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Why Can't I Get Just One Glass of Zin?: Violent Femmes import teen angst into the winery concert set.

Kiss Off

Sure sign of aging musicians: outdoor winery concerts

By Sara Bir

OWNING VIOLENT Femmes' self-titled 1983 debut album, a friend once told me, is "part of growing up misfit." I'd have to concur, with the exception that you didn't need to actually own the album. The copy I had was a badly dubbed cassette tape of a badly dubbed cassette tape, but it was good enough. For those who didn't even have that, there were always rides with friends—those lucky enough to have cars with tape decks—and just about every single party you could go to. Violent Femmes is the universal soundtrack for angst-ridden teenage suburbanites. After high school, in fact, I gave up listening to Violent Femmes, because in that short time I'd already absorbed a lifetime of the band.

Probably that's the way it is for most burgeoning wayward rock & rollers; the only proof you need is the that the album is the only one in Billboard magazine's history to go platinum without ever cracking the Top 200—that is, it sold very slowly, but very consistently, as each year provided a fresh crop of acne-ridden kids jonesing for "Blister in the Sun." There should be a renegade youth starter kit with a copy of that album, a pair of Chuck Taylors, a pack of clove cigarettes and burgundy hair dye.

This has, in effect, frozen Violent Femmes—a relatively faceless band to begin with—in time. Alas, life perpetuates the aging process that recorded music arrests, and Violent Femmes are now three old dudes whose musical career has this very summer hit the quarter-century mark. They've released nearly a dozen albums over the years as well, though their combined impact still pales with that of their debut. They've toured steadily for decades nevertheless; as was the case with the Grateful Dead and the Ramones, part of Violent Femmes' fan base grows older each year while another segment is forever young, drawn in by the timeless power of songs recorded before they were born.

However, I'm curious how many young 'uns will show up when Violent Femmes play at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga on Aug. 6. Winery concerts are for grown-ups who do things like buy picnic food at Draeger's and pack it up to snack on during the opening act while lounging leisurely over a fleece throw. And while pop music owes a great debt to the songwriting contributions of Carole King, she ain't a rocker. Violent Femmes: rockers. You don't listen to "Add It Up" while sipping thoughtfully on a glass of stainless steel-fermented single-vineyard chardonnay—you listen to "Add It Up" while drinking lukewarm keg beer from a plastic cup.

There's a few other "What the ... ?" bills on Mountain Winery's summer calendar, such as Tears for Fears' July 22 show, the tickets for which ran some $55 a pop. One can secure admission to Violent Femmes' Mountain Winery show for a much more reasonable $30, but still—30 bucks to see Violent Femmes? Who's going to these shows? Perhaps former rocker types who years ago paid their dues by taking in many a band at dive clubs. If mature ex-rockers appreciate this chance, what about the bands themselves?

According to my musician better half, who plays drums in a rock band of microscopic renown, touring is really crummy: sleeping in strange new places every night, encountering incompetent sound men or women, securing nourishment solely in the form of fast food and never having the opportunity to relieve oneself on a nonpublic toilet. It gets to you, quickly. So if Violent Femmes want to play a cushy winery gig in a lovely setting, more power to them; teenagers no longer, they have earned the right. I, however, will not be there, because, given the disparate elements of adult comfort and teenage rebellion, I can't quite add it up.

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From the August 3-9, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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