Even the glaring afternoon sunlight and perpetual dust cloud couldn’t keep fans from rushing the stage just to grab a glimpse or even a high-five from their favorite rock bands at this, the first year of the Spring Addiction Festival. The show started promptly at 4 p.m. at the dismal Earl Warren Show Grounds with the main stage inside the actual livestock ring. This year’s headliners were ska/punk missionaries RX Bandits, alternative chart-toppers and SB natives Sugarcult and Midwest’s self-proclaimed dorks of rock, the Violent Femmes. The combination drew a crowd, which ranged from pre-teens attempting to mosh, fortysomethings attempting to dance and everything in between. If you were one of the lucky three hundred or so to see the show, then you know how down right rock-tastic it was. For the rest of you where weren’t there, the Spring Addiction should become an integral part of your rock show season.
As the afternoon slowly passed into the night, the RX Bandits got the show off to the right start. These Southern California natives must be one of the few surviving bands of the mid-90s ska wave. As you may know, ska is “like so last year;” but the Bandits persist. The key to the band’s success is a sound that has never stopped evolving and, despite its ska roots, the Bandits still beats the hell out of 95 percent of what they play on the radio. Lead singer Matt Embree took the stage with a full beard and wearing a headband, echoing the look of a young John McEnroe. Trombones and saxes tuned and synthesizers all warmed up, the band played 60 minutes of its unique reggae with a mean streak. Songs such as “Prophetic” and “Overcome” had a hypnotic affect over the youthful audience. Most of the songs played were off of the group’s last album, The Resignation. As the band members wound down their set, the RX Bandits went off into the sunset, ensuring that the rest of the night could only get better.
Next up were the pretty boys of radio, Sugarcult. Their all-too-well-known pop punk sound had every female listener, young and old, swooning over lead singer Tim Pagnotta. Sadly, two songs into the set the power for the onstage lights went out. Being consummate professionals, Sugarcult played on. Many of the songs played were off the largely popular album Palm Trees and Power Lines. Crowd-pleasing songs included “Champagne” and “Pretty Girl (The Way).” The band and the songs lacked the energy crucial to a live show, and the year-old songs sounded old and overplayed. Of course, just as the power came back on, Sugarcult played its claim to fame, “Bouncing Off The Walls,” to finish out the set. Sugarcult played like a band that has been on the road for too long and was finishing out its tour with one last crappy gig at a livestock fair. That didn’t matter because the best was yet to come, courtesy of the Violent Femmes.
Previous to this show, this Artsweek writer knew little of the Violent Femmes beyond the groups’ hit song “Blister in the Sun.” In spite of this, the Femmes made quite the impression with an ass-kickingly great show. Now about 20 years older than when the band members were at their peak, the Violent Femmes seem to have never lost a beat in the meantime. Lead singer Gordon Gano’s whiney, country-tinged voice spouted classic lyrics all night long while Brian Ritchie’s thumping acoustic bass twanged long into the night. As part of the unspoken deal between artist and audience, the Femmes got the song “Blister in the Sun” done with early on in order to move into the good stuff. Interestingly, drummer Victor De Lorenzo played all night long on a single bass and snare drum and one symbol. The trio’s contagious sound had every shoulder twitching to tunes like “36-24-36” and “Country Death Song.” Later in the 90-minute set, the Femmes brought out the Horns of Dilemma, a quartet of saxes and a trumpet. The songs played with the additional artists added up to what could only be called musical chaos, with songs ending in five-minute long all-out group solos. At the end of the night, the Violent Femmes played the hit “Gone Daddy Gone” with Ritchie playing the xylophone. After the first encore the audience was still hungry for more, but were forced to suck up the last of the dust and mosey on out into the night.