Monday, 28 July 2014

921 TELEVISION, Louise Distras, London Shepherd's Bush Empire, Sunday 27 July 2014

I’m correcting an ancient error of omission with tonight’s Television gig, seeing these original punk rock pioneers for the first time! Television, who emerged from the New York CBGB’s/ Max’s Kansas City scene in the mid 70’s with contemporaries The Ramones, Patti Smith and Blondie, passed me by a little back in the day, I’m ashamed to say, and I only recently acknowledged their genius (actually, when I say recently, I kind of mean mid 90’s, so it’s not that recent really!) given their obvious influence on the likes of the jerky tinny Britpop brigade, and the new millennial crop of New York rockers like The Strokes, Stellastarr* and Interpol. Never saw them “live” until tonight, though, when an opportunity to break up a barren gigging July with a London trip presented itself, to see Tom Verlaine and crew do a set consisting of their seminal 1977 work “Marquee Moon”, a tense, fragile masterpiece, innovative, chilling and atmospheric, and still a great listen, 37 years on.
So I set off on a balmy early evening, initially encountering frustrating heavy traffic but nonetheless parking up in my usual spot around the corner from the venue, getting in at 7.45 and watching the place fill up, mainly with studious old rocker blokes with Ramones or “Marquee Moon” t-shirts. At 49, I actually felt quite young! Took a wander forward for support Louise Distras, a raven haired and tattooed punk/ folk songstress with an overt gravelly delivery for her strident political (both personal and party) Guthrie/ Bragg-esque manifestos. What kept her just the right side of screaming harpy sloganeering cliché for me was some dry wit and carefree enthusiasm, which grabbed my attention, if not the majority of the crowd. I enjoyed her set, although I couldn’t help but wonder whether a Hyde Park Corner soapbox might be a more appropriate venue…
Kept my spot stage right, four or five rows back and next to some bespectacled lairy bloke (more on him later…), as we were subjected to what seemed an eternity of patience-trying pealing bells as a “musical” backdrop, before the band finally emerged, looking like a group of lawyers on their way to the golf course, with the obvious exception of be-hatted and pointy bearded rocker guitarist Jimmy Rip. After some wall-of-noise Byrdsian psych-fretwork, mainly from Rip, they kicked into the herky-jerky rhythm and tumbling NYC street cool riffery of “See No Evil”. This immediately set the tone for tonight’s performance; laconic albeit submerged vocals from iconic mainman Tom Verlaine, pounding tom-tom dominated rhythm, and intricate and virtuoso fretwork from both Verlaine and Rip, who particularly (and ironically) can play guitar just like ringing a bell…!
As I’d suspected, this was a non-sequential run-through of the “Marquee Moon” material, as the Spanish guitar of “Prove It” was next up, featuring an impassioned, yearning vocal from Verlaine, followed by a squalling “1880 Or So”, notable for Rip’s white noise guitar work which was eerily reminiscent of Bob Mould! Prior to an eerie, elegiac “Torn Curtain”, Verlaine, in response to a heckler, replied, “there’s always some guy who shouts, “come on Tom,” and I never figure out what the… fuck he means!” The band then suffered some technical problems before the nevertheless excellently chugging “Friction”, and the subsequent “Elevation” was superb, dramatic and windswept, but was punctuated by lairy bloke (remember him?) pushing forward, pissing off a few folks in the process. It all seemed ready to kick off before the “come on Tom” bloke, a hefty chap to my left, deftly diffused that situation by removing lairy bloke’s glasses and luring him out of the vicinity, while the band, oblivious, played on… “Venus” was my personal set highlight, a plangent thing of beauty, wondrous and haunting with Rip’s tumbling, intricate guitar riff as much a work of art as the subject matter of Venus De Milo. However, towards the end of this number, lairy bloke returned, pushing and shoving, before one guy, whose girlfriend he’d insulted earlier, flew into him and gave him a good old fashioned chinning which sent him sprawling to the ground, before bouncers dived in to remove lairy bloke from the premises, to everyone’s relief!
Thus relaxed, it was time for set closer “Marquee Moon”, tonight’s version of this definitive New Wave classic rendered perfectly, the mood detached and urbane, with Verlaine and Rip weaving intricate guitar patterns which built over its’ sprawling length to a rocking crescendo. Marvellous stuff, and a total appropriate way to end the set.
We didn’t really need encores after that, but “Glory” (which I know largely due to Lloyd Cole’s cover!) was the best of the 2. However “Marquee Moon” was the real star on display tonight. So overall, an ancient error corrected by myself, and a splendid evening with these enduring New Wave pioneers Television!

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