Tuesday, 7 June 2016

992 TELEVISION, Lail Arad, Bristol University Anson Rooms, Monday 6th June 2016

Well, recent gigs seem to be falling into a bit of an unexpected – and unwelcome – pattern, insofar as I’ve been going to far too many clunkers for my liking of late. Also, somewhat surprisingly, said clunkers are mainly coming from the old stagers, the experienced hands (with the splendid exception of The Stuffies, Adam Ant and Brian Wilson – well, Wilson’s back line anyway…) letting me down somewhat, and the young bucks – particularly the local boys (take a bow, White Lilac and Raze*Rebuild) – coming through strongly. Another case in point was this, tonight, from 70’s New York proto punk/ art rockers Television; despite their passing me by a little back in the day, I’d latterly come to acknowledge their rightful place in the pantheon of rock’n’roll, and caught them doing full justice to their 1977 masterpiece, the seminal “Marquee Moon”, a couple of years ago at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. So despite this gig being at the impossible-to-park-at Anson Rooms, I booked tickets anyway; c’mon, Television are bound to be pretty reliable after nearly 40 years of practise, right? Right?

Fellow veteran rocker Beef joined us for this one as we headed off early to maximise our parking chances, finding a lucky last spot just around the corner for 7, thereby necessitating a wait outside on a thankfully balmy evening for doors at 7.30, and running into Devizes gig buddy Alfie in the process. Drinks in the bar and chat, circulating around recent gigs (particularly Wilson) and job prospects, took us up to the support, a tousled female soloist with a minimally played guitar and a quirky line in cool, laconic late night bluesy balladry. One jolly, coquettish number was apparently written for Leonard Cohen’s 80th birthday, and another was a one-note wordy, dark and duskily delivered tune which recalled Drugstore’s Isabel Monteiro. The studied NYC cool groove of new number, “No No Nostalgia”, closed out an intriguing and charming little set.

Back to the bar and ran into day trippers Jason and Julia, who were joining us for the return journey. We then all decamped to the main hall – by now crammed, particularly down the front – then had to wait an uncomfortable 20 minutes past Television’s allotted 9 pm arrival (enduring some painful freeform jazz in the process!) for the gents to finally join us. Led by guitar legend Tom Verlaine, they played an atmospheric opening piece highlighting Verlaine’s dextrous picking before “actual” opening number, “Prove It”, a bleak, yearning elegy with a Tex-Mex feel. The next number (which was preceded by Verlaine proffering some very explicit instructions to the lighting man, and when the beleaguered roadie failed to meet his detailed demands, suggested to the crowd, “I think you should all turn on this lighting guy!”) highlighted hired gun Jimmy Rip’s excellently snaking, sinuous fretwork, Rip coaxing an almost plaintive keening out of his instrument. Excellent, virtuoso musicianship.

However, thereafter the gig seemed to morph into a contest between Verlaine and Rip as to which could play the most elaborate – and interminably lengthy – solos. Don’t get me wrong, there were some highlights amidst this; the tango rhythm verse and tumbling, cascading chorus of “Venus De Milo” was utterly gorgeous, and the later, Velvet Underground-invoking eerie street balladry of “Guiding Light” was also superb. However “Little Johnny Jewel” (which preceded these two) was a lengthy, stripped out workout which tested the patience, and an even lengthier, creepy and largely instrumental number saw Verlaine and Rip indulge their art-rock/ avant garde selves and frequently sail uncomfortably near tedious prog rock self indulgent boredom.

“I’ve got to have a big pile of jokes next time we play, so as to be the total pro entertainer,” quipped Verlaine, uncharacteristically, before set closer, the classic “Marquee Moon”, initially a studied classic in haunting, hypnotic art-rock, lengthy but absorbing – right up until an unnecessary post-break which (there’s no other way to put this) kind of spoilt it, really. An encore of “Friction” brought a frustrating evening to a close, the only main redeeming thought was that said frustration was seemingly shared between all 4 of us in the car home – and Alfie too… Guys, keep it simple next time please?

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