San Francisco, 1978
The Dream's Dream
Venus De Milo
Ain't That Nothin'
Little Johnny Jewel
Four Aces Records (Italy) No. FAR 005, released (?)
Two things strike you about it right away; this is the sound of a tight, great band in full flight and, half of the time, it doesn't even sound like Television at all. Perhaps it should have been subtitled "We've got a fuzz box and we're gonna use it!". The sound of the guitars is mostly heavy and fuzzy, not at all what you expect, as if they're channelled through one giant 'Tube Screamer'. I'm told that (thanks Howard) the sound is the result of Verlaine using a perspex Ampeg Dan Armstrong guitar - probably the densest guitar ever made, and Lloyd using a Travis Bean which has an aluminium neck (giving massive sustain). At first the effect is rather like listening to another band (say, Blue Oyster Cult) doing perfect versions of Television songs. Or, maybe, a Television live gig remixed with added studio effects to make it palatable for U.S. 70s College Radio.
The noise of the guitars lends a one-dimensional tone to everything; the sharp edges and oblique turns of Television's songs get lost in the sound, smoothed out as it were, giving way to an almost-facile fluidity. The result is that it sounds like great live rock music but it doesn't sound like great live Television music. Interestingly, the sound does highlight the difference in approach and style between Verlaine and Lloyd. The more obvious rock guitar noise suits Lloyd much more but has the effect of rendering his guitar playing anonymous - within certain limits it could well be anyone. But Verlaine, whatever the sound, is still recognisably Verlaine.
But that's not to say that I don't love listening to this because, on the whole, I do. The sound mix (a radio show, I believe) is great, with full separation between the players; for once on a live Television recording you can hear everything that Fred Smith is doing, which is a definite bonus. Perfect if you want to learn the bass parts to Television songs. And you notice how much the bass can carry the structure and impetus of some of these songs. The playing from everyone is terrific - confident, assured and inventive - if never really inspired. It's best to listen to this as a great concert, none of the songs here is the definitive live version. There's an air of tension present (partly owing to the fast pace of the songs, partly to the relentless grind of the guitars) that certainly adds to the thrill.
It's great to hear a live version of "The Dream's Dream", even such a heavy one which does rather attack the ethereal delicacy of the studio version. The basic structures of the songs stick closely to their recorded versions. "Foxhole", "Friction", "Careful" and "Ain't That Nothin'" are all a great rush and, in the latter, Richard Lloyd peels off a great solo or two.
While the thick sound is OK for songs like these, on "Marquee Moon" it's just too heavy. This isn't a song that relies for its power on whacking you over the head; it works best when it confounds your expectations and creeps up on you and here you can hear it coming a mile away. So it's a relief when, in the middle section, they ease up a little and Verlaine gets to work around the sound rather than getting submerged in it. It's a great sounding solo but it's not a very interesting one. In the last section what you expect from Television finally starts to show through when they hold back and create a more interesting dynamic. For a while it's an exploration of the song rather than an assault on it. The end sounds like it was edited in from "On Your Feet or On Your Knees".
On "Satisfaction", Richard Lloyd finally gets to be Keith Richards and plays a vital solo that's easily the most enjoyable piece of guitar playing on this set. Finally, "Little Johnny Jewel" has mutated from a song of breathless mystery and sonic uncertainty into a frantic buzz in which Verlaine's guitar struggles against The Fuzz and, in the end, loses.
"The illustrious Mr Fred Smith", though, carries the day.