Few bands have captured the angst, sexual frustration, and repressed rage of the '80s and '90s better than the Violent Femmes. Without falling prey to death, breakups, and commercial overexposure, the Femmes have maintained their simmering intensity with an ever-growing loyal fan base of former punks, Generation Xers, and their younger brothers and sisters. The Wisconsin trio captures nearly two decades of post-punk smarminess with Viva Wisconsin, a live retrospective recorded during a one-week tour of their home state in October 1998 that boasts a depth of song choices and performances. Whether playing their best-known hits or lesser-known classics, the band delivers great live performances with largely nothing more than the acoustic bass, drums, and guitar they are known for. The alternative radio staples "Blister in the Sun," "Gone Daddy Gone," and "Kiss Off" are here, of course, but longtime fans and new initiates will love the variety of songs spanning the band's career. Dark gems like the twisted sagas "Country Death Song," "Gimme the Car," and "Hallowed Ground" showcase singer/songwriter Gordon Gano's capacity for spinning haunting tales. Creepy anthems of alienation like "Prove My Love" and "Confessions" show off the trio's musical virtuosity. Fans love the Femmes for their ability to merge punk, rockabilly, and roots rock with pain-ridden lyrics and pissed-off vibes. Their best anthems, like "American Music," "Black Girls," and the sublime "Add It Up," are played here with crackling intensity. This collection is a must for Femmes fans and a great way to introduce casual fans to the band's body of work.
AllMusic Review by Theresa E. LaVeck