It's too "too too" to put a finger on.
Source: Sounds (April 1978)
by Phil Sutcliffe
... I MEAN, it can't be that difficult to come up with 800 words on any gig. A beginning, a middle and an end with a couple of twiddly bits in between isn't too much to ask. Normally. But then this was Television. Nothing rhymed. Nothing reasoned. Two days on and my brain is offal. Every idea heads for the slop bucket. Still I think I think that...
Television, the heavily publicised seminal band (?) of the late Seventies, attracted probably the smallest turn-out at the City Hall since they last toured here.
They were wrecked with jet-lag and groping their way towards acquaintance with a sound man and a system they had met 24 hours earlier.
They played one of the most erratic sets I have ever heard and further eroded the sympathies of the small crowd by interminable tuning up provoking cries of "Get on with it!" even from the most devoted.
They were still out of tune an awful lot — there being a distinct difference between the angular precisions calculated by Tom Verlaine's almost Asiatic ear and plain old Anglo-Saxon bum notes (which he and Richard Lloyd both played and sang often in 'Prove It', 'Knockin' On Heaven's Door' and others).
Perhaps 10 minutes after they started the first of a steady stream of people walked out on them though I think most of these were local liggers lacking the incentive of having laid their money down.
Around me for the first four numbers brows were knit, noses crinkled and lips curled as their owners complained about the dire quality of the sound which was all snarly and rough as if it was being spewed out of a cement mixer.
But actually I didn't mind that. I thought that was how it was supposed to be (though a cleaning-up operation before they went into 'Friction' suggested the plaintiffs were right). Nor did I mind the way a couple of songs, 'Poor Circulation' and 'The Dream's Dream', stopped broken-backed half-way through with nothing but a couple of disrhythmic guitar chords from Verlaine to say they were still in motion. I thought that was deliberate too, symbolic of the dark forces abroad in their music.
You see it was difficult to figure out what was going on especially with Verlaine's shyness casting a mantle of non-communication over the whole band. There was no doubt though that at times they did lurch on the brink of incoherence as the two guitarists, who usually fit so well, clattered together as if maybe Lloyd had got the key but Verlaine had changed the lock.
That said.. .
The brilliant songs are still there awaiting brilliant live performance and that's what they gave to 'Friction', 'Ain't That Nothin'" and 'Little Johnny Jewel.'
'Friction' was pretty much a tight facsimile of the album track. Verlaine showed once more what an original and powerful rhythm guitarist he is, strumming and sliding it to a roar. This was Television as ferocious machine and very fine.
Billy Ficca, the other founder member, kept on commanding my attention as the man who was holding it together through the guitarists' travails, not with the drummer's traditional stolid reliability but with inspirational jolting and jerking, weird rolls and cymbal attacks. He made 'Ain't That Nothin'', together with a climatic solo from Lloyd and deadly, harsh chopping from Verlaine.
Towards the end of the set 'Little Johnny Jewel', their first single, still came across as something special. At last Verlaine got his fingers untangled for a solo in that unimitated tone which is like a human voice in Television's carefully constructed arrangements — reflective or hollering, sometimes I'd swear gnashing its teeth. The hard-ass riff, the clear vocal, the beautiful touches like Lloyd picking out harmonics during a quiet, almost rhythmless passage made this a masterful piece of live music.
Verlaine's last solo then became too long, repetitious and cliched, a fault he also fell into during 'A Dream's Dream', almost as if he were still playing for a small club audience whose intimate proximity and weekly familiarity might persuade them to bear with the artist while he conducted a minute examination of a blind alley.
Television are a hot band, particularly because of a guitar duo who combine in ways previously undreamed of.
But their audience looked to be several hundred fewer than on their debut tour. Next time in Newcastle, barring something radical like a string of hit singles, it will be even worse. And really that only leaves them with the security men for company.
Why couldn't such a good band make contact? It think it was the failure to get physical. But that's a diagnosis not a cure.