Norfolk, Virginia (July 24, 2018) – Packed into a sold-out NorVa music venue. The crowd is eagerly waiting for Echo & the Bunnymen to hit the stage. Smoke machines set the atmosphere for the 80’s post-punk rockers as they enter stage right.
Here in the U.S., Echo & The Bunnymen’s best-known songs are “The Killing Moon” and “Lips Like Sugar“. “Bring On the Dancing Horses” is also well-known as one of the songs on the soundtrack to the cult classic movie Pretty in Pink.
Frontman Ian McCulloch tightly holds the mic on stand as guitarists Will Sergeant and Gordy Goudie strum familiar melodies also accompanied by Stephen Brannan on bass, Jez Wing on the keys and Nick Kilroe on drums.
The first song the night is the ever so popular 1987 favorite “Lips Like Sugar “ from the self-titled Echo & The Bunnymen album.
Being posted front of the house; I was able to observe the crowd enjoy the band wholeheartedly.
People were lost in their own worlds dancing with all there might as if in some sort of trance. One lady never looked up from dancing until the band finished a song.
I see tons of couples and groups of friends singing along as the tunes continued.
“Lips like sugar
She knows what she knows
I know what she’s thinking”
Next up was Bring On the Dancing Horses, another crowd favorite. Wearing dark black sunglasses, Ian stares out into the crowd never moving too far from the microphone as the keyboard, bass, and guitar tones wash over the Bunnymen fans singing along;
“First I’m gonna make it
Then I’m gonna break it
Till it falls apart
Hating all the faking
And shaking while I’m breaking
Your brittle heart”
With just a few pauses between songs, the crowd was study and holding strong, unlike many shows that people constantly visit the bar. This was a show where I witnessed something I hadn’t really seen before. Of course, there are always people who show up to a show late but still want be up front where the action is. As they enter the back of the crowd, they tap and squeeze there way as close to the front as they can to get close to the band. They only may get past a couple of people before having to move horizontally to find a new possible opening. What was odd about the crowd tonight at The NorVa was that there was zero tolerance for these latecomers. There seems to be a mass understanding between strangers that the sold-out venue patrons have staked an early claim on where there were going to camp out for the night and enjoy the show.
As Echo & the Bunnymen ran through more of their catalogue with songs line Rescue – Crocodiles (Album), All That Jazz – Crocodiles (Album) and Nothing Lasts Forever – Evergreen (Album), I would see separate arguments break out in the crowd. Security would quickly address the problem as a circle of fans surround what seems to be a couple trying to push there way to the front all pointing them out to the quick-responding NorVa staff. First security would ask the people to kindly move back to the back of the venue or to the side. If the people refused they were more forcefully requested to move elsewhere or asked to leave the venue.
This same situation happened about three of four times. It was odd, but yet I found it pretty respectful that there was no physical fighting in the crowd and that the venue staff took the side of the people who had gotten there early to secure a better spot for the night.
“The greatest song I’ve ever written,” Ian said, about the song The Killing Moon from the 1884 “Ocean Rain” album
The driving bass lines warm my heart as the lyrics come in and the guitars twang.
“In starlit nights I saw you
So cruelly you kissed me
Your lips a magic world
Your sky all hung with jewels
The killing moon
Will come too soon”
The rest of the set provides great examples of the band’s talented history, including the up-tempo The Cutter from their Porcupine album after which the band said goodnight and left the stage.
Until I see another hurdle approaching
Say we can, say we will
Not just another drop in the ocean”
After a few moments of crowd cheers and retuning of guitars by stage techs, the band reemerged from backstage and closed their set with the song “Ocean Rain”
“I’m at sea again
And now your hurricanes have brought down this ocean rain
To bathe me again
My ship’s a sail
Can you hear its tender frame
Screaming from beneath the waves
Screaming from beneath the waves…”
Lips Like Sugar
Bring On the Dancing Horses
All That Jazz
Villiers Terrace / Roadhouse Blues
Over the Wall
Nothing Lasts Forever
Bedbugs & Ballyhoo
The Killing Moon
Ian McCulloch (vocals, guitar)
Will Sergeant (guitar)
Gordy Goudie (guitar)
Stephen Brannan (bass)
Jez Wing (keyboards)
Nick Kilroe (drums)
Ocean Rain Records
It’s taking quite a while for the stage to be reset for the Folk-Punk musicians known as The Violent Femmes. The group of fans I am standing beside are getting restless and chanting, “Let’s go! Let’s go! The security guard near us let us know everything is running behind for some reason, and about 15 minutes later the lights go dark resulting and a huge cheer. Just before, another couple of late show attendees is called out immediately as they pushed their way toward the front of the venue. Only to be met by security who usher them off to the side after some quick words.
As usual, photographers are now let into the photo pit but surprisingly after a couple of minutes there is still no sight of the band. Then faintly in the back of the club I hear some rhythmic banging noises. Some sort of percussion. I see the crowd behind me all staring toward the back right entrance of The NorVa.
The tribal sounds are getting louder and I hear fans starting to clap. Sure enough, it is Violent Femmes band members bassist Brian Ritchie on what looks like a recorder, drummer John Sparrow playing the snare drum that is hanging from a neck strap, singer Gordon Gano hitting a metal cowbell type instrument and Blaise Garza blowing notes on a very impressive sax type horn.
They bring their unique entrance to a quick close and start playing Prove My Love leaving the crowd dazed from all the excitement. Sparrow is rocking away on a combination of snare drum and a black metal cooking grill at the front of the stage as one of the gleaming horns of Dilemma glimmers in the background.
“What do I have to do
I’d do anything
I’d do it all, I’d do it all for you
I’d climb a mountain, I’d cross the ocean”
The audience can’t help but sing along and dance in place in this standing room only event. The next few songs featured Promise, Good For/At Nothing, and the acoustic guitar & bass filled Love Love Love Love Love which features unique tones from the Horns of Dilemma.
“Some say they know it when they see it
While others follow it blind
Some science appliances made it all calculated
It’s just a chemical imbalance in the weaker mind”
There are a few young people peppered throughout the crowd but attendance was a mostly 30 to 4o plus year old demographic clearly here to rock out to songs of fonder times. The punky folk riddled melodies kept the crowd’s attention all night, sparking their dance energy with favorites like Blister In the Sun that ended with the entire Norva floor singing acapella at the top of their lungs. I hear a lady exclaim to her husband, “ That is my most favorite song ever!” as her husband laughs and turns to me asking if I knew the lyrics also?
Throughout the rest of the set, Gordon and the rest of the band are exchanging smiles and corky smirks as I take their photographs and they interact with their very stoked fans. which is keeping the night’s energy positive and fun filled.
The chorus of Please Do Not Go has the entire venue belting out lyrics as if they were performing themselves.
By the end of the night, The Violent Femmes were squeezing out every last bit of dance from the fans that packed the venue for them.
The encore song is “Add It Up” from the 1982 self-titled Violent Femmes album.
I still cant stop my mind from singing Oh, ma-mama, mama-mo-ma-mum, Oh, ma-mama, mama-mo-ma-mum, Oh, ma-mama, mama-mo-ma-mum!
Whether you are and old fan of the Violent Femmes or someone who has just found them by whatever means I am here to tell you if you go to their show, you will have fun. They just might make you want to sing, dance and bang on stuff.
Add It Up Productions
Catch them on tour: http://vfemmes.com/tour/
Author: Ken Penn
Photojournalist — Portfolio