(Ends mid-Marquee Moon)
(The whole show)
Metro Theatre, Chicago, May 10th 2001
1880 or So
Little Johnny Jewel
See No Evil
Call Mr. Lee
Don't Need Your Lovin' Anymore
Live review by Maurice Rickard
The Metro is a once-grand theatre that seems to have endured some long-ago psychic trauma, followed by decades of casual abuse as it bumps slowly toward decay. Still, some grandeur lingers in the ornaments about the high ceiling and around the proscenium. No seating, as we'd learned (for the likes of us, anyway). Leo had done some advance
reconnaissance the night before, and found that the best view was from the floor, as close to the stage as one could push. The place was packed, though. Most of our little group was off to the left, what clearly looked to be Tom's side.
I found the openers, Preston School of Industry (Scott Kannberg), quite likeable. Amusingly, Leo leaned over at one point during their set, and said, "If I know you, you're writing a review in your head: nice rhythm guitar, not enough soloing." Which was pretty accurate. Kannberg has that steady post-Velvets pop-strumming thing down cold. It's good in its
way, but tends toward sameyness. Fortunately, the arrangements (keys/flugelhorn, bass, drums, guitar/vocals) varied a bit, although at times seemed, I dunno, Springsteeny or something. When Kannberg soloed or contributed feedback noise, or when the flugelhorn came out, those moments revealed the real promise of the band. Mostly, Kannberg was
content to hold down rhythm and let the bassist do the solos. Fine, but I would have liked more guitar soloing and melodic playing, since he has a nice sense of texture.
Television. First off, it was a thrill to see Billy onstage, setting up his drums - we're seeing Television! Really! Gear: Tom's red hardtail strat, which a fellow audience member observed might have still had the price tag hanging from it (looked very new), miscellaneous effects (which I couldn't see), and that Matchless amp - not the same one from Columbus, which I know was borrowed; anyway, the Columbus one was burgundy-covered, and this one was black. If it's his, maybe that's what he's into now. It'd be interesting if the amp he borrowed in Columbus got him into these guys.
Fred was playing... I remember it as a Jazz bass, which surprised me. That into an amp I can't recall (G-K?), and a Hartke cabinet. You'll find in the review that I don't mention Fred much, mainly because... he
was hard to hear from where I was. Bass waves don't fully resolve for several feet out from the stage, so I've heard, and I may have been too close for the waves to fully resolve. Or maybe I was in a null. Or I may have just cruelly neglected Fred in paying attention to Tom and Richard.
Richard played mostly a sunburst Strat with a deeply disturbed finish and a humbucker in the bridge. He was quite busy with the pickup switch, so it seemed to me. I'm not sure what pedals he used, either. (Both Richard and Tom seemed to have electronic tuners among their effects.)
During the plugging-in-and-tuning part, Tom was met with shouts of "Where's the Jazzmaster?" (wasn't me, honest) and "Tom, we love you no matter what!" which wasn't me either, but was heartening to hear. (I think of that awful story involving that acoustic tour, related by...was it Leo? Man, if Tom's come to hate performing, that'd explain it. But the crowd in Chicago was happy to see him.)
Having heard about "Swells" from Keith's review, I was able to enjoy it for what it was, a sort of ambient, dramatic overture. The drum rolls and the mode Tom was playing in had some similarities to the "overture" part of "Seneca" from Tortoise's Standards, with a touch of "Sor Juanna" from Warm and Cool.
As this intro slowly died away, Tom picked out the riff of "1880 or So," perhaps a tentative, delicate tune to start with, it was still proof that this was really the band we came to see, after waiting all this time. I was on Tom's side of the stage, where he was clustered with Fred and Billy, with Richard off on his own to the right. (What's up with that?) I was back from the stage a bit - no room to push up front - and found that I could hear Tom's voice and guitar quite well (not
surprising), Billy's drums just fine, and Richard with some difficulty. (Not helped by the weird midrange choky quality to his tone in the solo here.) Richard seemed to be playing his ass off, but from where I stood, it was buried in the mix. At the time, it seemed that it should have been the moment when the band took off, but there was a kind of cognitive dissonance between Richard's fretboard attack and the laid-back quality over on stage right. Interestingly, Tom's solo was a
lot more engaged and aggressive live than the sparse, pedal-steel-ish solo we know from the studio version - a good sign indeed.
"This Tune" came next, my least-favorite track from the third album. ("Mars" would have killed the momentum, but I do like it better than "This Tune.") The energy seemed to slip a bit here, but it might have been my lack of engagement with the song. Tom delivered some of the lines (like "you touched my knee,") in a dissonant moan that added a likeably creepy dimension. The interplay between Richard and Tom got tighter, and they had a groove going toward the end.
When they slammed into "Venus" next, as Scott observed, a charge went through the audience. Hearing and seeing them play this was the realization of a dream we'd had for many years. This was also my first
real education in how Tom and Richard split up the playing - Richard handled the complex riff (his parts much more audible now, with a less choked tone), and took over the rhythm playing during the Tom's solo.
The solo itself showed great spirit, and was another truly thrilling moment of the evening (for me, anyway). Billy's drumming was also dramatic on this one, and we got to see Tom bending at the knees as of
legend, leaning over his guitar, pumping the notes out. The band was very tight on this one, which says a lot for playing old tunes.
