Great American Music Hall, San Francisco,
8th December 1992
1880 or So
No Glamour for Willi
Call Mr Lee
Little Johnny Jewel
I Don't Need Your Lovin' Anymore
"Oh, what good memories you have."
Some tuning up, a hint of a familiar melody which slides/mutates into "1880 or So". First thing you notice is the steady pulse of Fred Smith's bass anchoring the song to Ficca's drums. Guitars flirt gently over the rhythm, nudging the focus of the song this way and that. One minute Lloyd is leading the way, the next Verlaine has taken it. It's an object lesson in ensemble playing; fragments of lines and musical ideas drop in and out, passed from one guitar to the other until everything locks into a groove of interlocking guitar noise.
If Lloyd has the wider vocabulary as a guitarist, Verlaine seems to speak a different language. Where would "Call Mr Lee" be without Richard Lloyd's guitar, which seems to flow in a way that Verlaine's never does? It may not explore the same fractured territory that Verlaine's does but here it's fluid and fluent, driving the song, making it soar. His scorching playing is all over "In World", pushing Verlaine frantically to the climax of the song. If Verlaine provides the angular bones of a Television sonic structure, then Lloyd puts the flesh around them.
If "The Blow Up" is the "official" live statement of the first Television incarnation summing up everything the band was/might become in 1978, then this performance, perhaps, would make a fitting official live release of the 90s Television. Here's Television in 1992 - older, glossier, maybe not as hungry but sharper than ever.
The older songs - "Glory", "Venus", "Prove It" - are played and sound as if they've just been written, by which I mean that they aren't knocked off in the throwaway jukebox fashion of some band lining up the old crowd-pleasers. They may lack the spunkiness of the 70s versions - they may sound a little more mellow, a little more polished - but the bite is still there.
Most of the time, there is no sense that Television are striving for something that they might not be able to pull off but there's a sense of confidence and self assurance - and enjoyment - that comes through. Thus, "Marquee Moon" is tight, sharp and urgent with some terrific flourishes from Lloyd and one of Verlaine's more focused, direct excursions. It's a dense performance, played as if any idea that may crop up has to fit the structure rather than be allowed to divert. It's one of the most intense, stright-ahead versions of MM that I can think of.
This sounds like a band that could do anything (except stay together, of course). It's all here - light and shade, power and delicacy. Witness "Beauty Trip" where things start to spread out and the familiar edge creeps in. Ficca and Smith create a mood that's relentless and restrained at the same time. In Television there's no such thing as a "rhythm guitarist" - just guitars in tandem, now playful, now busy, now frantic, until Lloyd cuts out a great solo. The sounds of these Television guitars have rarely flowed so well around/against each other, creating a warm dual tone. In "No Glamour for Willi" we first hear Verlaine start to play against the melody with one of those unmistakable guitar runs and, when he drops back, Lloyd steps up.
"Rhyme" takes you again to that strange place where time seems to slow down, punctuated by that rimshot and juddering tremeloes of guitar. "Rocket" is an explosion of fiery traded-off guitar runs propelled by Ficca's tumbling drums. Guitar-hero heaven.
"Little Johnny Jewel" is not so much played as quoted from. With its thick, squalling guitar it sounds more like a précis of the full version that we know and love. It ends quickly, as if they'd just had enough. Strange.
This great live show crashes to an end with Television's take on the Chocolate Watchband's "Don't Need Your Lovin' ", in which Television sound like the most inspired bar-band ever and Richard Lloyd goes crazy. Does it really get much better than this?