THE COMPELLING RETURN OF TELEVISION
Boston Globe, 2nd December 1992
by Jim Sullivan
At: The Paradise, Monday night.|
Rock 'n' roll - and rock 'n' roll criticism - is rife with hyperbole, but it's fair to say that, in this particular case, people really were awaiting the return of Television.
No, not the golden age of "Your Show of Shows" or "I Love Lucy," but the golden age of the seminal, New York-based, new wave quartet fronted by guitarists Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd. Although Television has done some recent dates overseas and in Canada, prior to Monday's soldout Paradise show, they last played a US gig in 1977. So, the Geritol-chugging old folks, myself included, were pumped and primed. Or, as one local wag, Greg "Skeggy" Kendall, of the Brothers Kendall put it, if you wanted to kill off a key part of Boston's post-punk, thirtysomething rock audience with one blast, this would definitely be the time and place.
Luckily for us graybeards, no bombs exploded in audience. On stage, there were a few detonated. Not as many, mind you, as in the glory days of Television, but more than one might expect given the tempered, meandering sound of Television's eponymous comeback album.
Television -- in concert, in 1992 -- is a qualified success: very strong at the beginning and end, and somewhat formulaic and muted during much of the midset. The opening was "1880," a gorgeous, new, 8-minute-plus workout and statement of purpose, a stellar example of exquisite guitar riffing. Near the end, TV exhumed the classic "Marquee Moon," a long, gently unwinding song that nonetheless packs a sense of snarling, coiled tension and closes with an explosive blitz.
Verlaine and Lloyd still make for a formidable, eloquent, lyrical guitar duo - noisy in just the right places, not always - and they once again made you think of Television as a punker's elliptical dream band - an Allman Bros. Band with Velvet Underground underpinnings. Their lead excursions - most often a Lloyd solo, followed by a verse, chorus and a Verlaine solo - contained logic, grace and danger. And while it's generally assumed that Verlaine is the noise-monger and Lloyd the melody maker, their styles are really quite similar. If you'd shut your eyes, you couldn't tell who was playing what.
The 1 1/2-hour set was, in no sense, a rock "show." None of the band members said anything to the mostly-seated crowd; the group's members spoke only among themselves between songs, apparently dealing with minor equipment snafus or set changes. During the songs, Verlaine - as the dour, reluctant Lou Reed-ish lead singer - mostly conveyed sadness, anguish or resignation. This was a situation where a wistfulness and vague melancholy was most apropos.
Unfortunately, Television's new material doesn't match its old. Their debut album, "Marquee Moon," is a masterpiece and its followup, "Adventure," though less startling, is nevertheless a winning consolidation of the band's strengths. Their current third album - Verlaine and Lloyd were involved in various solo and side projects throughout the intervening years - is a more restrained, modest effort. The new songs played Monday - "Beauty Trip," ''No Glamour For Willie," "Calling Mr. Lee" among others - pretty much evinced glimpses of grandeur. But the heady spare parts didn't always add up to a cohesive whole. You wanted the band to push itself, move you a little more, agitate. You found yourself politely toe-tapping through the main melody line and yearning for the inevitable lead guitar launch - at which point bliss, or near-bliss, would set in as Lloyd and Verlaine executed their proscribed, your-turn, my-turn, guitar swaps.
Are we being too hard on Television? Perhaps. It's tough to critique a band that once routinely bounced sounds off distant satellites and now only ricochets off a near moon. What once seemed expansive and free-wheeling is now more constricted - more comforting than ground-breaking. Yet, it was a delight to hear "Prove It," "See No Evil," "Venus de Milo" and, obviously, "Marquee Moon" kicked out of the new wave archives and CD-re- issues into the universe of living and breathing bands. Whatever their flaws - and however skewed their decision to make this a "cabaret seating" concert - this year's Television, taciturn as it was, was more compelling than your run-of-the-mill, alternatively marketed, next big thing.