NYC, 12th June 1996
"Gosh, there's a lot of people here!"
Souvenir from a Dream
Soul Freedom 2000
The Scientist Writes a Letter
Clear it Away
Verlaine, four years after Television self-destructed again, four years after his last 'solo' album and, as far as I know, without a recording contract. After an "Intro" that could only be Verlaine's guitar (it might be off "Warm and Cool"), it's straight into the 115-minute set. This is not a straight-ahead run through Verlaine's greatest songs, it's a more relaxed, thoughtful performance as if he's finding out what it's like to play live again. Old songs are revisited rather than re-heated and unfamiliar material is played without introduction or reference, as if new things were being tried out as a matter of course. And there is, of all things, a kind of funky feel to some of them - they aren't as immediately recognisable as Verlaine songs as you might expect.
Jimmy Ripp is here and he and Verlaine do play together so well. Also present are Jay Dee Daugherty and "the illustrious Fred Smith". The best way to describe it might be The Tom Verlaine Band - here the four really gel as a unit; "This Tune" is a great example. It's not until near the end that Verlaine makes any real attempt to speak to the audience; there's almost nothing but silence between songs. Where the real feeling of intimacy, of drawing you in, is established is in the tone of songs such as "Magic Tree", "Rhyme" and "The Scientist Writes A Letter".
"Magic Tree" ("we don't know this one yet!") is.... well, would it make sense if I said that early Pink Floyd and Traffic got together and Tom Verlaine wrote a song for them, then sang it? And it's rather lovely with some delicate guitar playing and one of his half-spoken vocals until there's near-silence with just his voice saying "the colder it gets, the more the tree gives away". It's one of those Tom Verlaine moments, where you feel as if you're eavesdropping on someone else's dream.
"Rhyme" (I love this song) starts with spare guitars and builds and shows again his ability to create a connection with what sounds like next-to-nothing going on. The mood is deepened by fragile, hesitant guitar lines and figures. "Scientist.." has a kind of prologue which adds a sinister element. The fullness of the album version is replaced with a monologue, if you like, in which he quotes from (if I'm not mistaken) Hendrix and Patti Smith. It's like, once again, hearing someone think aloud. (No guitar solo though!)
"Soul Freedom 2000" is a new kind of Verlaine song or, at least, in its more traditional structure something he hasn't really looked at before. It's joyous and celebratory with the two guitars in synch and in accord in an intense groove. (Play it at midnight 31/12/99!). "Weirded Out" sounds like a jam on "This Tune". In fact, it sounds like a Richard Lloyd song.
All shouts for old favourites are (as you might expect) ignored. He follows pleas for "Fire Engine" and "Adventure" with, instead, a hell-breaks-loose version of "Psychotic Reaction" and lets the guitar really go for the first time, in a marvellous thrashing couple of breaks (for a minute you can almost hear Richard Lloyd tearing his way through "Satisfaction").
There's a 'let's see what happens' feel to things. Sometimes it doesn't seem to get anywhere, as in "Pillow", but then this is followed immediately by a wonderful version of "Clear It Away", speeded up slightly from the album and shot through with reverbed guitar lunges and scrapes. At one point it's almost like a dub version, all echo and space and rolling bass, until it sputters to an end. It's great! There are parts that sound as if Verlaine is just sharing thoughts, or half an idea, never explained/hardly realised, as in the unfamiliar piece immediately before "Kingdom Come". It's something that you might have found on "Cover" )and, maybe, it's a better indication of where Verlaine is in 1996 than another version of "Marquee Moon"). It leads right into a so-laid-back-it's-horizontal "Kingdom Come" - it's so ephemeral it's hardly even there. It all ends with the most fluid, least fractured version of "Marquee Moon" that I've heard, the closest live version to the studio one.
This recording is the sound of Tom Verlaine alive and well and still playing the guitar like no-one else. It's full of passion and fire and it reminds you why you'd queue all night for a ticket if you could ever find him playing anywhere.