Television At The Teragram Ballroom, Friday September 29th 2017
When you are at a show, standing front row, there is often an exchange between you and the performer(s), most of the time it is not physical, but it could be an eye contact, a smile, a few words, and it greatly affects the way you perceive the show. I am doing my best at separating the art from the artist, but it is unavoidable, this eye contact, this short interaction you had with a performer will taint your feeling during the entire show. A live show is a human experience and the behavior of the performer is part of it, a big part of it, and reviewing a live concert is an completely different experience from reviewing an album while sitting at home.
So I will try to put away my extremely strange interaction with Tom Verlaine last night in order to review Television’s show at the Teragram Ballroom, but it’s not gonna be easy, because my mind was simply somewhere else after he talked to me, and I couldn’t concentrate anymore on the music.
This is a shame because the music of Television is beloved and venerated by many other artists and fans, me included. They are one of the most influent bands of the 70s, and their debut album ‘Marquee Moon’ is regarded as the cornerstone of alternative rock and influenced everything that was about to come after them. The inventiveness and the sophistication of the songs, the melodies escaping from the unusual chord progressions, the intricacy of the guitars are the many things that made Television a band apart from the rest.
However, we could lament on the lack of new material, at a time when everyone else from the 70s-80s is recording new material, Television has passed on a new record, they have just relied on their old material for a long time, and haven’t put out an album since 1992. Their third self-titled album was released 14 years after their second one, which says a lot about their sparse productivity.
At the first note of ‘Prove it’, the crowd was with them, cheering up with the signature guitars twinkling around Verlaine’s strange vocals… Even before last night, I have always considered his vocals on the strange side, quite unusual and intense at the same time, while his detached demeanor, his way to look at the ceiling or to take all the time he wants to tune in his guitar have made him a unique character in the rock history.
‘Is it too loud or not?’’ he asked us just before ‘Venus’. The music was not loud by any rock ‘n’ roll standards of today, it was very comfortable even standing in the front row, but Verlaine may not have listened to all this new eardrum-damaging garage rock I get to witness on a daily basis.
The great part of the show revisited old classics, mostly from ‘Marquee Moon’ – they played 7 songs of this album – and the Lou-Reed-maze-guitar-like, ‘1880 Or So’, a song stretching and bouncing from semi-prog-rock guitar jams to shaky Verlaine vocals in a sort of epic cathartic development. It was difficult not to recognize the first musical phrase of ‘Little Johnny Jewel’, and this is what the crowd did before the song had even truly started. The song, which sounded like a meditative sonic exploration or a meditation into jazz and noise, let Verlaine’s voice wander in the dark for a few good minutes, between Billy Ficca’s sparse and subtle percussion and Jimmy Rip’s amazing bluesy guitar work.
I guess Verlaine saw some evil in me filming bits of the performance, because he came to me just after ‘See No Evil’ and sort of threatened me in a very creepy way. And if I hadn’t been precise enough in my first post, I want to clear things up: No sign preventing people from filming or taking pictures had been posted anywhere, people behind me were using their phones and regular cameras, the Teragram Ballroom staff had just prevented me to use a professional camera. And the more I think about the incident, the more I am convinced Verlaine was more afraid of people making money off him than anything else related to artistic value. He asked me if I was going to sell the recording, and obviously professional cameras can produce pictures that can potentially be sold. But it’s all forgotten or almost, either Verlaine is a paranoid guy who thinks his band music is still hot market in eBay’s bootleg department, or he is just a bit crazy.
My mind almost skipped the Arabic-exotic beauty of ‘Persia’, and I felt like a zombie during the rest of the show, which seemed to stretch to infinity. It’s hard to believe they only played 3 songs after ‘Persia’ and before the encore, because the show lasted one more hour. There were endless guitar chords scratching with Verlaine’s voice floating above atmospheric to cathartic soundscapes. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed everything I heard, the slow-spaced sadness of ‘I’m Gonna Find You’, with country-ish guitar, gave me a real Velvet Underground chill, but this lingering weird feeling would not go away.
‘Our oldest song, it took us two centuries to remember it’, said Verlaine before playing ‘I’m Gonna Find You’, and may be that was the overall feeling of the show, we were there to see a band reliving its past, with an album released 40 years ago and nothing really new since. I saw them 2 years ago at the same place, and the setlist was more or less the same. I still love Television’s music and their groundbreaking and unique sound, I still find some fascination in Verlaine’s lunar and poetic work, and I know about the elasticity of time, but I wonder how long Television will still be able to stretch its past this way.
1880 or So
Little Johnny Jewel
See No Evil
I’m Gonna Find You