De-pressed no longer - TV tune up

Source: NME (April 22 1978)

by Nick Kent

The Only Ones

LAST YEAR, Television arrived in Britain under a shower of gilded prose and hyperbole claiming that they were the hottest thing since the invention of elec- tricity, etc., and proceeded to play a number of well- attended gigs during which time they -secured mostly very positive reviews plus the handle "Ice Kings of Rock".

A few dissenters were noted in the press corps bemoaning the band's static visual, their tendency to appear 'distant' which, mated to the fact that a) they didn't move much and b) their music was involved with other matters besides 'fun' and demanded considerable attention from the players to be performed decently, drew derisive criticisms that the quartet was 'cold' and 'emotionless".

However even taking into consideration leader Tom Verlaine's weedy, pained on-stage demeanour, the latter conclusions, were, to say the least, facile, particularly when one considered the rather more realistic fact that the group had previously been consigned to playing clubs so that the concept of filling out a fair-sized stage was something new and altogether perplexing.

Anyway, exactly a year has elapsed since those T.V. gigs and all the heady pre-publicity that prefaced them, and conditions have changed most radically.

The music press has been known for its churlish penchant for activating a stinging critical backlash but the reviews tMaf greeted Television's second album have been so hideously twisted in terms of any coherent perspective that they've made the aforemen- tioned 'facile' contentions of a year ago seem positively sage-like by comparison.

Both NME and Sounds reviews of the album highlighted such criminal displays of ignorance that the critics' vulture-like descent on their prey chose to ignore any dint of a salient angle that in turn might accidentally refer to the music conceived within the grooves of their blighted victim.

It's a moot point therefore as to whether the recent media backlash caused the just-completed Television tour to be similarly blighted by feeble attendance figures.

It probably did, and that's a damned shame because at Hammersmith Odeon last Sunday a 70% capacity audience (that's roughly twice the capacity of all previous gigs played on the tour) caught both a blitzing set by England's Only Ones and a set by Television which proved yet again that they're one of rock's most exciting, original and passionate units playing anvwhere.

Unlike T.V., The Only Ones are buoyantly floating on a critical ascendant right now - a fact that made disciples feel doubly gratified when the band proved irrefutably that their charms can easily be transformed from small club to big hall.

The Only Ones in fact played easily the finest set I've witnessed them do in any envi- ronment, with Peter Perrett firmly at the helm, but guitarist John Perry and drummer Mike Kellie particularly startling.

It was undoubtedly the heavy bout of gigging that had sharpened their repertoire, but songs like "Another Girl, Another Planet", the gorgeous "Whole Of The Law", older items like "Lovers Of Today", "Oh No" and "Peter And The Pets" and the cataclysmic finale of "Cfty Of Fun" seemed to take on a more fevered, lunging dimension.

The album is out on May 6, by the way - you have been warned.

I was particularly intrigued to see whether The OnlyOne/T.V. pairing would result in a quasi-Battle of the Bands situation.

After all, both groups are 'left field' units and share the same compositional line-up (something which Tom Verlaine was particularly concerned about, when first informed), not to mention one being currently critics' darlings, while the other are suffering the aforementioned grievous spate of proverbial slings-and-arrows.

But Television as bill-toppers quickly dispelled such ideas of combat, basically because their music is wrought from different angles and reflexes.

Their music is loaded with powerful subtleties that underpin the diffident front of leader Tom Verlaine and his tranced-out hyena vocals.

Indeed where rock is renowned for its overbearing qualities, Television go strictly against the grain consistently underplaying their most obvious front-line tendencies, instead choosing to concentrate on a rare, innate and near-telepathetic musical empathy.

Thus their most straightforward songs like "Venus De Milo" are granted an almost cursory performance live, while the band choose to dig into the more open-ended material as a foil for improvisation that bears a closer feel to jazz than rock.

Certainly drummer Billy Ficca's stunning polyrhythms provide a disarming anchor to the music with Fred Smith positively inscrutable on bass.

Above all this run the guitars of Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, who arguably now have become the most exciting and inventive dual guitarists in rock.

Lloyd is slightly more the conventional player - effervescent and gorgeously fluid; he's not simply the perfect foil for Verlaine's more off-the-wall, quirky-but-inspired work-outs these days - he comes close to stealing much of the latter's thunder at times.

Verlaine himself has one major drawback which manifests itself in a tendency to over-extend his solo playing to the point where one prays for some of the exhilarating brevity he consistently displays on record.

Some added points of interest: those songs from "Adventure" like "Dreams Dream" and "Ain't That Nothing" that left me cold when I caught them on record sounded absolutely stunning live, the former providing some dazzling guitar interplay, particularly from Verlaine's uncanny use of harmonics and tremelo.

"Fiction" was absolutely thrilling, again totally transcending an already deadly studio archetype.

It was "Knockin' On Heavens Door" though where i all fell into place for me, perspective-wise.

This is exactly the music Neil Young would be making, had he followed up the style of "Cortez The Killer" with Crazy Horse.

Young's loss, though, is Television's gain. Bob Dylan once said of The Byrds thatthey're working on levels of music most people don't even know exist.

I'll concur with that in strict relation to Television and they'll be around long, long after this current state of back-stab bickering has subsided and the perpetrators are off doing something with a little more dignity.