Saturday, September 26, 2015

Television in Pittsburgh

Yesterday afternoon, a co-worker asked me how the Love Letters' show went this past Wednesday at Arsenal Lanes. Really well, I recalled, although there were a few big goof-ups. We stopped one song a few bars into it and had to restart it. "Oooh," my friend replied. "You can't do that. You gotta keep it going!" I agreed, clarifying that it wasn't me that did it.

A few hours later, Tom Verlaine did the same thing during Television's show at the Carnegie Music Hall. Granted his situation was different. He didn't realize they were playing "Venus" next and he had retuned for a different song. In this case, there's no way of faking your way through a song, or retuning as you're playing, unless you have some super skill - and a good tuning pedal. The point is, if he can do it, I guess we can too.

But that's only a minor quibble that I had, and it's a more appropriate opening thought that doesn't give away the big feeling I had during the band's set, which I will mention in a moment.

Taking in the opulence of the Carnegie Music Hall, with a stage that was alternately bathed in blue or what felt like pink lights, my co-hort mentioned that this was a long way from CBGB, which the band helped put on the map and vice versa. The stage was huge, with plenty of room for all four members, who walked out casually, giving a wave or a nod to the audience. And then they tuned.

After a swirling, almost soundcheck/stage volume check intro, Tom Verlaine hit the opening riff of "See No Evil." Everything feel into place. Jimmy Rip, who has played in Verlaine's solo band since the early 1980s, played the countermelody precisely. As the evening continued, he would replicate all of Richard Lloyd's solos, as if he transcribed them and committed them to memory. It's not a criticism, just an observation.

Television stuck with songs from their landmark Marquee Moon album, going in a running order different than the album, without adding any other songs to the set as they proceeded. Each break between songs brought suspense with it. What would be next? Will it sound as great as the last song? "Friction" contained one of the best guitar solos of the evening, with Verlaine skronking up the fretwork rapidly, making it look like it was easy.

After "Guiding Light," there was only one song left from the album - the 10-minute title track. Verlaine and Rip dropped tuned. (The tuning breaks threatened to kill momentum a couple times and made me think of my brother saying how a bandmate of his did it incessantly. Glad he missed that part of the evening.) Then that plink-plink intro of "Marquee Moon" started. And the crowd went wild.

And then I saw God.

Let me back up a little. Although said brother bought Marquee Moon when it came out, I didn't hear and appreciate it until five years later. That started to happen when I heard the title track on the radio, and I got so lost in it that I was calling WRCT everyday for about a week because I needed to hear it on a daily basis.

After the third verse, right before Verlaine launches his guitar solo and Richard Lloyd is banging out that riff, I always had this feeling of Here it comes, the magic is about to start. Like the way I feel when the Jack Rabbit pulls out of the station and around the corner at Kennywood.

Verlaine started the solo in a very similar manner to the record, low and casual, fiddling with his volume with his left hand as his right hand picked away. Then he threw in some wild harmonics that kicked it up a few notches. Then it happened. I don't know exactly what, and I'm not going to try and explain it theoretically or viscerally but the sounds he was pulling out of that guitar hit me like no other show I've ever seen. I've heard people say that they've felt like they've seen God at a show and maybe that was the result of a chemically altered brain, but mine had no alterations. Just a typical amount of caffeine and not quite enough dinner. But it was perfect. It was the built-up hope of how you want to hear a song after hearing at home for over 30 years, knowing how you want it to sound, and HAVING IT SOUND EVEN BETTER THAN THAT.

When the band walked offstage following that song, they had only played about an hour, and I would've been satisfied at that point. I wondered if they were going to do an intermission, come back and play all of Adventure, wrapping that set up with "Little Johnny Jewel."

But they came back on and hit right away with "Little Johnny Jewel," which was taut, though not quite as frantic as the original single. That was followed by a ballad of sorts that could have been a '50s love song, though it was a little too Verlaine-ish for that. A version of Count Five's "Psychotic Reaction" followed, with a rave up in the middle that left both Count Five and the Yardbirds (the song's original inspiration) in the dust. A strange coda was slow and trippy, almost a stand-alone different song, butit linked to the preceding tune by Verlaine repeating the lyrics.

I was cool with that. Hell, I had seen God. Or Coltrane.


Unknown said...

Nice review and reminiscences.

shanleymusic said...

Thanks, Rudy! BTW I did start listening to your disc. Haven't gotten through all of it yet.