"Beauty Trip" was pleasant enough, but some of the energy seemed to
dissipate. Perhaps it's because the arrangements aren't as intricate as
the older tunes or something - there's more space in them, more
flexibility maybe, but it can create a big hole to fill. Richard
exhibited a fine solo, however, and the tradeoff of the main riff
between Tom and Richard was a treat to see, which contradicts what I
began this paragraph complaining about. (It'd have been nice to see
Richard play slide on this one, but such was not to be.)
Some sparse, creepy atmospherics were next, with Tom exhibiting the
pinky-on-the-volume-knob Roy Buchanan swells that he does so well. It
seemed like the beginning of some new tune, something like "Swells." It
was cool, with Tom and Richard responding to each other playfully,
seemingly unrehearsed. Then Billy started the drum part, and - it was
"Little Johnny Jewel"! Another thriller. Tight, engaged, and mighty,
particularly Richard, Fred, and Billy, who all seemed to be spurring Tom
on. "And then he loses his senses..." The solo started strong, and Tom
followed his inspiration outward... dissipating into those sparse volume
swells again. A much shorter solo than I would have expected from this
usually epic tune.
"See No Evil" pumped some life back into the band, with another smoking
solo by Richard. Also good to see was Tom's playing during Richard's
solos - I was vividly reminded of one of Tom's comments about there not
being any personality stuff onstage, but that when Richard played, Tom's
only concern was to push him as hard as he could. This was quite
visible. Richard's playing all evening was very note-dense, sometimes
verging on shredding territory, as if he was trying to wrench the band
into life, to light a fire under everyone. The same was true for "Call
Mr. Lee," in which Richard's playing struck me as almost twisted in this
setting, and put me in mind of Ernie Henry's first phrases in his solo
on Monk's "Brilliant Corners" - the dissonance was beautifully jarring
and noirish. Tom's playing, as if in response, became again more
aggressive than on the studio version, and the tune ended hard and
Next came "Prove It," yet another lesson in how the old tunes were
arranged. Again, many of the parts I'd thought were Tom's were in fact
Richard's. As Philip noted, the audience sung along on the chorus, and
Billy's glorious drum fills were right there in the verses (kind of made
me wish they'd done "Torn Curtain"). Tom's solo was even better than
his others so far, and I got the impression that things were getting fun
"Rocket" and "Rhyme" were next in the set, and really did come to life.
"Rocket," their Sonic Youth tune, began with Richard's gorgeous
Hendrixian cascading waves of feedback. I'd have been happy to hear the
whole tune played that way. While I dug the ping-ponging between Tom
and Richard in the trading of lines, more of that feedback would have
pushed it over the top. Still, a joyful noise was made, and phased into
"Rhyme." Tom's vocals were significantly improvised, and he played with
the delivery a lot, getting into the character of (as Milo Miles put it)
"a man so inarticulate with lust" that he was reduced to random
disconnected phrases. It was cool to hear him digging around and
finding the poetry in the words - hey, a Live Event! As it trailed on,
though, there was something disturbing about the "blue dress" monologue - that "heaviness" or "sense of crisis" in the light stuff that Tom's
talked about, an example of this tune done well. Finally, in the middle
of it, the band fell silent, and I thought for sure everything had
fallen apart. But no - there was the "scream and shout" crescendo, and
the band blasted out the long coda. Way more enjoyable than on record.
"Rhyme" faded into..."Marquee Moon," of course, mighty, confident, just
as one would want (another who-played-what lesson!). Richard kicked
out the jams on his solo, and Tom's solo had great spirit as well.
Finally, during the ascending figure near the end, Richard dropped out
to change guitars and tune the replacement. Tom took over both guitar
parts for the atmospheric resolution, and... led Fred and Billy back into
the ascending figure, repeatedly, with greater intensity each time.
My memory at this point is sketchy (anyone who's heard a recording of
the show may be able to verify one way or another) - I recall that right
before Richard joined back in (after what was probably just a couple of
minutes, but seemed much longer), Tom had stretched out the atmospheric
part again, into a supple, pure noisemaking, waving the guitar back and
forth for the RFI hum, in a thrilling example of an expert at play.
When Richard joined for the last iteration of the figure and the ending
of the tune (without the reiteration of the theme as on record), the
noise was loud, overpowering, and glorious - it was as if the band had
slyly pulled victory from the jaws of chaos. What would have
completely derailed lesser players (equipment screwup at the climax of
the signature tune) became proof of their mastery.
What I want from a band is for them to show me something new, and
Television did here, just as they did the first time I heard them on
record. I'd go so far as to say that this version of "Marquee Moon" is
the best I'd ever heard. Philip observed that we should have had to pay
extra for that mistake, and I have to agree with him. At that point,
the evening was made for me.
That the encore began with "Glory" was yet another pleasure. It smoked
appropriately gently, while the covers "Don't Need Your Lovin' Anymore"
and "Psychotic Reaction" burned full on. Chaos reared its head again at
the beginning of the latter - Tom's call for the segue seemed to take
Richard by surprise, or something, and they ended up a fraction of a
beat out of sync on the riff. This seemed to amuse Tom. They synched
back up, and played all the harder for it, Tom memorably attacking his
Strat with wire cutters for a chaotic slide in his solo. And then they
They'd rocked, played "out," let the tunes breathe, showed us something
new, and struggled against chaos. A truly great, dramatic evening.