It’s been nearly 15 years since Tom Verlaine’s last album, but that doesn’t mean the former Television frontman has been idle. He’s just released two albums through Chicago’s Thrill Jockey Records, “Around” (subtitled “Instrumentals, Volume II”), a collection of low-impact atmospheric soundscapes, and “Songs and Other Things,” a collection of, well, low-impact atmospheric soundscapes with the occasional vocal.
Selections from the latter album made up the bulk of Verlaine’s 90-minute show Friday at the Roxy, and the live setting did not change their skeletal, stitched-together quality.
They’re less songs than gestures toward songs, although still identifiably Verlaine: moving at deliberate speed, occasionally breaking into an easy Caribbean lilt, with refracted, abstract lyrics sung in a choked voice that casts sidelong looks at the world. With barely a chorus or identifiable riff among them, they don’t so much finish as simply stop after Verlaine solos; they exist as nothing more than conveyances for his guitar-playing.
Of course, if you can solo like Verlaine, it doesn’t really matter what gets you there. He played at an exceptional level at the Roxy, adding rising tides of clotted, Coltrane-esque harmonics on “Memory Charm,” some revved-up Middle Eastern Dick Dale surf guitar for “Documentary,” a teasing, circular Jerry Garcia line that playfully flits over a Bo Diddley beat on “Shingaling.”
The two most fully realized tunes were also the oldest: “Kingdom Come” and “Breakin’ in My Heart,” both from his 1980 self-titled solo debut. The energy level in the room rose noticeably when both were performed.
Verlaine’s band seemed to have been instructed to stay out of the guitarist’s way. Fred Smith supplied the understated bass that has accompanied Verlaine since Television, while drummer Louie Appel was a less-busy version of Television’s Billy Ficca and Jimmy Ripp never challenged on rhythm guitar.