and voice pretty much sucked. Both might have been redeemed by some spectacularly funny lyrics, which he didn't deliver. Mercifully, his easygoing and relaxed stage presence saved us all the trouble of being embarrassed for him.

But enough about Bisagna--the Femmes rocked the house with their entire debut album (except "Ugly" and "To the Kill"), along with a few other classics like "American Music" and "Out the Window." Ironically, the two songs they played off their infamous religious record Hallowed Ground--"Country Death Song" and "Jesus Walking on the Water"--went over like gangbusters. So did "Confessions," which they beefed up with an army of musicians known as the Horns of Dilemma, who helped the Femmes reach the chaotic climax of the song with accordion, guitar, Japanese flute, violin and, of course, a generous helping of horns.

Things went awry, though, when they brought the sax player back out to join them for "Freak Magnet." First off, nobody seemed to catch onto Gano's introductory tease, but then when they dug into the song and let the sax player loose, the rock & roll they were playing suddenly went all late night talk show, and I half expected Edd Hall to introduce Jay Leno--such is the effect of a gratuitous saxophone. They even went all jam band for a second there too, and that's all I'm going to say about that.

The Femmes were at their best when they were playing the songs as they wrote them, with maybe a supercharged bass solo or two. They got a little bit of extra help on songs like "Good Feeling" and "Gone Daddy Gone," which just wouldn't have been the same without the violin and xylophone solos. Blessed is this trio, whose earliest songs have such an enduring appeal to generation after generation of college students. But cursed are they also, condemned to walk the Earth, playing the same batch of songs, for ever and evermore.

Freestyle Free-for-All

First, let me just say that the last freestyle competition that the Serendipity Project hosted at the Mediterranean was entirely coherent and extremely entertaining. MCs battled, audience judged with cheers, winning finalist got $100 prize. That being said, this month's show was sonically garbled and befuddling, with one of the hosts trying to battle half the MCs all by himself, and delays all over the place. The MCs might have been tight, but I couldn't understand a thing. Pushing Destinations made a valiant effort to regain the club's attention, but ultimately it was Grunge from the Thunderhut Project that, through sheer force of personality, charisma and mic presence, was able to turn the evening from a circus back into a show. But I guess part of the beauty of a freestyle contest is that you never know what's going to happen, and sometimes it's going to suck. Even still, the Serendipity Project does the SC hip-hop community a great service by putting these shows on every month--they just let this one get away from them. For more local hip-hop, catch Thunderhut, Pushing Destinations and Tight Rope Walkers perform with DJ R.A.W. at the 418 Project on Oct. 1.

Upcoming

Prezident Brown performs reggae at Moe's Alley on Sept. 25. Palm Wine Boys play acoustic folk/world music at Henfling's on Sept. 25. Roomful of Blues is at Moe's Alley on Sept. 26. The Expendables, Badfish and 3 Up Front are at the Catalyst on Sept. 26, and Michelle Shocked is there on Oct 1.

Mike Connor

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From the September 24-October 1, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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