Television, Irving Plaza, NYC- 3/20
NYC ROLL-TOP: Strat Power
While the Talking Heads' much ballyhooed reunion at the Rock and Roll Hall
of Fame induction ceremony earlier this week drew attention (for good
reason) from numerous quarters, another NYC class of '77 regrouping blipped
just under the radar. Television, the closest thing CBGB's ever had to a
full-fledged jamband, made a trio of appearances — a gig at the Sonic
Youth-curated All Tomorrow's Parties festival in Los Angeles and a pair of
shows at New York's Irving Plaza, their first local gigs in just over eight
In the last decade, through brief reunion tours in 1992 and 2001, the band
has rode fairly gracefully into one of those acceptances of seminality — a
band that few Statesides fans listened to during their brief existence, but
who now influentially command a legion of followers. The quartet's live
shows were legendarily transcendent experiences — the twin guitar voices of
bandleader Tom Verlaine and foil Richard Lloyd coiling like snakes intent on
constricting on each other as the band built steam behind them. The group's
sound was minimalist and punky, not entirely unlike early Heads, and was
topped by Verlaine's intense (if not pompously poetic) stage demeanor. Their
debut album, Marquee Moon, is a must-own: a fusion of consciously
constructed New York Art-with-a-capital-A and wiry, primal improvisation.
Age is a curious thing, and it threw me for a loop when Verlaine and company
took the stage at Irving Plaza. They were, of course, older. Verlaine is
still a skinny boy, and still looks like a rock star who wants to be a poet.
Lloyd and bassist Fred Smith looked like music teachers. (Lloyd, I think,
actually is.) After a long tuning, and a brief introductory number, the band
launched into "Venus" off of Marquee Moon. The band's sound was, for
the most part, unchanged. They sounded older, of course, and were – as such – more restrained. But they were always tasteful.
What struck me at first was how normal a guitar player Lloyd is. I
don't think he played like that on Marquee Moon, but at Irving Plaza
his solos were downright prog-like. They were great – don't get me wrong
here – but they revealed little of the revolutionary intellectual garage
band that the unit was in the '70s. Verlaine's playing, on the other hand,
remained skeletal and strange, transfixing and gorgeous. The band's grooves
were – in that they played material from their pair of albums from the '70s – dated, but dated in a good way. They captured a cultural moment, vibing
(in places) like Gladys Knight's version of "Wild Night" (especially during
the set-closing rendition of Marquee Moon’s title track).
As the band wrapped up an encore rendition of "See No Evil", Verlaine
launched into a slow-burning guitar line, which soon revealed itself to be
the head to the garage classic "Psychotic Reaction", which the band played
through with equal parts bemusement, respect, and intensity. In the same way
that the Grateful Dead paid homage to Harry Smith's Anthology American
Music/I> through their covers of numerous jugband tunes, Television aligned
themselves with the tradition established by Lenny Kaye's Nuggets
series, which compiled numerous garage band seven-inches in the early 1970s.
They are part of an American tradition and proud.