Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Television - The Blow Up

This is a record of a terrific early live show by this indescribable New York band. They appeared at the beginning of the punk/new wave movement, but really didn’t fit in with either description. I had read about these cats along with the other bands of the NY scene, but when I first listened to the album I thought – “wait a minute, punk bands aren’t supposed to have good musicians!” And these guys are damn good – Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd are inspired, creative guitar players, with truly unique sounds that really stood out among the Gibson/Marshall roars of most of the new bands. They fit in a little better with the Patti Smith Group (Tom & Patti were a couple at one point and Tom played on the first PSG LP) than combos like the Ramones, though the scene at the time was diverse enough that these bands could play together and enjoy each other’s styles.

Showing off the band’s homage to earlier 60’s bands, this starts off with a take on the Thirteenth Floor Elevators’ psychedelic masterpiece, “Fire Engine”. For some reason – maybe so they wouldn’t have to pay royalties – ROIR, the cassette label that released this, changed the title of this tune to “The Blow Up”. Regardless, Television takes this great song and makes it their own.

Naturally, as these recordings are from 1978, the band’s first album is represented more than anything else, but there are a couple of cuts from the second record (Adventure), including “I Don’t Care” (later changed to "Careful"), “Ain’t That Nothin’” and “Foxhole”, which are probably the best numbers from that release.

The variations on the themes of the other songs really make them sound fresh, even to someone like me who has listened to their first album hundreds of times. The solos and guitar interactions are striking and exciting and the dynamics of the band are impeccable.

A highlight is an unexpected, slow, moody rendition of Dylan’s “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” with plenty of superb guitar playing. This opens with a long instrumental interlude and it isn’t until Verlaine starts singing that anyone recognizes the tune and appreciates the personality put into this reading.

“Little Johny Jewel”, the band's first single, is a true musical odyssey with many twists and turns – so much so that you’re not sure if you’re still listening to the same song at points! The interplay between the guitars and the whole band is truly incredible and feels seamless and organic. It is rare when a band clicks like this and works off of each other and it can be magical when it happens. The sounds that Verlaine and Lloyd coax out of their instruments are pretty freakin’ amazing. Just great…

Two more extended excursions occur in their tour-de-force “Marquee Moon”, with its dynamics that move you along with it as the guys try to create more and more new sounds and their psychotic, hi-energy take on the Stones’ “Satisfaction” that gets so crazed that Lloyd de-tunes his low E string and bends it around the guitar neck!

While the sound quality isn’t stellar – these are club recordings from the 70's, after all – the performances are phenomenal and all fans of the band should own this!