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Violent Femmes Make Nostalgic Noise at Toyota Music Factory

Violent Femmes threw everything they had into the performance.
Violent Femmes threw everything they had into the performance.
Jeff Strowe

Package tours are a hallmark of the summer concert season. Whether they're artfully curated with alternative scene-makers, skillfully assembled with corporate branding or nostalgically organized to appeal to fans' youthful past, these types of bookings populate the calendars of sheds around the country.

Sunday evening's bill at The Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory in Irving fell into the latter category as Echo & The Bunnymen and Violent Femmes, two stylistically different but era-defining acts, shared a double bill. Although on the surface the pairing may not have made a whole lot of sense, in reality, the joint outing proved to be a rousing success for fans of either band.

The folks in charge of the Pavilion closed the massive doors separating the indoor seating from the outdoor lawns. While the decision was largely based on ticket sales, the indoor seating was largely full. Although some bare patches were visible here and there, the choice proved fruitful — both for the attendees' air-conditioned comfort and for the vibe set by Echo & The Bunnymen, who were first to take the stage.

Shrouded in dark, slinky shadows and frequently accentuated with dark blue and purple stage lighting, the English band delivered the goods with a propulsive and inspired 75-minute set that highlighted their deep catalog and stressed the vitality of their timeless post-punk contributions. Frontman Ian McCulloch and guitarist Will Sergeant (affectionately referred throughout the night as "Sarge") are the remaining two original members with a four-piece backing band rounding out the remaining slots.

With a moody sound and a bit of a Gothic lyrical focus, the Bunnymen have achieved a 40-year career in the business by riding the margins between mainstream success and underground legend. The Pavilion crowd reflected this dichotomy. The die-hards stood and danced wildly from the moment the stage lights dimmed while the rest of the audience remained seated, standing only intermittently when some familiar chords led off a number.

The main number of the night was, of course, the band's biggest hit, 1987's "Lips Like Sugar," the Billboard-charting single that frequently has popped up to score television scenes and advertising campaigns in the decades since its release. To the surprise of many, "Lips" served as the set's opener, sending folks into hysterics and others scrambling quickly to their seats from the beer lines, which were packed surprisingly tight. Turns out the aging post-punk new-wavers like their booze.

While opening with their biggest hit isn't typically the go-to route for most veteran bands, it worked out nicely for the Bunnymen in that it forced the crowd to settle in for what followed. McCulloch still commands the room with his powerful voice, and his matter-of-fact swagger and indecipherable stage banter bring to light just how much Liam Gallagher has cribbed from his playbook.

Anthemic songs like "Seven Seas" and "The Killing Moon" resonated with pomp and gravitas. Elsewhere, "Rescue" and "How Far?" brought roars of applause and folks out into the aisles to let loose and move. The band proved quite capable at alternating between the sinister moodiness and stadium-rock roar that has always been its trademark. Sergeant stood guard at McCulloch's right, firing off propulsive riffs through an arsenal of guitars that included a signature Vox 12-string.

The Bunnymen also inserted generous portions of the classic rock canon into the show with extended passages from The Doors' "Roadhouse Blues" (Ray Manzarek has produced some Bunnymen singles) and Lou Reed's "Walk On the Wild Side" working their way into "Villiers Terrace" and "Nothing Lasts Forever," respectively. After grooving through a ramped-up version of "The Terrace," they left the stage only to return for a beautifully rendered "Ocean Rain" that put a tidy bow on the first half of the evening.

After a 30-minute intermission, the house lights dimmed and the sounds of skronky saxophone and snare drums inched closer to the front of the stage. The raised cellphones and scattered clamor from those seated up close revealed the theatrical entrance of the Violent Femmes, who chose a unique way to enter the stage for the beginning of their set. They wound their way through the crowd before being led up a back entrance. A few seconds later, they reappeared tightly crowded around the front portion of the stage as they hit the opening notes of "Prove My Love."

It took just a few seconds to realize that although large portions of the audience were excited for Echo & The Bunnymen, nearly everyone was there to go bonkers for the Femmes. Definitely more a good-times band than their touring companions, the Femmes are celebrated for their raggedly endearing folk punk tunes that served as a vital soundtrack for people coming of age in the late '80s and early '90s.

Again, only two of the assembled four members onstage were there from the beginning: singer and guitarist Gordon Gano and bassist Brian Ritchie. Rounding out the quartet were saxophonist Blaise Garza and drummer and percussionist John Sparrow. The new fellas fit in just fine and adapted on the fly to Gano's and Ritchie's rapid transitions into songs that often required deft juggling of instrumentation and gear. Garza worked wonders moving between his tricked-out handheld sax and the larger stationary one mounted to the stage floor.

True to form, the Femmes threw everything they had into the performance. "Good For/At Nothing," "Jesus Walking on the Water," and "Gimme The Car" brought some of the biggest roars from the crowd. At least up front, fans had mostly abandoned their seats to crowd the aisles with festive dancing and heartfelt singalongs. Banjos were played, washboards were scrubbed and gongs were banged as the band tore through a pretty generous helping of its discography while also properly paying homage to its surroundings with a hopped-up version of "Waltz Across Texas." Gano's voice still carries that snarky register that can yelp and exclaim when the song calls for energy while elongating and holding the vowels during extended jams and solos.

Of course, the Femmes played their biggest hit: the ever-endearing "Blister In The Sun." Like the Bunnymen, they front-loaded the track, bringing it out only about 15 minutes into the set. Again, it was a bit of a bold move, but the band apparently knows its fanbase well and correctly predicated that those assembled would stick it out to the end with energy and passion.

As the crowd gleefully filed out the exits, singing along to the night's hits and clutching various forms of band merchandise, this nostalgic alliance proved quite the success.

Set list:

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Echo & The Bunnymen
"Lips Like Sugar"
"Bring On the Dancing Horse"
"All That Jazz"
"Villiers Terrace/Roadhouse Blues"
"How Far?"
"Over The Wall"
"Nothing Lasts Forever/Walk On The Wild Side"
"Bedbugs and Ballyhoo"
"Seven Seas"
"Never Stop"
"The Killing Moon"
"The Cutter"

"Ocean Rain"

Violent Femmes
"Prove My Love"
"Good For/At Nothing"
"Love Love Love Love Love"
"Blister in the Sun"
"Kiss Off"
"Breakin' Up"
"Waltz Across Texas"
"Jesus Walking on the Water"
"Country Death Song"
"Waiting for the Bus"
"Old Mother Reagan"
"Gimme the Car"
"I'm Nothing"
"Black Girls"
"Gone Daddy Gone"
"I Held Her in My Arms"
"American Music"

"Add It Up"

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