A PSYCHEDELIC SPECTACULAR FROM TOM VERLAINE
Boston Globe, 9th October 1981
by Steve Morse
In concert with the Lyres at the Paradise Wednesday night. |
As a singer, Tom Verlaine is only average. His voice has a monotonous, grating tone that seems to echo from a locked ward. As a guitarist, however, he has the touch of Merlin. He is able to beguile with fragile, spiritual lines, then shatter the peace with jagged, onrushing layers of sound. The effect is like an hallucinatory dream that hooks into your mind and won't let go.
The New York-based Verlaine has no peers in his extension of late-'60s psychedelic music, which featured similar mind-probing, meditative guitar work. It is plainly evident he has studied the more cerebral guitarists of that era - Country Joe McDonald, the Doors' Robbie Kreiger, the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia and the Quicksilver Messenger Service's John Cipolina. And unlike some revivalists of psychedelia - notably an overseas band such as Teardrop Explodes - Verlaine has cleverly added to the styles of that era, rather than slavishly imitated them. Verlaine put on a virtual guitar seminar Wednesday. His brain-searing solos were full of vibrated notes, subtle heartbeat staccatos and thunderous transitions. In an atmosphere akin to the old Boston Tea Party (the Fenway club that housed this area's late-'60s psychedelic soirees), fans closed their eyes and were led on dreamy, acid-like journeys.
There were eerie silences between songs - as if these were times for recovery - and then Verlaine would be off on another visionary escapade. He buried his hollow, stabbing voice in the mix (a wise decision he also made on his two solo albums), allowing his intricate, treble-rich guitar to dominate the room. Whenever he'd go too far out into the stratosphere, he was cagily charted back to reality by the loping, smoothly punctuated grooves of bassist Fred Smith (who is Patty Smith's husband [sic] and a carryover player from Verlaine's last band, Television).
Memories of psychedelia continually arose. "Down on the Farm" evoked a hypnotic Country Joe motif. A new unrecorded song, "Colonel Burnside" [sic"Words From The Front"] (about a Union general who led his troops into a massacre), had a slow, epic buildup on a par with the Doors' "The End." Verlaine again masterfully built tension on "Marquee Moon" (the only Television song he did), finally letting it out with a cover of the Troggs' "Wild Thing." It was a thinking man's performance that bordered on the spectacular. It's a crime he can't get more airplay, though on today's boogie-conscious rock stations that's not surprising.
The Lyres opened with their usual slam-bang sockhop rock, yet seemed curiously withdrawn. Maybe all the intellectuals in the crowd upset them, because they were not up to par.