×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Concert Review: Revisiting the Golden Age of Television From the Left Coast

Forty years after Television's debut album, this New York writer revisits the influential band during a two-night stand at the Teragram.

Let’s start with a disclaimer. My first-ever published music review was on Television’s first album, “Marquee Moon,” which appeared in March 1977, in the critic-seeder that was the Soho Weekly News. I was paid $5 to write it. Forty years later, some things never change, and that goes for Television torch-bearer Tom Verlaine and company, too, who played two nights at Los Angeles’ Teragram Ballroom on Sept. 29 and 30.

A rock poet who was Patti Smith’s significant other sometime between Sam Shepard, Robert Mapplethorpe on the one side, and Allen Lanier and Fred “Sonic” Smith on the other, Verlaine and fellow schoolmate Richard Hell formed the Neon Boys, which eventually evolved into Television.

As legend has it, Verlaine and cohorts convinced Hilly Krystal to turn his biker’s bar CBGB on the Bowery into a new music venue. The band, while highly influential, only recorded a pair of albums for Elektra, following “Marquee Moon” a year later with “Adventure,” then disappeared for 14 years before resurfacing with a self-titled third album for Capitol in 1992.

Television replaced original member Richard Lloyd in 2007 with N.Y. guitar whiz Jimmy Rip and the band – with original bassist Fred Smith and drummer Billy Ficca — returned to the road several years ago, and performed at the Teragram Ballroom a month after the downtown venue opened in July 2015.

After a fine opening set from fellow ‘70s legend (and former Alex Chilton collaborator) Chris Stamey, backed by a violinist and cellist, including dBs songs like “From a Window to a Screen” and “Happenstance” as well as solo chestnuts such as “Astronomy” and the original Ork Records 45, “Summer Sun,” it was time for Television, proving both a lot tighter and much more expansive than I’d remembered them.

On Friday night, they were the former, opening with the martial rhythms of “Prove It,” and doing just that over the course of a taut, 90-minute, nine-song, two-number encore set that paused midway through for their sprawling, newly added “Persia,” a Middle Eastern-flavored nod to the Grateful Dead’s psychedelic “Drums/Space” interlude. The second evening was more up-and-down, starting with a shimmering intro into “1880 or So,” from the band’s self-titled 1992 album, before an unbroken string of four “Marquee Moon” smashes – “Venus,” “Elevation,” “Prove It” and “Friction.”

Belying his reputation as a musical tyrant, Verlaine is notably generous, letting Jimmy Rip front-and-center for the distinctive Morse code solos on “Elevation,” and while Rip may be more conventional than Lloyd in his approach, he also manages to keep Verlaine grounded, even if the night two proved Television capable of being a world-class jam band, too. The new surprise set piece is “I’m Gonna Find You,” a previously unreleased song Verlaine calls “one of our oldest, most ancient songs,” originally intended for, but left off of, “Marquee Moon.”  An insinuating blues-country plaint that channels the Stones of “Wild Horses,” the song shows the band’s hitherto well-concealed R&B roots, and both evenings, led into elongated takes on “Marquee Moon,” with a second-night extrapolation that turned it into an epic, wide-screen soundscape.

“Guiding Light” and “Friction” closed out the first night, with the former doing the honors on Saturday night, a one-song encore that proved anti-climactic after the full-blown pyrotechnics of “Marquee Moon,” Verlaine taking center stage to emote his ass off, peeling off notes as he peels off layers to the skin.

Of course, Television is a vehicle for Tom Verlaine’s chordal, scale-based notion of guitar soloing – mostly gleaned from listening to jazz musicians like John Coltrane. Among New York punk and post-punk guitarists, perhaps only Lou Reed, Johnny Thunders, Johnny Ramone, Thurston Moore and Bob Quine challenge Television for fret supremacy. Still Television is a lot more than just Verlaine – without Fred Smith’s warmly melodic bass lines and Billy Ficca’s light-fingered jazz drumming, the band would simply disappear into the ether.

Forty years ago, I wrote about the band, “Forget everything you’ve heard about Television; forget punk, forget New York, forget CBGBs… hell forget rock and roll — this is the real item.” That quote is now immortalized in the band’s Wikipedia entry. Now, I look around and see kids half my age digging on a sound that has only deepened and resonated with age. Tom Verlaine and Television have nothing left to prove.

Popular on Variety

Concert Review: Revisiting the Golden Age of Television From the Left Coast

More Music

  • Ric Ocasek'The Imitation Game' film premiere,

    The Cars' Ric Ocasek Remembered by Weezer, the Killers, Courtney Love, More

    Ric Ocasek’s death on Sept. 15 elicited reactions from all over the music industry. While Ocasek was best known as the frontman for the Cars, he was also a noted producer, A&R executive and author. Among the artists to pay tribute  on social media in the hours after news of Ocasek’s death broke were Weezer, [...]

  • Ric Ocasek Rock & Roll Hall

    Ric Ocasek, The Cars Frontman, Dies at 75

    Ric Ocasek, frontman of the popular late 1970s and 1980s band the Cars, was found dead in his New York home on Sunday. He was 75. The NYPD confirmed that Ocasek’s body was discovered after police received a call regarding an unconscious male at his townhouse. Emergency services pronounced him dead at the scene. No [...]

  • Beyonce Knowles'The Lion King' film premiere,

    ABC Announces Behind-the-Scenes Special for Beyoncé's 'Lion King' LP

    ABC has announced a new behind-the-scenes look into the making of Beyoncé’s “The Lion King: The Gift” LP, which is set to air September 16 on ABC at 10 p.m. EST. Titled “Beyoncé Presents: Making the Gift,” the new hour-long special will allow viewers to “experience the process” behind the “Lion King” companion album, according [...]

  • Roseanne Cash, Ken Burns. Ken Burns,

    Ken Burns on 'Country Music' and Why Merle, Hank, Dwight, Loretta and Lil Nas X Matter

    The phrase “the Ken Burns effect” is specifically the name of a function on Apple computers that makes all your static old family photos move around on screen like something out of “The Civil War.” But there’s another Ken Burns effect worth talking about as his “Country Music” comes to TV screens: the impact one [...]

  • Hailee Steinfeld Sets New Single Tied

    Hailee Steinfeld Announces New Single Tied to Apple TV Plus' 'Dickinson'

    Actress, singer and producer Hailee Steinfeld is set to release a new single entitled “Afterlife” on Sept. 19, a track she created for her upcoming Apple TV Plus series,”Dickinson.” “This is a song I’m incredibly proud of, and I feel like after embodying this character, I have a more fearless approach to my writing,” Steinfeld [...]

  • Deadmau5 Captivates Opening Night Crowd by

    Concert Review: Deadmau5 Captivates Opening Night Crowd by Going Cube-ist

    “I’m not gonna lie: first shows [of a tour] usually suck,” deadpanned electronic music producer Joel Zimmerman, aka deadmau5, Thursday night, closing out the first night of his two-night stand in Dallas, the kickoff city of his North American “CubeV3” tour. “But this one actually was great.” The sold-out crowd at South Side Ballroom roared back [...]

  • John Mayer performs at Madison Square

    Concert Review: John Mayer Is a Wonderland at First of Two-Night Stand at the Forum

    “You’re allowed to ironically celebrate your past,” John Mayer told a sold-out crowd of nearly 18,000 on Friday night at the iconic Inglewood, Calif. venue The Forum. He was introducing what is arguably his breakout hit, the college dorm hookup anthem “Your Body is a Wonderland,” but the declaration could easily have applied to the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content