It’s not every day that one gets the chance to see CBGB legends, Television perform. In fact, it’s not even every year. Thanksgiving weekend marked the first time in over seven years that these venerable New York City rockers graced the stage of their native land. Luring them out into the open was the grand opening of the UK-based Rough Trade shop, a behemoth warehouse-like building that houses a record store and a cozy, 300-capacity performance space, parked alongside one of Williamsburg, Brooklyn’s toniest street corners. (Note: Last week, it was just announced that all Rough Trade shows have been postponed indefinitely due to noise complaints from nearby residents. The cost of gentrification!)
Reeling in Television appeared to be a coup for Rough Trade, as the bands’ fans generally fall into the older, audiophile demographic, and arrived to the premises early, spending a great deal of time browsing the copious racks of vinyl, compact discs, and music publications that younger audiences would naturally bypass while heading straight for the backroom stage. When the crowd eventually made their way to the back, though, they were greeted with a dimly lit, starkly structured open room that upon initial glance, seemed too intimately good to be true. Television was really going to play here! It was a like a more sanitized version of the old, packed-in CBGB days.
But alas, we were quickly reminded that the old days are long gone. Beers at the bar cost the standard $7-$8, a row or two of comfortable VIP-esque, seat-back chairs lined the balcony, and of course attendees pecked away incessantly on their smartphones, filling the stratosphere with instant accounts of the room’s vibe and feel. There’s no more “Shoulda’ been there to see Television kill it” anecdotes like there was in 1977. These are all just general downers of the times though. The same feelings can be generated at just about any public gathering these days, so onto the important stuff: Television still sounds really, really good.
After a quietly subdued and often-unplugged set by the talented, but ill-paired opener Gambles, Television (Tom Verlaine, bassist Fred Smith, drummer Billy Ficca, and long-time Verlaine collaborator Jimmy Rip on lead guitar in place of original member Richard Lloyd) slowly emerged onstage to the sound of somber church bells that had been ringing on a loop since the end of Gambles’ set.
A byproduct of a sporadic touring schedule is the absence of a road crew, which would have come in handy at this juncture, as Verlaine took several minutes in scrambling to find the right combination of cords and amps. “I think we may want to start those bells back up”, he proclaimed before eventually plugging everything into its’ proper place. From there, things locked in nicely, as Television hit the ground running, blazing through the opening trifecta of “Venus”, “1880 or So”, and “The Fire” with a graceful and subdued abandon. Verlaine’s delivery, always a bit laconic in tone and delivery, has aged well, keeping its’ nuances and cadences in sharp focus as his fragmented phrases guided along to the complex notes and chords emanating from the twin guitar attack.
Mr. Rip, often vilified by diehard fans for simply not being Richard Lloyd, is a pro and worked wonders all night with his six string, stepping out for blistering solos and leads when needed and locking into sync with Verlaine to provide that signature Television interplay. There were few words spoken in between songs. Verlaine and Rip bantered back and forth a bit about guitar tone, and Verlaine joked about their bunker mentality but ignored a few queries from the crowd about the progress on that long-awaited new album.
Smith and Ficca stayed completely silent throughout the hour and forty-five minute set, instead choosing to concentrate on providing a foolproof rhythm section that provided that deep-rooted kick that always accentuated the band’s immense guitar dynamics. As the band weaved their way through a 15-minute rendering of the unrecorded gem “Persia”, and topped off the main set with their signature number, “Marquee Moon”, it was a blissful reminder of the band’s brilliance as well as a sonic notice that these gentlemen are more than just a souvenir act. There’s a lot of good music still within them. Hopefully, this Brooklyn performance and the several upcoming shows booked for early 2014 are the catalysts for more forthcoming tunes. The spirit of CBGB’s can still burn bright.
1880 Or So
See No Evil
I’m Gonna Find You