Television, Shepherd's Bush Empire, W12

Source: London Times April 20 2001

BY John Bungey

THERE are few albums from the glory days of punk that still deserve the attention of your hi-fi (Sham 69? Hazel O’Connor? I think not). Marquee Moon, the debut album by New York’s Television, is an exception, a set of intricate, angular melodies that put clumsier contemporaries to shame. Television made one more fine album and then, in the spirit of the times, fell to bits, leaving the whiff of business unfinished.
Fourteen years later they reconvened for a third album and a few shows. But then again nothing, until now, when, without record company support, the band has embarked on a few tentative gigs in Europe and America.

For those at Shepherd’s Bush hoping to see treasured vinyl made flesh, the opening minutes were worrying. The foursome wandered on to a stage thinly populated with a few Vox AC30 amps and a drum kit and launched into the sort of electronic noiseplay that got the Grateful Dead a bad name.

When the din subsided the band slipped briskly into In World, from their eponymous 1992 album. And then, about two minutes into the tune, Richard Lloyd began a guitar solo of such poise, elegance and dexterity it was jaw-dropping. This from the man casual listeners had assumed was the group’s rhythm player.

What followed was not only a trot through the greatest hits of Television’s — admittedly slim — back-catalogue but also a masterclass in the art of the electric guitar. The band’s unique intensity lies in the interplay between the two guitarists. Tom Verlaine, who is still stick-thin and sporting a thrift-shop haircut, combines dive-bombing runs with raga-like scales. Lloyd is a master of tension and release.

“Eric Clapton,” someone shouted at him after one searing blast, which frankly is a slur on Lloyd’s inventiveness.

The team dispatched See No Evil and Venus de Milo with speedy grace. Little Johnny Jewel was epic psychodrama. Only on The Rocket did the music lose focus and noodle off into dance-trance, with Verlaine apparently distracted by the tuning problems that kept him busy between songs.

But then it was time for the title track of Marquee Moon, a fiercely detailed rave-up unlike anything else in rock. As Verlaine playfully subverted the ascending chords of the climax, the excitement became too much for two drunken Scotsmen next to me, who started thumping each other in ecstasy.

The band played encores of Prove It and Glory before departing, Verlaine mumbling something about an early curfew. But the legend was intact, so thank you, gentlemen, and see you around, oh, 2010.