Tom Verlaine and his cohorts have been gazing at me from the American Gothic-esque cover of Marquee Moon since way back in 1977. After 36 years of awkwardly averting their relentless and emaciated stares, the closing weeks of 2013 finally bring the chance to eyeball back the creators of one the 20th century’s finest musical moments in the flesh. With the passing of Lou Reed earlier in the previous month the sounds of New York’s underbelly have been on heavy rotation in the soundtrack of my mind, The Velvets naturally lead to Television and since we ain’t going to get Lou, Mo, Cale et all gigging together this side of the afterlife it seemed like fitting and opportune time to catch another era defining band of everyone’s favourite scuzzed out city in the flesh. Granted the two original Richards, Hell and Lloyd. had changed channels back in ’75 and ’07 respectively but three out of four ain’t bad and the very dapper Jimmy Rip proved to more than up to the task of filling Lloyd’s musical boots.
Dublin based songstress Katie Kim warms up the arriving punters as the slowly midriff expanding, moderately aging and rapidly balding foot soldiers of Dublin’s punk scene of yesteryear begin to gather en mass in Vicar Street. She deliveres a loop pedal driven and haunting set, bass strings droning on her guitar as she plucks out simple melodies on the upper strings and looped reverb heavy vocals on top. A heady stew that proves to be provide welcome sustenance for the arriving punters as they pulled in for the night, escaping the positively Baltic temperatures and cutting wind outside. Katie professes to feeling somewhat intimidated by the experience of warming up for Television attending crowd but the lady doth protest too much methinks for if there were nerves they don’t manifest themselves in the music. Spellbinding stuff indeed.
Television take to a stripped down stage to the sound of dissonant bells peeling over the PA and roars of expectation and adulation. Whereas other bands make use of the generous girth of Vicar Street’s stage, they are content to huddle and cram themselves into the centre of it. Maybe all those years of gigging in sweatboxes like CBGBs have left them feeling a little agoraphobic, or perhaps they need the close physical proximity so they can feed off each other for the interplay that characterises their music. The lion’s share of the setlist come from that classic debut, although amongst the interlopers from other albums was the night’s opener ‘Glory’ from their 1978 Adventure album. ‘Elevation’ follows close behind, Verlaine’s voice sounding shot and strained. You fear a disaster is in the offing but Television were never renowned for their vocal dexterity and after this minor hiccup and with the auld larynx warmed up Tom falls into the mid-range and wisely let his Strat do most of the talking.
Settling down they next tackle the warmly received ‘Prove It’ and this is quintessential Television, stripped back, raw and rare. They’ve been labelled punk, post-punk, art punk and new wave but those labels are applied because of the time and the place that they came from. Television are primarily a rock n roll band not defined by any genre because they have a uniqueness about them that alluded those who tried to define and emulate them. Verlaine’s solos are carefully and deliberately dug out of his guitar’s neck and the interplay between his and Rip is the cornerstone of their sound. It’s not a twin guitar attach but more a song and a dance, the narrative of a story retold by two friends from different perspectives. As a sage acquaintance comments in the post-gig post mortem, with Television it’s more about the tone then the tune. There is a distinctive clean crisp sound that is so unique that it still seem fresh today not lumbered and weighed down with a dated sound like other artists from that era.
About an hour into the set and they drop the money shot. The double stop rhythm guitar line that heralds the start of their magnum opus ‘Marquee Moon’ is greeted with unabashed middle aged adoration from the audience. The addition of the lead guitar’s hammer-ons, the pulsating bass line and the low roll of the floor toms combine and then Tom delivers the opening lines “I remember how the darkness doubled; I recall lightning struck itself”. The track stands as one of the cultural highlights of the 20th century. As the band play it, it arrives like a postcard from the past, a greeting card from an almost forgotten country of the mind – a picture capturing the spartan beauty of a down at heel New York, a cityscape that seemed so foreign, neon and unattainable to the imagination of the black and white Ireland of the ’70s.
As the song crescendos and climaxes, the audience are left in a state of rapture. Television leave the stage. We know they’ll be back for an encore but we need a breather after that. This is why we go to gigs and put up with all the inconveniences that go with them. This is why 1500 punters parted ways with their hard earned cash to watch men in their ’60s play rock n roll. We could stay at home, stream clips on the internet, watch our digitally remastered blu-rays of concert performances, we could Spotify or Deezer our lives way to our hearts content but that just doesn’t cut it.
Cynics will say it’s all about squeezing the last milky dollars and cents out of the great cash cows rapidly depleting teats, that nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. And there’s a certain truth to that but there is also another side. Nights like this are a pleasure and a privilege to behold, a chance to watch maestros, legends, monsters of men recreate their masterpieces in front of your ears and eyes. The band return for a two song encore, the closer being the apt choice of ‘See No Evil’. To play the opening track from their first record as a parting shot brings us back to the beginning and not the end. It’s time to reload, time to spin the disc again and restart. This is rock n roll baby and it ain’t over yet…