The Metro, Chicago, IL
May 8th, 2014
Anytime I go to see a legacy act (which I now define as any band touring 15 years since the end of their heyday), I am often grading on a curve. It’s not fair to have expectations for the act to match what they were in their more nimble, youthful days, but at the same time, what’s the point in paying the often pricey legacy ticket prices if you don’t think the show will wow or amuse you in some way. Due to these low expectations, I have often found myself pleasantly surprised and in some cases (like Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, and Neil Young), flat out amazed. Some stars’ star power transcend age and time.
I went and caught Television, the legendary CBGB’s punk band that isn’t actually a punk band at all, at the Metro, which was their first time in Chicago in 22 years, and their first tour in six years. The band is actually set to release their fourth album in 37 years, but is still leaning mostly on their landmark debut, Marquee Moon.
The current form of Television is three of its four members from its debut, the brains, guitar, and voice behind the operation, Tom Verlaine, bassist Fred Smith (who replaced Richard Hell before they signed their first record deal), and drummer Billy Ficca. Guitarist Jimmy Rip also toured with the band, and was arguably the best live performer in the band, even if he looks more like a crazy mix between Nick Nolte and Tom Waits’ than a member of a classic art punk band. All the other members beyond Rip appeared to be just barely keeping the songs together, playing pretty stiff and rusty. Verlaine, specifically hasn’t aged well, and while his guitar skills haven’t faded much, his voice certainly has, and it removed some of the power and weirdness out of the songs.
Verlaine’s decline is all the more stark when compared to his CBGB’s counterpart David Byrne, who has managed to age like a raspberry lambic, getting funkier and more flavorful over the years. Byrne’s voice also still sounds incredible live and probably 90% of where it once was, where Verlaine’s strange warble is more like 40% of what it once was. Verlaine was still impressive on guitar, as the dual lead guitar tradeoffs that Television coined still sounded as fresh today as they ever were. It was amazing to hear Television perform these classic songs and key in the memory bank on all the band’s that channel their sound, from the Strokes, to Pavement, to Parquet Courts.
Even if the band lacked that perfect live sound, it would have been great to see the band put a little more sweat into it. Television just appeared a little passive and like they were going through the motions. It was great to see songs like “Marquee Moon”, “Friction”, and “Venus” brought to life, but this wasn’t a full-blooded life by any means. The songs sound more dynamic on record than they do now live, which is never a good sign.
So while I certainly graded on a curve with Television, I certainly hoped Verlaine and company would bring a little more energy and focus than what they showed at the Metro. I still love Television, but in terms of legacy acts worth seeing, your money is better spent elsewhere.