This concert report was published after the TV gig on April 5th, 2016. The performance in Berlin was their last in Germany.
Marquee Moon is a monument. It’s an album that’s always been a lot bigger than the band that released it in 1977. Although Television, this small collective around the nervous and brilliant poet Tom Verlaine (who died on January 28th), made two more (very good) records afterwards, but neither of them would have anything to do with the reputation of the Debuts can change. This is probably also due to the fact that every detail is right here, the jazz-induced guitar playing is almost dreamlike coordinated and something like the title track – which regularly and quite rightly sends fans into ecstasy at concerts – only succeeds once in a lifetime.
It is very fortunate that Television performs in Germany. They haven’t done that for many years. In “Huxleys Neue Welt” in Berlin-Neukölln, however, they don’t jump onto the stage like a band that once brought punk along with them, but like a jazz combo that’s a little bored with itself and the audience. Verlaine first carefully takes off his jacket, adjusts the microphone, later complains about the light, which casts unfavorable shadows and could disturb the concentrated playing of the instruments. These (clearly aging) men were never interested in anything like a show concept. They also need a little time to immerse themselves in their songs, to grasp them like a mysterious drug that never fails to have an effect. The sound is really fantastic that night, which the band also notices. Nevertheless, one of the visitors later complained that the volume was much too low in his opinion.
Television completely work through their masterpiece
A witty intro, which is used more to tune the instruments than to warm up the listeners, is followed by quite stiff variants of tracks like “Prove It” and “Elevation”, until guitarist Jimmy Rip in particular picks up speed visibly. The guitarist looks a bit like a cross between late Tom Waits and Nick Nolte in “U-Turn”. But while Verlaine stoically plucks at his device, the experienced string virtuoso feels compelled to show the audience, who unfortunately did not come in very large numbers, something of his passion and dexterity.
At the latest with “Torn Curtain”, which comes along a bit softer and more forgiving than on the record, the delicate and reduced game succeeds, which is completely limited to its hymn-like rhythm changes and a few ingredients that no music journalist or even one has known before the musician could put into words. Of course, as so many heroes of the past are doing now, Television are working through their masterpiece to the full. But they don’t do it in the original order. It’s not supposed to be a visit to a museum for the listeners, in which a couple of musicians pretend in the spotlight that they can erect the Venus de Milo again in less than an hour in front of hundreds of people. So “See No Evil”, this lively declaration of hatred to pessimism and the prologue on the LP, follows shortly before the end. And so it remains a little surprise which song finally emerges from a tried-and-tested chord.
A temple should be erected for the title song
Needless to say, “Marquee Moon”, the 10+ minute long guitar frenzy that had to be broken down to disc first to keep it from sloshing triumphantly over the groove ends, becomes the highlight of the evening. In a better world, a temple would probably be erected for this seemingly never-ending jam, so that it would run up and down there all day long. At the Huxleys in Berlin every note is right, the shimmering solos by Verlaine and Rip succeed as a matter of course. But Television play “Marquee Moon” this guitar novel, dramaturgically polished to the last drumbeat, not like The Grateful Dead “Truckin'” or Led Zeppelin “Stairway To Heaven”. It’s more like reviving a myth that has always been far bigger than the CBGB band and post-punk inspiration.
As an encore there is – of course – no longer a hit song (the band don’t have any), but “Little Johnny Jewel”, which was once their debut single and superbly demonstrates that television appreciates the intricacies of complex musical composition far more than anything like Bombast.