Friday night at Australia’s MOFO festival, Amanda Palmer will be leading a full performance of the Violent Femmes’ self-titled 1983 debut — the one that starts with the one-two-three-four punch of “Blister in the Sun,” “Kiss Off,” “Please Do Not Go,” and “Add It Up.” Her backing band? Fellow Dresden Doll Brian Viglione, two gifted members of PJ Harvey’s touring outfit (Mick Harvey and John Parish), and festival curator Brian Ritchie, who also happens to be the Femmes’ founding bassist.
“Brian Ritchie, who I met last year at the MOFO festival, called me Saturday morning, and he said, ‘I’ve got a cancellation. Will the Dresden Dolls play a second set?’ ” Palmer tells SPIN. Thinking it’d be a little weird for the Dolls to return to the stage, she started brainstorming. “I was like, maybe we can have a naked bodypainted parade, but that sounds a little too Burning Man.” Her next idea involved bagpipers. But after giving it a little more thought, she texted Ritchie asking if he’d like to revisit his former band’s debut album “because Brian and I know every fucking note. We grew up on that record.” He said yes. Squealing and jumping ensued.
The Dresden Dolls actually have even more history with one of their favorite bands: After meeting the duo at a festival in Wisconsin several years ago, Femmes drummer Victor DeLorenzo invited the pair to his house. “Brian got to touch the snare drum the Violent Femmes first record was recorded on and it was the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a human being encountering a holy relic,” Palmer says.
Recruiting Harvey and Parish for the gig proved easy, too, but now “I have no idea if they’re rehearsing,” Palmer admits. “Hopefully they are. They’re on tour with PJ Harvey playing tonight and we’re all going to meet up for the first time at 6 on Saturday and rehearse at Brian Ritchie’s teahouse in Tasmania and get onstage and bang it out. That’s the plan.” The show, we should mention, is at 10 p.m. Saturday night.
Palmer isn’t too worried, though. “The Violent Femmes’ first record is in the blood of every musician I know,” she says. “It would probably help to rehearse, but everybody knows these songs, and even if we fuck up, it’s fine. The whole point of this is to get onstage and freak out. It’s a lot easier to freak out over three-chord folk-punk songs than ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ “
She’s hard-pressed to pick favorite songs on the record, but owns up to preferring “Add It Up” and “Kiss Off.” The former is now a part of her personal history… because she got arrested while playing it in Amsterdam six months ago. “I was in the middle of playing a ukulele cover of ‘Add it Up’ in a town square at a free outdoor gig, and the Dutch police came and hauled me off to jail. The footage is great,” she laughs, “I don’t even get to the rhythm part of the song, I’m doing the ‘Day after day’ part and the cops stopped the party.”
Awkward? Sure, but that’s part of the Femmes’ appeal in general, Palmer muses. “I feel like the Violent Femmes strike this chord in any given teenager at any given point in time. Listen to the fucking lyrics, it makes plenty of sense. It’s about being sexed up and frustrated and awkward,” she laughs. “Awkward but rocking.”