Boston Globe, 16th October 1998

by Jim Sullivan

With Windy & Carl
At: The Middle East Downstairs, Wednesday night

CAMBRIDGE - Tom Verlaine was the co-leader of, and half the guitar firepower behind, Television, the seminal, mid-late '70s New York new wave band - just about the only punk-related band not to toss lead guitar on the pyre. Verlaine's post-TV work has been hit or miss, as was a Television re-formation in 1992. At this point, it's fair to say Verlaine has moved, quite consciously, as far from the alt-rock mainstream as he's ever been. He's touring with longtime collaborator Jimmy Ripp in a mostly instrumental electric-guitar duo format. Fewer than 100 people braved the "Bladerunner" weather Wednesday night to check out the show at the Middle East Downstairs, but Verlaine couldn't have been more pleased - seriously. "Given what we do", he said, packing up post-set", I'm surprised as many people show up as they do."

What is it that Verlaine and Ripp do? They sit on chairs and play guitars (though Ripp began on dobro). They do not talk to the audience. Just about all of what they do is medium-tempo instrumental rock, with Ripp generally playing in lower registers, handling rhythm chores, and Verlaine taking succinct, crystalline leads, occasionally adding reverb. A fair amount of the material is in a minor key, contemplative. Verlaine wants to be nobody's guitar hero. His music is restrained; the pleasures are modest. But real. They played cowboy songs, carnival songs, dreamscapes, soundtrack-sounding Ennio Morricone-styled songs, film noir vignettes. The second half of the set veered into jam time with a few more pedals and effects. About half the songs will show up on an album the duo hopes to release next spring, likely on Steve (Sonic Youth) Shelley's indie label.

Verlaine played no Television songs (no surprise), but there was one shocker - a 20-minute, set-closing vocal tune called, perhaps, "`The Ballad of Johnny Cash". Not a tribute, not a parody, but a journey into the belly of the weird. Verlaine sounded slurry, feigning that he was all pilled up and unfocused. He said "Hi, my name is Johnny Cash" several times, and he and Ripp recontextualized Cash's "`I Walk the Line" by setting it to a Velvet Underground-like "Heroin" motif. His `"Cash" talked about writing biographies. The first was "Man in Black", the second "Man in White", a third was too apocalyptic and rejected by even the Christian far-right publishers. Then he'd remind us and himself with `"Hi, my name is Johnny Cash". It was a spooky Cash deconstruction.

The evening began with Windy & Carl, a Detroit-area guitar, keyboards, and effects duo who roamed Fripp and Eno-esque soundscape terrain. Minimalistic and gorgeous.

The evening ended at T.T. the Bear's Place next door, where Mike Watt was finishing up his "Contemplating the Engine Room" conceptual tour. Knowing Verlaine was next door, Watt and company gave his fans as well as the incoming crossover types a double treat with Television's "Friction", followed by their first single, "Little Johnny Jewel". To do the latter, Watt even had to go offstage, fetch a working amp from the van, load in, and rock out.