In a show ostensibly supporting Rhino’s reissues of “Marquee Moon” and “Adventure,” the material from these albums was basically ignored for the first half of Television’s nearly two-hour concert. Instead, the band played two new songs, three songs from its 1993 reunion album and “O Mi Amore,” a song never officially released; only “Venus” and “Glory” came from their classic albums.
There’s an admirable — you could almost call it punky — contrariness at work here, a willingness to confound expectations, even if it doesn’t always make for a satisfying show.
With the career trajectories and performances of the current crop of Gotham bands (who often cite Television as an influence) as planned out and fixed as a subway map, you have to admire a band willing to take risks with its music. At the Fonda Tuesday night, the members of Television derailed as often as they rode gracefully into the station.
The elements that made Television one of the most distinctive of the late 1970s New York bands remain intact: Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd’s gloriously intertwined guitars (Verlaine’s a mercurial moan, Lloyd a more angular, tuneful player); Billy Ficca’s busy, jazz-inflected drumming; and Fred Smith’s deceptively simple bass. But the four songs premiered Tuesday night torpedoed the evening’s momentum.
The problem with the new material isn’t its quality, but that it indulges Verlaine’s worst impulse — a belief that he is the only thing anyone cares about in Television. “Sleep All Day” came closest to an ensemble number; otherwise, the band faded into the distance as Verlaine flailed self-indulgently, only occasionally finding an interesting tack.
It’s a shame, because when they came together (about a 50/50 proposition), the results were impressive. Lloyd added fiery, concise solos to “1880 or So” and “See No Evil”; “Marquee Moon” built to a magisterial swirl. And on “Little Johnny Jewel,” Verlaine proved he can still construct a coherent solo.