Shepherds Bush Empire, London, April 15th 2001
"The Illustrious Mr Fred Smith"
Photo by Maky
1880 or So
Little Johnny Jewel
See No Evil
No Glamour for Willi
Call Mr. Lee
"We're really amazed that no-one's called for Richard Hell yet.... what a great crowd..."
To the uninitiated, hearing Swells, during which Ficca's drums roll, guitars plink, slide and moan and Tom Verlaine intones, "pretty, pretty, pretty cloud..." into the mic must have been a rather puzzling start to the show (well, I laughed). But, were there any uninitiated present? If it had been twice as loud it would, perhaps, have been mesmerising; in fact it sounded like a protracted tuning exercise disguised as something else. Who knows?
But, when Richard Lloyd, during 1880 or So, spins off into a series of inspired, eloquent guitar lines that seems to sum up Television past and present in one song, then you remember that this is no ordinary band. When he follows it up in This Tune with lines that seem to be played as fills but, in fact, open the song out then it's also obvious that - whatever turns or advances Tom Verlaine's career may or may not have taken - Lloyd now stands as one of the electric guitar players. He just keeps getting better and better.
On stage Lloyd is locked and centred in his own physical and musical space - and what comes spurting and spiraling out of it is wonderful. Witness the liquid lines he throws out against Verlaine's scrabbling, jerking statements in The Rocket. His playing is ferocious and fiery against Verlaine's angular, spare rhythm in Beauty Trip and See No Evil is messy until Lloyd's solo nails it down.
Little Johnny Jewel is where Verlaine just starts to take the lead. Once again you notice the tumbling, rolling kick that Billy Ficca gives Television. This song is the highlight of the set for me because it's Television as I want them to be. There were hairs standing up on the back of my neck as the band dropped to quiet and Verlaine sang/chanted, "shiny, shiny, shiny things..." and then he squeezed out one of those dreamlike, trancelike Verlaine guitar excursions. What more could you want?
Verlaine has a way of playing a song as if it's the first time he's ever played it and he still hasn't made up his mind where it might go. There's a moment in the middle of No Glamour for Willi when he tentatively plunks out the song's main guitar figure as if he's just thought of it and is wondering what to do with it next. This is perhaps where the tension between the two guitars comes from; Richard Lloyd plays as if you might have to drag him off the stage to stop him - Verlaine as if he's waiting for something to push him in a new direction to get him started. When he does get started, of course, it's sublime. In Little Johnny Jewel, for example, he coaxes and pushes the song so that you never know when or how it's going to end. Or in Marquee Moon (which will always remain Verlaine's song), structured around and riding on whatever ideas and sounds he throws into the mix.
Rhyme is atmospheric and tingling but marred, on this recording, by the little boys in the audience whose attitude seems to be, "Hey, here's a quiet bit; let's talk. Loudly". Full marks, though, to the person who shouted, "Shut the fuck up!" at the guy who had been screaming "Prove It!!" for the past hour or so. (And a tip of the hat to the wit who called out for "Jazz Odyssey!" during the opening of The Rocket!)
It was cool, it was glorious. It was too "too too..."
Half the audience seemed to be half the age of the members of the band. If half of them went out and bought guitars the next day... who knows...?