Sunday, May 11, 2014

Concert Review: Television at Phoenix Concert Theatre - May 10, 2014

I've been to hundreds of gigs over the past 30 years, and I've left many of them thinking that it would have been hard to experience anything better. Last night was one of those nights.

My favorite concerts include Sonic Youth, Pixies, Throwing Muses, Pink Floyd, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, The Fall, and way too many to list here. Most of those bands have been my favorite artist at one time or another, but I don't think I would rather have seen any other band than Television last night.

I would probably claim that Sonic Youth are my number one right now, but that's because of their body of work as a whole. The truth is, as much as I love them, Sonic Youth throw in too many weaker songs during the course of an average concert. If I could choose the set list and coax them into one more performance, it would be an incredible night from my point of view. With Television, they tend to focus on the songs I most want to hear. Sure, they haven't got 15 albums to choose from, but the four or five shows I have witnessed have been superb, and that's partly due to the choice of material. As a live band, Television (for me) are unmissable. I saw them at this same venue in 2006, but I never expected to be able to do so again. It was almost like getting the chance to have a conversation with a deceased loved one.

The trip from Oshawa to Toronto stops me from attending as many concerts as I used to. I passed up Stephen Malkmus and Pixies earlier this year. After the feeling I got from last night's show, I deeply regret missing those other bands.

I arrived in Toronto early and took the opportunity to eat Chicken Jalfrezi at a great little Indian restaurant I discovered a couple of summers ago. Then I made my way to the Phoenix Concert Theatre. A woman outside the venue asked me if I wanted to buy her ticket, and I explained that I already had one (secured about two minutes after they went on sale). I failed to convince her that she was turning down the experience of a lifetime and made my way inside. There were only about 20 people standing around near the stage because I was two hours early.

After an hour of standing in silence, not drinking (I'm no fun at all, am I), the support band arrived on stage. Their drummer did not. The trio informed us it was their first ever live show. Well, it was better than total silence, but not by much. Two songs were listenable, but the remaining five were unremarkable. I guess 'speical' (look at the image above) is another word for crap?

Twenty minutes after they shuffled off stage, Television appeared. I had secured a spot about ten feet from Tom Verlaine, just to the left of the stage (that could be my head at the bottom right of the image below). Those of you who are regular concertgoers will know that live music is special, and usually totally different from the recorded version. As the first song began, and the full band kicked in, I could feel the music physically. Recorded albums can excite me and reach me emotionally, but there's something unique about feeling the music you love vibrate through you physically. As the first song, 1880 or So, was played, I broke into a huge grin. Even lesser songs carry more weight when performed live.

I often wonder how many people really understand my love of music. I sit at work, wearing headphones, outwardly calm. Deep inside I'm enjoying the music more than most people could possibly imagine. Most of the bands I listen to are unknown to the vast majority of people currently in my life. That's partly due to my English origin, but more down to my taste. Why is alternative rock such a cult genre? At least those who love it will defend it with their lives, and that sums up how I feel.

Marquee Moon is my favorite album from the 70s, with apologies to Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures. In fact, Marquee Moon is among my Top 10 of all time and could even be number one. I discovered it in about 1999 in a bargain bin at a local music store. I'm so glad I gave it a chance.

Anyway, let's get back to the concert.

Prove It and Elevation were up next, representing the undisputed best album of the 70s. Verlaine's reedy voice might be hard to take for those raised on classic rock, but it works in the context of the band's overall sound. Television are primarily a guitar band, but their sound is unique. Although Richard Lloyd left in 2007, Jimmy Rip fills in admirably, and the band still sound like Television. Verlaine, Fred Smith (bass) and Billy Ficca (drums) have been playing together for about 40 years, and it shows. Make no mistake, this is a cohesive unit. It has to be for the interplay to work so effectively. Rip has only been a member for seven years, but his guitar still had conversations with Verlaine's guitar all night long.

Verlaine looked out at the packed venue and said that it was a lot of people and he had wondered what would happen. Was he just being modest, or does he really not know just how much love people have for Television?

Then we were given Little Johnny Jewel, which appears on the remastered version of Marquee Moon. I have to say that Little Johnny Jewel was meant to be played live. The recorded version is very good, but the song comes alive during concerts. It's always a highlight of Television's live shows, arguably only eclipsed by the magnificent title track.

The next three tracks were all superb. See No Evil and Venus sound deeper and more urgent live, and sandwiched between those was a real gem. Verlaine said that they stopped playing I'm Gonna Find You in 1975, and thought it would be fun to play it, especially as they weren't sure they knew it. Needless to say, it didn't disappoint.

Persia followed, and is a song I have heard just once before, the first time I had the pleasure of seeing Television. It began with an ominous bass lead and was probably the longest song of the night at around 15 minutes. At times, it was majestic, and captured everything I love about the band's sound. I got the feeling that everyone on stage, and all those watching, had a blast as the band jammed, threw in a few false endings, and clearly loved what they were doing.

Guiding Light followed, dedicated to Fay Wong. Earlier, a woman in the audience had shouted "just get it over with" referring to the fact that Marquee Moon would have to be played eventually. I hope she doesn't have the same attitude when she's with her boyfriend. Verlaine repeated her comment and said that the band would never forget hearing it for the rest of their lives. The last song of the main set gave the woman her wish as the eerie notes of Marquee Moon filled the space. It was as fantastic as usual, with Verlaine seemingly possessed. Although he stands fairly still when he plays, I get the feeling that there's some kind of creature controlling him. He often trembles as he throttles his guitar, squeezing out the notes. It sometimes sounds as if a theremin mated with the guitar, with the notes spiraling off to the heavens. The notes flow from the guitar, surging, writhing - all suppressed energy. If Hendrix had ever played alternative rock, it might sound something like this.

The encore was brief, featuring a soaring version of Glory, with Fred and Jimmy on backing vocals. The evening closed with the Count Five cover, Psychotic Reaction, and a song I had never heard.

Complaints? Only that it ended at all and that Friction wasn't played. Luckily, I've heard it live several times before. In truth, I'm not complaining at all. Television make today's bands look like pretentious novices. This is what music should sound like and feel like. If I ever have sex again, maybe I'll compare it to that, but I can't imagine anything much better than the 100-minute orgasm I experienced last night watching Television kick ass.

As I filed out, a guy complimented my Unknown Pleasures shirt. He was wearing one too. I told him that it was the second best album of the 70s after Marquee Moon. Yeah, it was my kind of crowd.

Full Set List:

1880 or So
Prove It
Little Johnny Jewel
See No Evil
I'm Gonna Find You
Guiding Light
Marquee Moon
Psychotic Reaction