Old Guitarists Don't Die; They Just Strum Away

New York Times, March 21, 2002

by Jon Pareles

Television, which reunited for a two-night stand at Irving Plaza, was the jam band of the punk era. While most of the bands that converged on CBGB in the mid-1970's set out to bring overblown 1970's rock down to earth with brevity and punch, Television, by contrast, wanted an alternative dream.

Tom Verlaine's songs for the band revolve around the yin-yang interlock of his own guitar parts and those of Richard Lloyd: one high and one low, one sustained and one jabbing, one ethereal and one bluesy. Verses and choruses hover in between with Mr. Verlaine singing in his strangulated voice about revelations and mysteries, paradoxes and romances. The songs drift out of the ether, toy with time, and then vanish. The band itself is equally mercurial; it released albums in 1977 and 1978, reunited to make another in 1992 and did its last world tour in 1993. Before playing at Irving Plaza it appeared Friday at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival in Los Angeles.

Its set on Monday night had a sense of leisure that was closer to Indian raga than to punk. The opening song stretched to 16 minutes, beginning with Mr. Verlaine floating three notes over a drone chord, and gradually made its way toward the patterns of "1880 or So" from the 1992 album "Television." At the end of the set, the music dissolved back into a drone, and those initial three notes were heard again.

In between, the band brought back songs from all three albums, playing them with additional decades of reflection and tacitly reminding listeners of how much bands like the Church, Luna and the Strokes had learned from Television.

The band savored the tightly wound riffs of songs like "Glory," "Prove It," "Venus" and "See No Evil." But it also followed the guitar solos toward the Middle East, toward raga, toward spy-movie music, toward 1960's soul, toward psychedelia. Again and again, it delivered pure guitar-lovers' pleasures like the abstract chime of a high syncopated chord notched perfectly above a garage-rock lick.

Billy Ficca on drums supplied steady, muscular thumps or jazzy taps and swirls of cymbals; Fred Smith on bass was a calm anchor, occasionally adding a third line to the contrapuntal guitars. It was music of camaraderie and exploration, flickering into being for just a few sets more before disappearing once again.