I saw Television last on its comeback tour in 2007. For some reason it felt much different for me this time. It could be any one of a variety of reasons—-I went on a pilgrimage to Austin to Fun Fun Fun Fest to see them; they were playing so few dates; they were clearly going to play songs from Marquee Moon instead of pushing new product; I am getting older, Tom Verlaine is older–his back is bowed bit; I just finished Richard Hell’s memoir (and Patti Smith’s memoir a year or so ago)–whatever the lame self-centered rationale, it was an emotional, almost religious experience for me.
The funny thing, though, was I found no kindred spirits up near the front of the stage–which was filled with kids getting ready for Deerhunter and then MIA. One kid, when he saw TV take the stage remarked that he had never seen somebody that old before, and yes, I became “that guy” who shushed some kids who were loudly discussing where they were going to get bombed later that night by saying “Guys” dismissively. Didn’t they know that they could tell both their parents and children the history they were witnessing. That this was the band that started off CBGB’s by asking Hilly Kristal if they could be the house band for his new club? That its first bassist, Richard Hell, is often considered the founder of punk fashion, but that he quit the band and was replaced by Fred Smith of Blondie? That this was not a punk band of three chords, but a band with punk attitude and lyrics that played lyrical, lengthy, dramatic interwoven art rock, jazzy chord progressions?
And what about that history? Tom Verlaine smoked a cigarette and, always a perfectionist, had the sound people switch the bass from his left to his right and the co-lead guitar the reverse, taking away a critical and valuable 5 minutes from the set. Dressed in a black button down work jacket/shirt on top of black pants and over a black and gold t-shirt–he definitely looked every one of his 63 years with close cropped hair that was 80% silver and receded except for a rectangular peninsula bisecting his forehead and certainly not looking like the elegiac waif of the Marquee Moon Mapplethorpe cover photo.
Starting with Venus, it was apparent that Jimmy Rip would be the dominant guitarist, clearly searing each note with precision, but at the same time he carefully watched and listened to Verlaine’s guitar –typically after a journey involving intertwining chiming riffs–sometimes filling gaps between verses, sometimes bending around each other’s chord changes, the fluttering butterfly riffs of Marquee Moon, the piercing paced squealing of Little Johnny Jewel and eventually building and building on top of each other into explosive staccato terse jazz-infused harmonic jams, with Rip laying the foundation for Verlaine to take off improvisationally before not so gently landing back to earth with each song’s clanging harmony and dramatically closing off each number. Fred Smith on bass and Billy Ficca on drums, helped decades melt away by maintaining a beat that was a similacrum of 1977, giving the guitars room to explore.
Verlaine’s voice was a more muted warbly squawk with slightly less depth than his youthful plaintive wails–but still held its own–though the simplicity of the lyrics of Little Johnny Jewel (he’s so cool) and slow build up gave the kids something to laugh and bark about. Nevertheless, the stinging call and response guitar work was actually superior to the original pre-Marquee Moon single from 1975. He was surprised to hear a smattering of people chanting along to “Prove It”- which finally indicated to me that there were a few of me in the crowd.
Sadly, the festival schedule gave TV only about 45 minutes, and with the length and improvisation of the song they could only play 6–Venus (I fell into arms of Venus De Milo), 1880 or so (the lead track from the Television comeback album), Little Johnny Jewel, Prove It, Elevation and Marquee Moon (a full 12 minute version). I wish they had time for more, like See No Evil.
Perhaps the best tribute to how great the band and performance was came from Bradford Cox and Lockett Pundt of Deerhunter. These guys are no guitar slouches themselves. As their quick soundcheck, they broke into a redux of Marquee Moon, then Bradford asked the crowd to wait because he was trying to figure something out. While many people thought Deerhunter were having technical issues, he was actually trying to decode some of Television’s chord changes and he and Lockett proceeded to intersperse Televison-esque homage riffs into its extended jam on Nothing Ever Happened and in other songs-it was one of the best Deerhunter shows I have ever seen.
And, yes–Bradford Cox said it was an honor for him to share the stage with Television, and he did say that he had been waiting his whole life to see Television.
Then,–I had the privilege of abandoning part of my family and accompanying my daughter on Saturday of Thanksgiving Weekend and make another pilgrimage due to the miracle that is Rough Trade’s performance space in hipster central Williamsburg. I was slightly closer this time–3 people from the stage. The sound was pristine. Verlaine felt more comfortable playing unknown material (at least to me), spending more time on atmospheric–a full 90 + minutes. Verlaine noted that Jimmmy Rip is the “new” member of the band–kind of funny, since it has been several years already. They took more time on Marquee Moon’s scales, with Verlaine slowly walking upstream developing tension before starting all over again. They closed with a noisy cover of Psychotic Reaction–doing the first break (after it goes like this) with machine gun fast noise–letting loose like Verlaine rarely does and after the second break with gentle harmonics–the full range of musical (e)motion.
My next post will cover the other highlights of 2013.