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I was looking for a cozy entry point into one of many ways to review this show featuring two well-loved bands who hit it big in the 1980’s: Violent Femmes and Echo and The Bunnymen.

The show came to Vancouver’s PNE Amphitheatre last night with fans queuing to get up front (tickets were general admission bleachers and standing) when the gate opened at 6:30 pm.

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So here’s the biggest aspect of the show that came front of mind: the difference between the two, both musically and on stage.

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[L to R: Gordon Gano, John Sparrow, Brian Ritchie]

The Violent Femmes formed in 1981, an inventive trio from Milwaukee that had a knack for blending folk and punk through their sarcastic look at life, religion and love.

As the story goes, the group gained success after Chrissie Hynde and the late James Honeyman-Scott of The Pretenders spotted them busking in front of Milwaukee’s Oriental Theatre ahead of The Pretenders show that night and invited them to open for their sold-out gig. And the rest is history, a long history of fan love and solid hits.

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The band ran through those hits too, from Country Death Song, Kiss Off, Blister in the Sun, Gone Daddy Gone, Black Girls (in a fabulous rendition with the Horns of Dilemma) and closing things off with Add It Up. This was the band’s final appearance of supporting Echo and The Bunnymen, after playing 16 shows that kicked off in Philadelphia in early July.

In case you’re not familiar with the Horns of Dilemma, they’re a bunch of musicians who appear on stage with the Violent Femmes, ranging from studio pros to amateurs, adding several layers of texture to the music.

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Throughout the set, fans were dancing along to the infectious tunes, with bassist Brian Ritchie and newer drummer John Sparrow getting in a great jam sesh during Gimme the Car. The band had broken up in 2009 but lucky for fans (myself included), they reformed four years later! And yes, there’s a recent release, We Can Do Anything (their ninth studio album), that came out in March 2016.

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We Can Do Anything was recorded as Violent Femmes travelled through North America on a hugely successful tour alongside Barenaked Ladies.

From that album came performances of Memory and I Could Be Anything (a super fun, catchy song featuring a fictional character named Bongo), but no surprise here, the band’s hits were what the fans were there to see.

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On stage, the three are joined by Blaise Garza on saxophone. Gordon Gano’s still got his trademark voice and the band sounds fantastic 40 years down the road. There’s lots of life still left in the Femmes and if they make it to your town, I highly recommend getting out to see them.

And on a side note, the most random piece of equipment on stage I’ve seen in years: Sparrow’s charcoal grill, which yes, he bashes along to the tunes on during their set.

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Moving along to a near-opposite experience is watching Ian McCulloch of Echo and The Bunnymen, the night’s headliner.

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In a haze of fog, wearing dark glasses and smoking a cigarette, McCulloch has an unearthly persona and as such is physically removed from the rest of the band: Will Sergeant (guitar), Stephen Brannan (bass), Gordy Goudie (guitar), Nicholas Kilroe (drums) and Jez Wing (keyboards).

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The sharp contrast between the two bands is further evident when the lights never shine on any of the band as they move through their set, starting off with Going Up from 1980’s Crocodiles, continuing on with Rescue, a fun rendition of The Doors’ Roadhouse Blues, Seven Seas, Bedbugs and Ballyhoo, All My Colours, Over the Wall, Never Stop, Bring on the Dancing Horses, Nothing Lasts Forever, Lou Reed’s Take a Walk on the Wild Side (another cover during their short set), The Killing Moon, The Cutter and encore hit Lips Like Sugar.

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It’s been a long path since their formation back in Liverpool in 1978 but these guys too have released a new album, 2014’s Meteorites (their twelfth album to date). Here’s another difference: while the Femmes played a few songs off their latest, The Bunnymen chose songs from their past releases.

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[All aboard for Sweet Jane]

The final song brought the Femmes back on stage to perform Velvet Underground’s Sweet Jane. I had to wonder with such a large catalogue, why Echo and The Bunnymen would have chosen so many covers for a 15-song show but fans dug it as did I. Their show was in a word…memorable.

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[During Sweet Jane, a little light shone on the two bands]

Up front, selfies were taken, videos were made and the crowd left the park having seen a couple of the best 80’s bands out there, from Milwaukee and Liverpool to East Van with love.

All photos © 2017 Ariane Colenbrander.

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