Television live - review
October 24, 2013
Television has always been one of those bands to draw immense reverence from rockist/record collector types (myself included). Their debut album, Marquee Moon, has earned a prominent position in the ‘thinking-man’s rock’ canon and conforms to Brian Eno’s great cliche about the Velvet Underground – few bought the record at the time but those who did started a band. Marquee Moon’s cerebral sound, particularly the intricate guitar interplay between Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, ripples through late-70’s post-punk, 80’s new wave, 90’s indie rock and the garage rock revival of the early 00’s.
In the last ten years, nearly every band with living members and a living fanbase has reformed. While I have no qualms with artists of yesteryear finally receiving a paycheck, I have become self-consciously aware of the conflict at the heart of this culturally nostalgic tendency. When we finally see a band whose record we have loved for years, do we experience that music as a living thing or as a mere rebuilding of a beloved monument? Is it art or artifact? Does a band playing a great record need to be great or is the greatness of the record enough?
This conflict was in stark display at the Powerstation last night, half the crowd ecstatic to hear one of their favourite bands playing right in front of their eyes and the other half clearly indifferent to a band who, unfortunately, just weren’t very good. It wasn’t that the songs weren’t well, or faithfully, played – Tom Verlaine remains an incredible guitarist and rest of the band were serviceable (Jimmy Rip replacing Richard Lloyd on second guitar) – but what made Television so great in 1977 is not replicable in 2013, even by Television.
It’s easy to forget that behind every great record is a band. And while that band may have once been great, great bands seldom stay that way. While the songs Television played last night remain incredible songs, much of what makes them so is their tautness, their tension. On record, Television sound as gaunt as they look on the record sleeves. But now, without the youth, the paranoia, the amphetamines and the squalor, Television sound like they look today – like a group of talented middle-aged men, playing the songs they first played together nearly 40 years ago. I wanted to love this show but as soon as the first nostalgic hit wore off, I couldn’t help but tune out.
Edit: an earlier version of this review referred to original Television guitarist Richard Lloyd as “deceased”. We’re delighted to report that Lloyd is very much alive.